• The Jewish Precedent in the Spanish Politics of Conversion of Muslims and Moriscos

    The figure and the problem of the converso are often addressed in Abravanel’s works, especially after the 1492 expulsion, as has already been noted and studied by earlier scholars. Yet the link between Abravanel’s theological-political conceptions and his disseminated remarks on converts has not been studied as such. In this article I will try to partially fill this lacuna by studying a few of Abravanel’s important texts on the converts and by highlighting their theological and political background and meaning. Modern historiography has attempted to separate the political dimension of the converso phenomenon apparent in Abravanel’s biblical and messianic commentaries from the theological hermeneutical framework in which it is expressed. The following study focuses on Abravanel’s apologetic use and explanation of the conversos’ fate as it comes to the fore in several passages of his messianic work Mashmia yeshua (Announcer of salvation) of 1498 and of his commentary on Ezekiel of 1504. Abravanel’s messianic apology of Judaism after 1492 developed a certain theological and political meaning of the conversos’s destiny, which pointed at the converso not as a political figure revealing the historicity of the religious community but as a necessary by-product of exile participating in the messianic history of Israel and even revealing the stage it had reached.

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  • The Nação as a Political Entity at the Court of Rome

    This article deals with the manner in which Portuguese New Christians developed into a political entity, eventually becoming tantamount to a national group in the deliberations of the Holy See in the first part of the sixteenth century. This was, in part, accomplished through the efforts of a group of Portuguese conversos who had been present in Rome since the initial concession to Portugal of a tribunal of the Inquisition in 1531. The article considers how these men acted as procurators in a way similar to other such agents who represented the interests of national groups and who maintained a constant presence in Rome for centuries. It demonstrates how they sought to abolish or mitigate the effects of the tribunal in Portugal, seeking reprieves for people accused by the Inquisition or imprisoned in the kingdom and helping to set up safe havens in the Italian peninsula where they could settle.

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  • Portuguese New Christians among the Local Elites in Seventeenth-Century Cartagena de Indias

    To show that the conversos’ ability to become an integral and influential part of local society did not depend on their inner, private religious and ethnic identities but rather on external factors, the present article analyzes the case of the New Christians in colonial Cartagena de Indias (in today’s Colombia) based on testimonies found in Inquisition archives. The peculiarity of Cartagena de Indias, in contrast to other important cities in the Hispanic colonies, relied on the fact that it was a small city with a relatively small Caucasian population, and its economic life depended almost exclusively on commercial activity. The thesis defended in this article argues that if commerce was central to life in Cartagena de Indias, and the Portuguese New Christians predominated both demographically and in the field of trade, clearly their influence on various aspects of local society had to be significant. The article presents specific examples that show the Portuguese impact in the city in different spheres of society, including the social, political, economic, and philanthropic.

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  • The Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam and the Language of Liberty

    The exceptional freedoms granted to the Portuguese Jews who began settling in the Netherlands at the very end of the sixteenth century are well known, not only to scholars but to the wider educated public. This article addresses a development scholars have not, however, examined: how Portuguese Jews in the Netherlands came to grasp their new freedoms as an expression of universal political values (rather than mere largesse), and—most significantly—to identify with those values. This requires understanding the essentially religious and ethnocentric meaning of “freedom” in traditional Jewish discourse, where it is presented not as a good in itself but as an instrumental good, in that it facilitated the Jewish people’s proper service of God. Members of the communal elite who had immigrated from Portugal and Spain would have been familiar with the terms liberdade and libertad as abstractions of Iberian political philosophy with no practical significance. But in Amsterdam they would have become familiar with an idea of liberty as a universal right in matters of conscience that pertained to all subjects of a realm, and with an early form of civil religion that embedded the concept of liberty in a uniquely Dutch religiopolitical discourse. A close look at texts generated by Portuguese Jews in seventeenth-century Amsterdam reveals how members of the communal elite came to embrace (at least publicly) a concept of liberty in its universal political meaning, conflating it with a traditional Jewish narrative in a way that dovetailed with the emerging Dutch national narrative.

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  • Moriscos in Sicily in the Years of the Expulsion (1609–1614)

    Based primarily on documentary evidence gathered at the Archivo General de Simancas, this essay outlines the history of some of those Moriscos who settled in Sicily between 1609 and 1614, in the aftermath of their expulsion from Spain. The article addresses the question of their numbers, their origin, their socioeconomic profile, and their religious identity, and tries to reconstruct the position of the viceregal chancellery of Sicily when confronted with the phenomenon of Moriscos reaching the territories under its jurisdiction. It argues that the Morisco problem in Sicily was tackled in a way that differed substantially from the way it was approached in the mother country. However, the viceroy’s seemingly more lenient attitude and his ambiguous behavior toward Moriscos appear to have been linked to the benefits some of them could provide him rather than to any real sympathy with their plight, and this only insofar as Moriscos allowed to reside on the island were confined to small numbers and to at least outwardly practicing Christians and that their presence did not entail a direct confrontation with the local Inquisition.

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