US to return rare 16th century Mexican-Jewish book that disappeared from Mexico

Luis Carvajal was a 16th century governor in a Spanish province within present-day Mexico. The Spanish Inquisition’s extension into New Spain discovered that he was Jewish and had him executed. Carvajal is considered the first Jew to settle in North America and his writings disappeared from Mexico more than 70 years ago.
The writings will be given back to Mexico Photo Credit: Rafael Ben Ari/123RF

The Mexican Consulate in New York stated yesterday evening (Friday) that the oldest Jewish writings of the New World that disappeared more than 70 years ago will return to Mexico this month.

The writings are the autobiography of Luis Carvajal which he wrote in 1595. Carvajal is a descendent of “conversos,” or Jews in 14th and 15th century Spain and Portugal who wer forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. He is the first known person of Jewish origin to settle in North America and the Spanish province of Nuevo León’s governor, which is in present-day Mexico.

His writings are considered critical in defining Jewish life in the New World, but they disappeared. They were lent to the American Museum of Natural History from the Mexican government after they suddenly reappeared in a public sale within New York last year.

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Carvajal stood trial during the extension of the Spanish Inquisition into New Spain and was executed in 1596. During his lengthy trial, 120 other Jews were allegedly jailed. His writings titled “Memories” contain his life story and a copy of Psalms, Deuteronomy and other Jewish prayers. Apparently, Carvajal wrote his book utilizing a pseudonym in order to hid the fact that he was Jewish. During his trial, one of his cellmates uncovered his writings, which were used as evidence to support the fact that he was Jewish and led to his execution.



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