To The End of the Earth:
A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico
by Stanley M. Hordes
New York: Columbia University Press, 2005
Reviewed by Abraham D. Lavender, PhD
From HaLapid, Winter 2006
To the End of the Earth is an outstanding contribution to the study of crypto-Jews. It is the first in-depth study of crypto Jews in the Southwestern United States (or anywhere in the contemporary United States). Subtitled "A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico," this is a scholarly, detailed, in-depth historical study, buttressed with research from anthropology, sociology, ethnography, and folklore, of a region rich in crypto-Judaic settlement and identity.
Hordes notes his biggest challenges were "determining the history of a group of people who for centuries tried desperately to cover their tracks, to leave behind as little evidence as possible, documentary or otherwise, that would jeopardize their security and ... their families" (p. 3).
The first chapter discusses the origins of Jews and crypto Jews in Iberia from 200 BCE to 1492, and the second the crypto-Jewish experience in New Spain from 1521 to 1649. The next three chapters then go back and discuss important events in detail. Spain’s annexation of Portugal in 1580 led to a dramatic increase in the number of Portuguese crypto-Jews going to the Caribbean and the Americas. Luís de Carvajal’s difficult attempts to establish the first crypto-Jewish colony in New Mexico in 1580, the ill-fated expedition to Northern Mexico by Gaspar Castaño de Sosa (1579-1591), and the explorations of Juan de Oñate to establish the first permanent crypto-Jewish colony in New Mexico (1595-1607) are all told in fascinating, documented detail.
In 1640, Portugal declared independence from Spain and routed the Spanish in 1644, so Spain strongly persecuted the Mexican conversos because most were from Portugal and closely identified with their Portuguese heritage. This led to a period of persecution by the Spanish, but was based on their status as Portuguese rather than their religion. Crypto Judaism often was used when an authority needed a reason to get someone. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the European settlers into thirteen years of exile, destroying many historical records. Throughout these decades, Hordes documents that many crypto Jews were involved, sometimes openly as Jews, and periods of major persecution alternated with periods of calm, partly because of changing relations between the government and the Catholic Church.
Chapter 6 discusses the role of crypto Jews in the New Mexico colony from 1680 to 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, and on to 1846 when New Mexico became part of the United States. Chapter 7 explores the adjustments to Anglo-American society from 1846 to 1950. Chapter 8covers the vestiges of crypto-Judaism in New Mexico today. In this chapter, Hordes admirably brings together data from historical records, material culture, genetics, and ethnography to show that crypto Jews and their descendants have been an important of social life in New Mexico. Histories were compiled for nine families, tracing their roots to Jews and conversos in Mexico, Spain, Portugal, or other parts of Europe.
Hordes, with a PhD in history, experience as the state historian of New Mexico, an academic specialization in the crypto-Judaic community of New Spain, and years of research in diverse locations, has used an impressive diversity of sources to support his research. Despite the attempt to hide identity, the sporadic but extensive records kept by the Catholic Inquisition up until the mid-1600s yield more records than usually found for people who lived during that time period, and were a major source of data for this project. Original research was conducted in Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy, as well as in the Americas. In addition to Inquisition records, the author analyzes endogamy (marriages within the group), living patterns in known Jewish residential areas, occupational patterns traditionally held by Jews or conversos, reading habits as illustrated by books listed in Inquisition records, and family naming practices for children from the late sixteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. He also discusses recent developments in research, concluding with genealogical investigations of nine individuals.
Hordes is well-versed in other scholarly historical work on crypto Jews, and frequently references the works of Seymour B. Liebman, David M. Gitlitz, Martin A. Cohen and others. He recognizes the earlier collaboration of Sociologist Tomás Atencio and Linguist Rowena Rivera, the extensive research collaboration of Anthropologist Seth D. Kunin, and the contributions of others, such as Israeli Ethnographer and Historian Schulamith C. Halevy, all adding up to an admirable and rich interdisciplinary approach. He credits Atencio as the first social scientist to examine the question of vestiges of crypto Judaism in New Mexico, in the late 1980s.
Hordes is careful to note when his findings conclusively prove points, and when the findings give strong circumstantial evidence or only suggest a conclusion. But, Hordes clearly documents that there were Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, and their descendants, in New Spain who were descended from Jews, who self-identified as Jews, who actively practiced various forms of Judaism, who were viewed as and persecuted as crypto Jews by the Mexican authorities, and who have descendants living today in New Mexico of whom some are practicing Jews. Of the total number of Hispanos of Jewish ancestry, only a small percentage of their descendants acknowledge their Jewish ancestry, but there is no question that Hordes has found some of the descendants. A very small number of writers who deny this presence, writers who generally have minimal or no original research in this area, should read this book with an open, objective and professional perspective.
To the End of the Earth is a well-organized and well-written book, easily be understood by non-academicians and academicians. There are numerous places where important points are enumerated so that the reader can readily follow more detailed discussions. From the three common ways in which conversos took on surnames (p. 5) and the seven possible reasons for the establishment of the Inquisition (p. 22), to the three reasons why the Mexican Inquisition was initially unconcerned about the possibility of Jewish heresy (p. 137) and five factors that at least suggest converso identity (p. 215), the reader is helped to put things into context.
Society For Crypto Judaic Studies