Did the Jews Discover America?
As the darkness of the Medieval Inquisition swept through Spain in 1492, a momentous, history-changing event took place. Recorded in personal diaries, some of the details of this event became part of a relatively unknown book titled The Book of Prophecies. Published around 1501 the book is a collection of the author’s writing, favorite passages, deep spiritual insights, prophetic statements, and a passion for Israel. I was astounded when I discovered The Book of Prophecies. I’ve heard of the author all my life but never—I mean never—knew that he published such a book.
The author is Christopher Columbus. He wrote this book in the late fifteenth century during the terrible events of the Inquisition. This scourge spread through Spain and other parts of Europe. People were tormented, burned at the stake, and expelled from the country. No one was targeted more heavily than the Jewish population, which had multiplied considerably over the centuries in these European countries. Jewish conversos (converts) were arrested and accused of not being true Christians. They often didn’t know who their accusers were; evidence could be presented in secret. They were tortured until they confessed to being heretics, and then they were executed.1
Jewish immigrations into Europe had escalated after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. But even before Christ, Jews began settling in the Iberian Peninsula. They were referred to as Sephardim, from the Hebrew term for Spain, Sepharad, as mentioned in the Bible (Obadiah 20). The Jewish community had become so strong, that the Apostle Paul encouraged a need to minister there (Romans 15:24-28).
In the 1400s this community of Sephardim included Christopher Columbus, a man dedicated to his Christian faith. His ancestry also gives us evidence that he was Jewish. He had earned the favor of the Spanish king and queen with his vision and scientific knowledge. He raised the needed funds from Jewish conversos and embarked on one of the most significant voyages in the history of the world.
But it was a dangerous time for all Jews, even favored ones. Historians note that the voyage was originally scheduled for later in 1492. The Inquisition overshadowed all plans. An edict had been signed demanding the expulsion of all Jews by August 2, 1492, Tish B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning.
Columbus gathered his crew, boarded his ships that night, and set sail for the new world on August 3, 1492. With his action, Christopher Columbus obeyed the edict along with almost 300,000 fellow Jews.
The faith of Christopher Columbus has long been established, confirmed by much of his own writing. His Jewish ancestry has long been examined and hotly debated. Was Columbus truly Jewish? The evidence is compelling stirring passions among Moslems, Jews, and Christians alike for its implications. “The story of Jews in America begins with Christopher Columbus,” declares one anti-Semitic source.2
Several Jewish resources, including the Jewish American Hall of Fame, claim him as one of their own: “It was Spanish Jewry, not Spanish jewelry, that paid for Columbus’ voyage of discovery,” they insist. “There is no question that it was his Spanish-Jewish friends who were instrumental in arranging for his meeting with the Spanish monarchs in 1486 and who turned his dream into reality.”3
Here are more intriguing facts that have been noted in connection with Columbus’ Jewish heritage:
- There is evidence that Columbus spoke Spanish while still living in Italy, an unusual situation unless his family had originated in Spain. Spanish-speaking Jewish refugees from the Inquisition were numerous in the Italian area of Genoa.
- The form Colón, which Columbus adopted as the Spanish equivalent of his last name, was not the expected form (which would have been Colom or Colombo). It was, however, a common Jewish variation on the name.
- Columbus was known to frequent the company of Jews and former Jews, among whom were some noted astronomers and navigators, as well as his official translator. Marranos (another term for Jews forced to convert) figured prominently among Columbus’ backers and crew. Throughout his life he demonstrated a keen knowledge of the Bible and the geography of the Holy Land.
- Columbus began the official report of his first voyage to America, addressed to Ferdinand and Isabella, with: “And thus, having expelled all the Jews from all your kingdoms and dominions, in the month of January, Your Highnesses commanded me that…I should go to the said parts of India.” This is a strange fact to mention in this context, and it is not even correct: The order of expulsion was not signed until March 31. It appears that Columbus was privy to information about the expulsion of the Jews, and made his plans accordingly.
- The fact that the expulsion of Spanish Jewry and Columbus’ voyage coincided is telling. Even when Columbus was scheduled to set sail on August 3, he insisted that his entire crew be ready on board a full day earlier. August 2, 1492 was the day that had been ordained for the last Jews of Spain to depart the country. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported from Spain on that dark day.
- When this coincidence of dates was first noted by the Spanish biographer S. de Madariaga, the English Jewish historian Cecil Roth also commented on the “coincidence” of August 2, 1492, coinciding with Tish B’Av, the Jewish fast of mourning. It was as if Columbus had arranged to remain on board ship for that ill-omened day, and to depart only afterwards.4
- Columbus discussed particular dates and phrases unique to Hebrew people. When writing about the fall of Jerusalem, he said “the destruction of the second house,” referring to the temple.
Chosen for a Mission
Suddenly, for me, a whole new light was shed on the discovery of America and on some of our current politics.
When I read The Book of Prophecies by Columbus, I realized that he truly believed he was on a mission from God. Over and over in his written logs he dedicated his voyage to the Lord Jesus Christ. He brilliantly combined and used the practical knowledge gathered by scientists of his time, but in the letter he drafted to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to make his appeal, he said, “I base what I say only on holy and sacred scripture.”5
Columbus possessed a sense of destiny, that he was chosen for a mission, confirmed by his name, Christ-Topher (“Christ-bearer”). He was motivated by prophecy as much as a longing for discovery. In his Book of Prophecies he collected passages from the Bible that inspired him to plan his voyage: Proverbs 8:27, which speaks of the earth’s surface as being curved; Isaiah 40:22, the spherical earth; and the ocean currents in Isaiah 43:16. He later described his discovery of the New World as “the fulfillment of what Isaiah prophesied,” in describing “isles beyond the sea,” in Isaiah 24:15 and 60:9. 6
He also at the very least suspected the existence of the American continent. He appears to have owned the 1472 edition of Bibliothecae Historicae, written by Diodorus Siculus, a first-century BC Greek historian who spoke of “a very great island many days sailing from Africa.”
Even beyond the geographical evidence Columbus collected, The Book of Prophecies shows an uncanny knowledge of prophetic events, vision for the future, foresight, a deep faith—and a mission. Columbus wanted nothing less than the universal conversion to Christ of all people. 7
The book was compiled with the help of an anonymous Italian scribe to whom Columbus indicated which passages he wanted copied, including several passages from the works of Augustine.
Apparently Columbus owned an anthology of the works of Augustine, published in Venice in 1491. Columbus also loved the book of Isaiah from which he quoted at length; he included lengthy commentary by a fourteenth-century Franciscan monk on the prophetic eighth chapter of Daniel. Columbus specifically picked passages from various sources that seemed to lend support to his personal role in fulfilling the prophecy.
Here are a few passages from The Book of Prophecies I find spiritually and historically amazing.
- “In the final year you will come to the land that has been returned by means of the sword and has been created by many peoples upon the mountains of Israel” (from Ezekiel 38; p.229).
- “The sons of Ishmael…will be the leaders of the persecution of Christians in the final days of the world…” (p.24).
- In the introduction to The Book of Prophecies editor Roberto Rusconi writes: “Columbus began to view the goal of the liberation of Jerusalem from Moslem domination in a more apocalyptic sense…the discovery of the West Indies became identified in his mind with one of the events which would precede the end of the world…and the universal conversion of the peoples to the gospel of Christ” (p. 33).7
- Think about this quote from Augustine: “With these and similar prophecies it is shown that what we know to have been fulfilled by Christ has been predicted: the God of Israel, who we know to be the one true God, will be worshipped not only by the one nation that is called Israel, but by all people, and that He will throw out the false gods of the Gentiles from their temples and from the hearts of their worshippers” (p. 163). When this passage was written and later quoted there was no physical nation of Israel—and there hadn’t been since AD 70.
The book is full of numerous prophetic references to Muslim domination and the conflict between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. These statements are extremely politically sensitive in today’s climate. Columbus held the same passion and regard for Jerusalem and God’s people as many Christians do today.
Columbus remains a mysterious and controversial figure. I’ve read enough to know that he has been variously described as one of the greatest mariners in history, a visionary genius, a mystic, a man of faith, a hero, a failed administrator, and a naive entrepreneur. He has also been described as a ruthless and greedy imperialist.
But was he Jewish? I think the evidence points heavily in that direction. We know he had a unique call on his life, and he fulfilled that call. He holds a permanent place among the great cloud of witnesses in the timeline of God’s prophetic plan. Christopher Columbus’ mission, begun in the crucible of persecution, was fueled by his passion to evangelize the world in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.
The implications of his Jewish origins are anathema to those who hate Christians and Jews: America was founded by a Jew, influenced by Jewish thought, and is perpetuated by Judeo-Christian ethics.
America has a prophetic role to play today, a destiny to fulfill. The prophecies Christopher Columbus envisioned are coming to pass in our time. Jews around the world are “coming home” to Israel, drawn by circumstances and national longing.
We are seeing the moving of the Holy Spirit for this last great “exodus,” called in Hebrew Aliyah. The Christian church a part in this last great adventure. He has a plan.
- Henry Ford, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem (1920, reprint, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 33. See alsohttp://archive.org/details/TheInternationalJewTheWorldsForemostProblemhenryFord1920
- See “Christopher Columbus (1451–1506),” Jewish-American Hall of Fame, www.amuseum.org/jahf/virtour/index.html#columbus.
- See Eliezer Segal, “Columbus’s Medinah?” From the Sources, Jewish Free Press, October 14, 1991, http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/911014_Columbus.html .
- Christopher Columbus, ed., The Book of Prophecies, 3, Repertorium Columbianum, ed. Roberto Rusconi, trans. Blair Sullivan (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 18–19.
- See Chuck Missler, “Mysteries Behind Our History: Was Columbus Jewish?” (1996), Koinonia House, www.khouse.org/articles/1996/109.
- Columbus, Book of Prophecies, 3:20.