Was Columbus secretly a Jew?

Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.

Today marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus.

Everybody knows the story of Columbus, right? He was an Italian explorer from Genoa who set sail in 1492 to enrich the Spanish monarchs with gold and spices from the orient. Not quite.

For too long, scholars have ignored Columbus’ grand passion: the quest to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims.

During Columbus’ lifetime, Jews became the target of fanatical religious persecution. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed that all Jews were to be expelled from Spain. The edict especially targeted the 800,000 Jews who had never converted, and gave them four months to pack up and get out.

Tens of thousands of Marranos were tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. They were pressured to offer names of friends and family members, who were ultimately paraded in front of crowds, tied to stakes and burned alive. Their land and personal possessions were then divvied up by the church and crown.

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 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 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 to be an 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.

Was Columbus secretly Jewish? Historians argue explorer’s epic voyage was to establish new homeland for his people as they escaped the Spanish Inquisition

  • Scholars believe Columbus was a ‘Marrano’, a secret Jew who feigned conversion to Catholicism
  • Historians say five clues to the explorer’s true faith can be found in his last will and testament
  • New theory suggests he was looking for a safe haven for the Jews persecuted and driven out of Spain
  • He was described as a ‘deeply religious’ man who was committed to the cause of liberating Israel’s Holy Land
Hiding his faith? Scholars have offered a fascinating theory about the true religion of Christopher Columbus

Hiding his faith? Scholars have offered a fascinating theory about the true religion of Christopher Columbus

He was an intrepid explorer, heroically leading his crew into the unknown as he set sail for the New World on a voyage of discovery.

 

His legend might be cemented in history as the man who discovered America, but a remarkable new theory has emerged about Christopher Columbus and why he embarked on his momentous voyage of 1492.

On the day marking the 508th anniversary of the explorer’s death, scholars have claimed there is compelling evidence that suggests Christopher Columbus was secretly Jewish and that he hid his true faith to survive the Spanish Inquisition.

In a further revelation, historians believe the real motive behind his historic quest was to find a new homeland for Jews who were persecuted and run out of Spain.

As well as his legendary status as an explorer, Columbus has been described as a deeply religious man who was committed to the cause of liberating Jerusalem from the Muslims.

Jews were the target of a brutal and systematic ethnic cleansing during the lifetime of Columbus.

As part of fanatical, religious persecution it was proclaimed by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in March 1492 that all Jews should be expelled from Spain.

This move was particularly aimed at the 800,000 Jews who refused to convert to Catholicism and were given just four months to leave the country.

The remaining Jews in Spain fell into two groups: The ‘Conversos’ – converts who embraced Catholicism and renounced Judaism – and the ‘Marranos’, meaning swine, who feigned conversion but secretly continued with their own religious practices.

In search of a safe haven? An illustration of Christopher Columbus setting foot on American soil for the first time... but was he looking for a new Jewish homeland?

In search of a safe haven? An illustration of Christopher Columbus setting foot on American soil for the first time… but was he looking for a new Jewish homeland?

Question of faith: The Spanish Inquisition tortured tens of thousands of Marranos, who were ordered to give up the names of others - including friends and relatives

Question of faith: The Spanish Inquisition tortured tens of thousands of Marranos, who were ordered to give up the names of others – including friends and relatives

The Spanish Inquisition tortured tens of thousands of Marranos, who were ordered to give up the names of others – including friends and relatives.

 

Marranos who had their secret lives exposed were paraded in front of crowds, tied to stakes and burned alive while the crown and the church divided and took their land and personal possessions.

It has been claimed that Columbus was a Marrano and that keeping his Jewish heritage secret was crucial to his survival.

The scholars believe he left intriguing clues to his true religious background when he died, CNNreported.

Five provisions discovered in Columbus’s last will and testament, signed by the explorer on May 19, 1506, point to him being Jewish, the scholars argue.

Firstly, he left one tenth of his income to the poor and outlined another wish that an anonymous dowry be provided for girls with no money – both of which are part of Jewish customs.

Map showing the voyages of Christopher Columbus and fellow explorer John Cabot: The expedition is said to have been funded not by Queen Isabella of Spain, but by three prominent Jews

Map showing the voyages of Christopher Columbus and fellow explorer John Cabot: The expedition is said to have been funded not by Queen Isabella of Spain, but by three prominent Jews

The Holy Land: Columbus has been described as a deeply religious man who was committed to the liberation of Jerusalem in Israel

The Holy Land: Columbus has been described as a deeply religious man who was committed to the liberation of Jerusalem in Israel

CLUES OF A SECRET JEW?

Historians say there are a number of intriguing hints that point towards Columbus being Jewish.

Two provisions made in his will were Jewish customs: To leave one tenth of his income to the poor and providing an anonymous dowry for girls with no money.

He left an undisclosed amount supporting the crusade of liberating the Holy Land.

He also gave funds to a Jew living at the entrance of the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.

He instructed his heirs to use a triangular signature made up of dots and letters, mimicking a Jewish prayer.

His famous voyage was funded not by the Queen of Spain, but by three prominent Jews – and it was them who he updated first on the progress of his quest.

 

He also left an undisclosed amount of money to support the crusade of liberating the Holy Land, as well as leaving funds to a Jew who lived at the entrance of the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.

Perhaps the most intriguing clues are within Columbus’s signature itself, the scholars claim.

The explorer used a series of dots and letters – formed in a triangular shape – resembling inscriptions found on gravestones of Jewish cemeteries in Spain, which he ordered his heirs to use.

It is believed by one British historian – Cecil Roth, the author of A History of the Marranos – that the signature cryptically replicated a Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, which is usually recited in a synagogue by people mourning the death of a close family member.

This would have allowed Columbus’s sons to say Kaddish for their father after his death, it is claimed.

Another historian, Simon Weisenthat, claimed in his book Sails of Hope that the motive behind Columbus’s voyage was to find a homeland and safe haven for the Jews following their expulsion from Spain.

The scholars say that, contrary to popular belief, the expedition was not funded by Queen Isabella, but by three prominent Jews who all stumped up 17,000 ducats, CNN reports.

This theory is supported, they say, by the emergence of the first two letters written by Columbus, which were sent to his ‘backers’ instead of the royal couple, revealing what he had found and thanking them for his support.

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