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In 1492 . . . who can say?

Somewhere buried deep in all the hype surrounding the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing somewhere in what the Eurocentric knowledge base of the time called the "new world," there had to be something interesting.

I mean, why else would we have two competing (and equally unhistoric and dull) movies on the market and an entire cottage industry of T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers about the alleged importance of the event?

It is a point of pride to many of European heritage, but to a lot of other people _ American Indians, for instance _ it's just a story about a lost white guy looking for ways to exploit people in Asia and accidentally stumbling onto an island where he found an entirely new race to exploit.

And we can't be impressing our American Indian neighbors much by the fact that we can't say for sure which white guy got here first or even if he was white. There is a pretty hefty Leif Ericson lobby and even some other historians who say Africans may have reached Central America more than a thousand years earlier.

We also can't say for sure where Columbus was born (some say in France) or where he is buried. The list of countries claiming to have his remains is getting right up there in numbers with people who have seen Elvis and/or received divine revelations from apparitions in the patterns that form on frying tortillas.

Nonetheless, we keep trying to salvage some historical validity out of the fact that, 500 years ago this weekend, a pretty gutsy Italian explorer financed by Spanish money (the opposition party in Spain probably called it Ninagate or Pintascam) came ashore somewhere and opened the trade routes that eventually brought Europeans an equal shot at caffeine nerves, lung cancer and emphysema and introduced American Indians to the golden world of syphilis, measles, plague and dealing with real estate types who say, "Go ahead, take it, it's shiny."

But I persevered and, finally, an item crossed my desk that I think should see greater circulation.

For some reason, I am fortunate enough to receive Liberty magazine, a Seventh-day Adventist publication. I like it because it presents extremely objective commentary and reporting on a variety of subjects, some religion-based and others not.

In the September/October issue, Liberty editor Clifford Goldstein raises a fascinating question: whether Columbus was Jewish.

If for no other reason, I repeat it because it will infuriate all of those Klan types who think Jews (and practically everyone else) should "go back where they came from."

Theorizing that Columbus was probably from a line of Marranos Jews who (like a lot of other people) converted to Catholicism under duress but often secretly practiced Judaism, Goldstein makes (and gave me permission to reprint) these observations.:

Columbus never wrote in Italian but in Catalan, a dialect often spoken by Spanish Jews of his generation.

His prose often contained phrases that were direct translations of Hebrew idioms.

He rarely quoted the New Testament but often quoted Old Testament Scriptures.

He was a cartographer, a profession practiced almost exclusively by Jews at that time.

Although preparations for his first voyage were completed on Aug. 2, 1492, the ships didn't leave until a half-hour before sunrise on Aug. 3 _ perhaps because Aug. 2 was Tisha-b'Ab, a day of fasting during which no Jew would have begun something important.

And so, on this weekend preceding Columbus Day, I will be at an Arts and Crafts festival on Florida's east coast, where there is speculation that there will be controversy over the noise created by airboat rides _ being sold by Miccosukee Indians to white space industry workers and their kids.

I need a pill.

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