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Jewish Tours Argentina

Incas and Jews


New Worlds and Forgotten Peoples


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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