We all memorized it as children, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but what was that year like? How might the world have appeared to Columbus as he sailed from the Spanish shore? Join us below as we take a look at the year marked by many as the unlocking of modern America and the man who led that journey!
The Year was 1492:
To understand Columbus and what he encountered the day he set sail, it is important to examine the months leading up to the voyage.
Spain was ruled at this time by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Many today refer to it as the golden era of Spain, but that view is perhaps more focused on actual gold than on general prosperity and Godliness. The pair oversaw the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478, but worse still, they, in their often violent desire to covert the world to their brand of Christianity, signed an edict… a decree requiring Jews to enter into a strict, forced conversion, or to leave Spain speedily with only a portion of their possessions.
While the Inquisition had prompted violence against Jews and already led to many forced conversions, the order to expel the Jews forced remaining Jews to choose between their faith or home. Sources vary widely in the estimated number of Jews living in Spain who tried to leave. Some say as few as 40,000 attempted to make a new life elsewhere, while others have the numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
The edict became official on March 31, 1492 and all Jews had to have either been fully converted or left the country by the end of July, 1492—though some could not sail out until early August, 1492. Only four months for what could have been hundreds of thousands of people to sell their properties and seek passage out of the country. Between the flood of homes and businesses on the market and the general anti-Semitism built up through the Inquisition and the edict… Jews who decided to seek sanctuary in other nations sold their possessions for next to nothing.
This created several problems:
- Lack of basic necessities
- Lack of monies to travel out of Spain
- Lack of monies needed to rebuild in a new country, or even afford housing and food
Along with the mass exodus, the massive number of Spaniards who hated Jews, and the limited places in which one could seek asylum—if the means was even available to get there—many Jews died, and even more were forced from a comfortable living into a struggle to survive. There are even records that those Jews who could afford the ridiculously high price of passage that many captains greedily forced them to pay were then thrown overboard once the ships were out to sea.
Within the last decade, the theory that Columbus may have been of Jewish origin has spread. While perhaps not a new theory, the theoretical and historical evidences for it have grown…
Key points which support this theory are:
- A generally vague familial and personal background
- Rumors of papers, documents, and even a journal belonging to Columbus being written in Hebrew and present on the voyage
- Columbus being unable to attain financial backing or loans from virtually anyone but two Jews who had ‘converted’ to Christianity, Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez, and perhaps one other prominent Jew
- Columbus delaying the voyage launch from August 2, 1492 to August 3, 1492; that year August 2 fell on Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of the Jewish Temples
- Columbus hiring an interpreter for the 1492 voyage, Luis de Torres, who had recently ‘converted’ from Judaism to Christianity
- Columbus utilizing the navigational expertise of two Jews, Abraham Zacuto and his pupil Joseph Vecinho; while likely more in the form of their charts, etc., and not direct conversations, Columbus is purported to have received Zacuto’s charts from Vecinho, which would mean that Columbus at least knew the pupil, if not Zacuto himself
Other support for this theory may exist, but even with this alone it is easy to see why some believe Columbus’ Jewish heritage is fact and not theory. Considering it was during a time when Jews and Judaism were rejected by Spain and likely the majority of those within Spain and the surrounding countries—if only due to the danger of being labeled a Jew—for Columbus to not only do business with Jews, but also employ them is intriguing. Perhaps even dangerous…
His uncertain heritage and background on their own neither prove nor disprove Columbus having Judaic heritage, however, when combined with other facts it sets a stage. One were Jews who had ‘converted’ to Christianity during the time of the Inquisition and edict often created a false history in order to protect themselves and their family…
The delay in his voyage certainly could have been due to many things, but were Columbus a ‘converted’ Jew, he would not have sailed on Tisha B’Av. In fact, some sources say that on August 3, 1492, from the port of Palos de la Frontera, Spain, a large fleet of ships set sail that were not part of Columbus’ fleet. These ships were full of fleeing Jews. Which also begs the question, did Columbus depart August 3, 1492 as a show of solidarity? Of a Jew mourning the exodus of his people?
But what of the papers? A diary written in the hand of Columbus in Hebrew would surely be proof of his being Jewish… but currently one is not known. If there were papers in Hebrew aboard the ship, could they have belonged perhaps to the interpreter, Torres? It is impossible for us to know when any papers written in Hebrew from the voyage that might still exist are not known to the public. Yet, the lack of such papers from a Spanish voyage made over 500 years ago does not mean that they never existed—or do not now. After all, Hebrew was not a language anyone would want left on display at that time.
Still, while none of these facts and circumstances definitely conclude that Columbus was Jewish, together they make an interesting argument. One which perhaps in future years will have more evidence to support or deny.
“… ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’”—Genesis 12:1
Turmoil and a New World:
Beginning with the Inquisition and ending in a harsh edict, the latter years of 15th century Spain were tumultuous. Yet, of all those who suffered at the time, the Jewish people certainly felt the brunt of its force.
As far as we know, Columbus had wanted to find a new route to China, India, and other centers of trade long enough to have had his desire for financial backing turned down by multiple countries. Even Queen Isabella, who was once thought to have financed the voyage, played little to no role…
Jews ultimately financed/loaned Columbus the monies needed—which may explain the theory that Columbus sailed to search for a new Jewish homeland. A Jew served as translator. And Columbus consulted star charts crafted by Jews to guide him in his voyage…
Whether or not Columbus was Jewish, he certainly was not shy about working with Jews or trusting their judgement. His business dealings and plans to sail surely would have caused him to take note of the mass of Jews near the harbor during those first days of August… and of the other ships which sailed out as he did on August 3, 1492, stuffed with a cargo far different from his own. A cargo of escaping Jews.
Did Columbus grieve their plight? There is no way to know. But one thing is certain… out of the ashes of 1492 came beauty. There was suffering, warfare, and more than 100 years of waiting before the fullness would be revealed.
However, beauty emerged nonetheless. This was all because God had a plan to create a nation that would not only serve Him through faith but through action.
While in many ways we too are in a time of turmoil, we are also at the dawn of the greatest harvest of souls the world has ever seen. But our faith needs to be put into action! We need to pray for the nation God created, The United States of America, that we would once again be a “nation under God.” We need to pray for the leaders, the people, and the laws. We need to pray that the eyes of the Jews would be opened to Jesus—Yeshua the Messiah—so that the fullness of Jew and Gentile as One New Man might be made manifest on the earth!
The enemy may be working to bring turmoil and ashes to this world, but OUR GREAT GOD will turn those ashes into beauty! He will restore His people to Him and all the earth will see the glory of our God! Let us stand on Isaiah 61, not only for Israel, but for the United States of America!
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn,
to console those who mourn in Zion,
to give them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they may be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
“And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
they shall raise up the former desolations,
and they shall repair the ruined cities,
the desolations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
and the sons of the foreigner
shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.
But you shall be named the priests of the Lord…”
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Sources include articles from Jewish Virtual Library, HISTORY, Times of Israel, and National Geographic, amongst others. The Timetables of Jewish History, written by Judah Gribetz with Edward L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein, was also consulted. Slight discrepancies between sources do exist—for instance, some sources claim the edict was signed March 31, 1492, while others claim March 30, 1492—so it is important to realize that this blog is not a definitive account or record.