Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Trouble with Casual Blasphemy

On February 23, 1658, Jacob Lumbrozo was brought before a judge in the colony of Maryland and tried for blasphemy. In a world such as ours today, it is hard to imagine someone being taken to court on a charge of blasphemy. In the early days of the colonies, Jews always had to be careful with what they said.

Lumbrozo, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal, was raised as a converso, hiding his Jewish faith from the world. When he moved to Maryland in 1656, he began living openly as a Jew and is considered the first Jew in that colony. Lumbrozo was a physician and a businessman.

The case against Lumbrozo derived from the 1649 “Act Concerning Religion” that guaranteed equal rights in Maryland for anyone who believed in Jesus. Denying Jesus’ divinity or blaspheming God was punishable by death. In the course of casual conversation, Lumbrozo was a little too honest in explaining his Jewish beliefs. During the trial, witnesses testified that Lumbrozo had described the Resurrection as an act of deception, that the disciples had taken the body. The witnesses also claimed that Lumbrozo had suggested that Jesus performed magic or necromancy.

After his initial court hearing, Lumbrozo was held over for a hearing and had to remain in jail. This was actually beneficial as it guaranteed his inclusion in a large general amnesty that was issued at that time in celebration of the ascension of Richard Cromwell to the English Protectorate.

Lumbrozo’s name is recorded in several other court cases, but most of the facts about his life are less clear. He received a commission to trade with the Indians in Fall 1665, but he passed away shortly thereafter and his will was probated in May 1666.

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