- The Scroll and the Cross: 1,000 Years of Jewish-Hispanic Literature
Anyone faced with the daunting task of teaching an introductory course in Latin American or Jewish literatures produced within the ever-expanding Hispanic cultural sphere inevitably faces the task of either compiling a reader or finding the appropriate materials in an anthology. Both projects tend to be tedious and rewarding for different [End Page 155] reasons. And yet while copyright becomes an exhausting enterprise requiring great foresight and unexpected investment, anthologies have become increasingly attuned to the needs of the instructor, providing chronologies, study guides, bibliographies for further research, and critical footnotes. Furthermore, anthologies have become increasingly innovative as authors work to address a broader reading public and reveal a comparative perspective reflective of the recent transformation of literary studies by cultural studies. Nonetheless, the search for an introductory anthology is still driven by two key questions. Are individual authors, periods, genres, and major cultural debates sufficiently presented? Does the anthology provide a solid contextual framework to situate the selection of primary texts?
Along these lines, The Scroll and the Cross, by Ilan Stavans, is an exemplary illustration of how anthologies can superbly resolve the dilemmas of teaching an introductory course while also providing an original reading of the literature under study. Historical in its approach, The Scroll and the Cross provides a range of texts centered on various cultural encounters between Jewish and non-Jewish Hispanics. The depth in content combined with the breadth of the collection—it consists of 41 entries divided between Spain and the Americas and spans ten centuries of literary production—provide an excellent base for a preliminary understanding of literature produced by and about Jews within the Hispanic hemisphere. The anthology explores a number of central issues including faith and mysticism, the search for identity, religious and ethnic persecution, nostalgia, survival and continuity, cultural encounter and struggle, testimony and the preservation of memory, and trans-cultural acts of recognition and coalition. Stavans thereby produces a unique map of what Mary Louise Pratt has termed a "contact zone" characterized by "asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination" (p. 4). Yet here, we not only observe the tensions of the contact zone unfold, we see these tensions problematized, confronted and even healed through the act of writing.
Stavans brings together an impressive body of texts compiled from several other translations and collections. He also includes two of his own translations and his own creative essay, an excerpt from his recent memoir On Borrowed Words (2001). The anthology proceeds chronologically, beginning with a single sample of poetry composed by various tenth-century authors including Samuel Hanagid and secular poet Moisés ben Ezra. Narrative selections represent the work of Benjamin of Tudela, Nahmanides and Maimonides, amongst others, of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Examples of antisemitic doctrine produced in Spain include the code of law, "Las siete partidas," authored by Alfonso X the Wise, which sets forth strict limits on the public and private conduct and mobility of Jews, including the prohibition of cohabitation and sexual relations between Christians and Jews. Following this selection is the infamous Edicto announcing the mandatory expulsion or conversion of Jews from Spain in 1492. A lengthy sample from the autobiographical essay of Luis de Carvajal the Younger initiates the Latin American collection of texts by and about Jews. I found this entry particularly [End Page 156] valuable in the way that it serves as a testimonial text that bears witness to the repression and violence inflicted on Jews in colonial Mexico under the Inquisition. Save for the works by the eccentric Miguel Leví de Barrios and Miguel de Unamuno, the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries are sparsely represented. One might ask, why does such a significant gap exist? Is the work produced in this period unworthy of publication or did other forces preclude the publication by Jews? If so, what were these forces and how were they textually represented?
The final 200 pages are dedicated largely to authors of the Americas and...