Eli Nazareno

The year is 1639 CE. The Spanish Inquisition is rampant in Spain, Portugal, and the New World. Since the arrival of Columbus in America in 1492 (the same year that Jews were expelled from Spain and Judaism forbidden in all lands under the King) the New World colonies of Spain and Portugal have continued to receive the influx of secret-Jews and Conversos (Conversos are Jews converted to Catholicism, as well as all their descendants) seeking relief from the grip of Inquisition in Europe. Conversos were also known as New Christians and were not allowed to pass as "regular" Christians. The Inquisition kept records in perpetuity of all people of Jewish descent, and relentlessly kept vigil over them to ensure that they would not revert to the forbidden law of Moses. However as these people continued to grow in numbers (and wealth) in the New World, the Inquisition tightened its grip in the New World as well. This meant the increase of torture (to confess Jewish practices, but even more importantly to extract names of other New Christians that may be secretly practicing the Law). In addition, the infamous Acts of Faith were also instituted in the Americas, just as they we are already in Spain and Portugal for over two hundred years. The Acts of Faith featured with full regalia and honorable attendance by Church and Civil authorities, the public burning and sentencing of those accused of the crime of doing the works of the Torah.

In 1639 CE the Inquisition discovered in the Viceroyalty of Peru a major 'ring' of Conversos who were secretly keeping alive the Law, including keeping the Sabbath, celebrating the Passover, and abstaining non-Kosher foods, as well as celebrating or observing the Jewish calendar. This led to a massive net to be cast over the entire society in Lima. Ironically, one of the most celebrated of all the victims of 1639, Francisco Maldonado da Silva, a physician, was not part of the Great Conspiracy (as it was called). His mother was a Old Christian (i.e. someone not of Jewish extraction), and his father, Diego Nuniez da Silva was indeed a Converso (himself a descendant of Jewish father and non-Jewish mother). Fransisco's father Diego had 20 years earlier already been caught as a confirmed Judaizer and was tortured and sentenced to prison and abject poverty. Yet it was not the father who transformed the younger man into a judaizer. While still a resident at the Santiago hospital in Chile, Fransisco Maldonado da Silva happened to pick up the volume 'The Wars of the Lord' by the Spanish Jewish apostate Abner de Burgos. Published originally to expose the 'errors' of Judaism, the book had the reverse effect on the young doctor. It impelled him to question the very foundations of Graeco-Roman Christianity, and ultimately to embrace the ancestral religion of his father. The physician confirmed his decision by circumicising himself.

Practicing medicine in Lima afterward, Maldonado diligently observed the Sabbath and fast days. He also remained in active communication with other conversos. Remarkably, he continued undetected. His mistake, in 1627, was his attempt to convert his two sister. Both women, traumatized since infancy by the loss of their father who was taken away by the Inquisition, were horrified, and immediately denounced their brother to the Inquistion, in the hopes perhaps that a early confession would demand a lighter sentence. Maldonado was arrested, torn away from his pregnant wife (again, a Old Christian woman) and young daughter. He was imprisoned and tortured. He would not repent or incriminate others. Rather, for twelve years, in a fetid cell and isolated from the world, he managed to compose several tracts in defense of Judaism, using rags of paper, a chicken bone for a quill, and coal dust for ink. With rope fashioned from corn silk, Maldonado succeeded occassionally in guiding these writings from his window passage to the cell below, with entreaties to other converso prisoners to hold on. In his fervor, too, the doctor allowed his hair and beard to grow in the manner of a biblical Nazirite and began to call himself "Eli Nazareno". Finally, on the day of the historic Act of Faith of January 1639, Maldonado ecstatically joined ten other conversos at the stake. Thus he died.