In my previous post on Abraham Lincoln I discussed how the collective “memory” of important persons from the past can be distorted.  We as a society “remember” things in certain ways — e.g., Vietnam; Civil Rights Movement; Elvis; 9/11), — different groups differently and not always accurately .  Here I give another example, not to be a definitive demonstration of my point so much as to help us think about the issue.  What about our memories of Christopher Columbus?  And, well, how about the early Christians’ memory of Jesus?

Again, this comes from the early part of my book Jesus Before the Gospels  (HarperOne, 2016).


Remembering Columbus

Much the same can be said about most of the historical figures that we revere, from Caesar Augustus to Joan of Arc to Christopher Columbus.   Columbus is an interesting example.  He is not always remembered today in the same glowing terms that we remembered him when I was a child growing up in the 50s and 60s.  In those days, we remembered Columbus as one of the great heroes of our past, the one who “discovered America,” who made it possible for civilized people to expand into the new world and to bring their Christian ideals into a backwards and pagan wilderness that stretched from shore to shore.  It was Columbus who made possible all the good things that have come down to us in our democratic, wealthy, and noble society.   Among other things, he was a good and kind man who treated the native populations with dignity and respect.

Columbus is not always remembered that way anymore.  For one thing, today when people talk about his “discovery” of America, they tend to put it in quotation marks.   America, in the more widespread view today, was not “discovered.”  It was already here, and was populated by civilized peoples, even if their form of civilization was markedly different from the civilization of Europe.  And Columbus was not even the first European here.  He was preceded by many others.

More than that, Columbus today is often remembered not

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