“I Beheld a Man Among the Gentiles”

Brant Gardner

The traditional reading of this verse identifies the “man” as Columbus. For example, Rulon S. Wells of the First Council of the Seventy noted in October 1919 general conference: “Nephi sees in vision that the Spirit of God inspired the great Columbus (it can mean no other) to cross the many waters, the great Atlantic ocean, which separated him from the seed of Nephi’s brethren, who were in the promised land.”

The general connection between the European exploration of the New World and communication with the “Gentiles” in the Old World certainly begins with Columbus, even if the technical “discovery” of this new world has now been asserted for the Vikings. As a technical matter, neither the Vikings nor Columbus, actually set foot on territory that is identified with the Lehites. While there is much less to suggest that Hernán Cortés was inspired by God, a claim Columbus makes for himself, it is nevertheless Cortés who first stepped on the Lehite promised land and approximately where that land was located, in the geography accepted by this commentary.

Thus, I argue that it is better to read this vision symbolically rather than specifically. Divine inspiration to Columbus resulted in opening the promised land to Gentiles from the other side of the ocean; even if Columbus never set foot on the technical promised land, nevertheless he was the instrument by which the prophecy was fulfilled.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1