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Book Notes: Vinculos do Fogo I – Antônio José da Silva, o Judeu, e outras histórias da Inquisição em Portugal e no Brasil, Alberto Dines

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Vinculos do Fogo I - Antonio Jose da Silva, o Judeu, e outras historias da Inquisigao em Portugal e no Brasil, Alberto Dines (Editora Schwarcz Ltda, S?o Paolo, Brasil 1992). Many New Christians settled in the south of Brazil in the late 16th century, both as merchants and as sugar planters. Bahia, the capital of Brazil, from which the visiting Inquisitors operated, was a long way away and the cheap fertile land and the trade route through Argentina to Peru offered great economic opportunities. Consequendy, by the early 17th century many citizens of S?o Paolo, and the majority of the white population of Rio de Janeiro, were of Jewish origin.1 It is therefore not surprising that when the Inquisition cracked down on them in the 273</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes early 18th century, several leading families in southern Brazil were secretly prac? tising Judaism, and it was able to confiscate much valuable property. Antonio Jose da Silva (i 705-39) was born in Rio de Janeiro into a well-established crypto-Jewish family. He was a law student at Coimbra University when arrested by the Coimbra Inquisition, tortured, convicted of Judaism, penanced and released in 1727. He then settled in Lisbon where he practised as an advocate, and became the most successful and popular playwright of the period. In 173 7 he was arrested again, and was found to have been circumcised, which cost him his life. He steadily refused to admit that he was guilty of Judaizing, but he well knew that if he pleaded guilty to a second offence of apostasy he would be killed. He was convicted as a negativo, renounced Judaism, was garrotted and burnt at the stake. As a playwright he was generally referred to by the Portuguese public as 'the Jew'. Camilo Castelo Branco wrote a novel about him, OJudeu, in 19092 and his life has been the theme of two Brazilian film epics, as well as other writings. This 1500-page book is the first of two volumes bearing a title that means 'Chains of Fire'. It is neither a straightforward biography, nor a conventional history of the Inquisition. The author's approach is a literary one and his stand? point a strong (and well-justified) detestation of the Holy Office. It opens with a series of literary quotations about the persecution of the Portu? guese New Christians by the Portuguese Inquisition, including President Mario Soares' apology in 1989 to the Jews on behalf of the Portuguese Nation for the past persecutions in Portugal. This is followed by literary reflections and a narrat? ive arranged like a play, including a prologue and numbered scenes. Since this is the biography of a famous dramatist the author obviously found the technique appropriate, but I must admit that I found it irritating. Eventually the author gets down to the historical narrative, which is interestingly told. He outlines a series of other important Inquisition trials during the 17th century and eventually comes to the case of Antonio Jose da Silva. The genealogies of both his mother and his father are given in great detail, stressing their deep roots and social connections in colonial Brazil, and their crypto-Jewish tradition. One detail, taken from the archives of the Inquisition, is a poem by da Silva expressing faith in salvation through Christian belief, which he wrote in his last days in the dungeon of the Inquisition, after he had renounced Judaism, and was thus qualified to be garotted before he was burnt, but not for any mercy on the part of the Inquisitors. The second volume promises to continue the story of da Silva's life. Edgar Samuel NOTES 1 Jose Gonc,alves Salvador, Os Cristt?os 2 Encyclopaedia Jfudaica (Jerusalem 1971) Novos: povoamento e conquistada do solo Brasileiro XIV: 1541, article on Antonio Jose da Silva. (1530-1680) (S?o Paolo 1974). 274</page></plain_text>