112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

From Secretly Jewish Catholicism to Anti-Catholic Judaism: The Polemical Writing of Iberian Converso Isaac Orobio de Castro

Matthew Warshawsky, University of Portland

Four decades absorbing Catholicism during the 1600s while living in the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition prepared Baltazar Alvares de Orobio, a “New Christian” of Jewish lineage, to adopt an anti-Christian perspective in his writings once he arrived in Amsterdam and, as Isaac Orobio de Castro, lived an openly Jewish life.


The extensive geographic mobility and subsequent polemical writings of Baltazar Alvares de Orobio shine a light on the geographic and intellectual peregrinations of New Christians, or Catholics of Jewish descent, during the two centuries after the expulsions and conversions of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 1400s. Born in Braganza, Portugal, most likely in 1617, Orobio moved with his family to Spain a few years later, where he spent nearly four decades in various locales throughout that kingdom. Having studied medicine at the universities of Osuna, Álcala, and Seville, Orobio enjoyed a prestigious career as a physician until his entire family was denounced to the Inquisition of Seville for crypto-Jewish heresy. Lucky to emerge from this trial with a relatively mild punishment, Orobio and his family moved yet again, following a path well-worn by other conversos that led through southern France to Amsterdam. There, thanks to freedom of worship granted to the “Portuguese Nation”--New Christians of Portuguese origin, many of whom had lived as secret Jews in Portugal and Spain--Orobio and his family shed the Catholicism heretofore imposed upon them and lived openly as Jews.

Yet Baltazar Orobio, who in order to mark this transformation of identity changed his name from Baltazar Alvares de Orobio to Isaac Orobio de Castro, did not shed the effect of Catholicism on the anti-Christian polemical writing he produced while living in Amsterdam. Most of these works exist only in manuscript form, but the first part of one of them, Prevenciones divinas contra la vana idolatría de las gentes, has recently been published in Italy by Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki. Prevenciones divinas addresses head-on Christian doctrine by stating that the Torah warned the Jewish people against beliefs such as idol worship, the tripartite notion of the divine, incarnation, and the Christian view of messianism.[1] This presentation will explain how his upbringing in a setting where he became adept at demonstrating sincerity of Catholic beliefs, coupled with a thoroughly Catholic education, positioned Orobio well to defend Judaism in Prevenciones divinas by disputing the authenticity of many Christian teachings. Using the arguments of this treatise, the presentation will also show how Orobio became an esteemed advocate for Jewish tradition at a time when other conversos in Amsterdam, notably Baruch Spinoza (born Benedito de Espinosa) and Juan (Daniel) de Prado, denied many of the fundamental precepts of Judaism.

[1] See Yosef Kaplan, From Christianity to Judaism: The Story of Isaac Orobio de Castro (New York: Oxford UP, 1989), 245-46, for a summary of part 1 of Prevenciones divinas.