• Erotics of the Exotic: Orientalism and Fictionalization of the Mooress in the Early Modern Mediterranean

    The representation of women in the realm of Islam in early modern Spanish literary, religious, historical, and political texts provides a very significant key to the perception of the “Other” in Spain. These women were categorized according to their radically different circumstances: in Spain they were Moriscas (where they were the objects of an internal colonization), but in the Ottoman Empire (which was seen as a threat to Christian Europe) they were Moras and Turcas. Muslim women were systematically portrayed as highly sexualized subjects, sometimes in combination with the mystified harem and the slave market. In a tone ranging from contempt and disgust to ravishing desire, Muslim women were depicted as sensual and sexually accessible creatures. This Occidental fantasy was a means of establishing an imaginary domain over a powerful rival. Such representations of women were themselves essentially Orientalist, even when they occurred prior to the colonial and postcolonial relationship between the West and the Orient, suggesting that Orientalism itself ought not to be exclusively linked with colonialism and postcolonialism.

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  • The Assimilation of Spain’s Moriscos: Fiction or Reality?

    The proponents of the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain not only argued that the Moriscos, in the more than one hundred years that had elapsed since their conversion, had not assimilated to the majority Castilian Catholic culture, but that they were incapable of doing so. As a result, the expulsion was both inevitable and necessary. This view has dominated studies on the Moriscos since their expulsion four hundred years ago. In this article I aim to show that some groups of Moriscos had assimilated or were well on the road to assimilation, and that in their case (and that of others too) the expulsion was a human tragedy that was neither inevitable nor necessary.

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  • 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 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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