New Evidence: Columbus Was of Marrano Stock/ DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

Many of the scientific, financial and practical aspects of the discovery of America had a Jewish angle to them, and Columbus himself may have had Jewish roots

The year 1492 was an important one, and not just for the Jews who were expelled from Spain. In that same year the Muslim conquest of Spain officially ended, with the fall of Granada to the Christians. But the most important event in terms of international history was undoubtedly Christopher Columbus' departure on his westwards maritime journey in an attempt to find a shortcut to the East.

Jewish Aspects of Columbus' Voyage

Notably a number of Jewish figures, "New Christians" (i.e. Marranos), were associated with Columbus's expedition, which also showed certain Jewish aspects.

First, Jews and New Christians contributed directly and indirectly to the success of Columbus's expedition. Abraham Zacuto of Portugal, a personal friend of Columbus, drew the maps for the voyage and his book, written originally in Hebrew and called Almanach Perpetuuam in the Latin translation, made astronomical tables available for use in navigation. Abraham Ibn Ezra also published astronomical studies that led to an improvement in navigation, and Levi Ben Gershom invented navigation equipment for gazing at the stars and a tool for measuring the altitude of the heavenly bodies. Zacuto modified Ben Gershom's measuring tool to permit its use in determining the lines of latitude independent of the meridian-longitude that passes around the globe via the two poles – while using the North Star at night to determine the location of the vessel.

Second, the New Christians Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez invested money to finance the expedition, and one hypothesis maintains that among their considerations was to seek a refuge outside of Spain for the New Christians.

Both held senior positions in the finances of the royal court and ranked among the wealthy families. Luis was responsible for tax collecting. Luis' father was burned at the stake following an auto da fe (sentencing for religious offense) at Zaragoza and he himself suffered from problems related to his Jewish origins. It was Luis who persuaded Queen Isabella about the advantages Spain stood to achieve from Columbus's expedition, and as a result of his influence she pawned her jewels to finance the voyage. Luis himself made the Queen an interest-free loan of 17,000 ducats.

Gabriel, a relative of Luis, was in charge of the royal treasury. His father's cross was burned at the stake in Zaragoza in 1493. The Inquisition had a custom of burning the crosses of Marranos who managed to escape the Inquisition. Gabriel, together with Luis, and another New Christian, Juan Cabrero, who was head of the royal office, helped persuade the Queen to support Columbus's voyage. Luis and Gabriel were rewarded by the Queen in a special edict issued on May 30, 1497. Luis received protection from the Inquisition and Sanchez was the first to receive a royal license to export grain and horses to America.

Third, Columbus's crew included New Christians. Luis de Torres, his first mate, knew Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, and one of his duties was to serve as a translator. After receiving a pension and a generous land grant from the Queen, Luis settled in Cuba and to this very day there is a synagogue in Cuba that bears his name. The ship's physician, Mastre Bernal of Tortosa, had been punished by the Inquisition. Likewise the delegation included Alfonso de la Calle, Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, a family relative of Gabriel Sanchez and Marco, the ship's barber and bloodletter.

Fourth, Columbus' second voyage, which set sail from Cadiz on September 25, 1493, was financed by Jewish property expropriated from those expelled from Spain, and from the property of New Christians imprisoned by the Inquisition and accused of observing Jewish customs leading to the sequestering of their property.

Fifth, it emerges retroactively that many New Christians, merchants and intellectuals, migrated to the New World in an attempt to rid themselves of the perils of the Inquisition. When the extent of the migration became clear to the Royal House, a royal edict was promulgated in 1511, prohibiting the emigration of New Christians to the New World until the fourth generation. Likewise, the Inquisition expanded its activity to the New World.

New Revelations About Columbus's Jewish Origins.

Historian Gabriel Vertmartoral, who studied Columbus's biography, reached the conclusion that Columbus belonged to a Marrano family, basing his conclusion on Columbus' journal and correspondences, which were studded with allusions to his Jewish origin. It turns out that he belonged to the Colon family, one of whose members was burned at the stake in an auto da fe. His mother Susannah also came from a family of New Christians that secretly observed Judaism, and her maiden name was Ponderosa. The Colon and Ponderosa families were tied by relations of commerce and marriage.

Columbus wrote in his journal that he went on his westwards expedition in the very same month that the Jews were expelled. If he were a Christian he might not have found this notable. When he saw signs of land for the very first time, he writes that this occurred at the time of the Jewish festival of Tabernacles. In his letters to his son Fernando he uses Hebrew abbreviations such as B"H – with the help of G-d. Likewise, in his letter he quotes from the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, as well as from the book of Ezra, i.e. from the Jewish Bible, which was unusual among Christians. The Catholic Church was not interested in its believers having an intimate knowledge of the Jewish Bible. It was translated into Latin, a language most of the believers could not understand, making the text inaccessible to many. Church policy was to bring the written word of both the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible to the attention of the believers through sermons and filtered through priestly interpretation.

Vertmartoral is not the only historian to reach the conclusion that Columbus came from a Marrano family. Columbus made many efforts to blur his identity, for understandable reasons, and various historians reached different conclusions regarding his birthplace, but they concur he was of Jewish origin. Columbus had political and religious reasons to conceal his origins. The political reason was that in his youth he participated in a rebellion against the King of Aragon, and the religious reason was his Jewish origin.

Emil Feuerstein, in his book Columbus the Jew, cites various accounts of the Columbus' birthplace but he reached the conclusion that the most persuasive version is that the family came from Spain. Since they were Marranos they fled the terror of the Inquisition to Italy, and there they returned to Judaism. Columbus apparently was born in Genoa, and there is archival documentation about a person by this name who was born in Genoa. But his mother tongue was Catalan Spanish and Columbus' knowledge of Italian was rudimentary. At a certain stage the family returned to Spain. The historians reach the conclusion that his real name was Colon, a common name among Jews from Spain, Italy and Amsterdam. And of course many Marranos found refuge in Italy and Amsterdam.

The geographer Alexander Humboldt, who lived between the years 1769-1859, corroborates Vertmartoral's conclusion that Columbus, a.k.a. Colon, was of Jewish origin. He also notes that Columbus would frequently quote Hebrew prophets in his correspondence, as well as Jewish heroes, and always defended the Jews.

From historic sources it is known that Columbus did his best to help the Marranos. He took with him 52 Marrano families on one of his journeys and settled them in Costa Rica. In 1506 and 1538 he received land grants in Jamaica from Queen Isabella, and among the rights granted him was a promise that the Inquisition would not operate in Jamaica. In a report sent to the Spanish ambassador in London in 1623, it emerges that the Columbus family gave refuge to Marranos fleeing the terror of the Inquisition. His descendents continued the tradition of defending the Marranos.

An analysis of Columbus' will shows that the signature consists of a triangle that forms a Star of David when doubled. The symbol was common in medieval times. He instructed his heirs to sign exactly like him. His signature also included the letter "S" 3 times. Professor Amzaleg of Portugal contends that this signified holy, holy, holy since the letter "S" is an abbreviation of the word sanctus, which means holy. The letters "x", "m" and "y" also appear in Columbus' signature. Amzaleg believes that this camouflages the Hebrew letters "shin", "mem" and "ayin," forming the word "shema," the first word of the fundamental Jewish affirmation, "Shema Yisrael." The explanation for this complex signature is that Columbus wanted his heirs to remain faithful to their origins and, as was common among Marranos, he used symbols or agreed upon signs to avoid exposing them to danger.

Some time ago Spanish forensic geneticist, Dr. Jose Antonio Lorente, removed a bit of DNA from Columbus' bones, which lie buried at his tomb in Seville. The results of a comparative examination of his DNA with people whose family name is Colon or Columbus proved inconclusive.
Dr. Rivka Shpak Lissak (1/10/2008)

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