Copublished with the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, University at Albany
IMS Monograph Series
“An excellent and rare archival source to further reveal how Nahuas made sense of Christianity and helped form its colonial image.”
—Mark Christensen, Brigham Young University
“This work is a welcome addition to scholarship on the history of evangelization efforts in early colonial Mexico and on the various ‘Indigenous Christianities’ that emerged as a result of those efforts.”
—Bradley Benton, North Dakota State University
"A fascinating entry point into the strategies that [Nahuas] developed to deal with the traumatic events that unfolded in Mexico in the wake of the Spanish invasion."
—Hispanic American Historical Review
In Aztec Antichrist, Ben Leeming presents a transcription, translation, and study of two sixteenth-century Nahuatl religious plays that are likely the earliest surviving presentations of the Antichrist legend in the Americas, and possibly the earliest surviving play scripts in the whole of the New World in any language.
Discovered in the archives of the Hispanic Society of America in New York inside a notebook of miscellaneous Nahuatl-Christian texts written almost entirely by an Indigenous writer named Fabían de Aquino, the plays are filled with references to human sacrifice, bloodletting, ritual divination, and other religious practices declared “idolatrous” at a time when ecclesiastical authorities actively sought to suppress writing about Indigenous religion. These are Indigenous plays for an Indigenous audience that reveal how Nahuas made sense of Christianity and helped form its colonial image—the title figure is a powerful Indigenous being, an “Aztec Antichrist,” who violently opposes the evangelizing efforts of the church and seeks to draw converted Nahuas back to the religious practices of their ancestors. These practices include devotion to Nahua deities such as Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, and Tezcatlipoca who, in one of the most striking moves made by Aquino, are cast as characters in the plays.
Along with the translations, Leeming provides context and analysis highlighting these rare and fascinating examples of early Indigenous American literature that offer a window into the complexity of Nahua interactions with Christianity in the early colonial period. The work is extremely valuable to all students and scholars of Latin American religion, colonialism, Indigenous history, and early modern history and theater.