The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia

The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia

The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia

The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia

Synopsis

Until the summer of 1391, when anti-Jewish riots spread across the Iberian peninsula, the person subsequently known as Honoratus de Bonafide, a Christian physician and astrologer at the court of King Joan I of Aragon, had been the Jew Profayt Duran of Perpignan. The precise details of Duran's conversion are lost to us. We do know, however, that like many other conversos, he began to conduct his professional and public life as a Christian even as he rejected that new identity in private. What is extraordinary in his case is that instead of quietly making his individual way, he began to write works in Hebrew--including anti-Christian polemics--that revealed his intense inner commitment to remaining a Jew.

Forced to reconceptualize Judaism under the pressures of his life as a converso, Duran elevated the principle of inner "intention" above that of ritual observance as the test of Jewish identity, ultimately claiming that the end purposes of Judaism can be attained through the study, memorization, and contemplation of the Hebrew Bible.

Duran also conceived of Judaism as a profoundly rational religion, with a proud heritage of scientific learning; the interplay between scientific knowledge and Jewish identity took on a central role in his works. Drawing on archival sources as well as published and unpublished manuscripts, Maud Kozodoy marshals rarely examined facts about the consumption and transmission of the sciences between the medieval and early modern periods to illuminate the thought--and the faith--of one of Jewish history's most enigmatic and fascinating figures.

Excerpt

One summer day in 1392, Magister Honoratus de Bonafide, a Christian physician and astrologer of King Joan I of Aragon, appeared before Bernard Fabre, a Perpignan notary. He was accompanied by Mosse Alfaquim, a Jew, also of Perpignan, who was acting as his proctor. the three men had known each other for years. Bernard Fabre had recorded Honoratus’s financial transactions for over a decade, since as early as 1380, and had done so several times over the previous two years. But this time the notary must have looked at the two men before him with surprise and some emotion—perhaps embarrassment or sympathy, perhaps amusement or mockery. One can even imagine Fabre commenting on the awkwardness or irony of the situation. Through all these years of doing business with Honoratus, he had known him by a different name and even as a different person: as Profayt Duran judeus.

During the previous summer of 1391, anti-Jewish riots had broken out in Seville and, taking different forms in the highly diverse regions of Iberia, had spread through Castile to the Crown of Aragon, up to the northernmost parts of Catalonia. Jewish quarters were attacked, Jews were killed, and Jewish property was destroyed. Some Jews were dragged to the baptismal font and there converted to save their lives. Others died fighting or committed suicide rather than submit to baptism.

In Perpignan, when the Call (the Jewish quarter) was attacked that August, the local Jews took refuge in the royal palace. Sporadic violence seems to have continued until the late spring of 1393, with . . .

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