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February 23: Maryland’s First Jewish Blasphemer

February 23, 2013
Jacob Lumbrozo, a Portuguese converso doctor who became the first documented, professed Jew living in the British colony of Maryland, was tried in court on this date in 1658 for blasphemy under the so-called Toleration Act, which mandated tolerance among Christians but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus. Lumbrozo had arrived in Maryland two years earlier, and worked as a healer, farmer, Indian trader, and merchant. Two witnesses testified that he had been asked, in public, a series of questions by a proselytizing Quaker, and had answered honestly: Did the Jews believe in a messiah? Yes. Who was crucified at Jerusalem? “A man.” How did he perform his miracles? “By the art of magic.” The resurrection? Disciples probably stole the corpse, said Lumbrozo. The blasphemy case was halted by a general amnesty declared by the governor of Maryland to celebrate the ascension of Richard Cromwell to be British head of state (“Lord Protector”). While Maryland was an exemplar of religious tolerance throughout its colonial history, it would not be until 1826 that Jews and other non-Christians were finally granted full religious and political freedom with passage of “The Jew Bill.” “Another man present accused Lumbrozo of calling Jesus a necromancer, a conjurer of spirits. The court transcript notes, ‘To which said Lumbrozo answered nothing but laughed.’ ” —Michael Feldberg, George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom