Page 179 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Richard H. Popkin offers an historical analysis in “The Rise and
Fall of the Jewish Indian Theory,” in Yosef Kaplan, Henry
Mechoulan, and Richard H. Popkin, eds.,
Menasseh ben Israel and
his World
In fact, there was a relationship between Jews and Indians, one
that derived not from common ancestry, as Catholic missionaries
and Protestant evangelicals proposed, but from faulty European
perceptions of the “other.”34The same racist premises that under­
lay Spanish policy toward New Christians who had formerly been
Jews controlled Spanish policy toward New Christians who had
formerly been pagans. The fact that Spanish missionaries lumped
Jews and Indians together as cannibals and idol worshippers rein­
forced popular fear of Judaizing New Christians and validated the
Inquisition’s strenuous efforts to get rid of them.35The doctrine of
Jewish racial inferiority that underlay the policy of
limpieza de san-
(purity of blood) and the exclusion of New Christians from po­
sitions of honor, was reactivated and reinterpreted when it became
convenient to exclude mestizos from clerical and government po­
sitions. It is from this perspective that we can speak of an encounter
of three worlds, for Jews and New Christians were of the Iberian
world but rejected by it; Catholic Iberians classified them with the
Indians, as part of that uncivilized world that they were determined
to tame or exterminate.
The third “historians’ war” is just beginning, and we shall un­
doubtedly hear a great deal more about it. In 1991, The Nation of
Islam published
The Secret Relationship between Blacks andJews,
I.36 The book’s allegations are a compound of historical distor­
tions, half-truths, and outright fabrication. E.g., that the Jews were
33. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989.
34. The literature on the theme of the Other as it played out during the
Conquest was initiated by publication o f Tzvetan Todorov’s
La conquete de
, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1982.
The Conquest ofAmerica.
Tr. Richard
Howard, New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1982.
35. I expand on this theme in my essay, “Imagining Idolatry: Missionaries,
Indians, and Jews,” in Tobin Siebers, ed.,
Religion and the Authority of the Past.
Ann Arbor: University o f Michigan Press, 1993.
36. Chicago: Latimer Associates, 1991.
Double Quincentenary