On Columbus’ Origins

Having celebrated this week what is known here in the US as Columbus Day, a federal holiday, I thought it might be interesting to share (rather than review) a novel that I just finished reading — timely enough — about the life of Christopher/Christofer/Christoferro/Christobal Columbus/Colombo/Colon/Colona. The multitude of names signifies the central theme of the fictional novel, Codex 632, by Portugese author and journalist José Rodrigues dos Santo.

While the novel is truly a work of fiction, having piqued my curiosity, I spent time doing some armchair research (i.e., not actually leaving my comfortable chair and finger-driven search for any real source or library), and came to a rather unscientific (but certainly fascinating) conclusion that the author may well be correct in his main premise: that the man we know as Columbus could not have been an autodidactic silk weaver from Genoa, Italy, but was instead a secret Portugese Jew of Italian-Portugese ancestry.

In the guise of a novel, the author lays out his compelling theories with many hard facts. For example, via the letters that Columbus wrote, it’s clear that he did not speak Italian, and corresponded with people from the Italian city-states in Latin. Indeed, his own son journeyed to Genoa in search of his father’s family (after his death) without finding any evidence that his father was from Genoa. The author maintains that there was a Christofero Columbo from Genoa who was an uneducated silk weaver, but that he was not the Admiral who sailed with the Spanish fleet in 1492.

Although I was unable – from my computer and in limited time – to validate the many bits of evidence that the author put forth supporting his contention that the navigator was a secret Portugese Jew, here are a few fascinating points raised:

1) Colon set sail the morning after the edict in Spain expired requiring that all remaining Jews in the country (who had not converted to Christianity) leave. Apparently, he even required his sailors to be on board the ships at 11 pm that night before sailing (an hour prior to the deadline for the Jews) presumably because there were ~40 Jewish shipmen who sailed with him.

2) Columbus apparently converted some of the Christian dates to Hebrew dates in parts of his diary – something practically impossible to fathom had he not been Jewish.

3) Prior to sailing, he was sent certain navigational charts from Lisbon (curious in itself, since the Spanish were competitors if not actually enemies at the time) that were apparently in Hebrew.

4) He left one-tenth of his will to support the dowries of unmarried women (a Jewish tradition at the time).

5) Some of the letters he apparently wrote to his son contained small but visible symbols in the corner of the pages with the Hebrew letters Bet and Hay, that stand for “B’ezrat Hashem” or “With the help of God.”

6) According to the dos Santos (at least in his fictional novel – that at its end suggests that Colon’s true identity has been covered up for centuries), Colon’s signature contains a wealth of Jewish Kabbalistic meanings that only an educated Jew could have understood. As an example, he contends that one of the central meanings of the signature – as purported through a Kabbalistic interpretation – is the phrase “may my name be erased,” as though Colon cannot bear to have a Christian name (such as Christofer).

I found the novel compelling and fascinating – a beautifully written historical mystery that changed my perception of the man who ‘discovered America.’ But that, too (discovery of America), is likely incorrect (even after taking into consideration that America had been ‘discovered’ thousands of years earlier by native Americans).

So why would a Jewish admiral of Portugese extraction sail off to ‘find the new world’ under the Spanish flag in 1492? Well, it wouldn’t be right to spoil the entire story. I hope to have generated enough interest to induce those who are curious to read the novel and find out! In the meantime, Happy Columbus Day…

 

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of about 10 students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery that is now in press! All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising. http://www.stevecaplan.net
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4 Responses to On Columbus’ Origins

  1. cromercrox says:

    I had indeed suspectedc that he was a four-by-two-ish Red-Sea Pedestrian. Like all the best people.

  2. Mike Fowler says:

    Sounds intriguing!
    I assume you’ve already read this?

  3. Laurence Cox says:

    Not only a tyrant, but also an (alleged) thief.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11170080/Christopher-Columbus-stole-credit-for-discovering-America.html

    Are you sure that you want to claim him as one of your own?

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