Marranos on the Moradas: Secret Jews and Penitentes in the Southwestern United States from 1590–1980

Marranos on the Moradas: Secret Jews and Penitentes in the Southwestern United States from 1590–1980

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Norman Simms

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781934843321 (hardcover) 
Pages: 520 pp.
Publication Date: January 2009

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Two groups were persecuted over the course of four hundred years in what is now the southwestern United States, each dissimulating and disguising who they truly were. Both now declare their true identities, yet raise hostility. The Penitentes are a lay Catholic brotherhood that practices bloody rites of self-flagellation and crucifixion, but claim this is a misrepresentation and that they are a community and a charitable organization. Marranos, an ambiguous and complicated population of Sephardic descendants, claim to be anousim. Both peoples have a complex, shared history. This book disentangles the web, redefines the terms, and creates new contexts in which these groups are viewed with respect and sympathy. Simms uses rabbinics, literary analyses, psychohistory, and cultural anthropology to consolidate a history of mentalities. 


Norman Simms (PhD Washington University) is associate professor in the department of humanities and English at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. He is the author of Festivals of Laughter: Blood and Justice in Biblical and Classical Literature (2007), Marranos on the Moradas: Secret Jews and Penitentes in the Southwestern United States from 15901890 (2009),  Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality, and Midrash (2011), and In the Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet, and Jew (2013).


Drawing on rabbinic sources (Midrash) and psychohistory, Simms sheds light on the ambiguous identity of these misunderstood groups of former Jews and the broader issue of the myriad ways Jews respond to living in a non-Jewish world.
— Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
This lengthy and ambitious study defies easy categorization; it is part detective story, part psychohistory, part Jewish studies, part investigation of secrecy and esoteric currents, and part many other things. Yet its purpose is always clear: to explicate the complex, confused , and confusing inner spiritual life of those whom Simms terms ‘fuzzy Jews’—the New Christians, Crypto-Jews, and Marranos originally from the Iberian Peninsula but transplanted to Mexico and southwest America. . . . The book is extremely valuable, in that it exhibits very clearly the extreme difficulty of studying the history of mentalities and the need for attention to a multitude of disparate academic fields that generally discourages such academic endeavors. This book is recommended to all interested in Jewish history, Jewish-Christian relations, and religious fraternities and secret societies.
— Carole M. Cusack, University of Sydney, in the Journal of Religious History (Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2011)