In 1492 Columbus was a Jew…
In recent years some intriguing new facts have come to light with regards to Christopher Columbus and his first voyage—tantalizing tales with claims of his Jewish descent, as well as claims that 90 percent or more of his crew were comprised of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
Although, all claims cannot be verified beyond doubt, due to inadequate documentation, this subject is just too fascinating to pass up. This article contains years of research done by the late Rabbi Judea Miller, Newton Froehlich, and Dr. Joseph Adler and others, as compiled by Rick Chaimberlin of Petah Tikvah Ministries.
On August 2, 1492 (Tisha b’Av, the 9th day of Av), more than 300,000 Jews were expelled from Spain, and on August 3, the next day, Columbus set sail for the west, taking a group of Jews with him. Spain and Portugal had an enormous Jewish population—ten percent of the total population. But life was precarious. Under the Inquisition, in order to maintain their professions as doctors, lawyers, etc., they had to convert to Roman Catholicism and renounce Judaism. If found practicing their ancient biblical faith, they would face torture or death. Yet, many did secretly maintain their Jewish identity and beliefs. However, even the true converts, “New Christians,” were resented by the “Old Christians;” therefore, many families eventually hid their Jewish identities, and thus this heritage was eventually forgotten…until this generation.
Today most historians recognize that Columbus was not born in Genoa, Italy, as formerly believed. A number of authorities now recognize that Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) was born in the Spanish city of Pontevedra of Jewish parents who became Marranos—a derogatory term, meaning swine, for forced converts. Many students of Columbus believe that his religious behavior exhibited elements typical of the Marranos of that period. The “Old Christians” used the term Marranos to describe Jews who outwardly practice Christianity but privately continued to practice what they consider Judaism—Old Testament feasts and observances.
Here, Chaimberlin brings in an interesting consideration. Through the ages, a remnant of Believers have remained, and occasionally have been written about, that identify with the First Century Believers—Jews and Gentiles worshiping Yeshua (Christians) in a very Hebraic context. Epiphanius, writing in 400 CE, castigates this sect of Believers, calling them heretics for their making use not only the New Testament, but “also use in a way of the Old Testament of the Jews; for they do not forbid the books of the Law, the Prophets, and the writings…they differ from the Jews because they believe in Christ, and from the Christians in that they are to this day bound to the Jewish rites, such as circumcision, the Sabbath and other ceremonies.”
This would have strictly been the dogma in Columbus’ time, yet he freely made very Jewish references in his writings, and was aware of the Jewish observances. We have no empirical evidence on this, but it is interesting to ponder, and certainly, he was a very unique man of faith in his time. Nearly all of the important people in his personal life (including his wife) as well as the people in his professional life were Jews, which further attests to his own Jewish heritage.
It is now believed that Columbus, having failed in his attempt to use his influence to reverse the expulsion edict, was now assisting a Jewish exodus and perhaps finding another safe haven for his kinsmen. Columbus mentions the “Exodus of the Jews” in his diary and expresses his sadness. He also connected the date of the expulsion with the 9th of the month of Av (Tisha b’Av)—“the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.” This is the date when the Temples in Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE and to the Romans in 70 CE. Columbus furthermore mentioned in his diary that he first sighted land on “Hoshannah Rabbah, during the Feast of Sukkot” (Tabernacles).
In the margins of Columbus’ diary are many references exhibiting a very unusual knowledge of old Testament Scripture, Jewish events and thought and chronology. The pages are filled with references seen exclusively in Jewish literature: references to “the Second House” when discussing the destruction of the Temple in 70AD; noting the Hebrew year equivalent (5241) next to the year 1481; and the use of the two Hebrew letters, bet and hey, that are used by observant Jews today in writings, “b’ezrat haShem” meaning “with the help of His Name (God).”
With the destruction of the Second Temple 70 AD, Jewish culture centered on learning much more than before, and the Jews became a study-oriented people. One thousand years later, in medieval Europe, all male Jews were literate, at a time when in most of Europe, only church clergy could read. The common belief has been that Queen Isabella pawned her jewels to finance Columbus’ voyage to the New World. However, as the haze of history clears under closer scrutiny, it appears that in actuality Queen Isabella pawned her JEWS and enriched her crown with confiscated estates of the hundreds of thousands expelled, as some have remarked. It is certain that at least the majority of the funding for the voyage came from Luis de Santangel, a powerful merchant, along with Gabriel Sanchez, the royal treasurer, both Marranos or “secret Jews, forced converts.”
Columbus’ first letter in 1493 about his discoveries, complete with maps and illustrations, was sent to him. With the closing of the Office of the Inquisition in the 1960s and unsealing of records, research has begun to recover many a family’s lost Jewish heritage.
Along with genetic testing to verify, many families have found their surnames listed among the records of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal to the Americas. Settling or buying land from the Church from South America through Central America, and all the way up into (modern day) New Mexico and Texas, Jewish families from Spain and Portugal found themselves once again at the point of the sword as the Inquisition spread to the New World. The last auto de fe, the burning of Jews and heathens in Mexico City under the Inquisition of the Americas took place in the late 1800s, and is memorialized on friezes and in artwork on historic buildings of the era.
—Excerpted from July/August 2005, Jewish Voice Today Magazine.
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