The Medieval Review 10.05.19

Ingram, Kevin. The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond. Volume One: Departures and Change. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: Converso and Morisco Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Pp. 363. $148 ISBN 978-90-04-17553-2. .

Reviewed by:

David A. Wacks
University of Oregon

This collection of essays began life as the 2006 conference "Los Conversos y Los Moriscos en España y su Imperio" (the full program is available at at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid, under the auspices of Saint Louis University's Madrid campus. The twelve essays brought together in this volume represent a variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of Conversos and Moriscos.

Kevin Ingram's introduction (1-22) begins with a well-written, clear general overview of the key historical and interpretive problems in Converso and Morisco studies that I would happily assign as background reading to undergraduates. However, it is thinly documented and does not succeed in communicating a cohesive intellectual mission or project statement for the collection. Specialists will well be able determine for themselves what Ingram hoped to contribute to the discussion with this volume, while more general readers will benefit from his broad overview and clear prose.

Francisco Márquez-Villanueva, who has published extensively on both Conversos and Moriscos, contributes a fine essay "On the Concept of Mudejarism" (23-49) in which he provides a clear, erudite discussion of key terms and their ideological underpinnings. Paying special attention to the terms "Reconquista" (24-28) and "convivencia" (28 ff.) he uses mudejarismo as a rubric for organizing medieval Spanish cultural and political history. His essay is richly documented and provides a very solid picture of the state of the question, to wit, that "[Golden Age] Spain is brimming, to tragic proportions, with paradoxes which conventional Europeanism is incapable of deciphering" (47).

Mark Meyerson's "Seeking the Messiah: Converso messianism in post-1453 Valencia" (51-82) heads up a series of studies on Converso issues. His essay is a very detailed and richly documented account of the personal lives (according to Inquisitorial case records) of a family of Conversos in Valencia who planned to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire in order to better situate themselves for the arrival of the Messiah. Meyerson points out that the social and ideological fabric of the this particular Converso scene underscores the diversity of Converso "religious belief and practice. . . and the religious and social fluidity among Conversos, Old Christians, and Jews it reflects" (53). One of the more piquant examples is the Conversos' belief that that "Christians would get their comeuppance at the hands of the Turkish 'Antichrist,' a figure from Christian eschatology to whom the Conversos assigned a more positive role" (70). The Ottoman backdrop makes this case study of Jewish/Converso messianism particularly interesting background material for students of the later, better-known Sabbatean (and other flavors of) messianism that would come to pass in Early Modernity.

Luis Girón-Negrón's essay "'If there were God': The Problem of Unbelief in the Visión Deleytable " (83-96) brings to light some very interesting features of Alfonso de la Torre's fifteenth-century Maimonidean treatise. Readers will benefit from the full force of Girón-Negrón's erudition, which is delivered in nimble, readable academic prose. De la Torre's work, he argues, became an international "best-seller" (85) handbook of Maimonidean thought for Conversos who sought a way to reconcile their experience with their belief (or lack of it). It was a way out for Converso intellectuals for whom "the feasibility of unbelief became particularly significant under the overwhelming burden of anti-Semitic hatred and the unflinching gaze of the Inquisition" (96).

Elaine Wertheimer's "Converso 'Voices' in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Spanish Literature" (97-119) provides a series of portraits of six Converso writers, "Antón de Montoro, Juan del Encina, Lucas Fernández, Diego Sánchez de Badajoz, Bartolomé de Torres Naharo and Gil Vicente, each [of whom] in his own way reflects the hopes, fears, and anxieties of Conversos of his time and place" (98).

"Berenjeneros: The Aubergine Eaters" (121-42) is Juan Gil's elegantly crafted study of the cultural history of the eggplant in the social milieu of Toledo, and its implications for relations between Old and New Christians. According to Gil, " Berenjenero was, then, a generic insult used against Toledans in an attempt to hit them where it hurt most, namely alluding to their tainted condition" (131) as Conversos.

Nadia Zeldes' essay widens the geographical scope of inquiry to include Sicilian Conversos, in "Sicilian Converts after the Expulsion: Inter-Community Relations, Acculturation and the Preservation of Group Identity" (143-59). In her analysis of the letter of Pope Sixtus IV to Queen Isabella of Castile and Leon regarding the Sicilian neofiti , Zeldes argues that the Sicilian situation was quite different from that of Castile in that "conversion was for Sicilian Jews a means of retaining more or less the same positions that they had occupied in society before the promulgation of the 1492 edict, rather than a way to reach social and economic positions that would have been otherwise inaccessible to them" (154).

In, "A Thorn in the Community: Popular Religious Practice and Converso Dissidence in the District of Molina de Aragón" (161-86), Leonor Zozaya Montes weaves a well-documented and vivid narrative (based on Inquisitorial testimony) on the multi-generational religious practices of the Rodríguez and Cortés families in Molina de Aragón (Guadalajara) in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The two families were guardians of a local relic ("a thorn from Jesus' crown" [161]), whose authenticity was first contested by the Church and eventually verified and officially celebrated on May 4th of each year. The essay's strongest point is how the originally 'deviant' cult of the thorn is eventually co-opted by "the Prados Redondos clergy [in order to] enhanc[e] the town's religious and social prestige" (184-85).

In a similar vein, Vincent Parello's "Inquisition and Crypto-Judaism: the 'complicity' of the Mora family of Quintanar de la Orden (1588-1592)" (187-210) is a case study of Inquisition records of a single family and the "economic and religious solidarities that existed among the members of the persecuted collective" (189). In an ironic twist, the Moras learned many of their Judaizing practices from the Inquisition itself, whose "'edicts of faith,' detailed catalogues of heretical crypto-Jewish practices proclaimed when the Inquisition visited an area" (198) served as the only source of Jewish education for the extended family.

Moving from Converso to Morisco studies, in "Between rumor and resistance: The Andalucían Morisco 'uprising' of 1580" (211-42) Michel Bogelin deftly marshalls diverse archival witnesses to the so-called uprising of the Moriscos of Seville, arguing convincingly that their perceived "refusal to integrate, was . . . a reaction to an assimilating policy" (230) rather than a religiously motivated movement.

In one of the gems of the volume, "Jerónimo Román de la Higuera and the Lead Books of Sacromonte" (243-68), Mercedes García-Arenal and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano lay out clearly and masterfully the background and significance of two fascinating and indispensible works of Morisco literature, the Lead Books of Sacromonte (falsified by Miguel de Luna and Alonso del Castillo and discovered in 1588) and the Historia verdadera del rey don Rodrigo , (also) by Miguel de Luna. They argue that both works aim to "[establish] the Christian legitimacy of the Moriscos and Conversos by tracing the presence of such converts to Spanish antiquity and dissociating their cultural characteristics from their religious ones, thus "promot[ing] the integration of the two minority groups within mainstream, Old-Christian culture" (240).

"Maurophilia and the Morisco Subject" (269-85) is a break-out piece from Barbara Fuchs' monograph Exotic Nation in which she points up the ambivalence of mainstream Spaniards' relationship to Moriscos both historical and as imagined in some of Lope de Vega's better-known romances moriscos . She urges the reader "to reconstruct the hybrid, mudéjar Spain that lasts long after the fall of Granada" (285).

William Childers's essay, "Manzanares, 1600: Moriscos from Granada Organize a Festival of 'Moors and Christians'" (287-309) describes and theorizes the performance of a ritual battle of 'moros y cristianos' put on by Morisco deportees from Granada. For Childers, the popularity of the Morsicos' 'show' is evidence that runs counter to the "generalized rejection of the Moriscos" (299). He describes the enthusiastic support among the Old Christians of Manzanares for their Morisco neighbors' cultural performance as "one of the clearest demonstrations I have seen of the possibility in early modern Spain of constructing cultural identities that did not have their starting point in religion as a principle of exclusion" (299).

Francisco Peña Fernández returns to Converso questions in his suggestive study of Cervantine literary Judaizing, Sancho Panza and the Mimesis of Solomon: Medieval Jewish Traditions in Don Quijote (311-33). His essay brings to light (for the first time) a series of medieval Sephardic textual traditions of King Solomon that have analogues in Cervantes' protrayal of Sancho Panza as governer of the Island of Barataria.

Closing the volume is the editor's own contribution, "Historiography, Historicity, and the Conversos" (335-56). In the first half of the essay, Ingram discusses the Memoria of the Converso Fray Agustin Salucio (late 16th c., Colombina Ms. 28-7-33). This most intriguing historical text subverts the dominant narrative of Reconquista , depicting New Christians as "united not in virtue but in self-interest and moral turpitude" (337). Ingram calls Salucio's history "an honest attempt to present Spanish history in its less than glorious reality, and a bold challenge to the anti-Converso legislation that was undermining Spanish society" (337).

This collection is a fascinating read overall. Some of the studies (Zeldes, Zozaya Montes, Parello, Bogelin, Childers) offer us interesting case studies of specific cultural moments, while others (Márquez-Villanueva, Girón-Negrón, Gil, Ingram) are more diachronic and synthetic studies that represent a more expansive style of humanism. The collection represents a variety of approaches, disciplines, and regional academic formations (North America, Spain, France, Israel).

Now for the nitpicking: some of the essays do reinforce negative stereotypes of historians (Jets) and literary scholars (Sharks). Here is one: 'literary scholars generalize and bandy about high-flown theories without the benefit of solid evidence.' I am the first to admit that we do occasionally indulge in a bit of wishful (if not magical) thinking. Wertheimer, for example, claims although we cannot be sure that Juan del Encina was actually a Converso himself, "concerns arising from the Converso problem did condition his point of view" (104). Even the godfather himself, Márquez-Villanueva, cooly asserts that Ximénez de Rada knew Arabic, "like virtually any educated Spaniard of his day" (40). There are other such examples among the various essays.

Another stereotype: 'historians are great at unearthing and presenting archival evidence but do not make significant or compelling statements in their analyses.' Sure enough, at least a couple of the historians bury the lead deeply. Parello, for example, is sitting on the El Dorado of Converso studies: a family of Crypto Jews who learned Judaism from the Inquistion , but he leaves this plum to rot on the branch, opting instead to conclude that "the identity of this Marrano community revolved around the family" (199). Likewise Ingram abandons his exposition of the spellbindingly interesting history of Salucio halfway through his essay to give us another short overview of the Converso question chez Castro and Sánchez Albornoz, closing with a (well-deserved, in my opinion) indictment of modern biographers of Golden Age literary figures who generally minimize the importance of Converso culture.

I suspect that on the whole such stereotypical behavior is more the product of disciplinary habit than individual infraction. Accordingly, the most compelling essays come from scholars whose practice is interdisciplinary, hybrids who combine the historian's archival acumen with the humanist's flair for cultural commentary, here embodied by Meyerson, Girón-Negrón, Gil, Bogelin, García-Arenal and Mediano, and Childers. In the final analysis, however, this is not a horse race. My aim is not to give a simple thumbs up or down to any given author in the collection, but rather to emphasize that those of us working in Converso studies and related fields need to continue such collaborative projects, to nurture our own professional convivencia that it might likewise bear such sweet fruits. We Sharks and Jets need each other, not as worthy opponents but as co-conspirators and companions on the journey.