Source:Echoes:Ch2:5:Christopher Columbus

Book of Mormon describes Christopher Columbus in terms not known in Joseph's day

Book of Mormon describes Christopher Columbus in terms not known in Joseph's day

Daniel C. Peterson,

One of the best-known prophecies in the Book of Mormon has generally been understood to predict the career of Christopher Columbus, who is usually reckoned the effective European "discoverer" of the New World. Accordingly, Columbus emerges from the very pages of scripture itself as an important and foreordained actor in the divine plan:

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.

Skeptical readers of the Book of Mormon, however, have tended to dismiss this passage as a cheap and easy instance of prophecy after the fact, composed centuries after Columbus's death—but postdated, as it were, in order to create a seemingly impressive and self-validating prediction by an ancient prophetic writer. At the very most, some have observed, a "prophecy" of Columbus hardly constitutes evidence for the antiquity or inspiration of the Book of Mormon.

On a surface level, such critics seem to be right. It would have taken little talent in the late 1820s for someone to prophesy the discovery of America nearly three and a half centuries earlier. But the description of Columbus provided by 1 Nephi 13:12 nonetheless remains a remarkable demonstration of the revelatory accuracy of the Book of Mormon. It is only with the growth of Columbus scholarship in recent years, and particularly with the translation and publication of Columbus's Libro de las profecías in 1991, that English-speaking readers have been fully able to see how remarkably the admiral's own self-understanding parallels the portrait of him given in the Book of Mormon. The Columbus revealed in very recent scholarship is quite different from the gold-driven secular adventurer celebrated in the textbooks and holidays most of us grew up with.26

We now understand, for example, that the primary motivation for Columbus's explorations was not financial gain but the spread of Christianity. He was zealously committed to the cause of taking the gospel, as he understood it, to all the world. He felt himself guided by the Holy Spirit, and a good case can indeed be made that his first transoceanic voyage, in particular, was miraculously well executed....[1]—(Click here to continue)


  1. Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.