Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Destruction, Part 1: A Man Among the Gentiles

And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all because of the destructions of my people, for I had beheld their fall.

—1 Nephi 4:1 RE

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Christopher Columbus has a disturbing history—but growing up Mormon, I never knew it. Like many of you, I was raised not only with the standard American veneration of Columbus, but also with the notion that he was the very man spoken of in the Book of Mormon, the man who was “wrought upon” by the spirit of God in this famous statement from Nephi’s vision:

And I looked and beheld a man among the gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man, and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren who were in the promised land. (1 Nephi 3:20 RE)

As the “man among the gentiles” who was “wrought upon” by the spirit of God, Columbus has nearly achieved Sainted status among the LDS people, with lesson manuals proclaiming he is the man of prophecy, articles written in support of the notion, “modern prophets” stating as much, and even a whole book dedicated to making the case. But, I believe they all are wrong, that the man in question is most certainly NOT Christopher Columbus, and the thing that wrought upon Columbus most was the spirit of greed, not the spirit of God. Hey, the spelling is close, but accuracy matters.

Here are some quick items of interest from the life and doings of Columbus:

  • First and foremost, his primary motivation was making money. He worked in various positions of trade before making his proposal to find a new route to Asia, and he pressed the idea for years knowing of the huge money to be made in supplanting the overland Silk Road trading route with shipping. He also wrote often in his logs of his desire for huge quantities of gold.

  • Contrary to modern misconception, the spherical shape of the Earth was common knowledge in Columbus’s day, though he repeatedly understated the distance to Asia by a huge factor. Other learned men of his day pointed out repeatedly that the distance he was trying to sell to investors was actually only about a fourth of what his proposal would require. In other words he was either bad at math or unscrupulous in misrepresenting his proposal to investors. 

  • The deal Columbus negotiated was designed to give him massive wealth and power. The contractural promises he received from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella upon a successful voyage included the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, appointment as Viceroy and Governor of any lands claimed for Spain, and 10% of all the revenues from such lands in perpetuity.

  • Columbus left his wife and son for extended periods in prior voyages. When he returned from a lengthy African voyage to find his wife had died, he settled her estate and promptly impregnated his 20-year-old mistress (16 years his junior), who also bore him a son. All this before his famous voyage to the New World.

  • Columbus’s first landing in the New World was on the island now known as San Salvador in the Bahamas. Though the lookout on the Pinta was the first to spot the land, Columbus later claimed to have seen a light the night before, thus claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land.

  • Upon landing and noticing the gold ear ornaments worn by the island’s native inhabitants, he took some of them prisoner and insisted they guide him to the source of the gold. This became a theme of his future conquests, and he regularly imprisoned and tortured natives, trying to discover where gold could be found.

  • Columbus brought a few notable things back from New World to Europe from his first voyage: Tobacco, slaves and syphilis (fun fact: syphilis didn’t exist in Europe prior to Columbus’s first voyage. He and his crew introduced it to Europe).  

  • Columbus earned a reputation as a brutal and incompetent governor of the new territories, employing imprisonment, rape, torture, mutilation, dismemberment, slavery and murder as common punishments and governing tactics. 

  • Columbus conquered and enslaved many thousands of natives, including men, women and children. He gave enslaved women to his men to be raped, and caused enslaved populations to be worked to death in terrible circumstances. His lust for gold could not be satiated, and he required tribute in the form of gold dust from the native population every six months. Those who couldn’t pay had a hand chopped off. Most subsequently bled to death. What he failed to realize was that the islands had no native gold resources, and the native populations weren’t holding out on him. There really wasn’t any gold to be had.

  • Columbus varnished his conquests with the patina of piety by claiming he invaded and conquered in hopes of converting the native populations to Christianity. This kept the clergy and royalty at home happy and supportive, but in practice he failed to do much converting or baptizing. Later in life, Columbus took quite a shine to scripture, claiming to have been guided by God in fulfilling a number of prophecies as an instrument in God’s hand. His lofty claims granted him, at least in his own mind, scriptural importance not seen since the days of the apostles. He made lavish claims about scriptural passages that spoke of him personally.

  • During his later years, Columbus wrote two books: the Book of Privileges, detailing the rewards and privileges he believed he and his family were owed by the Spanish crown, and the Book of Prophecies, in which he detailed the Bible passages he believed spoke directly of him and his achievements. 

  • Columbus is joined in his scriptural claims by a chorus of Book of Mormon fans who assert he MUST be the man in Nephi’s vision, because, well, isn’t it obvious? I mean, unless you’ve studied some history, who else can you name that came from Europe to the Americas? Right?

Now, a couple of disclaimers are in order before we move on. First, some of the negative information about Columbus is disputed. But there are also assertions that he was even worse—much worse—than what I listed here. Of course, he himself claimed to be a saint (mostly) and only engaged in what destiny required and God approved. Ultimately, it’s generally clear he was a confused or dishonest seafaring trader with limited navigational ability and unlimited dreams of wealth and glory, who happened upon the New World by luck rather than intent. It appears that to his dying day he never realized the land he found was not India. He was a slaver, a brutal and bloody governor, and a greedy claimant of souls, gold, lands, glory, and importance. 

After reports of incompetence and brutality caused Columbus and his family to be stripped of the right to govern the conquered lands, he spent the remainder of his life in failing health while attempting to reclaim the wealth and honor he thought he was owed. He died at age 54, having never set foot in North America. Columbus is known or suspected to have reached several Caribbean islands, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. Despite common claims to the contrary, he was most certainly not the first European to have discovered America. Evidence now indisputably shows Viking settlements and landings in Canada nearly 500 years before Columbus entered the Caribbean.

Now, with this information before us, let’s take another look at that Book of Mormon statement. 

And I looked and beheld a man among the gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man, and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren who were in the promised land. (1 Nephi 3:20 RE)


OK, so Nephi sees a man among those he labels gentiles. Elsewhere in the vision, these gentiles are shown to be divided from the seed of Nephi’s brethren by many waters, organized into many nations and kingdoms, and universally suffering under the great and abominable church which had altered scripture. These gentiles ultimately cross the great waters and displace the seed of Nephi’s brothers to set up a great nation in the promised land. These gentiles therefore seem pretty clearly to be European, and Columbus clearly started out among them. Fair enough.

We’re told the spirit of the Lord wrought upon the man in question. It’s therefore worth considering what spirit seems to be manifested in the history and motivations of Christopher Columbus. Was it the spirit of the Lord working in him that guided him to the Bahamas and launched him into his reign of lust, terror, torture and destruction? 

Further, did Columbus reach the “seed of [Nephi’s] brethren” in the “promised land”? If we are to take the prophecy literally, we would have to conclude some portion of the peoples of the Caribbean islands, South America, and lower Central America are the “seed” in question, and that those lands, or at least some portion of them, form the “promised land.” 

The trouble is that in the same vision, Nephi sees quite a bit more information about the promised land and the nation upon it. 

Behold, saith the Lamb of God…I will be merciful unto the gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them in mine own power much of my gospel which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb. For behold, saith the Lamb, I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious. And after thy seed shall be destroyed and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up to come forth unto the gentiles by the gift and power of the Lamb. And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation. (1 Nephi 3:23 RE)

This statement specifically identifies the gentiles in question as those to whom the Book of Mormon will be brought forth.

And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land, and by them shall our seed be scattered. And after our seed is scattered, the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the gentiles which shall be of great worth unto our seed. (1 Nephi 7:3 RE)

We see here a prophecy of a “mighty nation” among the identified gentiles on “this land.” Elsewhere, Nephi’s brother Jacob speaks further about this nation to be raised up on this promised land:

But behold, this land, saith God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up unto the gentiles, and I will fortify this land against all other nations. (2 Nephi 7:2 RE)

These statements and others from the Book of Mormon demonstrate the promised land, and the nation (singular, not plural) thereon, hold all the following characteristics:

  • Delivered by the power of God out of the hand of all other nations (not conquered once established)

  • Delivered from their “mother gentiles” or no longer ruled by the nation from whence they came

  • A land of liberty that has no king

  • Fortified against all other nations

  • A marvelous work will be done in that nation, which includes bringing forth much of the gospel—specifically the Book of Mormon record upon that land
What's wrong with this picture?

These explicit scriptural statements do not favor any interpretation that claims any of the Caribbean islands, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, or Costa Rica are the nation in question, nor the land in question. The only nation, and therefore the only land, that checks all the required boxes is the United States of America. Being that Christopher Columbus never reached any land that is part of the United States, it’s hard to argue that he was the man in the vision who came to the seed of Nephi’s brothers on the promised land, unless you’re willing to make very broad interpretations about the “promised land” being, well, the whole western hemisphere, and the “seed” in question being whatever natives were encountered, whether tied to Nephi’s family or not.

But the Book of Mormon text is so entirely specific that it precludes any such broad interpretation. Indeed, the text demands we take note of the very specific statements that identify the land and the nation first and foremost. Then having done so, we might consider who the man in question might be. 

In summary, there’s no indication Columbus was led by the spirit of God, no indication he came to the “promised land,” and no indication he encountered the seed of Nephi’s brothers (the Lamanites). The idea that he was the man spoken of therefore ought to be viewed as a false tradition of our fathers that impedes us from finding greater understanding. And believe it or not, this matters a great deal.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of Part 1. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have some questions—like the following: 

  • What was the point of trashing the idea that Christopher Columbus was prophesied in the Book of Mormon? 

  • And what’s the big deal about the prophesied man anyway? He’s mentioned in one sentence and all it says is that he was wrought upon by the spirit and came to the promised land. That’s it—no other mention, no other history, and no seeming importance tied to him in any way at all.  (By the way, if you had this question in mind, my hat’s off to you. It’s a really important question with some really surprising answers.)

  • And finally, what on earth does this all have to do with destruction—which, judging by the title of this series, seems to be the theme? 

Bear with me. It will all become clear as we move ahead.


For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men, a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other, either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds, unto their being brought down into captivity and also unto destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the Devil of which I have spoken. 

—1 Nephi 3:26 RE

13 comments:

  1. Part One leaves me intrigued, Adrian. The Lord doesn't casually include bits and pieces from the Jaredite and Nephite records in the Book of Mormon. As a compilation of carefully chosen passages from a vast collection of history, revelation, and prophecy, the Book of Mormon is a purpose-driven work. It's curious that Columbus became such a darling of the LDS Church and broader Western culture from which they emerged. For all of his destruction and self-importance, it's a pity Columbus didn't make the world a better place. Looking forward to the series unfolding. We're in the thick of history and we need all the light we can find.

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  2. Funny, but if this view of Columbus is more accurate than LDSs and Christians have imagined, then it seems more likely now than ever that Christoforo may well have actually appeared to Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877, just as he claimed. Like tends to attract like, even when it comes to narcissism.

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  3. John the Beloved wrote about the destruction and "judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon the many waters." (John 17:1 LDS). "Many waters" is a key phrase to take notice of. John fits the bill of "the man among the gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man."

    John is the one Nephi identified in the same prophecy as the man "in the white robe". Also, this:

    "And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel."

    Nephi saw the end of the world, but was forbidden to write it, as John was the one ordained to write it. John walks the earth now and THEN, and is fulfilling the covenants of the Lord. A huge milestone is about to take place. The Father's work "shall commence" when the wars and rumors of wars begin.

    "And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things."

    I look forward to this remainder of the series! Good stuff!

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    1. Great insight. I also understand that John will lead the tribes out of the North country to the full restoration of all things and the cleansing of this nation and the founding of the nation of Zion. It is the tribes that will decimate the wicked in that day and it will start in his house first (the church)

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  4. I have thought for a few years that perhaps our belief and/or presumption that Christopher Columbus is not that man among the gentiles. It's fantastic to see commentary exploring this possibility. So if it's not Columbus, who might this man among the gentiles be and what does it mean for understanding the Book of Mormon?

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  5. Perhaps it was the pilgrims and maybe William Bradford who was moved upon by the Spirit.

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  6. Thank you, as always, for your insights. I've heard here and there over the past several years that Columbus wasn't the great guy we've been told in school and in church. What references would you suggest to read more?

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    1. Christopher Columbus is perhaps one of the most famous figures in history. As such, there is quite a bit of information available online, including encyclopedia articles, scholarly papers, and historical reviews. An online search is the best place to start.

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  7. This is as much of a misleading hatchet job as anything done on Joseph. You should be ashamed of your self.

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    1. You may have a point, but perhaps you could could elaborate with a blog post of your own, with scriptural and secukar references instead of simply leaving a vague critical comment that leads to absolutely nowhere.
      The wisdom of solomon was never in question, he knew which of the 2 women was the real mother of the child, but at least he let both of them make their case before declaring his decision.
      What's your case? How can one use their wisdom here to believe it is a 'hatchet job' unless you provide evidence to the contrary?

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  8. Is there a book you would recommend to learn more on the life of Roger Williams?

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  9. Adrian, would you consider another potential candidate for the man among the gentiles? Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, from the Patuxet tribe was kidnapped and taken to England as a slave in 1615. He was among the gentiles, but not one of them. "Separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters." While in England he converted to Christianity... "and I beheld the spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man." Squanto returned to America in 1619 as a free man and was the key player assisting William Bradford and the Pilgrims finally making a solid foothold in the New World.
    William Bradford arrived in 1820. He was one of 102 people who tried very sincerely to live under a communist system. However, the attempt ended in half of them starving to death. Bradford’s willingness to abandon the "ideal" for a private property/free market model allowed the remaining Pilgrims to not only survive, but thrive. It was in this condition of repentance, freedom granted and personal stewardship that Squanto arrived and helped to establish peace between the Native tribes and taught the Pilgrims how to grow native crops. This success is why we celebrate Thanksgiving (1621). Squanto contracted a fatal sickness in 1622 and on his deathbed asked Bradford to pray for him that he might go to the "Englishmen's God in Heaven."

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    1. The timing of Squanto’s return to his Native home and introduction to the Pilgrims coincides with the 1-200-320-400 model, however it would place 200 = 1820 (First Vision), 320 = 1940 (events leading to WWII), 400= 2020 (beginning of the destruction).

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