Everybody knows the story of Columbus, right? He was an Italian explorer from Genoa who set sail in 1492 to enrich the Spanish monarchs with gold and spices from the orient. Not quite.
For too long, scholars have ignored Columbus's grand passion: the quest to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims.
During Columbus's lifetime, Jews became the target of fanatical religious persecution. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed that all Jews were to be expelled from Spain. The edict especially targeted the 800,000 Jews who had never converted, and gave them four months to pack up and get out.
The Jews who were forced to renounce Judaism and embrace Catholicism were known as "Conversos," or converts. There were also those who feigned conversion, practicing Catholicism outwardly while covertly practicing Judaism, the so-called "Marranos," or swine.
Tens of thousands of Marranos were tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. They were pressured to offer names of friends and family members, who were ultimately paraded in front of crowds, tied to stakes and burned alive. Their land and personal possessions were then divvied up by the church and crown.
Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.
Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn't speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious -- and revealing -- provisions.
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