Saturday, April 16, 2011

Solomonic Jews in Ecuador and Peru?

New Worlds and Forgotten Peoples:Incas and Jews

In this opus Gustavo Perednik draws a fascinating parallel between two seemingly unrelated histories of cultural flowering, destruction, struggle and rebirth: that of the great Inca Empire, annihilated by Francisco Pizarro and a small band of adventurers (and the colonial might of Spain) in 1534; and the scattered Jewish people during the long centuries of the Diaspora, generally victims of whatever reigning power had dominion over them. By deepening our understanding of history from a non-Eurocentric perspective, this article offers an impassioned plea for recognition of the contributions of those peoples who do not conform to the "Western" model, in this case, the Quechua speaking nations of Ecuador and Peru, and the Jews. The ninth Inca emperor has been described as "a politician and artist, the most enlightened person in America of old". His name was Pachaktec, transformer of the world, and in the fifteenth century, in campaigns comparable to those of Alexander the Great, he began the expansion of his people who in less than a century would reign over almost two million square kilometers, from Ecuador to Chile. In Machu Picchu, the old peak, one can sense the empire's ancient splendor. The intact fortress served as a refuge for the Inca rulers when their capital Cuzco fell to the Spanish invaders. From this time, and over many years, a final desperate attempt was made to conserve the culture of the Incas, but this was doomed to failure against the invincible firearms of the Crown of Castille. In 1572, four decades into the royal conquest, the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo sent five thousand armed men to loot the entire region. Confronted by their imminent defeat, the Incas decided to abandon this pre-Columbian center. And Machu Picchu remained solitary. It was only three and a half centuries afterwards that it was discovered by the scientific world, when the Hawaiian archaeologist Hiran Bingham, of Yale University, reached its peak in 1911. At Machu Picchu, the Incas final home, one is infused by mystery. The hand of man competes with divine Creation, building a scene of overwhelming serenity. This was the last fortress of a civilization in which social and economic organization permitted neither misery nor unemployment, as production, consumption and demographic distribution reached almost mathematical equilibrium. The evidence of the definitive abandonment poses an enigmatic question: Was Machu Picchu the Masada of the Incas? If we let our fantasy guide us through history we may find this reference to the Jewish past all but arbitrary. Three thousand years ago, from the coast of Etzion Gever (near today's Eilat), King Solomon's sailors set sail towards Ophir, a country famous for its gold. We do not know its precise position. It has been variously identified as India, a Red Sea island, the Oriental African coast... what if it were the Americas? The implications would be surprising: the Israelite sailors would have arrived there two thousand five hundred years before Columbus. Abundant evidence exists. In 1618, the Portuguese soldier Fernandes Brandao contended that the native Brazilians were descendants of Solomon's sailors. In 1968 the scholar Cyrus Gordon presented a Phoenician stone tablet found in America as possible proof that the fleet of Solomon's ally, the Phoenician king Hiram, had indeed reached America. Furthermore, South American writings have been found to bear similarities to those of the Semites. Solomon's Temple employed construction techniques identical to those used in the Cuzco Temple. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning in both the ancient Jews and Cuzcovians. The god-creator of the Incas, Wiracocha, could have no form or representation -it was absolutely abstract. HISTORICAL COINCIDENCES What caused the remarkable Inca empire to fall so rapidly at the hand of an illiterate conqueror -Francisco Pizarro- commander of only one hundred and eighty men and a few horses? In 1525, when the eleventh Inca emperor Huayna Capac died, a fratricidal struggle exploded between his sons Huascar and Atahualpa, contesting the succession to the throne. This civil war set a propitious stage for Pizarro's invasion. In January 1531 the Spaniard departed from Panama with the aim of discovering and conquering the South, thought to be immensely rich. Both warring sides attempted to win over the European invader. Sixteen centuries earlier, the same happened in Jerusalem. With the passing away of Queen Salome Alexander, her sons Hircanus II and Aristobulus fought each other for the throne. As the Roman army of Pompey approached, both brothers solicited the invader's assistance. Pompey capitalized on this fratricidal conflict, conquered Israel for Rome and put an end to a century of Jewish independence in the country initiated by the Maccabees. Let us return to America. Atahualpa beat his older brother Huascar and had him drowned. In the battle of Ambato, he decapitated the Inca general Atoco and drank the warm blood from his skull. Thus he acquired 'the souls of all Cuzcovians.' Triumphant he prepared thirty thousand men to face Pizarro's handfull. The Spanish conqueror, in a cunning strategy, managed to capture the new Inca leader and demanded an incredible ransom of gold in exchange for his freedom. Despite payment of the ransom, Atahualpa was executed. Thus died the head of a theocratic state and a totally unipersonal government. The Inca empire, anarchic and undone by its cruel internal struggles, reached its end. The impenetrable region of Vilcabamba was the final refuge of the Inca royalty. There, 2,380 meters above sea level, towers the impressive panorama of Machu Picchu, "the cradle and tombstone of the Incas." The chronicler Valboa explained in 1586 that an expedition of Hebrews had arrived in Peru and returned to Israel with a considerable cargo of gold. He claimed the name Peru is but a distortion of Ophir. And if ties between Solomon and the builders of Pachakutec's Machu Picchu seem hardly credible, then let us consider another conjecture, somewhat better known. In 1642 the Dutch marrano sailor Aron Levi de Montezinos discovered a group of Indians in Latin America who recited the Shema and knew other Jewish rituals. The then Chief Rabbi of Holland, Menashe ben Israel, believed that the American indians were descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. In 1650 Thomas Thorowgood published his volume Jews in America or The Probabilities that the Americans be of that Race. The similarities discovered included the observance of tithes and tearing clothes as a sign of mourning. Ezra Stiles, seventh president of Yale University, searched in the Indians of his country for the descendants of the Incas. Perhaps only a foolish chauvinism could motivate us to try to discover Jewish genius in the marvelous legacy of the Incas. But it is notable that the Jews and the Incas had common persecutors. When the Spanish Crown concluded half a millenium ago their expulsion of Hebrews, they began attacking invaded lands in America. As for the Church, it carried out persecutions and forced conversions both in Europe against the Jewish people, and in Peru against the Incas. Simultaneously, towards the end of 1532, while the pseudo-messianic Jewish leader Shlomo Molcho was being burned at the stake in Mantua for resisting conversion, in far-away lands Atahualpa refused to be converted by friar Valverde, and would also be executed. Many would reject the possibility of the American descent of the Ten Tribes -to name but one: Rabbi Akiba. He decrees in the Mishna: "The Ten Tribes will never return." Machu Picchu and its majesty have moved us to put forward theories that are no more than mere historical hypotheses. The road from this fortress of the Altiplano leads to Cuzco, the present archeological center of the Americas. Cuzco means in quechua language 'navel (of the world).' Thus the Talmud names Jerusalem.


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