Synopses & Reviews
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 Columbuss 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 Columbuss 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. Columbuss 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 Columbuss 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 apologists 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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A new and provocative interpretation of Columbus. Carol Delaney uses her training as a cultural anthropologist to brilliantly explicate Columbus’s strange, apocalyptic world. By being more sensitive to the differentness of the past than most historians, she has written a remarkable work of history, and one that is utterly accessible." -- Gordon S. Wood, author of The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth fo the United States
"This absorbing book adds a new and penetrating chapter to the long history of Jerusalem. But it does so by recapturing some fascinating and critical information about another iconic figure, namely Christopher Columbus who - Delaney makes clear - sailed west, but had Jerusalem on his mind the whole time. Carefully documented and well crafted, the book reads like a superb historical novel. Columbus himself nearly steps off the pages, and when we are finished we know him much better than we have before, including his idiosyncrasies, delusions and uncanny maritime skills." --Harvey Cox, author of The Future of Faith
"Brilliant. Enlightening. The surprise here is not that a vaunted academic like Delaney has written such a deeply researched take on the Columbus legacy, but that she does so with page-turning style, effortlessly transporting the modern reader into the minds and motivations of 15th-century Europe." -Martin Dugard, author of The Last Voyage of Columbus
"Everybody knows the story of Columbus, right? Wrong. For far too long, writers have chosen to ignore one of Columbus's most powerful motivations: religion. In this exhaustively researched and engagingly written account, Carol Delaney reveals the remarkable extent to which Columbus sailed across the Atlantic not just to reach the other side but also to hasten the Christian recapture of Jerusalem -- and help bring about the end of the world. This is a fascinating and important book." - Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World
"A welcome reappraisal of Columbus and his legacy." --Kirkus Reviews
"A dramatic story with repercussions that could reach the heavens." --Washington Post
"Carol Delaney's Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem...elegantly tells a familiar story--with a twist...The result is a revealing new view of Columbus." Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year
"A brazen attempt to construct a parable for our times." --Booklist
“A decidedly different approach to the man who discovered America.” -The New York Post
Christopher Columbus is reevaluated as a man of deep passion, patience, and religious conviction--on a mission to save Jerusalem from Islam.
An extraordinary new examination of Christopher Columbus that shows him to have been a man of deep passion, patience, and religious conviction—a man determined to save Jerusalem from Islam.
Five hundred years after Columbus set off on his remarkable journey, debates about his legacy still rage. Once revered, he’s now frequently held to have been destructive, reckless, and responsible for everything that went wrong in the New World. But scholar Carol Delaney offers a profoundly new evaluation of Columbus and the motivation for his famous voyages.
Putting the man back into the context of his times, Delaney shows that it was his abiding religious passion that drove him to petition the Spanish monarchy to support his journey. He and much of society believed that the end of the world was imminent and believed that Jerusalem needed to be back under Christian control before the end of days. Delaney asserts that—contrary to the belief that he sought personal wealth and advancement—Columbus’s mission was to obtain enough gold for the Spanish crown to finance a new crusade to Jerusalem that could regain control of the holy city from the Muslims. Delaney recounts the drama of the four voyages, bringing the challenges vividly to life. She depicts Columbus as a thoughtful interpreter of the native cultures that he and his men encountered, explaining the tragic story of how his initial attempts to establish good relations turned badly sour.
Filled with illuminating research (informed by a fascinating stint Delaney spent as a sailor on a tall ship), Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem offers not an apologist’s take, but a clear-eyed, thought-provoking, and timely reappraisal of the man and his mission.
About 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.