Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem

Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem

3.0 2
by Carol Delaney

View All Available Formats & Editions

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER HE SET SAIL, the dominant understanding of Christopher Columbus holds him responsible for almost everything that went wrong in the New World. Here, finally, is a book that will radically change our interpretation of the man and his mission. Scholar Carol Delaney claims that the true motivation for Columbus’s voyages is very different


FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER HE SET SAIL, the dominant understanding of Christopher Columbus holds him responsible for almost everything that went wrong in the New World. Here, finally, is a book that will radically change our interpretation of the man and his mission. Scholar Carol Delaney claims that the true motivation for Columbus’s voyages is very different from what is commonly accepted. She argues that he was inspired to find a western route to the Orient not only to obtain vast sums of gold for the Spanish Crown but primarily to help fund a new crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims—a goal that sustained him until the day he died. Rather than an avaricious glory hunter, Delaney reveals Columbus as a man of deep passion, patience, and religious conviction.

Delaney sets the stage by describing the tumultuous events that had beset Europe in the years leading up to Columbus’s birth—the failure of multiple crusades to keep Jerusalem in Christian hands; the devastation of the Black Plague; and the schisms in the Church. Then, just two years after his birth, the sacking of Constantinople by the Ottomans barred Christians from the trade route to the East and the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem. Columbus’s belief that he was destined to play a decisive role in the retaking of Jerusalem was the force that drove him to petition the Spanish monarchy to fund his journey, even in the face of ridicule about his idea of sailing west to reach the East.

Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem is based on extensive archival research, trips to Spain and Italy to visit important sites in Columbus’s life story, and a close reading of writings from his day. It recounts the drama of the four voyages, bringing the trials of ocean navigation vividly to life and showing Columbus for the master navigator that he was. Delaney offers not an apologist’s take, but a clear-eyed, thought-provoking, and timely reappraisal of the man and his legacy. She depicts him as a thoughtful interpreter of the native cultures that he and his men encountered, and unfolds the tragic story of how his initial attempts to establish good relations with the natives turned badly sour, culminating in his being brought back to Spain as a prisoner in chains. Putting Columbus back into the context of his times, rather than viewing him through the prism of present-day perspectives on colonial conquests, Delaney shows him to have been neither a greedy imperialist nor a quixotic adventurer, as he has lately been depicted, but a man driven by an abiding religious passion.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cultural anthropologist and Stanford professor emerita Delaney introduces us to an unfamiliar Christopher Columbus as a product of his times, when, she says, apocalyptic millennialism dominated Europe. Columbus thus believed that his role was to obtain enough of the fabled gold of the East to launch a crusade to conquer Jerusalem and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. Delaney argues that Columbus believed that the discovery of the Caribbean islands was an integral part of an unfolding cosmological drama. Using the writings of medieval theologians, the author writes, Columbus calculated that the world would end in 155 years. He attempted to convince Spain's sovereigns that the Gospel had to be preached everywhere so all the world's peoples could be saved, and that Jerusalem had to come under Christian control. As Delaney points out, Ferdinand instead sent Peter Martyr to negotiate with the sultan to protect the Holy Sepulchre and Christian pilgrims. While Delaney's take is fresh, it's encumbered by repetitious writing. And even her careful reading of a little-studied compilation called the Book of Prophecies—that may or may not have been written by Columbus—as a basis for her argument about Columbus's motives provides thin evidence for her conclusions. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews

Cultural anthropologist Delaney offers an interpretation of Christopher Columbus's career based on the apocalyptical millenarianism she identifies in his thinking.

The author argues that the reconquest of Jerusalem was the passion of Columbus's life and also the purpose of his voyages. Her substantiation is found in works like theBook of Prophesies, produced near the end of his life, his letters to the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI and the comparison of the flow of the Orinoco with the book of Genesis and the hinterland of the Terrestrial Paradise. Delaney believes these kinds of views have been downplayed in consideration of the explorer's life and work. Focusing on this less-iconic side of Columbus, author casts new light on the policies of the monarchs under whom he worked, first in Portugal and then Spain. His 1492 voyage began on August 2, the day set for Spain's Jews to convert or face execution. The "reconquista" of Al-Andalus from the Moors was considered by Spain's monarchs to be just a step on the road to Jerusalem. As Delaney and others have shown, Columbus was neither open nor truthful about his motives or ultimate plans, so his writings cannot necessarily be taken at face value. His "sail west to go east" strategy failed to find the Indies and their riches and was associated with heterodox cosmological views. As his stories were discredited, he probably had good reason to fear his own monarch's inquisitors.

A welcome reappraisal of Columbus and his legacy.

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Carol Delaney received an MTS from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of Boston University. She was the assistant director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard, and a visiting professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University. She is now a professor emerita at Stanford University and a research scholar at Brown University.  Delaney is the author of several books, including The Seed and the Soil: Gender and Cosmology in Turkish Village Society, Abraham on Trial: The Social Legacy of Biblical MythNaturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Criticism, and Investigating Culture: An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JamesMJohn More than 1 year ago
In school we mostly heard that Columbus was a doltz, but this review shook that entire foundation. Here I see a visionary willing to risk 6 years of his life (and lives were typically shorter back then) to try and look for an alternative path to the East. Though he's typically portrayed as selfish and to blame for all issues relating to the treatment of Native Americans, here we see that he actually had a great love and great curiosity for them. He didn't want to take advantage of them in deals and made legitimate friends with them. Though stubborn til his deathbed about believing he had found Asia, this was not a detriment to how intelligent this man was, which was shown by how able he was to navigate through a course that no one had ever chartered.