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Parallel Histories

Muslims and Jews in Inquisitorial Spain

James S. Amelang

Publication Year: 2013

The distinct religious culture of early modern Spain -- characterized by religious unity at a time when fierce civil wars between Catholics and Protestants fractured northern Europe -- is further understood through examining the expulsion of the Jews and suspected Muslims. While these two groups had previously lived peaceably, if sometimes uneasily, with their Christian neighbors throughout much of the medieval era, the expulsions brought a new intensity to Spanish Christian perceptions of both the moriscos (converts from Islam) and the judeoconversos (converts from Judaism). In Parallel Histories, James S. Amelang reconstructs the compelling struggle of converts to coexist with a Christian majority that suspected them of secretly adhering to their ancestral faiths and destroying national religious unity in the process.

Discussing first Muslims and then Jews in turn, Amelang explores not only the expulsions themselves but also religious beliefs and practices, social and professional characteristics, the construction of collective and individual identities, cultural creativity, and, finally, the difficulties of maintaining orthodox rites and tenets under conditions of persecution. Despite the oppression these two groups experienced, the descendants of the judeoconversos would ultimately be assimilated into the mainstream, unlike their morisco counterparts, who were exiled in 1609.

Amelang masterfully presents a complex narrative that not only gives voice to religious minorities in early modern Spain but also focuses on one of the greatest divergences in the history of European Christianity.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Discussing the history of Judaism and Islam in a society that according to the letter of the law lacked Jews and Muslims may seem to be a task better suited to Don Quixote than to the presentday historian. As a challenge it presents both problems and opportunities....

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Introduction: Parallel Histories

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pp. 1-4

This is a rough sketch of two faiths in a specific time and place. Judaism and Islam, and indeed all religions, tend to have two histories. The first is universal, a “great tradition” in which concrete historical situations take second place to the long sweep of spiritual beliefs and practices as they evolve over the millennia. The other history, a “little...

Part I. The Moriscos and the End of Muslim Spain

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1. The Decline of Coexistence

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pp. 7-9

The relations between the Catholic majority and the Islamic or formerly Islamic minority in early modern Spain ran a lengthy gamut that ranged from episodes of extreme hostility and violence to an impressive degree of coexistence. This was as true of the sixteenth and...

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2. Rise and Fall of the Moriscos: A Political History

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pp. 10-25

As the northern kingdoms gradually extended their control over the peninsula, particularly beginning in the eleventh century following the collapse of the formidable Caliphate of Cordoba, ever-greater numbers of Muslims fell under direct Christian rule. The victors allowed the continued practice of Islam and officially recognized their ...

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3. Images and Realities

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pp. 26-33

Several basic attitudes dominated Old Christian views of recent Muslim converts. Foremost among these was fear. Catholic Spain perceived various sources of threat in the moriscos. Above all, they were seen as potential allies of their Muslim brethren in North Africa and ...

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4. “Christians in Appearance but Muslims Underneath”

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pp. 34-40

Crypto-Islam is arguably the most closely studied, as well as controversial, theme in historical writing on the moriscos.1 Curiously, until recently most speculation on this subject has echoed the two extreme positions of early modern commentators, which asserted that virtually all moriscos were either crypto-Muslims or (less frequently) ...

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5. Communities and Individuals

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pp. 41-46

Religious life in virtually all circumstances incorporates personal as well as collective forms of observance. Fulfillment of spiritual obligations under conditions of vigilance and persecution usually tends to favor more individual, and less readily visible, practices. Yet at the same time, external, hostile pressures often foster greater solidarity ...

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6. Morisco Expression

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pp. 47-53

The century-long history of morisco Spain left behind relatively little in terms of formal creativity. New Christians continued to transmit the decorative and architectural skills inherited from their Muslim past in those areas where mudéjar and late Nasrid styles were...

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7. A Final Bow

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pp. 54-59

It is fitting to end these pages on the moriscos with a brief glance at an extraordinary episode that took place shortly before the expulsion of 1609. There are admittedly many mysteries in early modern Spanish history, but few have proved stranger or more intriguing than the so-called ...

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8. Aftermath

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pp. 60-66

So what became of the moriscos? It is a bitter irony that so little is known of their fate following the expulsion. While they do not vanish from the historical record, there can be no denying their growing invisibility as a group, not only within Spain but also outside it. The sources are particularly silent about the most crucial aspect of their experience: their ...

Part II. From Jews to Christians

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9. Creating Conversos, 1391–1492

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pp. 69-79

The puzzle begins with names. The term present-day historians usually prefer for this group, conversos, actually appears only rarely in early modern documents. Other designations were used much more frequently. These ranged from “New Christians”—a label ex-Jews and their descendants shared with the moriscos—to the more colloquial...

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10. Vigilance through Violence

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pp. 80-82

It is a common irony of history that the best information about a social group often comes from its bitterest enemies. That certainly is true of the conversos. By far the most voluminous record of their activities can be found among the trial papers of the Inquisition. These sources give a richly detailed, if consistently deformed, view of a category of Spaniards...

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11. New Christians in a New Spain

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pp. 83-91

Who were the conversos, and how did they differ from their Old Christian neighbors? One can begin to answer these questions by pointing out the main traits that characterized the New Christians as a group. Four were particularly prominent....

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12. The Persistence of Antisemitism

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pp. 92-97

If early modern Spain succeeded in eliminating its Jews, the same could not be said of the memory of them. Even when Judaism no longer flourished in its midst, the figure of the Jew played a vital, if negative, role in defining the Catholic commonwealth. Antisemitism had long been an integral part of Christian identity, and all the classic elements of this...

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13. Rejection and Assimilation: A Porous Purity

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pp. 98-109

By far the most infamous manifestation of the racial definition of Jews was limpieza de sangre, or blood purity. Early modern Iberia begat a unique legal and biological construct based on the supposition that religious difference “infected” the blood of the persons carrying it. As a result, a propensity to heterodoxy could be inherited from one ...

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14. Judaizing and the Impossibility of Orthodoxy

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pp. 110-122

It is time now to turn to those conversos who consciously rejected the path of It is time now to turn to those conversos who consciously rejected the path of assimilation and who opted instead for some degree of allegiance to their ancestral creed. The real extent of what the Inquisition referred to as judaizing is the single most controversial issue in the ample and growing ...

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15. Identity and Creativity

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pp. 123-132

It is difficult, if not impossible, to speak of a converso identity in collective terms. This is not to say that New Christians altogether lacked a sense of belonging to a social category of their own, much less that they failed to recognize other members of the same group. Crypto-Jews in particular resolved the dilemma caused by the incompatible needs for...

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16. Diaspora within the Diaspora

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pp. 133-150

Viewed in the long run, perhaps the most unusual feature, as well as the one with the most far-ranging consequences, of the history of early modern Spanish Jews and conversos was the way in which the experience of exile led to change and renewal outside the peninsula. The year 1492, far from bringing history to an end, inaugurated ...

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17. From Heterodoxy to Modernity?

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pp. 151-162

The disappearance of the institutions and rituals of normative Judaism combined with Inquisitorial repression, the strength of Catholic indoctrination, and the sheer weight of majority opinion not only to weaken the attachment of would-be judaizers to the orthodox forms of Jewish belief. Such pressures also moved some of these desperate ...

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Epilogue: Two Histories, Parallel and Different

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pp. 163-170

At first glance, what overwhelms are the similarities. Both the Jews and Muslims of Spain were the objects of collective violence. In both cases violence was accompanied by exclusion and followed by expulsion. And in both instances the victor was the same: a self-confident, militant Christianity, now determined to mark a new course by disowning ...


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pp. 171-176

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 177-198


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pp. 199-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780807154113
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807154106

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2013