Thursday, May 22, 2008

Columbus and the Flat Earth - II

In my last post I documented the absurdity of the lie about Columbus and the Flat Earth that is taught to school children all over the world today. In this article I’ll try to explain where this lie came from and what I think it means.

I spent a quarter of a century in libraries all across the United States trying to track down the origin of the Flat Earth lie. The Internet, and especially Google, have changed the way we do research.

In 1997, Jeffrey Burton Russell delivered a paper titled, "The Myth of the Flat Earth". Here are his opening paragraphs.

First, as a historian, I have to admit that it tells us something about the precariousness of history. History is precarious for three reasons: the good reason that it is extraordinarily difficult to determine "what really happened" in any series of events; the bad reason that historical scholarship is often sloppy; and the appalling reason that far too much historical scholarship consists of contorting the evidence to fit ideological models. The worst examples of such contortions are the Nazi and Communist histories of the early- and mid-twentieth century.

Contortions that are common today, if not widely recognized, are produced by the incessant attacks on Christianity and religion in general by secular writers during the past century and a half, attacks that are largely responsible for the academic and journalistic sneers at Christianity today.

A curious example of this mistreatment of the past for the purpose of slandering Christians is a widespread historical error, an error that the Historical Society of Britain some years back listed as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions. It is the notion that people used to believe that the earth was flat--especially medieval Christians.

It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.

That just about says it all. D&C 93:24-25 is pretty plain too.

And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

I guess a lot of people would disagree. But a lot of people are going to hell, too. Bless their hearts. Professor Russell goes on to explain the origin of the Flat Earth lie.

The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American, between whom I have not been able to establish a connection, though they were both in Paris at the same time. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate. Well, yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving's version of it, to quote a distinguished modern historian of Columbus, was "pure moonshine. Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque and moving scene," created a fictitious account of this "nonexistent university council" and "let his imagination go completely...the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense."

I always like to see something with my own eyes. Project Gutenberg has a copy of Vol. 2 of Irving’s book, "The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus", but I could not find his description of the council of Salamanca. That must be in Vol. 1.

Here is Professor Russell’s conclusion to the matter.

But now, why did the false accounts of Letronne and Irving become melded and then, as early as the 1860s, begin to be served up in schools and in schoolbooks as the solemn truth?

The answer is that the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library.

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?"

But that is not the truth.

I seem to be spending a lot of time defending the truth (as I see it) and trying to shed some light on falsehoods (as I see them). Will this trend continue? Wait and see. (P.S. We will get around to Darwin eventually.)

Below is "For God and Glory", by Igor Babailov.


As long as I'm still on Columbus, did you know he was Jewish? Do our history texts teach this about him? The following paragraphs are from an article that no longer seems to be available on the Internet. Don't worry, you can find similar information in lots of other articles.

Colón is a common Sephardic name. Cristobal was the son of Marranos, Jews forcibly converted to Christianity.

Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492, following the edict that expelled all Jews from Spain. The first entry in his diary:

"In the same month in which his Majesties issued the edict that all Jews would be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men, my expedition of discovery to the Indies."

Colón also noted in his diary that he first sighted land during the festival of Succot. It is unlikely that he would have noted these two things in his journal had he not been a Jew.

In his will he left money "to a Jew who used to live at the gate of the Judería (the Jewish Ghetto) in Lisbon."

At least five of the men in his crew were Jewish. Luis de Torres was his second in command, and knew Hebrew and Aramaic. He was a "new Christian" who expected to find the lost tribes in India. The ship's doctor, Bernal, and surgeon, Marco, were also of Jewish descent. You'll notice that neither Bernal nor Marco are in the list above. Adding them brings the total number of men to 88, the number reported in the history books.

No Catholic priests were listed among those who sailed on that first voyage. So I guess the painting above recalls one of the other voyages...

Columbus' son Fernando admitted in a biography that his father deliberately veiled his birthplace and his origin. In a letter to a Marrano nurse he wrote,

"I am not the first admiral of my family. Let them give me what name they please, for when it is all done, David, that most prudent King, was first shepherd and afterwards chosen King of Jerusalem, and I am servant to the same Master who raised him to such dignity."

Columbus' mother's name was Susanne (Shoshana) Fonterossa. The Fonterossa family was Jewish and one of the Colon's was burned in the Inquisition.

When he wrote his son, Columbus included the letters B and H in Hebrew. This is an abbreviation for "Be-ezrat HaShem", which means "With the Help of the almighty." Another interpretation is "Baruch HaShem", which means "Praise the Almighty."

Columbus was fond of quoting Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezra, and of applying them to himself.

The shroud of mystery attached to Colon's history was common for Jews and Marranos in this perilous part of Spanish history.

Many of Columbus' business associates and companions were Jewish or Marranos. The Vatican has refused to divulge any more information on this subject, declaring Columbus' history "has blemishes." Some blemish!

Columbus always wrote in Spanish. Never in Italian. His first two letters were written to Gabriel Sanchez and Luis de Santangel, who helped finance the first expedition. Both men were under surveillance by the Inquisition and had family members murdered for being Marranos. His third letter was addressed to the King and Queen.

The maps for the voyage were prepared by cartographer and astronomer Abraham Zacuto, whose works were written in Hebrew. In his diaries, Columbus names Zacuto as a personal friend. An eclipse of the moon on February 29, 1504, predicted by Zacuto, saved the lives of Columbus and his crew when the superstitious Indians gave the Europeans food so they would make the sun come back to life.

Is this evidence enough?

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