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Three Spanish-Jewish Converts and their Modern Reception

Pablo de Santa María
Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 5:40 pm – 7:00 pm

This seminar session will present a current research trend that has reassessed a major social issue of late medieval Spain, namely the conversion of most of its Jews to Christianity between the years 1391 and 1414. While many Jews became “conversos” under duress, others received baptism out of conviction. The rabbi Solomon ha-Levi (later called Pablo de Santa María or Paul of Burgos) and the physician Joshua ha-Lorki (Jerónimo de Santa Fe) even made brilliant ecclesiastical careers and enriched the arsenal of anti-Jewish texts. A third convert, the Catalan Profayt Duran (Honoratus de Bonafide) wrote anti-Christian polemics at a time when he had already been baptised. While previous research has tended to distinguish sharply between the zealous, the forced, and the subversive converts, scholars of the past decade have developed a new thesis: Paul, Jerónimo, and Honoratus proposed Jewish ways of being Christian and blended into a society that allowed a certain ambivalence, even a “third way” between the two religions. Drawing from personal research, the seminar presentation will finally show that the writings of these three converts still framed the Jewish-Christian argument in the early modern period. Due to the work of Renaissance polemicists and present-day historians, these apostates seem to have found their place in Jewish cultural memory.


Carsten L. Wilke, who earned his doctorate in Jewish Studies in 1994, has been a professor at the CEU Departments of History and Medieval Studies since 2009. He has held visiting professorships in Heidelberg, Brussels, Tokyo, and Paris, and in 2022-2023, a research fellowship at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. In his publications on transcultural aspects of Jewish history, he has frequently researched the Jewish-Christian religious controversy. Following his book The Marrakesh Dialogues (2014) and the edited volume Isaac Orobio: The Jewish Argument with Dogma and Doubt (2018), he is now working on a monograph study on anti-Christian clandestine literature among the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.