Timewatch - The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (BBC 1994)
The Black Legend of the Inquisition Put to Rest
Timewatch - The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition
reviewed by Phillip Mericle
“Ego sum papa” = “I am the Pope”
The ‘Jewish Question’ in 15th and 16th Century Spain
A review of:
The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain
by Benzion Netanyahu (father of Benjamin Netanyahu). New York: Random House, 1995. Hardcover. 1390 pages. Illustrations. Source notes. Bibliography. Index.
Reviewed by Brian Chalmers
…In their edict of expulsion, issued on March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella announced their "decision to banish all Jews of both sexes forever from the precincts of Our realm." Ordered, on pain of death, to leave within four months, the Jews were permitted to take their personal belongings, except for gold, silver, coined money, or jewels. Estimates of the number of Jews banished generally range from about 165,000 to 400,000. An estimated 50,000 Jews chose baptism to avoid expulsion. …Expulsions of Jews and outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence have been features of both European and non-Western societies over many centuries and under a variety of political and religious regimes. What is noteworthy about these 14th- and 15th-century actions in Spain, however, is that tens of thousands of Jews escaped death or expulsion by converting to Christianity. As a result, by the middle of the 15th century there was a numerically large (perhaps 100,000), and politically and economically significant community of people of Jewish descent in Spain who were, at least outwardly, Christians.
Establishing the Inquisition in Spain
Beginning with a furious anti-Jewish uprising in Toledo in 1449, the hostility of Spain's common people came to be directed against these baptized Jews, who were known as “New Christians,” Conversos, or, contemptuously, Marranos (“pigs”). This new hostility developed in large part because the vast majority of these New Christians were, in the words of Jewish historian Cecil Roth, “Jews in all but name, and Christians in nothing but form,” 1 and in part because the Conversos, freed from the legal constraints against “open” Jews, rapidly ascended to the highest ranks of Spanish society and represented a competitive threat to all but the highest levels of "Old (non-Jewish) Christian" society.
In A History of the Marranos, Cecil Roth sums up the central problem. “In race, in belief, and largely in practice,” the Conversos “remained as they had been before the conversion.” These New Christians, Roth continues, 2
were Christians only in name; observing, in public, a minimum of the new faith while maintaining, in private, a maximum of the old one ... Baptism had done little more than to convert a considerable proportion of the Jews from infidels outside the Church to heretics inside it ... The populace, whose feelings thus became more and more inflamed, could not be expected to appreciate the theological subtleties of the matter. In the Marranos it could see only hypocritical Jews, who had lost none of their unpopular characteristics, fighting their way into the highest positions of the state.
Another Jewish historian, Howard Fast, has similarly noted: 3
The nut of the matter is that most of the converted Jews remained Jews; they accepted baptism, they assumed the trappings of Christianity; and in the seclusion of their families, their homes, and their hearts, most of them did a thing that was then called “Judaizing” ... And not only did they Judaize, but in the feeling of power and security these Marranos had gained, they helped the Jews who had remained Jews, prevented a great deal of persecution, and gained favors for the Jews.
After decades of continuing anti-Converso disturbances [some of which followed discovery of Jewish ritual murders of Christian children, including the Holy Children of Saragossa and LaGuardia—see RITUAL MURDER], Ferdinand and Isabella, acting with papal approval, established the Spanish Inquisition in 1480. Its task was to combat religious heresy and root out crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims among the “New Christians.” “The introduction of the Inquisition,” reports The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, “was largely fostered by the civil power as a means of checking the Jews, whose numbers, wealth and frequent intrigues with the Moors were causing alarm.” 4
The vast majority of those brought before the Inquisition during its first 20 years of activity were Conversos accused of heresy (secret Judaizing). With the passage of time, this agency grew into a powerful institution for protecting Catholicism and the established order in Spain. (It was abolished in the early 19th century.) It played a major role in successfully persuading Ferdinand and Isabella to expel the remaining unconverted Jews in 1492 on the grounds that they were continuing to interact with the Conversos, and were proselytizing among their former co-religionists.
It should be emphasized that the grim reputation of the Spanish Inquisition is largely undeserved. Its cruelty and arbitrariness have been greatly exaggerated over the centuries, largely as a result of anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish propaganda. The Spanish Inquisition invoked torture and the death penalty only very sparingly, and actually treated heretics more leniently than did other European countries during this period. 5
Nearly all chroniclers of this chapter of history have agreed that the Christianity of most Conversos was not sincere, and that they secretly remained Jews. In fact, as these and other scholars of Jewish history have pointed out, a common Jewish response to persecution has always been “crypto-Judaism,” [see dönmeh] that is, outwardly adhering to the prevailing social-religious mores and values, while secretly maintaining loyalty to the Jewish nation-religion.
Crypto-Judaism was a phenomenon as early as the fifth century BC, during a Zoroastrian persecution in Persia, and it occurred sporadically in Muslim societies (including Muslim Spain under the Almohades in the 12th century) as well as in Christian societies (including Christian Spain under the Visigoths in the seventh century). 6 In this century it occurred on a wide scale in Russia during the final decades of Soviet rule. 7
There is abundant evidence to show that in Spain after 1391, New Christians practiced elaborate deceptions to secretly continue their observance of many of the 613 required Jewish rituals and commandments, including circumcision, Sabbath observance, and burial rites. 8 Converso parents first told children of their special status around the age of puberty, and Conversos routinely intermarried with other New Christians. For its part, Inquisition investigators developed a long list of practices by which crypto-Jews could be recognized. These included perfunctory participation in Christian rites and performance of Jewish religious rituals.
An important indication that the New Christians remained secret Jews is the fact that many of these Conversos and their descendants openly practiced Judaism after leaving the Iberian peninsula. 9 Groups of emigrating New Christians established openly Jewish communities in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Bordeaux, Livorno and many other places, and New Christians in Brazil immediately emerged as Jews after the temporary Dutch conquest (1632-1654). Converso families had extensive kinship and mercantile ties with Sephardic (Iberian-Mediterranean origin) Jewish families around the world. Some of these New Christian families secretly preserved their original Jewish names for many generations, and re-adopted them after escaping the reach of the Inquisition.…
1 Cecil Roth, A History of the Marranos (New York: Meridian Books, and, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960 [copyright 1932]), p. 20; and, C. Roth, The Spanish Inquisition (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1937), p. 27; Cecil Roth, born in England in 1899, authored numerous works of Jewish history. He began teaching at Oxford University in 1939.
2 Cecil Roth, A History of the Marranos (New York and Philadelphia: 1960), pp. 20, 30, 31.
3 H. Fast, The Jews: Story of a People (Dell pb. edition, 1978 [originally: Dial Press: 1968]), pp. 215, 216.
4 F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford Univ. Press [2nd ed.] 1977), p. 1296.
5 Edward Peters, Inquisition (New York: Free Press, 1988); "The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition," a 1995 BBC television documentary that was also broadcast in the USA on the History Channel (AandE cable network), January 17, 1996; Edward O'Brien, "A New Look at the Spanish Inquisition," The Wanderer (St. Paul, Minn.), Feb. 15, 1996, p. 10.
6 Cecil Roth, A History of the Marranos (New York and Philadelphia: 1960), pp. 1-10; L. Begley, Wartime Lies (New York: Knopf, 1991); J. Prinz, The Secret Jews (New York: Random House, 1973).
7 D.K. Shipler, "Soviet Jews Found to Retain Identity," The New York Times, Feb. 20, 1981. See also Hendrick Smith's book, The Russians.
8 H. Beinart, "The Converso Community in 15th Century Spain," in R.D. Barnett (ed.), The Sephardi Heritage, Vol. I (New York: Ktav, 1971), pp. 425-456, 457-478; H. Beinart, Conversos on Trial: The Inquisition in Cuidad Real (Jerusalem: Magnes Press/ Hebrew Univ., 1981); S. M. Hordes, "The Inquisition and the Crypto-Jewish community in colonial New Spain and New Mexico," in M. E. Perry and A. J. Cruz (eds.), Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1991); M. Lazar, "Scorched parchments and tortured memories: The "Jewishness" of the Anussim (Crypto-Jews)," in M. E. Perry and A. J. Cruz (eds.), Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World (Berkeley: 1991).
9 See, for example, J. C. Boyajian, Portuguese Bankers at the Court of Spain 1626-1650 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press. 1983); Y. H. Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto: Isaac Cardoso: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Jewish Apologetics (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1971).…
The Spanish Inquisition in Reality and Myth
The Journal of Historical Review
Spanish Inquisition Was a Moderate Court by the Standard of Its Time
by Ed Condon, National Review
...[M]uch of our popular conception of [the Spanish Inquisition] is the product of Elizabethan propaganda and gothic fiction. There was a concerted effort by northern (mostly Protestant) European kingdoms to paint the Spanish Empire as constitutionally evil ... The Inquisition was the poster child for these efforts, which collectively became known as the Black Legend ... In fact, examined simply as a functioning court, the Spanish Inquisition was in many ways ahead of its time and a pioneer of many judicial practices we now take for granted. ... By the standards of the time, in many ways superior to almost all other courts. Even in the centuries since, we have at times done worse than the Spanish Inquisition - and that is something no one expects.