The Castilian Jew Abner of Burgos/ Alfonso of Valladolid converted to Christianity around 1320, some seventy years before the mass persecutions of Jews that swept across the Iberian Peninsula in 1391. Although there is no direct or causal connection between Abner/Alfonso’s ideas and the events of 1391, many modern scholars have linked the two phenomena. This article examines Abner/Alfonso’s writings to determine if he expressed support for forced or mass conversion that might make such a connection logical. It shows that Abner/Alfonso’s statements on the subject of forced conversion are contradictory and express contrasting views in social, pastoral, philosophical, and theological terms. While he does seem to support social policies that pressure Jews to convert, he also speaks at length about the need to convince individual Jews with logical arguments and fair treatment. Although he does espouse a philosophical doctrine of determinism, he does not use this to argue in favor of forced conversion nor does he claim that such determinism frees the individual from judgment for good and bad choices. He ultimately argues that forced conversion would be contrary to God’s salvific plan for the Jews, which involves keeping them in subjugation and “captivity” as a just punishment for their rejection of Jesus. Although his arguments certainly played a part in the decline in Jewish-Christian relations in fourteenth-century Castile, scholars must proceed with caution in trying to establish a causal link between those arguments and the persecutions of 1391 and beyond.
Leaving religion has not been considered as a topic of historical inquiry apart from conversion until recently. As in the study of conversion, the historiographical consideration of leaving religion faces a number of theoretical problems and challenges. Medieval historiography has often approached leaving religion in negative terms as an element of heresy, apostasy, and unorthodox deviance, while historiography of the early modern period, often as part of a critique of medieval religiosity, has approached the subject in positive terms as an example of the rise of reason through secularism and skepticism. This chapter traces the historical schools and methods over the last century that have approached leaving religion in both positive and negative terms, viewing it through the lens of culture, language, political history, and literary form.
This essay considers the growth of historiographical writing in fifteenth-century Iberia within the context of mass conversions of Jews to Christianity. It takes the writing of the convert Pablo de Santa María (ca. 1351-1435) as a test case for considering the emergence of historiographical writing directly informed by the events of 1391, in which many thousands of Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity. By reading Pablo’s poem Siete edades del mundo (Seven Ages of the World) in light of his biblical exegesis and anti-Jewish polemic, it is possible to show how issues relevant to Pablo’s conversion, including his exegetical polemic with Judaism, directly affect his historiographical writing and shape his use of standard tropes of fifteenth-century Castilian historiography. This suggests that, while there may be no uniquely “converso voice” in history writing, some fifteenth-century historiography is clearly informed by issues of particular relevance to conversos. At the same time, it implies that some fifteenth-century Christian historiography, like that of Sephardic Jews after the expulsion of 1492, grew from earlier historiographical and polemical traditions that transcend any single catalyzing event such as the trauma of 1391.