To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico

Article excerpt

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. Pp. xxiv, 348. $39.50.)

More than twenty years ago, historian Stanley Hordes announced to the press and media that a substantial number of "secret-" or crypto-Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition were among the founders of today's New Mexican Hispano community. His doctoral work of 1980 had previously compiled and organized existing documentation of a tragicaEy ill-fated Portuguese cryptoJewish settlement in Old Mexico, from ca. 1500 to the mid-1600's. His book on New Mexico therefore has merit in its opening chapters, but only to the extent that he repeats his dissertation. It falls from grace in (1) conflation of America's indisputably Portuguese crypto-Jews with the indisputably Spanish founders of New Mexico, (2) egregious misrepresentation of work that disconfirms him, and (3) mislabeling of twentieth- century Adventist, Apostolic, and "Messianic" Protestant folkways (e.g., six-pointed stars on cemetery crosses, Saturday observance of the Sabbath, giving Old Testament names to children, etc.) as both "colonial" and "crypto-Jewish."

Hordes' historical violation of scholarship norms led to a first disconfirmation in 1996 (the article won First Prize for best publication by a graduate student from The American Folklore Society); the work was subsequently developed into a doctoral dissertation at The Folklore Institute at Indiana University, 2001. Hordes' pseudo-ethnographic claims have also been disconfirmed in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of American Folklife (in press for 2006), and most recently, in an article I was asked to write for Patterns of Prejudice (in press for 2006) concerning his pseudo-scientific use of disease as a Jewish ethnic marker, published as an appendix in this book.

To grasp the extent to which the book distorts New Mexico's historical, cultural, and genetic heritage, it is important to note that claims of crypto-Jewish descent preceded Hordes in the region, surfacing circa 1975 when previous claims to descent from Spanish conquistadors were finally disconfirmed. Claims to a prestige lineage-whether Spanish, or crypto-Jewish-have liistoricaEy been used to assert an overvalued line of white ancestral descent throughout the multiracial Spanish Americas, a preferred phenotypical line of ancestry assumed in New Mexico for all conquistadors (and all Jews), but not for all Hispanos. …