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Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


  1. The writer of the caption of the alleged portrait of Christopher Columbus reproduced here (“Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus, according to Wikipedia”) did not realize that his or her first and second sentences contradict each other.

    “Most striking about this painting is the legend that runs along the top. The inscription which identifies the sitter as Columbus was certainly included much later. There is also doubt about the signature. In those days it was an exceptional occurrence for an artist to sign a work (or to add a legend). It was probably added by the writer of the inscription to increase the value of the work” (Paul Martin Lester, “Looks Are Deceiving: the Portraits of Christopher Columbus,” Visual Anthropology, vol. 5, 1993, pp. 211-227).

    Thus, the safest statement to make at this time, and maybe for all time, is that we do not know who painted the painting, when it was painted, who painted the inscription, when it was painted, or whom the painting depicts.

    Those questions are important for a reason which may hitherto not have been mentioned: One of the pieces of evidence adduced by certain people in our times who have claimed that Columbus was a Jew is the position of four fingers (all but the thumb) on the man’s left hand, which they claim represents the Hebrew letter shin, which, they claim further, stands for the Hebrew word shaday (that word indeed begins with that letter), which is one of the Hebrew names of God.

    However, since it is not known who the sitter is, the painting cannot be adduced as evidence for that claim. Furthermore, countless paintings of people who were definitely not Jews show those four fingers in that position (my list is too long to give here).

    In sum, the painting, even if it turned out to be of Columbus, would, in light of my previous sentence (“Furthermore….”), be irrelevant to the question of whether he was a Jew.