Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

‘Bendito sea A. que no me hizo indio ni negro’: Ethnic Paradigms in Menasseh Ben Israel's Esperança de Israel

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2012), 89, (5), 473–482.

Abstract

This essay discusses a passage of Menasseh Ben Israel's 1650 text, Esperança de Israel. The fragment that concerns us is in fact a transcription of a testimonial - apocryphal or authentic - given by a Sephardic converso, Antonio de Montezinos, who came to Amsterdam swearing in the presence of rabbinical authorities to the veracity of his experience. Montezinos claimed to have come across one of the lost tribes of Israel in 1644 living near what today would be Medellín, Colombia. The essay provides an overview of the long tradition of identifying American indigenous people as descendants of Jews, and shows how Menasseh Ben Israel's text marks a continuation of as well as a significant departure from the trajectory of this tradition. Another objective of the essay is to show how the ambivalence expressed in Ben Israel's text regarding the kinship of Jews and other ethnic groups in Latin America, namely indigenous people and those of African descent, prefigures similar such ambivalences in modern-day accounts of Jews in Latin America.

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Author details

Miller, Paul