Studies of religious dissimulation have generally assumed a moral topography of concealment: one holds one’s true religious beliefs privately, internally, while conforming outwardly to the expectations of the dominant society. This essay challenges this assumption through a comparative analysis of Nicodemites and Marranos in early modern Venice. Through a careful analysis of the records of the Roman Inquisition, the article argues that, while the standard model of religious dissimulation fits the case of the Nicodemites or crypto-Protestants quite well, it breaks down in the case of the Marranos or crypto-Jews (or presumed crypto-Jews). Three major differences between these two phenomena emerge. First, Nicodemites were voluntary converts to Protestantism, while Marranos were either forced converts or the children of forced converts to Catholicism. Secondly, Protestant and especially Calvinist writers offered little support for those Nicodemites who sought to conceal their beliefs and practices from their neighbors and the authorities, while rabbinical sources were far more supportive of the need for many Jews to live as though they were Christians in an age of persecution. Lastly, the very terms inner and outer had different meanings: Nicodemites maintained a clear inner/outer distinction, while Marranos held no such clear distinction. Marranos valued closeness more than interiority or proofs of interior conviction.
John Jeffries Martin; Marranos and Nicodemites in Sixteenth-Century Venice. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2011; 41 (3): 577–599. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-1363954
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