115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Retribution and Redemption in Lamentaciones del profeta Jeremías, a New Jewish Poem of the New Christian João Pinto Delgado (1627)

Matthew Warshawsky, University of Portland

This presentation studies Lamentaciones del profeta Jeremías, a narrative poem by the Portuguese New Christian João Pinto Delgado, in order to show the role of Spanish Baroque literary style and the poet’s perspective as a convert of Jewish origin on a text treating the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE as divine punishment.


The poetry of João Pinto Delgado, a Portuguese New Christian converso (convert) of Jewish origin, adopted conventions of Baroque Spanish literature in order to express an otherwise marginalized viewpoint: that of a New Christian demonstrating in Spanish an apparent awareness of a Jewish identity, albeit outside the Iberian Peninsula. This presentation will study the influence of the Spanish Golden Age on Lamentaciones del profeta Jeremías, arguably the finest of the poems he published as an exile in Rouen, France, in 1627 in order to show how this text creates a space for an apparently Jewish perspective within Christian-infused Spanish poetics.

The Lamentaciones de Pinto Delgado consists of 44 sections written in stanzas of five verses called quintillas that refer to and expand upon the 44 verses of the first two chapters of the Book of Lamentations. The poet introduces each of these sections, or laments, with a prose translation of the corresponding Hebrew verse based closely on the Judeo-Spanish translation of the Bible produced in Ferrara, Italy, in 1553, as well as that of the Spanish Protestant Casiodoro Reina published in 1559. Counting more than 3,700 lines in length, Lamentaciones vividly portrays Pinto Delgado’s vision of the siege and loss of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylonian invaders as divine justice for the various sins of the city’s Jewish inhabitants, including idolatry, hard-heartedness, and the inconstancy of their worship of God.

The presentation argues that the poem’s emphasis on sin, guilt, and “tears for moving heaven to mercy” (from Pinto Delgado’s preface to the reader in the edition of his collected works published in 1627) in part represents his worldview as a New Christian who could only live as a Jew secretly--and sometimes hardly at all. Rather than trying to analyze the entire text of Lamentaciones, my focus at PAMLA will be to show the presence and effect of these characteristics in several laments representative of the 44 sections. Additionally, by identifying elements of the poem similar to those found in the works of more canonical Spanish authors of the time (or previous times), including Jorge Manrique, Fray Luis de Granada, and Francisco de Quevedo, I will show that Pinto Delgado’s identity as a New Christian convert perhaps expressing a Jewish identity once he had left Iberia did not exclude his poetry from recognizable currents of Spanish literature.  

My presentation at the PAMLA conference contributes to a larger project of bringing to light the output of “New Jews” during the Baroque era. While the expulsion and forced conversions of Jews in Spain and Portugal at the end of the 1400s provoked an eclipse of Jewish life there, my study of Pinto Delgado as an intellectual who reasserted a Jewish identity beyond the Iberian Peninsula speaks to the effort of individuals to assert their personal truth, regardless of the difficulty.