In this work, Nelson Manrique critiques several Spanish conquistador myths by tracing the history of Jews and Moslems on the Iberian peninsula. Manrique reminds readers (although at perhaps unnecessary length) of what conventional Castilian Christian interpretations leave out; namely that during the early formative years of New World empire, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish kingdoms were convulsively repudiating their traditionally tolerant, multireligious past by expelling and subsequently burning at the stake all those who refused to adhere to a protonationalist standard of religious homogeneity. Voluntary emigration to the New World was not an option; Castile prohibited overseas travel even for newly converted Moslems and Jews during virtually the entire colonial period. Nor were New World Spaniards in Peru any more tolerant: they burned converted Jews (and a Moslem) as willingly as their Iberian counterparts.

Manrique argues that this Semitic and anti-Semitic history has exercised a continuing influence on Peruvian society during both the colonial and the republican eras. On the positive side, he suggests that sixteenth-century Spanish millenarianism had much in common with its contemporary Sephardic apocalyptic counterpart. But on the negative side, he believes that identifying Jews with “labor” contributed to the Spanish (Christian) cult of leisure, or hidalguismo. He also points to the fourteenth-century Hispanic origin of the idea that Judaism was a race, a biologically heritable characteristic, and notes that both Jews and Moslems were referred to as having “race” or “infected blood.” By extension, he suggests that eighteenth-century concerns with genealogies of race in Peru were modeled on fastidiously constructed genealogies originally designed to keep converted Jews and Moslems from positions of power and influence in Iberia. These eighteenth-century “racial” genealogies, furthermore, were devised to serve a similar function—translating the process of biologically based discrimination into a New World idiom.

Manrique’s own position is more tolerant. He argues that if conservative Spaniards maintain their rightful priority on the basis of their descent from the Goths, Jews were on the Iberian peninsula three full centuries before the Goths arrived. By the standard of antiquity of residence, Sephardic Jews—many of whom have preserved the Castilian language throughout the five-hundred-year diaspora, until the recent postwar decades—are as Spanish as anyone else. By suggesting that historians look more closely into Spain’s Semitic past, Manrique underscores the potential for a much richer understanding of the complexities of the New World colonial period. Although not all his suggestions seem equally compelling, and many—such as the connection between Jewish and Christian sixteenth-century apocalyptic and messianic thinking—seem to need substantial buttressing, his approach is provocative and thoughtful. And his critique of the roots of Spanish discrimination is effective. After all, as Manrique points out, how nonracist can a society be if it still considers it an achievement to become “white” or “Spanish”?