posted July 19, 2017 

The spring issue of the Jewish Quarterly Review (107.2) features a scholarly Note and translation by Miriam Bodian and Ide François. “From the Files of the Portuguese Inquisition: Isaac de Castro Tartas’s Latin Ego-Document, 1645” presents a semi-autobiographical essay written in Latin found in the Inquisition file of one Isaac de Castro Tartas, a Portuguese-Jewish prisoner and victim of the Portuguese Inquisition. Castro, the authors write, “was deeply informed both by his Jesuit education in France, where he and his family lived as crypto-Jews, and by his exposure to early ideas of freedom of conscience in Dutch lands where he later lived. In his firm defense of his right to profess Judaism, Castro […makes] a radical argument for freedom of conscience of a kind few Europeans of his day were articulating.” Judaism, through this example, finds itself defined and given shape by its passage through the language and institutions of the Latin Church.    

This essay partakes in JQR’s long interest in the not always obvious place of biography and autobiography on the horizon of Jewish genres, yet we are ever interested in the history of the idea of the self, of the person, of modernity, that such documents narrate. Excellent work on the topic has appeared in the journal’s pages from its earliest numbers—as with the century’s-old piece by Alexander Marx “A Seventeenth-Century Autobiography: A Picture of Jewish Life in Bohemia and Moravia. From a Manuscript in the Jewish Theological Seminary” (JQR 8.3 n.s. [1918])—up to the twenty-first century. A 2005 issue of the journal, for example, was devoted to the theme of autobiography. Our upcoming two-part forum on letter-writing (107.3 and 108.1) is a testament to our ongoing interest in the phenomena of the revealing subject; the life, the persona, and the filtered depiction of self are all key parts of the economy of intellectual culture.