Christopher Columbus may have lost his status as an unqualified hero but blanket condemnations of the explorer might be missing the mark. There is a lot of historical territory surrounding Columbus that has only been discovered by a few, and relatively recently. Did you know, for example, that one of his main goals was to prepare Jerusalem for the return of Jesus?
Reams and reams have been written about Columbus over the ages – the good, the bad and the ugly. Snippets of information found about his life often result in wild speculation, such as the fact that he wrote to his sons in Hebrew – was he secretly Jewish in a time when to acknowledge such a thing resulted in death? We may never know. Was he a good guy who did some bad things? Or a bad guy who did some good things? Was he, like Martin Luther, a mixture of both? Native American friends will surely find his memory unsavory to say the least, but while not excusing the inexcusable, the fact is (as King David can testify) people are complicated. Additionally, it is now becoming apparent that some of the more shocking horrors attributed to him in recent years have been based in misunderstandings and bad interpretations of his writings.1
Columbus scholar, Pauline Moffitt Watts, has identified the two main themes of the writings of Columbus as being: the conversion of all peoples to the Christian faith, and the re-conquest of Jerusalem (Watts 1985: 92)2. There is a letter from Columbus dated 1493 to the King and Queen of Spain spelling out the fact that liberating Jerusalem was his end goal, and ten years later he wrote to the Pope saying, “This enterprise was undertaken with the purpose of expending what was invested in aiding the holy temple and the holy Church.”3 He wrote:
“Jerusalem and Mount Sion are to be rebuilt by the hand of a Christian; who this is to be, God declares by the mouth of His prophet in the fourteenth psalm. Abbot Joachin said that he was to come from Spain.”4
He saw himself as destined to have a hand in restoring Jerusalem in preparation for the coming King. He didn’t give up on this passion till the day he died. In his will, signed the day before his death, Columbus stipulated that a fund should be set up for the purpose of liberating Jerusalem.5 Today such talk of conquest and liberation may be unpalatable but his keen eagerness to prepare the way for Jesus to return is quite evident from his writings.
The contribution of Columbus
1492 was a year of significance. It simultaneously marks the famous voyage of Columbus and also the tragic expulsion of Jews from Spain. During the very year Jewish people faced the gruesome height of the Spanish Inquisition, the door to a new safe haven opened. “America was discovered”, if we can forgive all the problems with that phrase. Just as Israel was a nation started by God for a purpose that would bless the nations, so too, it seems, was the United States of America.
Columbus may not have realized his dream of seeing Jerusalem back in the hands of God’s people, but as a consequence of his ventures, he helped to preserve the people of Israel at a critical time in history. Though not in the way he imagined, he has been used in God’s purposes to prepare the way for Jesus to return to a nation and a city that will welcome Him home.
The millennial, apocalyptic scenario that stirred Columbus did not die with him but made the transatlantic crossing with the Puritans who founded the “New Jerusalem” in New England. Through the Puritans these ideas entered into the American mainstream where they have had a powerful grip on American imagination, helping to shape a particular vision of the place of the United States in history and the way Americans understand themselves and their destiny. (Delaney, p.287)
It is with gratitude that we think about the formation of the United States of America. Not blind whitewashing, but genuine appreciation of what God has done both with, despite, and for sinful humanity. In the USA, the opportunity to start a new life was opened for people from all over the world, including almost half of the world’s Jewish population.
God bless America!
For centuries now, the US has provided a home for millions of American Jews, but it has also been a great blessing to the state of Israel in more recent years. Israel simply wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for the rescue of our American allies. President Nixon, another unlikely character, literally saved Israel from annihilation during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
More than just blessing Israel, the US has been a blessing to all the nations of the earth with the gospel. It’s impossible to calculate the resources generously given by American Christians to advance the kingdom of God throughout the whole world. As a global center for missions, a staggering number of people have been sent out from the US. Many dedicated Americans have gone to the far corners of the earth and even sacrificed their lives for the sake of the gospel.
So this Thanksgiving, we’d like to say a hearty thank you to God for the United States of America, for the flawed explorer, Christopher Columbus, and also for the cartographer who produced the faulty map he used that was so badly mistaken. In the providence of God, they ended up opening a door of hope for Israel and of blessing to the world.
- Greg Blass, The real Columbus: There’s hard evidence that the modern recast of the great explorer is a myth
Columbus knew and wrote in Latin and Spanish, rarely in Portuguese or Italian, but some of his works were only translated into English as late as 1991, so have not received much scholarly attention.
In Defense of Columbus: An Exaggerated Evil
2. Pauline Moffitt Watts, Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s “Enterprise of the Indies” The American Historical Review, Volume 90, Issue 1, February 1985, Pages 73–102
3. Carol Delaney, Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem, 2006, Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University p.265
4. As cited in Delaney, Ibid p.266
5. Ibid. p.266
Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash