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Why does the Book of Mormon seem to know about Christopher Columbus’s self-described motivation for voyaging to the Americas?

It is widely believed that Christopher Columbus was motivated by personal desires and money when he discovered America. However in the Book of Mormon it says in 1 Nephi 13:12:

And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren. 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. 

Why would Joseph Smith say Columbus was spiritually motivated when this was against the dominant narrative?

Daniel C. Peterson comments:

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 profecias [Book of Prophecies] 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.

– Daniel Peterson, “Not Joseph’s, and Not Modern,” 199. See also, Pauline Moffitt Watts, “Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s ‘Enterprise of the Indies’,” The American Historical Review 90, no. 1 (1985): 73–102, esp. 74:

Christopher Columbus said in his own writings, which have only recently been discovered:

“With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project.”

“Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Holy Scriptures, by a most clear and powerful testimony … urging me to press forward?”

“Already I pointed out that for the execution of the journey to the Indies I was not aided by intelligence, by mathematics or my maps. It was simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied.”

“I feel persuaded, by the many and wonderful manifestations of Divine Providence in my especial favour, that I am the chosen instrument of God in bringing to pass a great event—no less than the conversion of millions who are now existing in the darkness of Paganism.”

“In the name of the most Holy Trinity, who inspired me with the idea and afterward made it perfectly clear to me, that I could navigate and go to the Indies from Spain, by traversing the ocean westwardly.”

Arnold K. Garr, Christopher Columbus A Latter-Day Saint Perspective, 81–83

Why would Joseph Smith go out on a limb like this? How did he know Columbus was spiritually motivated?


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