Divre ha-yamim le-malkhe Tsarefat u-vet Otoman ha-Togar (Chronicle of the Kings of France and the Ottoman Empire)

Joseph ha-Kohen


There was a man in Castile called Americo. He had a large ship, in which he placed a great number of supplies, as much as his soul desired, and he also resolved in his heart to amass as much booty as he could and to travel far to the edge of the earth. Empty men gathered around him [see Judges 9:4], and they set out to sea with him. They journeyed back and forth for many days on a path no man had traveled since the day God created the earth and heaven. They traveled until they no longer saw the star [tramontana] which sailors of the sea follow in order not to deviate from their path. They went round about, moving like drunkards, going from one region to another, confused in the depths of the sea, for many days.

They ran out of their food, and the men prepared themselves for death, and each man called to his god at that time [see Jonah 1:5]. They tried to return, but did not know how, as the captain had lost his way and did not know his right hand from his left.

They said, as their souls were fainting, “Let us cast lots [see Jonah 1:7], and the one upon whom the lot falls will be killed, and we will eat his flesh, and live, and not die.” While they were talking, the lookout raised his eyes and saw a distant place and cried out, “Ahoy! Ahoy! Land! Land!” The men greatly rejoiced, and they rowed to the land, and alighted upon it, and they came to a small town with a few people in it [see Ecclesiastes 9:14], who were naked and unashamed [see Genesis 2:25]. They spoke to them, but they could only understand a little of the language of Ishmael, and they asked for bread. They brought them some of the bread they would bake, and it was dry and crumbly [see Joshua 9:5]. They [the natives] prepared it from the roots of plants of their land, unleavened cakes because they did not rise [see Exodus 12:39]. It looked like the biscotto that are made in the city of Pisa, in Tuscany, nowadays.

Those people were greatly amazed by the Spaniards, upon seeing their weapons, and also when they heard the noise of the cannons and saw the tongues of burning fire. They exclaimed, “These are sons of God, for like Him they make a sound, and who can tell them what to do?” They were very frightened and brought them into their homes and gave them silver and gold and took from them some of their knives and iron tools, which they had with them, for iron and burnished copper had never been seen in that land from the day they got there.

The Spaniards took supplies from there, such as they found, and traveled from there and returned to the land of Spain full of goods, in a joyous state, and gave thanks to God. They told their brothers all that they had done and all the tribulations they had met on the way [see Exodus 18:8], and many were envious of them. From that day onward, many poor men of the country resolved to go likewise to the place of gold, and some of them found only a place of thorns and brambles, and died on the way of hunger and thirst and due to a lack of provisions.

However, many of them managed to reach their destination, and they returned home in joy, bearing riches, property, and general abundance. As the Spanish kept going there, they conquered the inhabitants of the land and made them slaves and maidservants and forced laborers to this day. The Spaniards also took their daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers [see 1 Samuel 8:13]. They had no one to rescue them, and the outcry of the inhabitants of the land rose to heaven [see Exodus 2:23].

The land lay broad before them, and it was blessed by God, and its people were like horses and mules; they had no understanding and walked in darkness [see Psalms 82:5], and the Spaniards were their guides [see Numbers 10:31]. It came to pass when the Spaniards began to multiply on the face of the earth [see Genesis 6:1], the land was like a garden of God for them, like the land of Egypt [see Genesis 13:10]. They took possession of it and settled on it and gave its places names like those of their country. They also taught the inhabitants of the land laws and judgments as they wished, and the inhabitants came to believe in their god, and in their king, and they learned their ways. When they saw the cunning of the Spanish and their heroism, they thought they were prophets and angels of God, and feared them greatly.

One of the wonders that they very greatly esteemed was the ability to read and write, as they realized that this meant that a man could speak with his companion from a distant land by means of a scroll as small as a man’s palm. They therefore said that this was the finger of God. The name of the man who discovered that land was Americo, and it was named America after him, although Peru and Klobokana was the first name of the country, while the Spaniards call it the New World to this day.

Translated by
Jeffrey M.


Joseph ha-Kohen, Divre ha-yamim le-malkhe Tsarefat u-vet Otoman ha-Tugar (Chronicle of the Kings of France and the Ottoman Empire) (Sabionetta: Adelkind, 1553/54).

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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