Abstract and Keywords
Scholars have barely begun to explore the role of the Old Testament in the history of the Spanish New World. And yet this text was central for the Empire’s legal thought, playing a role in its legislation, adjudication, and understandings of group status. Institutions like the Council of the Indies, the Inquisition, and the monarchy itself invited countless parallels to ancient Hebrew justice. Scripture influenced how subjects understood and valued imperial space as well as theories about Paradise or King Solomon’s mines of Ophir. Scripture shaped debates about the nature of the New World past, the legitimacy of the conquest, and the questions of mining, taxation, and other major issues. In the world of privilege and status, conquerors and pessimists could depict the New World and its peoples as the antithesis of Israel and the Israelites, while activists, patriots, and women flipped the script with aplomb. In the readings of Indians, American-born Spaniards, nuns, and others, the correct interpretation of the Old Testament justified a new social order where these groups’ supposed demerits were in reality their virtues. Indeed, vassals and royal officials’ interpretations of the Old Testament are as diverse as the Spanish Empire itself. Scripture even outlasted the Empire. As republicans defeated royalists in the nineteenth century, divergent readings of the book, variously supporting the Israelite monarchy or the Hebrew republic, had their day on the battlefield itself.
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