Syncretism and the Marranos of Iberia

I have been doing some reading on syncretism lately, that is, the combining of two religions such that the result is not identifiable as either of the two original religions. The reason I'm looking at this is because presently in the area of missiology in the Muslim world there is an understandable desire to avoid syncretism while being as conextualized and inculturated as possible.

Marranism is an almost extinct religion today, but grew out of the crypto-Judaism present in the Iberian peninsula after the completion of the Reconquista (1492). It is thus a mixture of Judaism and Catholicism, but is neither of the two. Here is an interesting quote from the book I'm reading on the topic:

[S]eemingly irreconcilable elements can always be reconciled by someone, somewhere. Dissimilar parents can raise a child they never anticipated. And something that is impure is often pure in someone else's eyes.

Religious Syncretism by Eric Maroney, p. 41
London: SCM Press, 2006


Anonymous said…
Dear Abu Daoud,

I don’t think I get into it in my book to any great extend, but some Marranos fled Spain and Portugal in the century after their forced conversion ,and many reverted back to Judaism in more favorable climates, Amsterdam being one of them, and one of the more famous figures from that community was the philosopher Spinoza. But there were also Jews who returned to Judaism in a more “normative” sense. The most famous here was Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, who played a prominent role in the Amsterdam Jewish community and in international affairs. There was also secret Muslims in Spain and Portugal, the Moriscos, althought their organized community life was not vibrant as the Marranos. They were connected to the political power in Iberia, and when that power was defeated or withered, community life weakened. Jewish communites, by contrast, were set up as self-sustaing entities. So Crypto-Judaism had a better shot at a long existence then Crytpo-Islam.

Eric Maroney
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Eric,

Thanks for coming by the site. I am enjoying your book. One point that I found particularly interesting and significant was that crypto-Jews had access to the Hewbrew Scriptures via the Bible, while crypto-Muslims did not have access to their Scripture at all.

Also, Jews and Christians have traditionally not had a problem with translating Holy Scripture, whereas in Islam the Quran can simply not be translated, upon translation it loses its identity, making Islam very Arabic-centered.
Anonymous said…
Well, I thank you for reading my book. I hope you find it helpful for your particular needs. You have a very interesting blog.

Yes, the relationship of Christians to the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and Muslims is quite different, for the obvious reason that for the most part Christian bibles have the Old Testament literary attached to the New, so there is direct access to information about Judaism:its, history, laws, etc. The Qu'ran is a revelation in itself. Nothing else is needed. Although certain Muslims did read them, and there was only a minor tradition in Islam of studying them. I think I cite them in the book. If not, I can get you more information.

Translation issues are interestingly, and complex. In Rabbinical Judaism there is a traditional reluctance to translate the Tanak, quite a strong one, but it was and is not as stringently followed as in Islam. Part of it is that there is a tradition of veneration of the Qu'ran and the Torah as objects in themselves. There are rules for its composition, preservation, and a deep seated scribal tradition. Christianity has a scribal tradition, but it is less rooted in an ethnic culture. Hebrew and Arabic as scriptural and liturgical languages have ethnic roots. Expect for Greek Orthodox Christians, there is no such tradition in Christianity. Or again, it is not overtly stressed.
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Eric,

Incidentally, are you in/around London these days? I will be there in November for some meetings and would be happy to have a pint with you if you like. My e-mail is winterlightning [at] safe-mail [d0t] net.

I have written on the question of language before, and it is a key theme in the theology/missiology of the great convert-from-Islam/scholar Lammin Sanneh.

Incidentally, I am fluent in Spanish, and I have some ancestry from Spain (way back) so I am especially interested in that period of time. I am presently reading on the topic and I am very interested in the Mazarabic rite that was used by Christians there, different from the Latin Rite which is now used almost universally in the Roman Catholic Church.


Abu Daoud

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