We all know the tune. “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” sung by school children for generations when learning about the discovery of America.
Christopher Columbus has fallen out of favor of late in the cold glare of political correctness and the realistic harm to indigenous peoples of the day. Revisionists apply 21st Century mores to 15th Century frontier society, and demonize every accomplishments of this explorer. His unfortunate governing of the native people of what is now modern day Haiti and Cuba, whom he stumbled across while looking for a route to the East, has seemingly tainted his entire story.
Taking the good with the bad, one must recall it was a different era, with very different standards and there was a lot of drama unfolding in European 1492! The same year Chris sought a blessing from Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs of Spain for his voyage, the last emir of Grenada was being driven off Spain’s northern coast. The Spanish Inquisition had been well under way for 14 years the Catholic Monarchs had followed the example of other European nations and issued a royal edict for all Jewish citizenry to convert to Christianity, leave or face death was issued just prior to his sailing. This was the dicey political environment wherein the Italian navigator launched his small fleet into unknown waters.
Love him, hate him or disagree with his management style, Columbus’ bold navigation led to “known” European exploration of the North American continent. One must ask ourselves, who was Christopher Columbus and what was his real story? This excerpt from a 2012 CNN report gives us additional insight to what may well be the true motivation that launched the story of Christopher Columbus:
Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.
Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn’t speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious — and revealing — provisions.
Two of his wishes — tithe one-tenth of his income to the poor and provide an anonymous dowry for poor girls — are part of Jewish customs. He also decreed to give money to a Jew who lived at the entrance of the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.
On those documents, Columbus used a triangular signature of dots and letters that resembled inscriptions found on gravestones of Jewish cemeteries in Spain. He ordered his heirs to use the signature in perpetuity.
According to British historian Cecil Roth’s “The History of the Marranos,” the anagram was a cryptic substitute for the Kaddish, a prayer recited in the synagogue by mourners after the death of a close relative. Thus, Columbus’ subterfuge allowed his sons to say Kaddish for their crypto-Jewish father when he died. Finally, Columbus left money to support the crusade he hoped his successors would take up to liberate the Holy Land.
Estelle Irizarry, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, has analyzed the language and syntax of hundreds of handwritten letters, diaries and documents of Columbus and concluded that the explorer’s primary written and spoken language was Castilian Spanish. Irizarry explains that 15th-century Castilian Spanish was the “Yiddish” of Spanish Jewry, known as “Ladino.” At the top left-hand corner of all but one of the 13 letters written by Columbus to his son Diego contained the handwritten Hebrew letters bet-hei, meaning b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help). Observant Jews have for centuries customarily added this blessing to their letters. No letters to outsiders bear this mark, and the one letter to Diego in which this was omitted was one meant for King Ferdinand.
In famed Nazi hunter, Simon Weisenthal’s book, “Sails of Hope,” he argues that Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for the Jews in light of their expulsion from Spain. Likewise, Carol Delaney, a cultural anthropologist at Stanford University, concludes that Columbus was a deeply religious man whose purpose was to sail to Asia to obtain gold in order to finance a crusade to take back Jerusalem and rebuild the Jews’ holy Temple.
In Columbus’ day, Jews widely believed that Jerusalem had to be liberated and the Temple rebuilt in order for the Messiah to come.
Scholars point to the date on which Columbus set sail as further evidence of his true motives. He was originally going to sail on August 2, 1492, a day that happened to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples of Jerusalem. Columbus postponed this original sail date by one day to avoid embarking on the holiday, which would have been considered by Jews, of any era then or now, to be an extremely unlucky day to set sail. (Coincidentally or significantly, the day he set forth was the very day that Jews were, by law, given the choice of converting, leaving Spain, or being killed.)
Columbus’ voyage was not, as is commonly believed, funded by the deep pockets of Queen Isabella, but rather by two Jewish Conversos and another prominent Jew. Louis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez advanced an interest free loan of 17,000 ducats from their own pockets to help pay for the voyage, as did Don Isaac Abrabanel, rabbi and Jewish statesman.
Indeed, the first two letters Columbus sent back from his journey were not to Ferdinand and Isabella, but to Santangel and Sanchez, thanking them for their support and telling them what he had found.
The evidence seem to bear out a far more complicated picture of the man for whom our nation now celebrates a national holiday and has named its capital.
As we witness bloodshed the world over in the name of religious freedom, it is valuable to take another look at the man who sailed the seas in search of such freedoms — landing in a place that would eventually come to hold such an ideal at its very core.
Anyone of Jewish heritage, sailing from Spain just ahead of forced conversion or permanent expulsion raises compelling questions. A sea captain sailing with patronage of numerous, prominent Jewish backers leads one to consider secondary goals- beyond personal gain on investment were afoot in this expedition. Certainly, any 15th Century Jew in Europe had long corporate memories of persecution and bigotry. Was Columbus’ purpose confined to enriching Ferdinand and Isabella and finding fame and fortune for himself? Might his dogged determination to find trade routes which avoided Muslim strongholds for Imperial Spain have also cloaked hopes of funding an old-school “GoFundMe” for Promised Land liberation and assure future re-settlement by his people to Israel. Or perhaps he had vague ideas of discovering a safe haven or sanctuary for Jewish Ex-Pats far from the long arm of Catholic Europe? Considering the uncertainty of the times, any or all of these ideas could be possible and honestly, we will likely never know.
In his lifetime, Columbus’ discoveries met with mixed reviews and very little profit- for himself or his investors. Whatever his stated or secret goals, his discovery of the America’s in 1492 eventually did provide a land of opportunity and safety for Jews who found their way to these shores. At this writing, the United States, according to census records has more Jews than even the nation of Israel. Perhaps America’s historic welcoming of Jewish immigrants and our more current support of Israel since 1948 which are a cornerstone of National blessing. (Genesis 12:3)
An oft quoted adage of undeniable wisdom states that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. Yet, sometimes, it is what we didn’t know about our history and the characters who hacked it out of the wilderness which turns out to be much more fascinating and informative! Sometimes, in our own adventures we set sail looking for the “India” and wind up beached in the Caribbean! Our current perception can look like total failure, financial calamity or an unfortunate turn of events! A look back with the perspective of time and wisdom gained, may well reveal the precious, perfect navigational plan of God Almighty!
Enjoy your Columbus Day, America!