Monday, September 14, 2009

Christopher Columbus and the Book of Mormon

So, you know Columbus is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, right?
1 Ne. 13: 12-13
  12 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.
  13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
Okay, so does everyone. Did you also know that Columbus realized he was being inspired? And that he was visited by angels? In order that we may gain greater understanding of 1 Ne. 13:12-13, I quote from the Oct 1992 issue of Ensign:
The novelty of Columbus's idea was not that the earth was round—every major geographer and scholar since the ancient Greeks accepted a spherical earth, as did seamen and educated people of the time. Rather, it was that the earth was not as far around as everyone believed. The most respected geographical authority in Columbus's time was Ptolemy, who had calculated the circumference of the earth at 21,840 miles (the modern measurement is 25,902 miles). Columbus preferred the estimates of Arab mathematician al-Farghani, who came up with a measurement of about 20,000 miles.
More important for Columbus, however, was the ratio of land to water. Here he made his greatest miscalculations. Marinus of Tyre had suggested that land extended for 225 degrees around the earth, leaving only 135 degrees of water between Portugal and China. But even that was too far for Columbus. Had not Esdras written (in the Apocrypha) that six parts of the globe are habitable land and only one part water? Columbus therefore reduced the width of the ocean by 28 degrees to account for a larger Asia and then another 30 degrees to Japan, because Marco Polo had reported (without seeing it, of course) that the island of Cipango (Japan) lay 1,500 miles off the coast of Cathay (China). Columbus subtracted 9 more degrees when he decided to depart from the Canary Islands.

Thus, he calculated the distance from the Canaries to Japan at about 2,400 miles. He was wrong, of course; the actual airline distance is 10,600 miles. But remarkably, what did lie about 2,400 miles west of the Canaries was an entirely new continent, unknown to anyone in Europe or Asia.
...Columbus would not be put off. He continued to promote his project so tenaciously that it gave rise to sundry stories and myths to explain his dogmatic certainty. There are so many flaws in these stories that it is amazing anyone ever believed them, much less modern critical scholars. Yet some people are willing to believe almost anything to explain Columbus's unmovable conviction rather than accept his claim that he was led by God. "I could sense his hand upon me," wrote Columbus, "so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies, and he gave me the will to do it."
...On the third voyage, he was unable to control the open rebellion that had broken out in the new colony he had founded on his second voyage. In October 1500, Columbus was arrested and deported to Spain in chains.

The humiliation was overwhelming. In a letter to a friend, Columbus wrote, "The only thing that sustains me is my hope in him who created everyone; his support has always been near. On one occasion not long ago, when I was deeply distressed, he raised me with his right arm, saying: 'O man of little faith, arise, it is I, do not be afraid.' "

Later, during his fourth voyage, Columbus received another divine assurance during an extremely perilous moment when he was about to abandon all hope. "Exhausted, I fell asleep, groaning," he reported to the sovereigns. "I heard a very compassionate voice, saying: 'O fool and slow to believe and to serve thy God, the God of all! … Thou criest for help, doubting. Answer, who has afflicted thee so greatly and so often, God or the world? … Not one jot of His word fails; all that He promises, He performs with interest; is this the manner of men? I have said that which thy Creator has done for thee and does for all men. Now in part He shows thee the reward for the anguish and danger which thou hast endured in the service of others.' I heard all of this as if I were in a trance, but I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He, whoever he was, who spoke to me, ended saying: 'Fear not; have trust; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.'"
[emphasis added]
Columbus was wrong about some of the details of geography, and he didn't fully understand the purpose of his mission--but he knew that God had a work for him to do and he did it.

Rock Is Dead. Long Live Scissors!

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

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