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Francisco de Vitoria’s More Excellent Way

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How the Bible of Empire Discovered the Tricks
of [the Argument from] Trade

image of Biblical Interpretation

In this paper I explore the invention of a cultural and political version of the Bible that originated in the context of the first Spanish Empire in the so-called New World. Patented (so to speak) by the Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria, writing in the late 1530s, this Bible became a model for far more famous (which is to say northern European/English) names such as John Locke, as they attempted to negotiate just ownership of that far more famous segment of the Americas, to the north. This Bible—which I’m calling the Bible of Infinite Hospitality and International Trade—was first designed as a riposte to the so-called Requerimiento: a literal application of Deut. 20.10-15, interpreted as a divine mandate and quasi-legal document to be read aloud by a notary to the ‘Indians’ before taking possession of the New World. (In fact, as I also explore in the paper, the Requerimiento is a Christianisation of Islamic jurisprudence, a curious hybrid of Bible and Qurʾan.) Opposing divine mandates or literal applications of the biblical and stressing that Christianity and its Bible represent a local law that is not applicable to the Indians, Vitoria’s Bible makes a great show of making it as difficult as possible for the Spaniards to enter the land. But this only prepares the way for the grand denouement: the revelation of a more excellent way, the way of love and trade.

Affiliations: 1: University of Kent, UK


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