Mass conversion and genealogical mentalities: Jews and Christians in fifteenth-century Spain

David Nirenberg, Department of History, The Johns Hopkins University

It is both well known and worthy of note that Sephardim (that is, the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain) and Spaniards shared an unusually heightened concern with lineage and genealogy in the early modern period. The Spanish obsession with ‘hidalguia’, Gothic descent, and purity of blood has long constituted a stereotype. Think only of Don Juan’s father, mockingly portrayed by Lord Byron: ‘His father’s name was José–Don, of course,/ A true hidalgo, free from every stain/ Of Moor or Hebrew blood, he traced his source/ Through the most Gothic gentlemen of Spain.’

The Sephardim, too, were criticized on this score almost from the moment of exile. The (Ashkenazik) Italian David ben Judah Messer Leon, for example, ridiculed the eminent exile Don Isaac Abarbanel’s claims to royal pedigree, scoffing that Abarbanel ‘made of himself a Messiah with his claims to Davidic descent’. That the exiles’ emphasis on lineage flourished nonetheless is evident, not only in the splendid armorial bearings of Sephardi tombs in Venice or Leghorn (Livorno), but also in the communal statutes of congregations in Italy and the Netherlands. And just as Spaniards asserted that their unstained nobility set them above other nations, so Isaac de Pinto could attempt to counter Voltaire’s negative portrayal of Jews by arguing that Sephardic nobility made ‘A Portuguese Jew from Bordeaux and a German Jew from Metz appear to be two entirely different beings’.

The historical ‘origins’ of this emphasis on lineage are among the most polemical issues in the scholarly literature on Spanish and Sephardic identity. Rather than multiply examples, consider only that of Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, a writer so central to Spanish historiography that the Royal Academy of History is named in his honor. When he wrote in 1887 that ‘the fanaticism of blood and race, which we probably owe to the Jews, … was then hideously turned against them’, he was reiterating an already ancient claim: that the Jews were the inventors of the exclusionary logic of lineage that would later be used in Spain to oppress them. Within the context of Spanish history, the opinion has been embraced by writers as diverse as Américo Castro and his arch-enemy Claudio Sánchez Albornoz. Conversely, an equally diverse group of Jewish scholars (which includes Yitzhak Baer, Cecil Roth, Haim Hillel Ben-Sason, Yosef Yerushalmi, Benzion Netanyahu, and Yosef Kaplan) has strenuously argued the opposite thesis, that these ideas were invented by gentiles (in this case Iberian Christians) as a way of denying converts from Judaism full membership in the Christian spiritual and social communities they sought to enter. Only later would they be adopted by the same Sephardic Jews who had earlier been their victims.

The debate may seem abstruse, but it draws its heat from a moralizing logic of genealogy that is of vital importance in the long history of Jewish relations with other peoples. If the Jews gave birth to ‘racism’ and the spirit of exclusion according to birth, then is there not a certain exculpatory irony in the fact that their own monstrous children turned so violently against them? Hence the unceasing efforts of anti-Jewish polemicists, ranging from Appian to Hitler, to comb ancient biblical and rabbinic texts in order to identify the Jews as the inventors of racist exclusivity; and the equally timeless attempts of Jewish apologists from Philo to the present to defend the ‘chosen people’ against the charge.

Both these positions assume that ideas about lineage have a discrete and essential origin in a particular culture or people, whence they are transmitted from donor to recipient cultures across space and time. Both are, in other words, philogenetic, depending on genealogical models of cultural exchange that reproduce, but do not explain, the logic of lineage whose rise they claim to clarify. In this sense, modern historians of the subject remain methodologically very close to their medieval precursors, whose pens worked so diligently to trace the lineages of kingdoms, people, and ideas into the primordial past (by which they generally meant the historical landscape of either the Hebrew Bible or Greek myth).

The present study will take a different approach, arguing that the emphasis on lineage amongst Spaniards and Sephardim is not a product of the ‘genetic’ transmission of ideas from one culture to another, but rather the outcome of a specific historical process of conflict in which lineage became a newly meaningful way of thinking about religious identity amongst Christians and Jews alike. Its specific arguments are threefold: 1) that the conversion to Christianity of many thousands of Jews caused by the massacres, forced disputation, and segregations that marked the period between 1391 and 1415 produced a violent destabilization of traditional categories of religious identity; 2) that in the face of this destabilization Jews, Christians, and conversos created new forms of communal identity by engaging in a dynamic and dialogic process of rereading their own traditions and those of their rivals; and that over the course of the fifteenth century (that is, from the massacres of 1391 to the generation of the expulsion of 1492), this process elevate genealogy to a primary form of communal memory. 3) that in each of these communities this genealogical form of collective memory gave rise to new forms of historical consciousness and historical writing, some of which continue to characterize the historiography of Spain and its Jews.

By focusing on the social context of the fifteenth-century Iberian Peninsula, I do not mean to imply that this was either the first or the only time that history and genealogy met, wooed, and were wed. To the contrary, theirs is a common romance, with conflict a frequent go-between. Nor am I suggesting that lineage was unimportant to Jews and Christians before the events of 1391. The genealogical genre is represented in the foundational texts of both religions (that is, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament), and both had long and complex traditions of thinking about the topic. For the Jews, yhus, or lineage, had important ritual implications before the destruction of the Temple, and the issue was treated extensively in early rabbinical texts. More specifically in medieval Sepharad, important rabbinic dynasties had long used genealogies in the struggle amongst themselves for authority and prestige. In his Book of Tradition, for example, the twelfth-century scholar Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo gave several important families noble pedigrees. Families like the Albalias and the ibn Ezras, he assured his readers, ‘are of royal blood and descended from nobility, as evidenced by their personal traits’.

Such strategies, and the genealogies they produced, were common to the entire western diaspora, in Ashkenaz as well as Sepharad. Further, though such claims might lend a patina of prestige, they carried no legal force. (They were also sometimes ridiculed.) In the early fourteenth century, rabbi Shelomo ben Abraham ben Adret of Barcelona, the leading rabbinic authority of his day, made clear just how little halakhic (legal) weight genealogical investigations should have. Responding to a case in which litigants attempted to bar two brothers from giving testimony on the grounds that they had a slave ancestor, Adret responded that ‘all Jewish families must be held as fit and emanating from the children of Israel’. Of such accusation, he added, ‘if we take seriously the authors of such libels, there will not remain a single family [in Israel] that will be considered fit from the standpoint of ancestry’.

Among the Christian European nobility genealogy had long played a more important role than it did amongst the Jews, one that for a variety of reasons became critical (as well as better documented) in the fourteenth century. In Western Europe this period saw the widespread adoption of armorial bearings, the development of heraldry, the dissemination of the ‘family tree’ as a standard way of representing lineage. And of course within each of the peninsular kingdoms specific pressures contributed to the particular flavor of genealogical concerns. In Aragon, for example, the growing pressure of taxation led to an explosion of ‘procesos de infanzonia’ in the first half of the fourteenth century, by which thousands of people attempted (generally successfully) to show their descent from tax-exempt minor nobility. In Castile, on the other hand, the civil wars of mid-century had resulted in a new royal dynasty that drew its grandees from an (almost) entirely new circle of families. In that kingdom, it was the high nobility that displayed the greatest genealogical creativity as it attempted to establish its bona fides.

In both religious communities, in other words, ideas about lineage were always present and never stable. But though in both communities lineage was clearly important at the level of the family, the dynasty, and the individual line, in neither did it emerge as a central form of cultural memory or communal identification establishing a group identity before the fifteenth century. Genealogy was not yet being put to the work of producing narratives or systems of knowledge around which large-scale political, social, religious, or ethnic entities might cohere.

The fourteenth century drew to a close with a wave of anti-Jewish violence unparalleled in the Middle Ages. In the massacres of 1391, thousands or tens of thousands were killed, and a much greater number converted. Reuven, son of the famous Rabbi Nissim Gerundi and a survivor of the massacre, described the damage in words he penned in the margins of his father’s Torah scroll:

Wail, holy and glorious Torah, and put on black raiment, for the expounders of your lucid words perished in the flames. For three months the conflagration spread through the holy congregations of the exile of Israel in Sepharad. The fate [of Sodom and Gomorrah] overtook the holy communities of Castile, Toledo, Seville, Mallorca, Cordoba, Valencia, Barcelona, Tàrrega, and Girona, and sixty neighboring cities and villages…. The sword, slaughter, destruction, forced conversions, captivity, and spoliation were the order of the day. Many were sold as slaves to the Ishmaelites; 140,000 were unable to resist those who so barbarously forced them and gave themselves up to impurity [i.e., converted].

We need not accept the accuracy of his numbers in order to recognize that these killings and conversions transformed the religious demography of the Iberian peninsula. The Jews vanished from many of the largest cities of both Castile and Aragon. In their place, converted by force and without catechism into Christians, appeared a new, in some sense intermediary religious class, that of the ‘new Christians,’ or conversos.

The migration of such a large number of Jews into the body of Christ catalyzed a series of reactions whose complexity and dynamism is perhaps comparable to those that marked the debates (so fateful for later Jewish-Christian relations) between Jewish and gentile followers of Jesus in the first formative century of Christianity. Underlying these reactions (of which the turn toward genealogy was only one) was a crisis of classification and identity, one whose first symptoms became evident almost immediately. In 1393, for example, the King of Aragon wrote to a number of towns complaining that it had become impossible for ‘natural Christians’ (i.e., not converts) to tell who was a convert to Christianity and who was still a Jew. The king proposed segregation and heightened marking of Jews as a solution. Henceforth converts were to be forbidden to live, dine, or have conversation with Jews. The Jews were to be made to wear more conspicuous badges and Jewish hats, so ‘that they appear to be Jews’. But it is in the sermons of St. Vincent Ferrer that this crisis of classification and identification received its most elegant and powerful formulation, and came in due course to justify the second great wave of conversionary pressure that swept the Peninsula in the years 1412-1415.

St. Vincent, together with the papal court in Avignon and the monarchs of Castile and Aragon, professed to desire nothing less than the mass conversion of the Jews and Muslims of Spain, a goal he and his allies pursued through a program of preaching, mandatory disputations, and discriminatory legislation. His motivations, as well as those of the popes and monarchs who supported him and of the populace that so warmly embraced his mission, were complex. But there is no doubt that they were all very much concerned by the ways in which the existence of a group of Christians living in proximity (social, cultural, and physical) to Jews undercut the radical distinction between the two groups, a distinction believed to be crucial to the identity of both communities. In the words of St. Vincent himself, ‘he will never be a good Christian, who is neighbor to a Jew’. Proximity destabilized an essential aspect of Christian identity, dishonored God, and put Christian society at risk of famine, plague, and other manifestations of divine displeasure. Equally dangerous was the fact that it made accurate identification difficult. The situation was so grave, St. Vincent suggested to a Castilian audience in 1412, ‘that many are thought to be the children of Jews but are really Christian, and vice-versa’.

St. Vincent Ferrer and his sponsors sought to reinstate the necessary distance between Christian and Jew in two ways: first, by converting as many Jews as possible to Christianity, and second, by sharpening the boundaries between Christians and those (ideally few) Jews who would inevitably remain in Christian society until the end of time. The program, in a word, was segregation. In the interest of separating Christian from non-Christian, Muslims and Jews were to be moved to segregated neighborhoods and severely restricted in their market and economic activities. These measures clearly advanced the goal of evangelization by encouraging beleaguered non-Christians to convert. But we should not forget that they also reflected, and justified themselves by invoking, increased anxiety about the stability of group boundaries after the mass conversions of 1391.

Whatever the motivations of this segregation, its effects were clear. Entire communities converted to avoid being barred from their trades and expelled from their homes. Others found shelter in caves and huts, ‘with boys and girls dying from exposure to the cold and the snow’. Writing years after these events, Abraham Zacuto called the discriminations of 1412-1415 ‘the greatest persecution that had ever occurred’. Shelomo Alami described this as a period when ‘the sky was covered with a cloud [so heavy] that it blocked the passage of any prayer to God’. Both Christian and Jewish sources tell us of the rabbis attempting to penetrate this cloud by praying tearfully in the graveyards: ‘At the hour when the world requires mercy, the living go and rouse the souls of the righteous, and cry on their graves.’ But the souls of the righteous did not waken, or if they did, they failed to rouse the intercession of the patriarchs. By 1415, a new generation of conversos had entered Christendom.

It is not the terror of these massacres and segregations, real as it was, nor even their scale, that I want to emphasize here, so much as the classificatory dilemmas they created for Jew and Christian alike. The mass conversions raised, for the first time, systemic doubt about who was a Christian and who was a Jew. At their simplest, these were questions about who had actually converted. Particularly when conversion took place in an atmosphere of mob violence, it could be difficult to ascertain who had in fact been baptized, though the classification was obviously a crucial one, given the inquisition’s interest (at least in the Crown of Aragon) in relapsed converts. But the problem of identification extended far beyond doubts about whether an individual had been baptized or not, for ambiguity arose in any number of settings.

Topographically, for example, converts from Judaism (and Islam) often remained in the same homes and neighborhoods (that is, in Jewish and Muslim quarters) that they had occupied before their conversion. In this sense St. Vincent was right: the new Christians really were neighbors of Jews. The converts’ fiscal status, too, was indeterminate. Because they were made to assume a proportionate share of the debts and tax obligations of the Jewish community they left behind (obligations that often had maturities of several decades), the converts were often lumped into fiscal groupings separate both from Jewish aljamas and the ‘old Christian’ municipalities. The result was not only that the converts would retain close financial ties with their former coreligionists for at least a generation, but also that they would form confraternities and tax collectives quite distinct from those of their adopted brethren in Christ. The meanings of this ‘interstitiality’ were neither clear nor stable. For example, if the formation of converso confraternities seemed at first a laudable and even necessary step in the neophytes’ incorporation into the body of Christ, it soon began to seem a dangerous symptom of separatism, and by mid-century it had become a primary locus for violent conflict between Christians old and new. Whatever the shifting valences of these intermediate statuses, it is clear that these were significant moves in a highly corporate world very much attuned to such distinctions.

Marriage provided another context for the blurring of boundaries, and one central to the formation of any discourse of lineage. What happened, for example, if only one spouse in a marriage converted? To the rabbis, the answer was clear: the sanctified marriage remained valid, even if, in the words of Adret, the Jewish spouse should flee the convert as one ‘would a serpent’ in order to avoid giving birth to a ‘child of violence’ who might oppress the Jews. Under pressure of events, Christian authorities came to permit similar ambiguities. During the 1391 massacres in Girona, for example, a husband who had just converted sent messengers to the tower where his Jewish wife was still being besieged by the mob, asking her to return to him, under the condition that she not interfere with his observing the Christian faith. (She refused.) Conversely, when Samuel Baruch's wife Aldonça converted to Christianity in 1391, her father (also a convert) publicly presented his son-in-law with two possibilities: convert to Christianity and continue the marriage, or alternatively, remain a Jew but still keep her as his wife, without prejudicing her Christian faith. By 1415, Pope Benedict had formalized such choices by taking an unprecedented position in canon law, allowing all couples in this situation to continue living together for a year from the date of conversion, so that the Christian spouse might convince the recalcitrant partner.

Of course, concerns about the sincerity of conversion complicated the issue of classification further. For example, the year limit to mixed marriages makes clear that ‘hybrid’ situations were meant to be temporary, but in fact the problem continued for generations, whenever an ‘insincere’ or ‘judaizing’ convert married a ‘sincere’ one. One early sixteenth-century responsum (rabbinic legal opinion) tells of a conversa who abandoned her nursing son and her husband in Valencia by escaping through a window. She now wanted to marry a Jew who had repented as she had, and asked the rabbis if she needed a divorce. Conversely, Pope Pius II authorized an annulment for the converso Pedro de la Caballeria in 1459, on the grounds that his wife was a heretic who had been taught to judaize by her mother. ‘Pedro, a true Catholic, is prepared to endure ... every danger of death rather than consummate a marriage of this sort, lest [any] begotten offspring follow the insanity of the mother, and a Jew be created out of a Christian.’

Finally, the multiple expulsions, migrations, conversions, and apostasies that marked the fifteenth century made the classification of an individual’s belief a central problem for all three of the religious communities of Iberia (though the Muslim case will not be discussed here). Even those Jews who most adamantly refused to convert could experience a destabilization of their identities, because they were often forced to move to avoid physical violence, conversionary pressures, or the designation of certain cities (such as Barcelona or Valencia) as judenrein. The parents of Abraham Rimoch, for example, fled Barcelona with their young son after the massacres of 1391, taking refuge in Barbastro. Some twenty years later, after being forced to ‘debate with the pope and his sages’ at Tortosa, Abraham fled again to avoid conversion: ‘I left my house and abandoned my possessions, wealth, and fortune, my sons and daughters, my family, friends, and belongings.’ Such refugees found themselves needing to reestablish their reputations at a time when Jewish and Christian communities alike were particularly suspicious of newcomers. As Rabbi Shelomo da Piera put it, ‘when the persons who have escaped the sword … wander and go away … it would not be believed by mere hearing that these people have not converted, unless it is from scribes or from written testimonies which testify their being just, signed by well-known people who are "known at the gates".’

Da Piera’s observation suggests that these massive dislocations stimulated the search amongst Jewish leaders for new ways to document individual identity. Similar processes are evident in Christian communities as well, and the problem would become only more acute with the conversions and expulsions of the later fifteenth century. Consider the autobiography of Luis de la Isla, a thirty-year-old blind converso, as narrated to the Inquisition of Toledo in 1514. As an eight-year-old he had left the town of Illescas (near Toledo) for North Africa in the expulsion of 1492. From there he had traveled to Venice and Genoa, being baptized while in Italy. He returned to Spain in 1496 when converts were still being readmitted and then, again in Italy in 1506, started attending Synagogue in Ferrara. From Ferrara he moved to Salonica, Adrianople, and Constantinople, still as a Jew, then to Alexandria, where he lived as a Christian among Catalan merchants. In Alexandria he came into conflict with the local Jewish community, which reproached him for choosing Christianity ‘when he came from so honorable a lineage as those of Illescas.’ It was there, too, that he lost his sight and decided to return, first to Naples, then to Valencia, and finally Toledo, where he voluntarily confessed to the Inquisition. Such movement across geographic and religious space would characterize the experience of many Sephardim well into the seventeenth century. The classification of these ‘travelers,’ the fixing of their identities, would require new forms of memory and written record.

* * *

Confronted by these displacements, these problems of intermediacy and crises of classification, Jews, Christians, and conversos turned more or less simultaneously to lineage as one means of reestablishing the integrity of religious categories of identity. In doing so, each group drew largely upon its own traditions, but each was also aware of and responding to the changes taking place in the others’ genealogical imaginations. In the interest of narrative clarity I will treat each of these groups separately, beginning with the Jews. But in doing so I do not intend to imply any priority of invention, nor to give the impression that the responses can be adequately understood independently of each other.

The Sephardic rabbinate responded to the crisis by adapting two tensely related genealogical strands long present, but largely neglected, in rabbinic tradition. Both strands are already evident in a legal opinion written by Adret nearly a century before 1391, responding to a question about why the Talmud had made no provision for divorcing a Jewish woman from an apostate (meshumad l-‘avodah zarah). Adret emphasized that even in the extreme case where an apostate woman gives birth to a gentile son, the son is nevertheless ‘Yisra’el kasher u-mezuham,’ that is, kosher, but loathsome. Both the ideas implicit in this ruling, 1) that an apostate’s child is still Yisra’el kasher, and 2) that the child’s lineage is nevertheless in some sense flawed, were amplified in rabbinic reaction to the mass conversions. But both, it should also be stressed, assign a place of vital importance to genealogy.

This importance is easiest to see in the case of post-1391 writers who came to emphasize genealogy as a way of guaranteeing a sound lineage devoid of taint. Thus we see the appearance after 1391 of phrases like ‘of a family of believers’ or ‘of a good family’ in routine documents such as letters of recommendation, meaning that the bearer was of a family that had not converted in the persecutions. Rabbi Shelomo da Piera addressed the issue explicitly in the letter already cited above: ‘it would not be believed by mere hearing that these people have not converted, unless it is from scribes or from written testimonies which testify their being just.’ Da Piera therefore developed a formula: ‘for X, who is from the sons of good residents of this land, from those who are known to be faithful, decent, and untainted (kasher)’. A letter written in 1412 on behalf of Meir b. R. Todros b. R. Hasdai stated that Meir was ‘very afraid lest they should think or suspect him to be one of the converts…. therefore he begged us to give evidence of his untaintedness and this is the certificate of purity of this young man….’

Meir’s anxiety may have been due to the fact that such instruments of ‘genealogical memory’ were clearly being deployed in the interests of asserting the superiority of individual lineages. The Menorat ha-Ma’or, an ‘advice manual’ written by Isaac Aboab I at the end of the fourteenth century, reflects this concern:

A man must be very careful not to trip over a woman who is not fitting for him, so that she not be like a leprosy in his flesh, and that he not have children by her, who are not fitting. As we read in the last [perek] of Qidushin … every man who marries a woman not fitting to his station, it is as if he married in a house of salt, etc. And in the heavens they pray for him and cry: ‘Woe to him that damages his foundations and introduces a defect in his lineage and marries a woman who is not his equal!’

On the other hand, at the level of the collective, rather than that of the individual lineage, the rabbis used genealogical arguments to emphasize the continuing ‘Jewishness’ (and hence, marriageability) of the converts. Their arguments were based upon a distinction between ’anusim, forced converts, and willing apostates. Maimonides had famously ruled that, under certain conditions, there was no guilt in renouncing Judaism under threat of force, so long as one intended to continue carrying out the commandments and fled the land of oppression at the first opportunity. The convert remained a Jew, for God forgave the ’anus. The crucial variable here was the convert’s intention.

Sephardic rabbis writing after 1391 followed this tradition, but came to rely less on intention and more on lineage. We can trace this transformation across their responsa on the subject. Rabbi ben Sheshet Perfet (b. 1326), who fled Valencia for North Africa in 1391, upheld the Jewishness of the forced converts, on the grounds that 1) ‘God forgives the forced convert’, 2) ‘Israel, although he has sinned, is still Israel’, and 3) as Maimonides had said, it is better to live for the commandments than to die for them. But for their status as Jews and ’anusim, rather than apostates, depended on their secret observance of the commandments and upon their willingness to flee the land of their oppression whenever flight was possible. In other words, it depended upon individual intention. For his successor, R. Shim‘on ben Tzemah. Duran (b. 1361), a Mallorcan rabbi who had also fled the massacres of 1391, individual volition was of less importance. R. Shim‘on argued that it was impossible to know the secrets of the human heart, and so the conversos should not be judged negatively for their seeming unwillingness to emigrate from Spain. His son, R. Shelomo (RaShBaSh, c. 1400-1467), ruled further that even the ‘uncircumcised sons’ of converts, that is, second or third generation converts who knew nothing of Judaism, remained Jews unless, knowing their origin, they deliberately chose to forget it. Shelomo’s son Tzemah agreed in turn, coining the phrase ‘Israel, even uncircumcised, is circumcised [mahul]’. And Tzemah.’s brother, Shim‘on II (1439-after 1510) again agreed, supplying the necessary genealogical logic: ‘For these converts, during their sojourn in the lands of the gentiles, contracted the majority of their marriages amongst themselves. Only a minority contracted marriage with the sons of Edom.’ Further, Shim‘on II argued, the conversos kept good track of their lineages. Therefore not only are they to be considered Jews, but those who claim to be Cohanim, that is, of priestly lineage, are to be considered such. These rulings were of critical importance in answering questions about marriage law, inheritance, and ritual, and they come up again and again in responsa. Generally (though not always) the emphasis on lineage in these responsa is inclusionary. That is, the rulings affirm the continued Jewishness of the converts, stressing their strict endogamy and their clear genealogical memories, even though we know from other sources that many conversos who escaped to Muslim lands and returned to Judaism could not, for example, remember their family’s Hebrew name.

To summarize, over the course of the fifteenth century we can speak of two emerging genealogical emphases amongst the Sephardic rabbinate, the one stressing the purity of certain lineages, the other insisting on the genealogical integrity and continued Jewishness of the converts and their descendants. These were substantial shifts of emphasis, requiring a rereading of rabbinic legal traditions. At times their advocates even found it necessary to draw on non-legal traditions in order to make their points, as when Tzemah ben Shelomo borrowed from Qabbalah in order to argue that the offspring of a gentile and a female apostate from Judaism is still a Jew. But important as these developments were, neither of them necessarily leads to the positions (like those of Isaac de Pinto about the genealogical superiority of sephardim as a class over other Jews) with which this article began. Indeed, the new emphasis upon genealogy among Iberian Jews might have been limited to the sphere of halakha, to be applied only to specific legal questions arising within Jewish communities, were it not for its resonance with the debate that arose in Christian society over the proper classification of the conversos. Where did they fit within the then crucial polarity between Christian and Jew?

During the first generation after 1391 the Christian establishment was relatively tolerant of ambiguity, perhaps out of the conviction that it would resolve itself through catechism and acculturation. But toward mid-century, Christians began to characterize the converts in increasingly genealogical terms. This turn to lineage may well have been a reaction to the much more competitive landscape confronting Old Christians as the flood-waters of baptism receded, for the converts took advantage of many opportunities that had been forbidden to them as Jews. To give but one Aragonese example, Fernando de la Cavallería, a prominent Jew of Zaragoza, emerged from the baptismal font in 1414 to occupy the position of royal treasurer, one of the most important in the court. Two of his kindred baptized with him ascended to only slightly less prestigious posts, all offices forbidden to Jews in the Crown of Aragon since the late thirteenth century. In Castile, Jewish access to positions in the world of royal finance endured longer, but conversion nevertheless opened entirely new avenues for office-holding and advancement. Pablo de Santa María, who had converted in 1390, became not only bishop of Burgos (a position in which his son succeeded him), but chancellor of Castile and León and tutor of the Crown Prince Juan II, as well as executor of King Enrique III’s last will and testament. Old and New Christians competed not only for office, but also for marriage alliances at the highest level. The conversa Estenza Coneso, for example, married Alfonso de Aragón, the (illegitimate) son of the king. On a less exalted plane, the Valencian poet Jaume Roig penned a bitter poem denouncing his lover Caldesa for allowing herself to be ‘penetrated by the hatless rod’ of his (circumcised) converso rival.

These famous examples could be multiplied at great length. They are cited here merely to give a sense of the rapid ascension of converts to positions of power and influence within the Spanish kingdoms, positions from which, as Jews, they had been officially barred for the past hundred years. Their ascensions took place in the fiercely factional and competitive world of court. The flavour of this world is perhaps best captured in the poetic agon of the day, which produced anthologies of verse packed with genealogical maledictions like those addressed to Pedro Méndez, whose ancestry was said to be ‘one quarter marrano [i.e., convert]/and three quarters sodomite.’ More specific were the Jewish ancestors attributed by Rodrigo Cota to Diego Arias: ‘by one grandfather Avenzuzén/ by the other Abenamías,/ by the mother Sophomías,/by the father all Cohen.’ Translated from poetic to practical diction, lineage became an even sharper weapon. In 1434 King Juan II of Castile suppressed a plot to rob and murder the conversos of Seville. In Aragon the tactics are less violent, the evidence more abundant, but the picture is the same. In 1433 Queen Mary decreed on behalf of the converts of Barcelona that no legal distinction should be made between ‘natural’ Christians on the one hand and neophytes and their descendants on the other. The following year King Alfonso had to bar efforts in Calatayud to impose disabilities on neophytes; in 1436, the councilors of Barcelona moved to bar converts and those whose parents were not both ‘Christians by nature’ from holding the office of notary; in 1437 the town council of Lléida attempted to strip all brokers who could not demonstrate at least four generations of ‘natural Christian’ lineage of their office and license.

In attempting to counter such stratagems, the converts and their allies turned to the highest levels of the Church as well as to the king. The Council of Basel made its position clear in 1434:

since [the converts] became by the grace of baptism fellow citizens of the saints and members of the house of God, and since regeneration of the spirit is much more important than birth in the flesh, ... they enjoy the privileges, liberties, and immunities of those cities and towns where they were regenerated through sacred baptism to the same extent as the natives and other Christians do.

And again in 1437, responding to an appeal from the converts of Catalonia and Valencia, Pope Eugene IV condemned those ‘sons of iniquity, ... Christians only in name,’ who suggested that recent converts be barred from public office and who ‘refuse to enter into matrimony with them.’

The arguments of these ‘sons of iniquity’ ran sharply counter to a long theological tradition that saw in the Pauline epistles a clear statement that in the body of Christ there was neither ‘Jew nor Greek.’ Instead they based themselves on a logic that claimed for itself the testimony of nature. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo, writing c. 1438, provides a clear example of this evolving logic, with its increasing naturalization of cultural characteristics. You can always tell a person’s roots, he explains, for those who descend from good stock are incapable of deviating from it, whereas those of base stock cannot transcend their origins, regardless of whatever money, wealth, or power they may obtain. This can be proven, he suggests, by an experiment. If one were to take two babies, the one a son of a labourer, the other of a knight, and rear them together on a mountain in isolation from their parents, one would find that the son of the labourer delights in agricultural pursuits, while the son of the knight takes pleasure only in feats of arms and equestrianship: ‘This nature procures.’

Thus you will see every day in the places where you live, that the good man of good race [raça] always returns to his origins, whereas the miserable man, of bad race or lineage, no matter how powerful or how rich, will always return to the villainy from which he descends…. That is why when such men or women have power they do not use it as they should….

The first surviving theorizations about the negative nature of the conversos’ Jewish lineage were made in Toledo, during a rebellion against the Castilian monarchy in 1449. The Toledans and their sympathizers claimed that converts were motivated only by ambition for office and ‘carnal lust for nuns and [Christian] virgins’, and that converso physicians poisoned their Christian patients in order to get hold of their inheritance and offices, ‘marry the wives of the old Christians they kill’, and stain their ‘clean blood’ (sangre limpia). They argued that Jewish ancestry (that is, Jewish blood) conveyed canniness and an unusual talent for enriching oneself at the expense of non-Jews, and predisposed one to corruption and viciousness in positions of power. To counter this ‘genetic’ tendency the Toledans proposed what later would come to be called a purity of blood statute: descendants of converts were to be banned from holding public office.

Though these arguments were aimed at the conversos, it was upon the Jews that they focussed, for it was by mapping a set of ‘Jewish’ cultural characteristics (enmity towards Christians, ‘subtlety’, financial acumen) onto a genealogy said to reproduce them that they sought to disenfranchise the converts as ‘Judaizing Christians.’ To that end, they turned to biblical genealogies, and to arguments from later history, in order to represent the Jews as a lineage corrupted through hybridity.

Some writers, such as Alonso de Espina, verged on a polygenetic approach, putting the corruption at the very origins of human history. Espina related the lineage of Jews to the offspring of 1) Adam with animals and 2) Adam with the demon Lilith. As a result of these unions, he wrote, Jews were of the lineage of demons and of monsters, the mule and the sow their adoptive mothers. Others, like the author of a treatise called the Alborayque (c. 1455-65), used biblical accounts of Israelite migration to make similar arguments. The Jews are a mixed lineage, an amalgam of Edom, Moab, Amon, Egypt, and more. The author employed the Alborayque, the composite Qur’anic beast (part horse, part lion, part snake, etc.) who carried Muhammad to heaven, as a symbol of the conversos’ monstrously hybrid nature. The converts are not only Alborayques. They are bats, unclassifiable as animal (wings) or bird (teeth); they are a weak alloy rather than pure metal. These unnatural mixtures support the conclusion that, as heirs of the Jews, the conversos and their descendants could never be classified as Christian. Other scholars placed the corruption even later. One influential tradition maintained that since Titus had put no Jewish women aboard the ships that carried the survivors of the siege of Jerusalem into the Diaspora, the males had taken Muslim or pagan women to wife, so that their descendants were not real Jews but bastards, without claim to the covenant. These ‘natural histories’ sought to explain why the reproduction of Jewish cultural attributes should be understood as embedded in the reproduction of the flesh. In this sense, they provided the theoretical underpinning for the new genealogical boundaries, such as the doctrine of purity of blood, being established between Christian and ‘Jew’.

Jews and conversos responded to these polemics in a variety of ways, many of which centered on the production of ‘counter-genealogies’. To begin with the Jews, we can speak of an even greater emphasis on lineage at the level of the individual and the family, much along the lines described above in Da Pierra and Aboab. Thus Alami could still protest against differentiating lineages in 1415; by 1480 Shem Tov b. Joseph ibn Shem Tov’s position may have been more typical:

If a person is of pure blood and has a noble lineage, he will give birth to a son like himself, and he who is ugly and stained (of blood?) will give birth to a son who is similar to him, for gold will give birth to gold and silver will give birth to silver and copper to copper, and if you find some rare instances that from lesser people sprang out greater ones, nevertheless in most cases what I have said is correct, and as you know, a science is not built on exceptions.

We need not attribute Shem Tov’s metallurgically flavoured brand of Aristotelian naturgeschichte directly to the influence of Christian treatises like the Alborayque, for such arguments had a very long history, but their rise to prominence among Iberian Jews in the mid-fifteenth century is doubtless not a coincidence.

Even more marked is the rise of a ‘national’ genealogy among the Sephardim that sought to counter a number of the claims of the Old Christian polemics. Expanding upon traditions that traced the origins of certain families to the nobility of Jerusalem, Sephardic polemicists began to insist upon the noble Judaean origins of the entire Iberian Diaspora. The claims were not entirely new. Moses Ibn Ezra, for example, had invoked them centuries before in order to explain why Spanish Jews excelled all other in poetry, and Ibn Daud mentioned them as well. During the Maimonidean controversy David Qimh.i had suggested that Iberian Jews were all descended from Judaean nobility, whereas Ashkenazic Jews came from less distinguished provinces of Palestine.

Fifteenth-century Iberian Jews took up these hitherto relatively peripheral arguments, repeated them with more urgency, and extended them further. For example, a letter supposedly written by Toledan Jews at the time of Jesus’ mission was produced in Toledo at roughly the same time as the anti-converso riots. The letter (which was claimed to have been translated from the Aramaic at the command of Alfonso X ‘the Learned’) sought to establish that the Toledan Jews had been settled in Spain long before the Diaspora, and had in fact opposed the execution of Jesus by their coreligionists in the Holy Land. Efforts to bolster such claims continued right up to the expulsion. In Murviedro, for example, a tombstone was discovered purporting to be that of Adoniram, a high official of King Solomon. On the eve of the expulsion the grammarian Moses ben Shem Tov ibn H.abib visited the same cemetery and deciphered an inscription for the minister of war of the biblical King Amatzya of Judah.

These attempts to free the Sephardim from the charge of corrupt lineage, as well as deicide, and to claim for them a lineage superior to that of other Jews, reached their peak in the aftermath of the expulsion of 1492. The exiles Abarbanel (in his commentary on Kings [1493]) and Shelomo ibn Verga both incorporated forms of the legend into their works. In apologetic history of Jewish persecution, the Shevet Yehuda, Ibn Verga has his fictional ‘Friar Thomas’ explain to ‘King Alfonso’ that when Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, he allotted the precinct of Jerusalem that contained the nobility ‘of royal lineage’ to his allies Hispano and Pirro. The latter shipped the inhabitants back to Sepharad, ‘with the consequence that the Jews who are today in your kingdom are of royal lineage, and a great majority of them, from the lineage of Judah’. ‘There is no other recognizable lineage, and only among these unfortunate Jews is their origin recognizable…. Is it not an honorable thing that, because they have not mixed with other gentile peoples, their origin and lineage is recognizable?’ Such a lineage, King Alfonso exclaims, is greater even than that of the Goths, for it alone can know its origins. Upon the polemical stage Ibn Verga has constructed for them his characters perform for us the fusion of Iberian and Jewish myths of origin, the competitive comparison of genealogical memories. These characters, moreover, are not Jews, but a friar and a ‘Gothic’ King of Spain whose dynasty’s claims to expertise in such matters were frequently and loudly asserted throughout Europe. What better dramatization of the dynamics behind the formation of sephardi genealogical pretensions, and of the interdependence between the genealogical imagination of Christian and Jew?

For the conversos, the confrontation with the exclusionary genealogical arguments of the Old Christians was a bit more complicated. Some converso writers, for example, objected that nobility was to be found more in an individual’s deeds than in his ancestry. Others, like the leading expert in chivalry and heraldry of the age, Mosén Diego de Valera, asserted that non-Christians too (whether pagan, Muslim, or Jew) had their noble lineages, and that a non-Christian aristocrat’s nobility only increased when he accepted the true faith. In the specific case of converts from Judaism, Valera was prepared to add a further argument. They could stress the collective honour of their lineage and boast of descent from God’s chosen people. As he wrote in his Mirror of True Nobility (1441): ‘God chose this lineage for His own as the most noble’, by which he meant both that God had chosen the Jews as His people and that Christ had chosen this lineage to provide His flesh. The offspring of mixed marriages (like Valera himself) could go so far as to maintain both Christian and Jewish nobility. In the struggle for prestige no claim was too far-fetched, not even that of the famous convert Pablo de Santa María, bishop of Burgos, who was rumoured (by his descendants?) to stem on his father’s side from King David, and on his mother’s from the most Gothic kings of Spain.

Fantastic claims aside, the central contention here was that the Jewish lineage of the conversos itself distinguished them, for that lineage had provided God and His mother with their own genealogy. Pro-converso authors returned constantly to the theme, and argued that to cast aspersions on the Jewish lineage of Jesus and Mary was tantamount to dishonouring God. Such an argument, however, was a double-edged sword, for it opened the conversos to the charge of ‘judaizing’. Christian theologians had long agreed, if not from the days of St. Paul then from shortly thereafter, that to emphasize the merits of descent according to the flesh, and especially of descent from the Chosen People, was an error characteristic of the carnally minded and spiritually blind Jews. In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek. This is what Alonso de Oropesa, the General of the Jeronimite order and director of the proto-Inquisition established in Toledo in 1462, meant when he wrote that ‘to pretend to introduce … difference or preference between one nation or another in the faith of Christ would be to diminish the perfect unity of Christendom … to the imperfection, yoke, and servitude that characterized the Old Testament, and therefore constitutes judaizing.’ Oropesa was in fact writing a defense of the conversos, and his point was aimed at those who advocated discrimination against them, but the logic proved much more influential in the other direction.

Nearly every treatise written to defend the conversos from discrimination on the basis of descent (and there were many) manifests this tension, tacking constantly between the seemingly contradictory positions that the origins of the converts should be forgotten and that they descend from a distinguished lineage. But the problem is most starkly visible in the records of that terrifying arbiter of judaizing, the Inquisition, where conversos were frequently accused of the error of glorying in their lineage. Occasionally the charges concern some positive belief, such as being of the opinion that those who descended from the tribes of Israel could not die poor, because ‘that blessing remained to them from God when He spoke with Moses’ [referring to the Deuteronomic blessings]; or of interpreting Paul’s ‘First the Jew and then the Greek’ as meaning that New Christians should be preferred over Old in the distribution of offices and honors. But frequently the accusations stemmed from ‘street polemics’, that is, from converso responses to insults aimed at their ancestry. Aldonza Romeu, for example, was reported for having replied to an insult with ‘we come from a better lineage [generacion] than you do, for we descend from the lineage of the Virgin Mary and you descend from the lineage of the gentiles.’ The converso retort crystalized into an aphorism: ‘Cristiano de natura, cristiano de mala ventura’ (a Christian by nature is an unfortunate Christian). According to the (rather tortured) logic of defense lawyers, such words, if indeed uttered by the accused, were merely spoken in ‘melancholy’ at the insults to which the convert was being subjected. The accused were only reminding their tormentors that ‘there is no difference between Jew and Greek … for both are men (sic) in Christ Jesus our lord’, and that before the ancestors of ‘cristianos de natura’ were converted in antiquity, they had been idol-worshippers of ‘mala ventura’, just as much in need of the cleansing waters of baptism as any Jew. They had not, in other words, intended to judaize by implying the superiority of converso lineages to Old Christian ones.

Like the Jews, the conversos reacted to Old Christian genealogical strategies of polemic by responding in genealogical terms, emphasizing the nobility of their lineage. In the case of the conversos, however, this response facilitated the projection upon them of Old Christian anxiety about the ‘Jewishness’ of the genealogical turn. The Jewishness of the converts was said to be nowhere more evident than in their emphasis on lineage. In the word of one of their enemies, ‘they had the presumption of pride, that there was no better people in the world, nor more discreet, nor more intelligent, nor more honored than they, because they were of the lineage of the tribes of Israel.’ By locating the origins of the logic of lineage in the conversos’ Jewish roots, Old Christian writers like the author of these lines (Andrés Bernaldez) sought to justify the institution of genealogical discriminations in the form of the Inquisition and purity of blood statutes, and at the same time to project responsibility for these innovations upon their victims. Such genealogical displacements were a central aspect of Christian anti-Jewish and anti-converso apologetics. A century before, St. Vincent had attributed the invention of his segregationist measures to the Jews themselves. The Toledan rebels of 1449 made similar claims, arguing that Moses had originated the prohibition on the descendants of converts occupying positions of power. The strategies of some of the modern historians invoked in the opening of this article are not significantly different.

This is of course ironic, but it is also entirely systemic, part and parcel of the long established hermeneutic strategies by which Christians categorized not only people, but also ideas, as Christian or Jewish. Alonso de Oropesa’s claim that an emphasis on genealogy was Jewish is but one example of the techniques by which theologians since Paul had used dualities such as Christian-Jew, spiritual-carnal, allegorical-literal, redemptive-damning, sighted-blind, in order to map the negation of the Christian onto the Jew. The space in between these poles was a space of danger and heresy, a ‘judaizing’ middle ground no good Christian should occupy. By essentializing the anti-Christian and projecting it onto what has come to be called ‘the hermeneutic Jew’, Christian exegetes developed a powerful method of theological critique. Within this discourse, ‘incorrect’ Christian belief or deficient Christian practice was mapped onto the negative pole of ‘Judaism’, and the (Christian) adherents of these beliefs or practices described as judaizing. Thus (to choose an example from our period) St. Vincent could argue that infrequent confession made Christians ‘similar to Jews’:

…just as the Jews took great care to wash the vessels, so you also take great care to wash the vessels before you drink, but often you take no care to wash the soul and the conscience through confession. And therefore in this way you are similar to the Jews. [V. 221]

But such discursive techniques had, for the previous thousand years at least, been deployed in a universe in which the boundaries between Christian and Jew were relatively clear. Their consequences were very different in the genealogically ‘judaized’ world patrolled by the Inquisition in the late fifteenth century. There, ideas that had previously been projected unto an unreal ‘hermeneutic Jew’ now found a lineage and a name in the combustible flesh of the converso.

The result was a mapping of ‘Jewish ideas’ onto the ‘Jewish’ lineages of individuals through genealogical investigation and inquisitional accusation. ‘Jewish’ lineages were plentiful. Responding in 1449 to the purity of blood statutes of the Toledan rebels, Fernán Díaz, the Relator of Juan II, had pointed out that there was scarcely a noble house in Spain that had no converso in its family tree. If Jewishness were attached to blood, the Relator warned, genealogy would become a weapon of the weak and the nobility of Iberia would be destroyed. Non-Spaniards were more than willing to agree. ‘Spain is not pleasing’, Erasmus wrote in 1517, because it is full of Jews (though keep in mind that Germany and Italy also had too many Jews for Erasmus' taste, and England too many riots). One French pamphleteer claimed in the 1590s that ‘The Catalans, those of Castile and Portugal are Jews, those of Galicia and Granada Muslims, their prince is an atheist.’ Another called Philip II a ‘demi-More, demi-Juif, demi-Sarrazin’. A French dictionary from 1680 defined Marrano (‘Marrane’) as ‘an insult we apply to Spaniards, which means a Muslim’.

Nor were ‘Jewish ideas’ wanting. Since the classification of a practice or ‘idea’ as Jewish or Christian was determined largely by mapping it onto the lineage of the person who held it, almost any practice or position could be presented as Jewish if the accused could be shown to have descended from Jews. Returning to the example above, pride in one’s lineage could be evidence of judaizing if that lineage contained Jews, or appear perfectly orthodox if not. The classification of practices and ideas and the logic of genealogy depended upon each other. When the two did not coincide, the tension is revealing. In the words of one confused Muslim witness to the Inquisition, he had heard two Christians swear ‘by the law of Moses’, but since he knew them to be ‘cristianos lindos’ (i.e., ‘old Christians’) he did not know if they did so ‘burlando o de veras’ (in mockery or sincerely).

Such tension was also productive, for ‘Jewish’ classifications could break free of their genealogical moorings and map themselves onto formerly orthodox ‘old Christian’ activities. This logic was applied by the Inquisitors, not only to vestiges of what they viewed as Jewish religious ceremonial, but also to a range of philological, historical, and hermeneutic practices, many of them associated with the new humanism. (The Inquisition’s attack on the use of Hebrew philology in biblical criticism is a particularly obvious and well-studied example.) By 1533, even the son of the then Inquisitor General, Rodrigo Manrique, could write to the self-exiled humanist Luis Vives: ‘You are right. Our country is a land of envy, pride, and ... barbarism. For now it is clear that no one can possess a smattering of letters without being suspect of heresy, error, and Judaism.’

One might say that the genealogical definitions of community that Spain had constructed had turned her into an inescapably hybrid land. To deal with this paradox Spaniards filled vast archives with documents designed to free one’s lineage of Judaism (such as proofs of purity of blood and of hidalguía) and to Judaize those of others (such as inquisitional records, and genealogical pamphlets like the ‘Tizón de la nobleza’ and the ‘Libro verde de Aragón’). At the level of ideas, the same anxiety produced a genealogical type of cultural history that sought to separate ‘Jewish’ from ‘Christian’ ideas. The products of this type of history were typically lists of supposedly Jewish cultural attributes. According to the bishop of Cordoba in 1530, for example, Jewish attributes included heresy, apostasy, love of novelty and dissension, ambition, presumption, and hatred of peace. These lists sound as fantastic as Borges's Chinese encyclopaedia, but they too were the product of a systematic historical method, one that sought in genealogy the secret to an understanding of the origins and transmission of ideas.

Of course this ‘genealogization’ of history was not only a Christian (or even an ‘Old Christian’) phenomenon. Jews, too, produced an explosion of historical and apologetic writing in the fifteenth century, much of which seems to draw on very similar genealogically inflected strategies of historical and philological argumentation. Indeed this tendency is so marked that it may provide us with yet another perspective from which to understand the rapid development of Jewish historiography in the period. Yosef Yerushalmi has famously argued that the trauma of the Spanish expulsion was the principal factor in stimulating the writing of history, a genre until then largely neglected in the Diaspora. It is certainly true that history streamed from the pens of first-generation Sephardic exiles like Salomon ibn Verga, Abraham Zacuto, Elijah Capsali, Abraham ben Salomon de Torrutiel Ardutiel, Yosef ben Tzadiq of Arévalo, and others. But the historical sensibilities of these Sephardic writers owed as much to their genealogical mentalities as to their exilic experience, and in this sense the creation of a ‘Sephardic historiographic mentality’ predated the expulsion by several generations.

The importance of genealogy as a template for post-exilic Jewish historical narrative is evident, for example, in Abraham Zacuto’s adaptation for historiographic purposes of preexisting genealogical genres such as shalshalaot ha-qabbalah, ‘chains of tradition’, a genre whose task it was to assign a lineage to ideas. Hence the title of his most innovative work, the Sefer Yuh.asin ha-Shalem, the sound book of genealogies (1504). But it is equally evident in a good deal of writing from throughout the fifteenth century, for writers such as Zacuto and Ibn Verga were inheritors of a genealogical approach to culture developed in Jewish apologetics (and we must remember that history and apologetics were inseparable in this period) a century before the expulsion, in response to heightened Christian (and Muslim) polemical insistence on Jewish cultural hybridity and corruption. Fifteenth-century Sephardic apologists sought to turn the tables upon their attackers by adopting modes of historical argument that stressed the purity of Jewish belief and practice in contrast to the corruption of originally Jewish concepts in their rivals’ culture. To do so, they drew on traditional genres (like the ‘chains of tradition’ mentioned above) that Jews had long ago developed to ‘guarantee’ the authoritative origins and stable transmission of their traditions. But they also drew on the most up-to-date methods of their opponents.

In his Kelimat ha-Goyim (Reproach of the Gentiles, c. 1397), for example, Profet Duran borrowed extensively from Christian humanist strategies for establishing pure archetypes of texts and concepts through critical study of manuscript transmission and corruption. In the hands of Christian polemicists, these strategies supported arguments that rabbinic Judaism represented a corruption of biblical religion and a forfeiture of the biblical covenant. Duran used the same tools to demonstrate the Jewish origins of Christian practices such as baptism in order to present these Christian practices as corruptions of a pure Jewish archetype. Simeon Ben Zemah Duran’s Qeshet u-Magen (Bow and Shield) employed similar techniques against Islam, arguing for the Jewish origins of Muslim dietary and purity laws, circumcision, prayer, and pilgrimage practices. (This is, by the way, an argument also common to fifteenth-century Iberian Christian anti-Muslim polemic, which presents Islam as a judaizing heresy.) More traditionally, both employed historical philology to demonstrate the textual, as well as cultural, corruption of the pristine Jewish forms in the sacred writings of these later religions. Here too we are witnessing the formation of a genealogical type of cultural history, one whose polemical importance is reflected in Hayyim ibn Musa’s advice, in his Magen va-Romah. (Shield and Spear) (c. 1456), that the primary mode of commentary in religious disputation should be the historical.

Again, it is worth stressing that I am not arguing for precedence or priority of invention here. To the contrary, I am suggesting that the question of ‘origin’ or ‘invention’ in this case is a false one, itself a product of the essentializing strategies of our sources. In their attempts to respond to circumstances of mass assimilation, classificatory crises, and heightened polemical pressure, members of each religious community had available to them long and complex traditions that could sustain any number of genealogical reinterpretations. They could also draw upon those of their rivals: here the author of the Alborayque’s awareness of rabbinic responsa about `anusim is just as instructive as (albeit much cruder than) Profet Duran’s appropriation of humanist hermeneutics. As a result of these attempts, and over the course of little more than a century, once marginal logics of lineage had moved to the center of Jewish, converso, and Old Christian communal identity and memory in Iberia. This transformation was achieved, not by the implacable migration of ideas from one culture to another, but by the jostling of countless individuals, Jew and Christian, reorienting themselves in the strangely unfamiliar religious landscape that emerged as the flood-waters of baptism receded.

The genealogical turn was itself an attempt to conceal this unfamiliarity, this rupture, by establishing new continuities, new links to family, faith, ‘race’, and ‘nation’. This article has touched upon some symptoms of this genealogical turn, and many more could be added. But it is fitting to end with the rise of history, because of all the products of the genealogical turn in Sepharad, it alone retains its power to convince. We now, for example, treat as so much fiction the richly illuminated kettubot (marriage contracts) that Sephardic families began to produce in the fifteenth century in order to celebrate their Davidic ancestry. Yet we rarely quarrel with a historiography, Christian and Jewish, that has in its quest for origins long adopted the genealogical methods of the fifteenth-century polemicist. Like the ‘Antiquarian historian’ of Nietzsche’s second ‘Untimely meditation’, the historian of Spain and its Jews too often ‘greets the soul of his nation across the long dark centuries of confusion as his own soul’ [II.3]. The preceding pages are about the history of lineage and the history of history in fifteenth-century Sepharad. But they are just as much about these shades of genealogy that have proven so difficult to exorcise from our own historical practices.