Mysteries Behind Our History:
Was Columbus Jewish?
by Chuck Missler
On August 3, 1492, due to the Edict of Expulsion, all Jews were required to
leave Spain. Boarding their vessels before midnight, and sailing one-half hour
before sunrise, Columbus and his crew set out on his now-famous voyage.1
His historic voyage was financed by wealthy and influential Jews-many
themselves converts-rather than a magnanimous King and Queen of Spain.
The source of Columbus' motivation was his Biblical view of scientific data
as well as spiritual faith in the Scriptures.
A Second Homeland
Although their immigration into Europe technically started with the
destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. and the Diaspora it initiated, Jews had
already begun to settle on the Iberian (Spanish-Portuguese) Peninsula centuries
From about the first century a.d. Spanish Jews, called Sephardim (from the
Hebrew for the Iberian peninsula "Sepharad"), were pilgrimaging to Jerusalem.
Paul even spoke of the need for missionary work among the Jews of Spain.2
After about 200 a.d., Spain became and remained a second Jewish homeland for
well over a millennia. So deeply woven into the fabric of Spain are the Jews
that neither history can be fully studied without considering the influence of
Conversos and Marranos
The Jews in Spain became the target of pogroms and religious per-secution.
Many were forced to renounce Judaism and embrace Catholicism. These were known
as Conversos, or converts.
Others, Marranos, feigned conversion, practicing Catholicism outwardly while
remaining Jews inwardly. Marranos has two meanings in Spanish: "the damned" and
In response to a petition to Rome to introduce the Inquisition and find a
final solution to their Jewish Problem, in 1487 Spain obtained a Papal Bull. The
introduction of the Inquisition was motivated by the greed of King Ferdinand
attempting to seize all the power and wealth in Spain. It was an instrument of
avarice and political absolutism.3 Four years later tens of
thousands of Jews, Marranos, and even Conversos were suffering under the Spanish
The Role of Islam
In the 8th century, Muslim armies from North Africa invaded the Iberian
Peninsula, fragmenting it into separate kingdoms known as the Spains. About 980
of these independent Spains began their Reconquista, War of Reconquest, against
their Islamic invaders. The primary source of financing was trade with the Far
By the 1400s, the passages to the East were denied to the Christian West by
the Muslims who controlled the main overland routes to the Orient. Bandits,
desert heat and sand storms, as well as other hazards eventually made Europe's
alternate overland routes too dangerous and expensive. A new route, by sea, was
By the late 13th century, the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had
reconquered most of the Muslim-controlled territory. In 1479 the two kingdoms
were united as a result of the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella
of Castile. The last Muslim kingdom, Granada, was reconquered in 1492, which
seems to have set the stage for the famous voyage. The Maritime Technology of
Contrary to popular belief, most of the educated of 15th century Europe held
to the concept of a spherical earth.
Hebrew astronomers, like Abraham Zacuto, who the explorer Vasco Da Gama had
consulted seeking a sea route to India around Africa, furnished the celestial
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, whose mathematical system became the basis for modern
trigonometry, had invented a quadrant known as Jacob's Staff. This angle-
measuring de-vice was used by Columbus, Da Gama, and Ferdinand Ma-gellan, the
first to circumnavigate the earth.
Abraham Ibn Esra, Jacob ben Machir, and Jacob Carsoni developed technical
apparatus like the Astrolabe, used to determine the latitude and longitude of a
Cartography, the art and science of making maps and charts, was also an area
of Jewish expertise in Europe. One such specialist was Abraham Cresques, known
as "The Master of Maps and Compasses." Another was his son, Jehudah ben
Cresques, who administered several schools of cartography, thus preparing for
the "age of discovery" on their horizon.
It was a young mariner and cartographer who was to combine these factors into
a radical plan to reach the East by sailing west across the Ocean-Sea:
Italy asserts that Cristoforo Colombo was born in Liguria of humble means.
They claim his father, Domenico Colombo, was a tower sentinel in Genoa and later
a weaver in Savona.4
Spain insists that Cristobal Colon was the son of Domingo Colon, a wool
trader, and Susanna Fontanarossa, both of Pontevedra, Spain.
Other sources present the view that Columbus' family were Spaniards who lived
in Italy but later returned to Spain, resuming their original family name of
Fifteenth century Portugal was Europe's dominant sea power, with Lisbon, its
ocean-port capital, the center of navigational science and nautical speculation.
Arriving in Lisbon in 1476, Columbus engaged in cartography as well as
working in his brother's book business. It was from the interchanges with
scholars that Columbus crystallized his La Empresa de la Indies, his Enterprise
of the Indies.
He felt predestined, chosen for a mission. His name, Christ-Topher
("Christ-bearer"), he felt was evidence of his destiny.
Columbus was more driven by prophecy than astronomy. He compiled a collection
of Biblical passages in his Libro de las Profecias, Book of Prophecies: Proverbs
8:27, which speaks of the earth's surface as being curved; Isaiah 40:22, the
spherical earth; and the ocean currents in Isaiah 43:16.5 He
would later describe his discovery of the New World as "the fulfillment of what
Isaiah prophesied," from Isaiah 24:15, "Isles beyond the sea," and Isaiah
He also would have at least suspected the existence of the American
continent. In his personal library was the 1472 edition of Bibliothecae
Historicae, written by Diodorus Siculus, a first century b.c. Greek historian
who spoke of "a very great island many day's sailing from Africa."
Many Portuguese cartographers were aware of the "Isle of Seven Cities,"
Antlia, located in the Western Atlantic. Also, a passage by Roger Bacon, "the
sea between the end of Spain on the west and the beginning of India on the east
is navigable in a very few days if the wind is fav-orable," was cited by
Columbus in a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1498 as one of the suggestions
that had inspired his voyage in 1492.7
In 1483, Columbus' plan was rejected simply because they felt that the
distance was too great.
In 1487, Columbus left Portugal for Spain, and in 1489 he gained an audience
with Queen Isabella, and built his arguments on evangelistic aspects. She was so
impressed theologically she submitted it to a special commission at the
University of Salamanca, but in 1490 it was again rejected as the distance being
However, the Queen assured Columbus that he could petition her again after
the Reconquista was completed. When Granada, the last Muslim stronghold, fell in
January of 1492, Columbus was summoned and the issue was reopened.
When asked what he required to complete his plan, Columbus, to ensure the
well-being of his now impoverished family, included 10% of all treasure and
trade resulting. The extent of his requirements, along with the cost of the war,
made it impossible for Spain to underwrite the expedition.
Soon after Columbus was dismissed, three men, Juan Cabrero, Luis de
Santangel, and Gabriel Sanchez approached the monarchs. Aside from their being
Conversos, these were not ordinary Spaniards. Santangel was a member of one of
the wealthiest and most influential families in Spain, as well as the King's
personal advisor. Juan Cabrero was Ferdinand's intimate friend who had fought by
the King against the Muslims. Gabriel Sanchez was the Chief Treasurer of Spain.
They offered to finance Columbus' project and it was accepted.
Some scholars believe that Santangel and his associates were willing to
finance Columbus in the hope of finding a new Promised Land to which they might
emigrate and escape the pressure of the church.8
Tomas de Torquemada was appointed inquisitor-general in the autumn of 1483,
providing the Inquisition with a new impetus. In less than 12 years, the
Inquisition condemned no less than 13,000 Marranos, men and women who had
continued to practice Judaism in secret.9
They were tortured in La Casas Santa, the Holy Houses, and burned alive at
the stake while their property was divided between the Pope and the King.
When Granada fell on January 2, 1492, the drive toward complete religious
unity was reinforced. On March 31, 1492, the Edit of Expulsion was signed. The
deadline for Jews to leave Spain was August 3, 1492, which was, ironically, the
Ninth of Av (Tisha B'av) on the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting com-memorating
the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem.10
Columbus and his crew boarded their vessels before midnight, and on the
August 3rd sailed before sunrise.
Was Columbus Jewish?
Columbus employed peculiar dates and phrases unique to the Hebrew people.
Instead of referring to the "destruction" or "fall of Jerusalem," he used the
phrase "the destruction of the second house." He also employed the Hebrew
reckoning of 68 a.d. instead of 70 a.d. A marginal note dated 1481 is
immediately given its Hebrew equivalent of 5241, etc.
He boasted that he was related to King David, some of his letters were
described as written in an "unknown script" (Hebrew?), and he is said to have
used a unique triangular signature similar to inscriptions found on gravestones
of ancient Jewish cemeteries in Spain and Southern France.
Was Columbus a Gentile or a Jew? Was he a Marrano or a Converso? Was he Cristoforo Colombo
the Italian Catholic or Crist: bal Col: n the Spanish Jew?
In the final analysis, Columbus' ethnic background is not the important
issue, but rather-as is ultimately true for each of us also-his spiritual
The Word of God instructs us to "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His
righteousness and all things will be added unto us."11
In this regard Columbus wrote: "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
Just as a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he
possesses, so Columbus' greatness does not come from his discovery of America,
but because of his relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. How are
you doing in this regard?
Where do you stand?
- For a remarkable account from the translation of Columbus' logs, and other
uplifting background on the founding of our nation, be sure to read The
Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, Fleming H.
Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ, 1977.
- We are also deeply indebted to Tom Fontanes and his sources: M.
Kayserling, Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the
Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries; Salvador de Madariaga,
Christopher Columbus Being the Life of the Very Magnificent Lord - don
Cristobal Colon; Gianni Granzotto, Christopher Columbus; Simon
Wiesenthal, Sails of Hope: The Secret Mission of Christopher
Columbus; Dr. Cecil Roth, Who Was Columbus?; as published in
Countdown Magazine, 9/90.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 16, p. 670f.
- Romans 15:24, 28.
- See our Audio Book The
Kingdom of Blood.
- Columbus was no Genoese patriot: He fought on the Portuguese
side in the battle of Cape St. Vincent, August 13, 1476 (Encyclopaedia
Britannica, Vol. 16, p. 668).
- This passage, along with Psalm 77:19, also encouraged
Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) to pursue mapping "the pathways in the sea"
and thus become the Father of Oceanography.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 16, p. 688.
- Roger Bacon, Opus maius, iv, 4; copied in the Imago
mundi (1480) by Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly, quoted in Will Durant's The Story of
Civilization, Vol. 4, p. 1010.
- A regathering prophesied in Jeremiah 23:3; 29:14; and 32:37.
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 15, p. 242.
- For a summary of Tisha B'av, see our Audio Book The Feasts of Israel.
- Matthew 6:33.