Escolios: folio 2, side 1: lines 17–21
Escolios: folio 3, side 1: line 1
Escolios: folio 4, side 1, line 5
Escolios: folio 4, side 2, line 44
Fray Domingo de Vico’s Theologia indorum is a lengthy theological text written in K’iche’ for the purpose of evangelizing the highland Maya. The work reads the Old and New Testaments through the lens of K’iche’ beliefs, employing K’iche’ concepts and literary structures such as poetic couplets in order to communicate Christian doctrine. Vico’s command of the K’iche’ language and deep familiarity with their beliefs has led prominent Mayanist Ruud van Akkeren to speculate that he was in close contact with the authors of the Popol Vuh on which Ximénez based his own text, if not the one who taught them Latin characters. Van Akkeren has gone so far as to call the Theologia indorum a “liberal translation” of the Bible into the K’iche’ culture, not just the language.
If Ximénez’s characterization of the work is accurate, Vico did far more than translate the Bible into K’iche’: he incorporated the Maya and other indigenous peoples into Christian salvation history. Ximénez writes, “díçe el N[u]e[stro]. P[adr]e. fr[ay]. Domíngo de Víco en el cap 101 de la segunda parte de su theología índorum a q’estos índíos desçíenden de las díez tríbus q’se perdíeron de los judíos, y q’no bolbíeron a su patría, y así conseruaron por tradíçíones todos los suçesos q’nos refíere el sagrado texto y el demonío selos fue embolbíendo en muchíssímos herrores.”
Ximénez agreed with Vico’s interpretation that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were descended from the ten “lost tribes” of Israel, whose deportation from the Kingdom of Samaria after its conquest by Shalmaneser V of Assyria is chronicled in the Second Book of Kings. He references it throughout the Escolios, as well as in his Historia de la provincia, to explain the origin of Maya beliefs and the occasional similarity of Maya historias and biblical narratives. In Ximénez’s view, these moments of overlap were a matter of failed preservation of a common history.
The theory that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were descendants of the Lost Tribes had widespread currency in the seventeenth century in particular. The most prominent writer on the subject was Portuguese publisher and rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, also known as Manoel Dias Soeiro, who put forth this theory in his 1649 book Spes Israelis (The Hope of Israel). Vico’s work predates that of ben Israel, and is written from a Catholic rather than a Jewish perspective. However, they share a common urgency toward resolving the challenge presented to their existing worldviews by the unaccounted-for New World. This discourse is an example of the multilateral influence of the colonial encounter: it was not just indigenous traditions that were affected by European colonization, but European belief systems that developed in reaction to indigenous populations.
The first volume of the Theologia indorum is soon to be translated and made available digitally at George Mason University. A partial manuscript is currently available online through Princeton University.