The Baca / Douglas Genealogy and Family History Blog

23 May 2006

Book Review: "To the End of the Earth" by Stanley M. Hordes

Hordes, Stanley M. To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005)

A couple of years ago I went to a lecture that Dr. Stanley Hordes presented to the New Mexico Genealogy Society. He discussed his then upcoming book about crypto-Jews in New Mexico titled “To the End of the Earth.” What intrigued me about Dr. Hordes lecture was that he found proof that the colony of Nuevo Leon, Nuevo Espana ( present day Mexico) probably was populated with crypto-Jews. This same colony en masse tried to illegally colonize New Mexico in 1591, and a few of these people were also part of the official New Mexico colony in 1598. Dr. Hordes’ makes a very good argument that there were crypto-Jews in New Mexico during the first years of colonization and that their descendants continued practicing Judaism up until the present day.

A crypto-Jew is a person who converted or whose ancestors converted to Christianity yet still secretly practices Judaism. As with many other Christian countries, Jews were persecuted in Spain during the Middle Ages. In 1390 many Jews converted to Christianity after an especially devastating pogrom. In 1492, after King Fernando and Queen Isabel conquered the last vestige of Muslim Spain in Granada, the Christian monarchs officially expelled the Jews from Spain. All who stayed in Spain were required to convert to Catholicism. Many went to Portugal where they too were forced to convert.

The Spanish Inquisition persecuted many of these New Christians as apostates and heretics. Many were accused of going back to their old religion. In order to avoid prosecution many New Christians went to the New World. Dr. Hordes shows how one such colony from Portugal under the leadership of Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva were almost definitely New Christians, and most likely crypto-Jews.

Carvajal was given permission by the King Philip II of Spain to found a colony in Nuevo Leon. The king gave specific instructions to officials not to question the ethnicity of the people in this colony. Dr. Hordes contends that these people were probably New Christians since at the time New Christians prohibited from going to the New World. The king’s instructions would have made it easier for them to cross over to Mexico. As further proof Hordes notes that Carvajal’s son was later prosecuted by the Inquisition. During the younger Carvajal’s arrest Gaspar Castano de Sosa lead the entire colony to New Mexico. Hordes contends that he probably did this in order to escape being prosecuted himself as a judaizer. However Castano de Sosa was arrested anyway for trying to illegally colonize New Mexico.

Hordes uses church and government records to demonstrate the possibility that New Christians practiced Judaism throughout New Mexico history. His argument is strongest with the early years of the colony when Inquisition records documented investigations into possible judaizers. He also uses genealogy to show how certain assumed crypto-Jewish families intermarried within culture. However, his arguments are weaker when it comes to the present day. Although there is some proof that certain present day Hispano New Mexican families continue the practice of crypto-Judaism, there are questions as to whether certain evidence truly demonstrates this practice. Hordes does not completely dispel these questions, although he comes closer than others who have tried to prove this theory.

Dr. Hordes’ book is well researched and was a fascinating read. Any person interested in Hispanic New Mexican history and genealogy should read this book. One then can make up his or her mind whether Dr. Hordes proves that crypto-Judaism indeed was practiced throughout New Mexico’s history.

Review Copyright (c) 2006 by Robert J. C. Baca

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