Holiday Study -- Thanksgiving, Part 1: Christopher Columbus

This first lesson of our three-part Thanksgiving study dovetails in a remarkable way with our recent study on Islam, as you will soon see.  It begins with Christopher Columbus. The reason for this is based on our firm belief that God moves people and events, much like chess pieces, as part of His own strategy to accomplish His purposes in world history.

For example, we can cite Joseph in Egypt as one person whom God used in a significant way to shape the destiny of His chosen people, the nation Israel.  One can think of other such examples recorded in Scripture.

We all know from elementary school that "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" -- but recent research has brought to light much information about the man Christopher Columbus that we weren't taught in school.

A good source for more in-depth study on Columbus from a Christian perspective is to be found in two books by Peter Marshall and David Manuel:

Much of this lesson is derived from that source.

The name Christopher comes from the Latin Christo-ferens = [Christ-bearer]. There is compelling evidence from Columbus' own log and from other records, that he lived up to this name, and was a spirit-filled, born-again Christian.

From his log:
It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel his hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.  All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures ... I am a most unworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence. For the execution for the journey to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. It is simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied...   No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour,  if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service. The working out of all things has been assigned to each person by our Lord, but it all happens according to His sovereign will ... Day and night, moment by moment, everyone should express their most devoted gratitude to Him.

The Isaiah quote he mentioned was from Isaiah 49, 1,6: "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations . . . I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

Also in Isaiah 24:15-16: "Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: "Glory to the Righteous One".

Columbus stated in his documents that the real purpose for his desired trip was "for the holy service of the Savior".

And when he finally landed, he named the island "San Salvador" [Holy Savior].
Upon landing, he prayed:

O Lord, Almighty and everlasting God, by thy holy Word Thou has created the heaven and the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be thy Name, and praised be thy majesty, which hath deigned to use us, thy humble servants, that thy holy Name may be proclaimed in this second part of the earth.

The Jewish Connection

One little-known historical fact is that Jews had migrated and settled several hundred years B.C. not only in Greece and Rome, but also in Spain. This adds new perspective to the Apostle Paul's desire expressed in Romans 15 to go to Spain.

Just as Paul wanted to update his countrymen the Jews in Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor and Rome regarding Messiah's coming, he apparently knew that there were many Jews in Spain who had not yet heard the good news, and he wanted to tell them also. Another group of Jews came to Spain as part of the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jews after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D.

We will pick up on this thread, "The Jewish Connection", a little later.

The Moors

Fast-forward to 711 A.D., when the Muslims, known then as "Moors", as part of their jihad across Europe, invaded Spain, and ended up controlling the country until 1492. During those more than 700 years, Moorish influence made a significant mark on Spanish music, language and architecture. They divided the Iberian peninsula into 980 districts called "spains". They cut off the overland trade routes to the East where Spain had enjoyed profitable trade with India and the Spice Islands.  The citizens knew that if they would ever be able to finance a war to throw off the yoke of the Moors, that trade would somehow have to be re-established.

By the late 13th century, the 980 spains had been grouped into provincias. The two major ones, Castile and Aragon, were combined by the marriage of Fernando II of Castillo and Isabella of Aragón. The only provincia not joining was Granada in the southeast, a strong Islamic center that produced the arabesque Alhambra palace and the rich flamenco music that still trumpets its strong Arab flavor even today.

The Flat Earth

Perhaps one of the greatest errors we learned as kids was the notion that Columbus sailed west to disprove a common belief that the earth was flat. In his day there was already a wealth of information suggesting otherwise.

So by Columbus' time, educated people already knew that the earth was round. His difficulty in securing funding for his epic voyage was not that superstitious belief, but rather a fear that the endeavor was doomed to fail.

Columbus' Plan

His first attempt to get financial backing was in 1482 (ten years before the voyage).

Financed by Jews!

It was not the sale of Isabella's crown jewels. Three wealthy Jewish confidants of the king's court saw the possibilities of Columbus' vision, and offered to finance the voyage. Their names were:

Their reasons:
  1. They could recognize a good business deal -- a good venture opportunity.
  2. The Spanish Inquisition had made it impossible for Jews to practice their religion. They had been forced to convert to Christianity (to become conversos) just to survive, and many genuinely had, but others were faking it. These were called marranos or pigs.

By 1483, the Inquisitor General had condemned 13,000 Jews to be tortured in "La Casa Santa", [the Holy House].

In 1487 by Papal approval, 50% of all confiscated Jewish assets were to go to Ferdinand, and 50% were to go to the Pope.

On January 2, 1492, Granada fell. The Reconquista was complete. Queen Isabella summoned Columbus to inform him that his voyage was approved.

On March 31, 1492 came the "Edict of Expulsion" stating that "by midnight August 3, 1492, there will no longer be a live Jew on the Iberian peninsula."

August 3, 1492 on the Jewish calendar was the 9th of Av. The date has become significant in Jewish history, because:

Christopher Columbus and his crew boarded the three ships a few minutes before the deadline! Many if not all of his crew may have been Jewish. There are a number of factors which strongly suggest that Columbus himself may have been a Jew.

Thought Question:
It would appear that Columbus was a Jewish Christian who loved Jesus deeply and wanted to serve Him. And we have seen how the Muslim conquest of Spain brought about a need for new trade routes. And we have learned how the Spanish Inquisition sought to drive all Jews out of Spain. And we believe that God shapes events and sends men of His choice to accomplish His ends.  So:

Did God send Columbus just to find new trade routes or a new homeland for the Jews?
Or did He have a higher purpose?