“The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” -Horace Walpole

In the summer of 1503, over the course of his fourth and last voyage, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves stranded on the island of Jamaica. His ships were damaged by a major storm and no help was forthcoming. After six months of native hospitality, Columbus’ crewmen had overstayed their welcome and the locals refused to provide the Europeans with any more food.

Though he was out of provisions, Columbus had in his possession the almanac of Regiomontaus which included astronomical tables for the years 1475-1506 with a listing of upcoming lunar eclipses. Columbus requested a meeting with the Cacique, the native leader, on the day of the expected full moon eclipse (March 1, 1504), when the Earth would block the sun from directly shining on the moon, thereby covering the moon with an unusual red tint. Columbus told the Cacique that God was upset with the treatment the Europeans were receiving, and that God would demonstrate His anger with a rising full moon “inflamed with wrath.” Shortly thereafter the blood-colored moon filled the night sky to the horror of the natives. They begged and scurried to fulfill Admiral Columbus’ every wish. Looking at his hourglass, Columbus announced that God would forgive them. When a few minutes later the eclipse receded, Columbus announced that they had indeed been forgiven. Thereafter, Columbus became a confirmed Prophet of God in the eyes of the local population.

Had Columbus pushed the locals to idol worship instead of providing much needed food, the Ohr Hachayim (based on Deuteronomy 13:2) might have simply killed Columbus for being a false prophet, even if his wondrous signs and predictions were fulfilled. Judaism is wary of prophets and predictions that carry an agenda that contravenes the Torah. It suspects such chicanery so much, that it gives the death penalty to whoever would fool his fellow into the path of strange worship, no matter how talented, insightful or “prophetic” they may be.

May we beware of false prophets and stick to simple faith without any magical side shows.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Edward Klitzler and his fascinating, engrossing, historical account: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean – How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom – and Revenge.

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