The Other 1492: Christian Book Burning, Jewish & Muslim Expulsion

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” goes the children’s rhyme. When many people hear the date, this event is the first, if not the only, thing that comes to mind–classical conditioning at its finest. In contemporary perceptions of history, it is as if nothing else happened in 1492, as if the rest of the world was sitting around, waiting for Columbus’ supposed “discovery.”

In the same year imperialist Columbus began the genocidal conquest of Americas (instigating what would eventually be the worst genocide in human history: the genocide of the Native Americans–the killing of over 100 million people, 19 out of 20 of those who had lived on the continent before the arrival of the Europeans, according to American historian David Stannard, in his book American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World), however, another very significant historical event took place–one completely absent from whitewashed history textbooks: The Catholic monarchy of Granada, in modern-day Spain, expelled Muslims and Jews, who had lived in relative peace with Christians there for centuries. Catholics subsequently raided Islamic and Jewish libraries, burning virtually all the non-Christian books.

This was one of the largest bookburnings in modern history.

Although many Westerners have never of this, it is quite an important event in world history. Arab scientists, mathematicians, and physicians had made enormous advancements in the Islamic Golden Age—while Europe was in the middle of its Dark Ages. The Catholic Church, never a fan of science, burnt a large amount of this research, permanently destroying centuries of the advancement of human knowledge.

“Brief History: Book Burnings”, From TIME Magazine:

In 1492, after the Spanish conquered Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Western Europe, they allegedly emptied many of the city’s treasured libraries and set their contents all to flame.

“The Muslim Expulsion from Spain”, From History Today:

When the moderate missionary approach of the archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera (1428-1507), was replaced by the fanaticism of Cardinal Cisneros (c.1436-1518), who organised mass conversions and the burning of all religious texts in Arabic, these events resulted in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1499-1500) and the assassination of one of the Cardinal’s agents. This in turn gave the Catholic monarchs an excuse to revoke their promises. In 1499 the Muslim religious leaders of Granada were persuaded to hand over more than 5,000 priceless books with ornamental bindings, which were then consigned to the flames; only some books on medicine were spared. In Andalusia after 1502, and in Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon after 1526, the Moors were given a choice between baptism and exile. For the majority, baptism was the only practical option. Henceforward the Spanish Moors became theoretically New Christians and, as such, subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, which had been authorised by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478.

Censorship and Book Production in Spain During the Age of the Incunabula,” by Ignacio Tofiño-Quesada, of the CUNY Graduate Center:

However, the Talmud soon became a target of the Inquisition: in 1490, the Grand Inquisitor Fray Tomás de Torquemada (possibly from Jewish origin himself) burned Hebrew books by order of Ferdinand and Isabella, and later conducted an auto de fe in Salamanca, where more than 6,000 volumes “infected with Jewish errors” (Karolides, Bald and Sova 261-262) were burnt. After the decree of expulsion in 1492, all Jewish books were confiscated and the Inquisition worked hard to find any Jewish contamination in those who converted and remained in Spain, making almost impossible the printing in Hebrew in the peninsula.

As for the Muslims, they never had the opportunity to print in Arabic. As soon as 1496, Johanes Pegnitzer and Meynardus Ungut had a press in Granada that was mainly used for proselytizing purposes, and, after an initial period of tolerance under archbishop Hernando de Talavera, the Islamic population was forced to convert to Christianity. The Catholic Kings decreed compulsory conversion in 1502 for the Castilian domains, and the emperor Charles V in 1526 for the Kingdom of Aragon. Arabic literature would never again be written in Spain and the cripto-Muslims that remained in the peninsula (moriscos) would write in Romance with Arabic characters, developing an extremely interesting form of cultural resistance (aljamiado), that was transmitted in manuscript form because of the persecution of the Inquisition and that would end with the decrees of expulsion in the early XVIIth century (1609 for Valencia, 1610 for Aragon).”