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Sons of Ishmael

Muslims through European Eyes in the Middle Ages

John V. Tolan

Publication Year: 2008

John Tolan is one of the world's foremost scholars in the field of early Christian/Muslim interactions. These eleven essays explore, in greater depth than his previous books, a wide variety of topics.

The Bible and Qur'an agree that Arabs were the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar. Ishmael is described in Genesis as "a wild man; his hand will be against every man and every man's hand against him." To many medieval Christians, this was a prophecy of the violence and enmity between Ishmael's progeny and the Christians--spiritual descendants of his half-brother Isaac.

Yet Tolan also discusses areas of convergence between Christendom and Islam such as the devotion to the Virgin Mary in twelfth-century Syria and Egypt and the chivalrous myths surrounding Muslim princes, especially Saladin.

By providing a closer look at the ways Europeans perceived Islam and Muslims in the Middle Ages, Tolan opens a window into understanding the roots of current stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs in Western culture.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xvii

The snows had been heavy in the Alps during the winter of 1215–16. That at least was what Jacques de Vitry thought as he prepared to ford a swollen river in the north of Italy in April 1216. Jacques was on his way to Rome, his mule loaded with two...

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1. Antihagiography: Embrico of Mainz’s Vita Mahumeti

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pp. 1-18

In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, the spiritual and intellectual landscape of northwestern Europe experienced tremendous changes: the reform movements associated with Gregory VII and with new monastic orders; the rapid spread...

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2. A Mangled Corpse: The Polemical Dismemberment of Muhammad

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pp. 19-34

“The Greeks and Latins,” wrote Edward Gibbon, “have invented and propagated the vulgar and ridiculous story, that Mahomet’s iron tomb is suspended in the air at Mecca, by the action of equal and potent lodestones. Without any philosophical...

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3. Rhetoric, Polemics, and the Art of Hostile Biography: Portraying Muhammad in Thirteenth-Century Christian Spain

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pp. 35-45

In 1298, the bishop of Jaén, Pedro Pascual, was captured by Muslim troops of the Nasrid emir Muhammad II of Granada, whose prisoner he remained until his death two years later.1 While in prison, Pedro looked on as many fellow Christian captives...

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4. Peter of Cluny on the “Diabolical Heresy of the Saracens”

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pp. 46-65

Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, traveled to Spain in 1142–43. There he assembled a team of translators whom he enticed to produce a full, annotated Latin version of the Qur’ân, along with translations of other Muslim texts and of an Arab-Christian...

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5. The Dream of Conversion: Baptizing Pagan Kings in the Crusade Epics

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pp. 66-78

In a manuscript of the Chrétienté Corbaran, a thirteenth-century epic, is an illumination of the baptism of the pagan king Corbaran. On the left Godfrey, king of Jerusalem, and a bishop raise Corbaran from the baptismal font; they are surrounded...

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6. Mirror of Chivalry: Saladin in the Medieval European Imagination

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pp. 79-100

Saladin, according to Voltaire, “never persecuted anyone for his religion: he was at the same time conqueror, humane, and a philosopher.”1 Treating captives mercifully, distributing alms to the poor (be they Christian, Jewish, or Muslim), allowing all to...

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7. Veneratio Sarracenorum: Shared Devotion among Muslims and Christians, According to Burchard of Strasbourg, Envoy from Frederic Barbarossa to Saladin (c. 1175)

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pp. 101-112

Few Latin Christian authors of the twelfth and thirteen centuries express respect or admiration for Islam. Respect for Muslims, yes: for individual Muslim men and (less often) women, for the thriving cities of the Muslim world, for the riches found there...

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8. Saracen Philosophers Secretly Deride Islam

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pp. 113-132

The Dominican Giordano da Pisa (1260–1311), in one of the sermons of his Quaresimale fiorentino, tries to convince his listeners that all wise men, in all places and times...

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9. Walls of Hatred and Contempt: The Anti-Muslim Polemics of Pedro Pascual

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pp. 133-146

Over the last thirty years, a number of scholars have written about the place of Muslims in Christian Spain. Some have studied the polemical and apologetical works of medieval Christian writers for whom Islam was a sordid heresy founded by Muhammad, a sly pseudo-prophet whom the devil inspired to spread his heresy...

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10. A Dreadful Racket: The Clanging of Bells and the Yowling of Muezzins in Iberian Interconfessional Polemics

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pp. 147-160

In 997, the Andalusian Hâjib Al-Mansûr plundered Santiago de Compostela, removed the bells from the city’s cathedral, and brought them, on the backs of Christian captives, to his capital, Cordoba. He had the clappers removed and the bells transformed...


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pp. 161-200


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pp. 201-222


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pp. 223-224


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p. 225

About the Author

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p. 232

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045917
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813032221
Print-ISBN-10: 0813032229

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 608798192
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sons of Ishmael

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Islam -- Relations -- Christianity.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Islam.
  • Religious thought -- Europe.
  • Religious thought -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Middle East -- Relations -- Europe.
  • Europe -- Relations -- Middle East.
  • Middle Ages -- Historiography.
  • Islam -- Controversial literature.
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