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  • The Lead Books of Granada by Elizabeth Drayson
  • Claire Gilbert
The Lead Books of Granada. By Elizabeth Drayson. [Early Modern History: Society and Culture.] (New York: Palgrave. 2013. Pp. xv, 289. $95.00. ISBN: 978-1-137-35884-4.)

The human stories behind the multilingual and multigraphic parchment, relics, and “Lead Books” (plomos) of Granada, recovered from their hiding places in two episodes between 1588 and 1599, are endlessly fascinating. Elizabeth Drayson’s new book describes in detail how the personalities and complex motives of individuals shaped the forgery, discovery, authentication, and repudiation of the plomos. Those texts and artifacts were found over the course of the decades following the second war of the Alpujarras and the expulsion of the morisco “new Christians” from Granada (1568–71). The purportedly early Christian relics and texts were intended by their creators to demonstrate an ancient Christian heritage for the recently converted city of Granada, as well as to cast aspects of the Islamic heritage of that same city (first and foremost the use of the Arabic language) as compatible and acceptable to the orthodoxy of Counter-Reformation Spain. These relics and texts were written or inscribed variously in Latin, Castilian, and a distinctive Arabic script described as Solomonic. The unique set of skills and expertise needed to create such artifacts, and the particular set of motives that would inspire a hoax geared to appeal to both Christians and Muslims, have inspired a spirited and longstanding debate among scholars as to the identity of the forgers. Drayson looks to the usual suspects, the morisco doctors Alonso del Castillo and Miguel de Luna, and gives an account of the recent scholarship about these figures. Drayson, whose previous work has focused on the legends surrounding Rodrigo, the last Visigothic king of Spain, is especially drawn to the figure of Luna, the author of the Historia Verdadera del rey don Rodrigo (Granada, 1592), itself an invented history purportedly translated by Luna from the original Arabic text of one Abu al-Qasim Tarif ibn Tariq. Luna is a tremendously engaging figure with complex personal and professional motives, as Drayson and others who have worked on him have shown. One of Drayson’s principal motives for writing the book, as she tells her readers in the preface and again throughout chapter 5, “Miguel de Luna—Hoaxer, Heretic, or Hero?” is to “bring to the fore a man who has not been regarded as a hero” (p. xiii). However, the story of Luna and his contemporaries that Drayson proceeds to tell is fascinating on its own merits and would not seem to require the invocation of a heroic ideal to justify its discussion and analysis.

Drayson’s well-written book is a timely addition to a renewed scholarly interest in early-modern forgery and its role in the cultivation of new forms of critical inquiry along with the cultivation of religious and national heritage through antiquities (forged or authentic), as exemplified in the works of Katrina Olds and Katie Harris, among others. Along with her interventions in this scholarship, however, Drayson’s principal contribution, beyond synthesizing the complex matter of the plomos episodes, lies in her portrayal of the lead books in contemporary Spanish culture (chapter 10). Her discussion of the imaginative portrayals of the episodes around the lead books in Spanish popular culture since the 1990s, in fiction and in film, introduces her readers to an aspect of contemporary Spanish culture that is as [End Page 172] important as the historical episode and historiography around the Lead Books. She shows how the recent flurry of scholarship and creative work inspired by the Granadan forgeries is in its own way a glimpse into the current engagement of both the Spanish academy and the Spanish public with the same questions for which the plomos were meant to serve as a response at the end of the sixteenth century: what is the place of Islam and Islamic culture in Spanish society and Spanish history?

Those who are particularly interested in the topic will wish to read Drayson’s book in conjunction with the revised edition and English translation of Mercedes García-Arenal and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano, The...


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