“The Spirit of God”

Alan C. Miner

According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, there is nothing in itself, improbable in the assumption that Columbus had the blood of Israel in his veins. On the contrary, his character and his mission were of such nature as to lend some color to that assumption. Nephi saw him "among" the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:12), but that does not necessarily mean that he was a Gentile. I am inclined to the view that Nephi, when stating that he was "separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters" (1 Nephi 13:12), in reality says that they were brethren and that was the main element that separated them from each other. But, be that as it may, the following lines are of interest in this connection:

The story of the Jews in America begins with Christopher Columbus. On August 2, 1492, more than 300,000 Jews were expelled from Spain . . . and on August 3, the next day, Columbus set sail for the west, taking a group of Jews with him . . . Columbus himself tells us that he consorted much with Jews. The first letter he wrote detailing his discoveries was to a Jew. Indeed, the eventful voyage itself which added to men's knowledge and wealth "the other half of the earth," was made possible by Jews.

The pleasant story that it was Queen Isabella's jewels which financed the voyage has disappeared under cool research. There were three Maranos or "secret Jews" who wielded great influence at the Spanish Court: Luis de Santangel, who was an important merchant of Valencia and a "farmer" of the royal taxes; his relative Gabriel Sanchez, who was the royal treasurer; and their friend, the royal chamberlain, Juan Cabrero . . . Santangel craved permission to advance the money himself, which he did, 17,000 ducats in all, about $20,000, perhaps equal to $160,000 today.

Associated with Columbus in the voyage were at least five Jews: Luis de Torres, interpreter; Marco, the surgeon; Bernal, the physician; Alonzo de la Calle, and Gabriel Sanchez . . . Luis de Torres was the first man ashore . . . He settled in Cuba." (The International Jew, Dearborn, Michigan, 1920, p 33)

[George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 120]

1 [Nephi 13:12] The Spirit of God . . . Wrought upon the Man and He Went Forth upon the Many Waters, Even unto the Seed of My Brethren

According to a book by Arnold Garr, Christopher Columbus left many statements in his journals and other personal writings in which he boldly declared that he believed the Lord directed him in his great undertaking. Referring to his first voyage to America, he once stated, "With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies (Columbus most often referred to the New World as the Indies). . . . This was the fire that burned within me. . . . Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit" (West and Kling, 105). (p. 3)

Sources on Columbus' life are replete with evidence that one of his major motivations to sail to the Indies was to spread Christianity. He once wrote the following to Amerigo Vespucci (the explorer for whom America is named): "I feel persuaded by the many and wonderful manifestations of Divine Providence in my especial favour, that I am the chosen instrument of God in bringing to pass a great event--no less than the conversion of millions who are now existing in the darkness of Paganism" (Lester 79) (p. 30).

Columbus was fond of quoting John 10:16: "And other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (Watts 93; West and Kling 229) (p. 31).

Beginning with the decision Christopher made concerning his point of departure, and continuing all the way through to his return voyage to Spain, we can find numerous junctures at which the Lord manifested his hand in Columbus' key decisions (p. 41).

It is amazing, said George E. Nunn, a prominent geographer, that Christopher "did not make a single false move in the entire voyage" (Nunn 43) (p. 39).

The route Columbus chose has stood the test of time: five hundred years of sailing have proven it the best possible course for sailing west from southern Europe to North America. Nunn suggested that Columbus' successful navigation was the result of "an application of reason to . . . knowledge" (Nunn 50). Columbus, however, gave credit to the Lord, even though he was a successful seaman and an accomplished navigator. (p. 41)

On the way to America, Columbus changed course only twice during the entire 33 days at sea. The first alteration was on 7 October. Until that time, Christopher had sailed due west for 28 days. Then he noted in his journal that a great multitude of birds passed over, going from north to southwest. Bartolome de Las Casas, the man who transcribed Columbus' journal, wrote that from this observation, the Admiral "decided to alter course and turn the prow to the WSW [west southwest]" (Fuson 71). Professor Morison claimed that if Columbus had not changed course, "the voyage would have taken a day longer" (Morison 1:283). That extra day would have been critical, since two days before the eventual sighting of land, the crew threatened mutiny. Every extra day at sea heightened their anxiety; the Admiral's time-saving change of course on 7 October, therefore, just may have saved the expedition (p. 43).

After sunset on 11 October, just a few hours before land was sighted. For no apparent reason, Columbus gave orders to change direction from west southwest back to the original course of due west (Dunn and Kelly 59). He gave no explanation for the change, but it was, nevertheless, an excellent choice. Had he continued on the west southwest course instead of steering due west, he would have missed the island of San Salvador, and would likely have ended up on the deadly reefs along the coast of Long Island (in the Caribbean), perhaps never returning to Spain (Morison 1:295). Many historians have attributed these changes in course to luck or chance, but Las Casas said, "God gave this man the keys to the awesome seas, he and no other unlocked the darkness" (Las Casas 35) (p. 44).

The route the Admiral chose for his homeward journey is yet another example of his being inspired of God. On 14 January 1493, he recorded in his log, "I have faith in Our Lord that He who brought me here will lead me back in His pity and mercy . . . no one else was supportive of me except God, because He knew my heart"(Fuson 174). Columbus did not return to Spain by the same southern sea passage that had carried him to America. Instead, he sailed northeast and caught winds coming out of the west that took him back across the Atlantic to the Azores. Once again, Nunn asserted that Columbus' navigational decisions were remarkable: "So much has been said about his discovery of America that it has been lost to sight and thought that he also discovered both of the great sailing routes in the North Atlantic" (Nunn 50). With no prior trans-Atlantic sailing experience, how did Christopher enjoy such good fortune on both legs of the trip? One noted historian declared, "there can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement" (Morison 1:65).

Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid, Castile, on Wednesday, 20 May 1506. His last words were "in manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum' ('into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit')" (Taviani, The Great Adventure, 248) (p. 69). [Arnold K. Garr, Christopher Columbus, A Latter-Day Saint Perspective, pp. 3, 30-31, 39, 41, 43-44, 69]

1 Nephi 13:12 He went forth upon the many waters, even to the seed of my brethren ([Illustration]): Map of Columbus' First Voyage to the New World. [Arnold K. Garr, Christopher Columbus, A Latter-Day Saint Perspective, p. 40]

1 Nephi 13:12 I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man ([Illustration]): "Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)" [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1115]

1 Nephi 13:12 [The Spirit of God] wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren ([Illustration]): Landing of Columbus at the Island of Guanahani, West Indies, 12 October 1492. Artist: John Vanderlyn, 1847. Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, National Graphics Center. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, October 1992, front cover]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary