. 5
( 10)


ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some particular aspects
of the Orient therefore constitutes an analyzable formation . . . whose presence
in time, in discourse, in institutions (schools, libraries, foreign services) gives it
strength and authority.98

Said locates Orientalism as a kind of commerce between writing about the
Orient and politics in the Orient which was directed towards western ma-
terial gain. The furtherance of reasoned science (philology, natural history,
anthropology and so forth) provided the rationale. Scholars presented the

97 98
Kelly, Jerome, p. 306, n. 53. Said, Orientalism, p. 20.

Ismaelites and Saracens in Latin

Orient as somewhere different from their own space by describing it as
less ˜scienti¬c™ (more irrational, disordered, technologically backwards). In
the late antique and early medieval period, analyses and interpretations of
the Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens arose as a result of the scholarly aim
to understand the Bible. As a result, the difference of these peoples from
literate westerners consisted in their being enemies of the people of God,
desert-dwellers, marauders and symbols of spiritual perdition. Certain ideas
about Islam and the Orient seem to be shared by scholars in both periods.
This does not con¬‚ict with Said™s thesis. However, it suggests that his def-
initions of ˜Orientalism™ could usefully be clari¬ed. ˜Latent™ Orientalism
and ˜manifest™ Orientalism “ as Said de¬nes them “ and their complicated
relations with literature, prejudice and institutional power can be read into
western literature from at least as early as the fourth century. Even later
expressions of European technological superiority ¬nd parallels in Jerome™s
descriptions of the Saracens as nomads and eaters of raw ¬‚esh or Adomn´ n™sa
statement that although their house of prayer was large, it was crudely built
on ruins. The articulation of a political identity and concomitant urge to
increase its territorial holdings are perhaps unique to the modern period.
Even so, the fact that many of the attributes of Said™s ˜Orientalism™ appear in
a medieval context signals the need to distinguish these more clearly from
the elements that made the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries unique in
shaping western conceptions of the Orient today.
The works of Jerome, Isidore and other Latin authors mentioned above
were known from an early date in medieval Europe. According to their
literary representations of the world, the validity of Christianity was upheld
each time the Saracens who confronted them could be shown to be bad,
wrong and different. Jerome succeeded in incorporating the fourth-century
Arabs who lived near his home at Bethlehem into commentaries on the
Old Testament Ismaelites. A similar process of assimilation was to take
place when western Christian commentators of the seventh century and
later described the Muslims in terms of pre-Islamic and biblical notions
of the Ismaelites and Saracens. In Anglo-Saxon England, perhaps the ¬rst
writings to emerge concerning the Saracens issued from the Canterbury
school of two great scholars, Theodore and Hadrian, who had travelled to
England from Rome even as the Muslim forces were sweeping across their
homelands in the eastern Mediterranean.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early

Bede wrote of Theodore and Hadrian in his Historia ecclesiastica as learned
teachers from Tarsus and Africa who, in the well-known description, poured
the waters of wholesome knowledge into the minds of their students day
by day.1 Concerning the lives of Theodore and Hadrian before they came
to England, Bede is silent but recent scholarship has supplied the details.2
Theodore of Tarsus (602“690) spent the 660s and perhaps earlier years as
an Oriental monk in Rome. Before this period, he was probably educated
in Antioch and possibly in Edessa. If he was still in Syria in the year 636,
Theodore may have been forced to leave by the Arab conquests. Hadrian
(c. 630“709) was probably a native of Cyrenaica, in Libya. His move to
Naples, where he became a monk, may well similarly have been prompted
by the Arab invasions of Cyrenaica between the years 642 and 645. These
two men thus represent a rare possible contact between England and the
Islamic world during its earliest formation.3
Theodore came to England from Rome in 669 to oversee the new
archiepiscopal see of Canterbury. He had been appointed to this post a
year previously by Pope Vitalian (657“72) at the suggestion of Hadrian,
at that time abbot of a monastery near Naples. Hadrian had in fact been
Vitalian™s ¬rst choice for the archbishopric when it fell vacant. After he
had recommended Theodore for the position, Hadrian too came to England
as Theodore™s companion and colleague, probably arriving the following
Bede, Historia ecclesiastica, IV.2 (pp. 332“4).
Lapidge provides the most up-to-date account and reconstructs the earlier careers of the
two; see Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, pp. 5“81 (Theodore) and 82“132
On other possible links between Anglo-Saxon England and the Syriac world, see Brock,
˜The Syriac Background™, pp. 49“53.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

year. He subsequently became abbot of the monastery of SS Peter and
Paul, later St Augustine™s, in Canterbury.4 Both men taught a variety
of subjects in their school at Canterbury. Among the information which
Theodore and Hadrian conveyed to their students were references to the
Saracens and certain aspects of eastern life. These are found in a set of
notes on the Pentateuch and gospels of the Vulgate. The notes appear to
have been taken down during the course of a series of lectures given at
the school of Theodore and Hadrian in Canterbury.5 They are referred to
below as the Canterbury commentaries and their author as the Canterbury

t h e c a n t e r b u r y c o m m e n ta r i e s a n d t h e s a r a c e n s
The Canterbury commentator makes several asides “ concerning, for exam-
ple, rare birds and the outsize melons of Edessa “ which point to personal
experience of life in the Middle East.6 It seems plausible that it was a
recollection of the conquering Arabs that prompted the following, biting
reference to the Saracens in an explanation of Gen. XVI.12 on the angel™s
prophecy regarding Ismael: ˜“Manus eius contra omnes”: sic fuit genus
eius Saracenis, numquam cum omnibus pacem habentes sed semper contra
aliquos certantes™.7 On the other hand, the comment could derive from
the writings of Jerome. As indicated above, the biblical phrase ˜manus eius
super omnes, et manus omnium super eum™ referred, according to Jerome,
to ˜Sarracenos uagos, incertisque sedibus, qui uniuersas gentes, quibus de-
sertum ex latere iungitur incursant, et inpugnantur ab omnibus™.8 The

On the life and teachings of Theodore and Hadrian in England, and on other works by
Theodore, see Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, pp. 133“89, and Lapidge,
˜The Career of Archbishop Theodore™.
The notes are best preserved in Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, M. 79 sup., which dates from
the eleventh century. On the authorship of the Canterbury commentaries and surviving
manuscripts of their text, see Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, especially
pp. 1“4 and 269“95.
See Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries Pent.I §413, pp. 35 and 374“5

(melons); Pent.I §360 pp. 84“5 and 364“5 (porphirio).
˜ “His hand will be against all men” [Gen. XVI.12]: thus Ishmael™s race was that of the
Saracens, a race which is never at peace with anyone but is always at war with someone™
(Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, p. 324; trans. Lapidge).
˜. . . the roaming Saracens of no ¬xed abode, who assail all the peoples bordering the edge
of the desert, and are fought by everyone™ (Jerome, LQHGen., CCSL 72, pp. 20“1).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Canterbury commentator certainly knew Jerome™s commentary on Genesis,
since he quoted it on the very subject of Ismael.9 However, it is not certain
that he cites Jerome on the subject of the Saracens. There is no echo of
Jerome™s syntax or vocabulary in the Canterbury commentator™s phrasing,
as there was in Isidore™s quotations from Jerome.10 Indeed, the two scholars
are making rather different points, albeit on the same subject. Jerome de-
scribed all peoples bordering the desert as victims of the wandering Saracens
and thus emphasised the broad geography of their attacks. With numquam
and semper, the Canterbury commentator suggests the endlessness of Sara-
cen hostility. It seems likely that the Canterbury commentator knew of the
Arabs as Ismaelites or Saracens, drew upon his own knowledge of the Arab
conquests in the Middle East, and (quite probably with Jerome™s earlier
comment in mind) chose to underline the fact that hostilities with Ismael™s
descendants were ongoing. It is also possible that in writing ˜numquam
cum omnibus pacem habentes sed semper contra aliquos certantes™, the
Canterbury commentator was in¬‚uenced by the sentiments of Psalm CXIX
on the inhabitants of Kedar: ˜Cum his qui oderunt pacem eram paci¬cus;
cum loquebar illis, impugnabant me gratis™. The Canterbury commen-
tator leaves no written evidence that he linked Kedar with the Saracens
but he knew Ismael to be the progenitor of the Ismaelites and can hardly
have been ignorant that Kedar was Ismael™s son. Like Jerome and other
commentators before him, he would have appreciated how apt were the
words of the psalm to describe the Arab invaders from a Christian point of
The Canterbury commentator makes only one other direct reference to
the Saracens. He explains, more clearly than Jerome had done, that their
name was a current and inappropriate term for a number of Old Testament
tribes: ˜Madianitae et Hismahelitae et Madianei et Agarreni ipsi sunt qui
nunc abusiue Sarraceni nominantur™.11 The Canterbury commentator could

The Canterbury commentator cited Jerome in a discussion of Ismael™s age when he
was cast out (Gen. XXI.10“21); see Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries,
pp. 328“9 and n. on p. 460; see also pp. 203“4 on Jerome as a source for the Canterbury
The versions of Genesis used by the two scholars also differed: the commentator quotes
the Vulgate™s contra omnes where Jerome cites super omnes from the Old Latin.
˜Madianites and Ishmaelites and Madiani and Agarreni are the same peoples as those who
are now inappropriately called Saracens™ (Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries,
p. 338; trans. Lapidge). See also Lapidge™s notes on pp. 466“7 and n. 16 below.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

quite possibly have obtained this information from Jerome™s works but, if
he did, he has reworded and elaborated upon his source. Jerome stated
more than once that Saraceni referred to the Ismaelites and Hagarenes.
The Canterbury commentator lists the Madianei and Madianitae as well, as
peoples now called Saracens. The Midianites appear in the Vulgate book
of Genesis as the trading people, also called Ismaelites, to whom Joseph
was sold by his brothers.12 In his commentary on the book of Ezekiel,
Jerome wrote that by Midianites (Madianitae and Madianaei), scripture
was referring metaphorically to Ismaelites, Hagarenes and Saracens.13 The
form Madianei (or Madianaei) occurs rarely outside the works of Jerome. In
the Vulgate he employs it as an alternative to Madianitae.14 Jerome seems
to have thought the terms interchangeable; he lists them together and
glosses them using the same word.15 Since the Canterbury commentator
includes both Madianitae and the form Madianei and is known to have
consulted the Vulgate rather than the Old Latin in devising his commentary,
he probably took the name from the Bible. The link between Midianites
and Ismaelites, combined with the common identi¬cation of Ismaelites
and Hagarenes with Saracens, would have then supplied the Canterbury
commentator with his list of peoples. It is also possible that he took all
of the names together from a work by Jerome such as his commentary on

12 13
Gen. XXXVIII.25“8. Jerome, In Ezech., CCSL 75, 335.
The Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible use the same form of the name at Gen. XXXVII.28
and 36, while the Vulgate differs; both the Greek (Madihnaioi) and the Hebrew (con-
sonants ˜mdn™ with plural ˜m™) correspond better with the form Madianaei than with the
Latinate Madianitae, and perhaps this is why Jerome used the alternative. Both Madianei
and Madianitae appear in Jerome™s translation from the Hebrew but not in other Latin
versions of the Bible. References here as below are to the Biblia sacra iuxta uulgatam
uersionem, ed. Weber et al.
˜Madianaei uel madianitae diiudicantes™ (LHNom., CCSL 72, 69). Elsewhere, Jerome refers
again to Madianei or Madianaei in contexts where the meaning ˜Midianites™ is appropriate:
˜Aiunt enim, et Aegypti sacerdotes, et Ismaelitas, et Madianaeos praeputium non habere™,
and ˜Illud quoque quod populo praecipitur Israel, ut odio sempiterno, et in posteros
transmissa discordia, inimici sint Madianeis . . . in Israelitis, et Madianeis uita magis
dissimilis, quam gens una damnata est™ (In epistulas Paulinas, PL 26, 394 and 416). Also,
referring back to Gen. XXXVII.36, he writes: ˜Madianaei autem uendiderunt ioseph in
aegypto phutiphar™ (LQHGen., CCSL 72, 45).
It has been suggested that the term Madianei may here signify the Medes, whose ancestor
was thought to have been Madai, son of Iapheth, mentioned at Gen. X.2 (Bischoff and

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

The Midianites are described in Genesis as the descendants of Midian,
son of Abraham by a woman called Ketura.17 This is hard to reconcile
with the fact that, also in Genesis, the Midianites are called Ismaelites, who
must evidently be descendents of Ismael and therefore of Hagar. One way of
resolving the problem is to interpret the name Ketura, which Jerome glosses
as copulata or uincta, as another name for Hagar, signifying her situation as
Abraham™s concubine. However, the Canterbury commentator asserts that
Hagar and Ketura are not the same woman (while noting that many think
that such is the case): ˜ “Cethura” alia uxor Abraham, non Agar, ut multi
arbitrantur™.18 Again, this is rather different from Jerome™s comment on
the same subject, in which he acknowledges the problem but leaves the
question open.19 Another example of a disparity of opinion on the Orient
between the Canterbury commentator and Jerome can be found in their
glosses of the word theristrum. Jerome explained it as a pallium, a robe worn
by the women of Mesopotamia and Arabia to protect their bodies from
the heat.20 The Canterbury commentator also de¬nes it using the word
pallium, but the rest of his explanation differs somewhat: ˜[id est] pallium

Lapidge, eds., Canterbury Commentaries, p. 466). However, in a biblical context the Medes
are never associated with the Ismaelites in the same way as are the Midianites, and they
tend to be referred to as Medi, not Madianei. Isidore, for example, writes of ˜Madai, a
quo Medos existere putant™ (Etym. IX.ii.28). The region of Madian is described in Exod.
III.1 as lying near the mountain of Horeb, another name for Sinai, and other sources
locate Midian near Egypt or the Red Sea, sometimes across the whole north of Arabia,
in the same area as that inhabited by Ismael and his offspring; see Rotter, Abendland
und Sarazenen, pp. 30, 85, 87, 89 and 102. The Medes, on the other hand, lived beyond
Mesopotamia far to the north-east, near the peoples of Parthia, Elam and Persia, with
whom they are usually listed in the Old Testament. Since Jerome employed the name Medi
to refer to the descendants of Madai and used Madianei and Madianitae interchangeably
in connection with the Ismaelites and Saracens, it seems probable that the Canterbury
commentator listed two versions of the same name both of which indicate descent from
Gen. XXV.1“2.
˜Ketura [was] another wife of Abraham, and was not Hagar, as many suppose™ (Bischoff
and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, p. 330; trans. Lapidge).
Jerome, LQHGen., CCSL 72, 30: ˜Cetura hebraeo sermone copulata interpretatur aut
uincta. Quam ob causam suspicantur Hebraei mutato nomine eandem esse Agar . . .
Nos quod incertum est relinquentes™ (˜ “Ketura” in Hebrew is interpreted as “linked”
or “bound”, because of which the Hebrews think the same to be Hagar by another
name . . . which we pass over because it is uncertain™).
Jerome, In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 57, and LQHGen., CCSL 72, 30.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

lineum subtile, quo se puellae cooperiunt et meretrices maxime™.21 Both
commentators wrote that theristrum meant a particular kind of light veil
or clothing for women, but they differed quite markedly on the types of
women who wore light clothing and, by implication, their reasons for
doing so.
The Canterbury commentator, then, makes several interesting comments
pertaining to Arabia and the Saracens. In each case information on the
same subjects was already available in Jerome™s commentary on the book
of Genesis, but the accounts given by the Canterbury commentator differ
in form and content from those of his predecessor. As we have seen, the
Canterbury commentator was not ignorant of Jerome™s work; nor, since he
repeated Jerome™s wording elsewhere in his own commentary, can the dis-
parity be ascribed to an indifference to Jerome as a source of information.
It is hard to imagine that any commentator could have ignored the great
authority of the saint. Perhaps the Canterbury commentator declined to
use Jerome™s words in these particular cases because he wished to com-
ment according to his own more up-to-date knowledge of the Middle East.
The Canterbury commentator™s description of the Saracens as numquam cum
omnibus pacem habentes is quite possibly the ¬rst recorded reaction in an
Anglo-Saxon context to the rise of Islam.22 It should be noted, though,
that the Canterbury commentator does not refer directly and unambigu-
ously to the Arab invasions, as Bede was later to do at the turn of the
seventh century.23 The Canterbury commentator states only that Ismael is
the source of the excessive truculence inherited by his descendants. This
was a notion which was available to many well-read churchmen before
the seventh century and was given great currency by Jerome. Here it can
be assumed to have the Muslim Arabs in mind since it is expressed by a
man who could not have been ignorant of the Arab presence in or near his

˜. . . that is, a ¬nely woven linen dress, with which young girls “ and especially prosti-
tutes “ clothe themselves™ (Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, p. 338; trans.
Bischoff and Lapidge, eds., Biblical Commentaries, p. 456. For further discussions of con-
temporary western reactions to the Arab conquests, see Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen,
pp. 235“64. Hoyland provides a comprehensive survey of eastern Christian responses in
his Seeing Islam as Others Saw It.
Bede, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 201. This reference to the Saracen possession
of Africa, most of Asia and part of Europe could not have been made without knowledge
of the Arab conquests.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

homeland. Cassian, Jerome, Theodore and Hadrian were the earliest authors
known to the English who could associate the Saracens of their own expe-
rience, whom we today know as Arabs, with Old Testament descriptions
of the Ismaelites. To them, native Arab characteristics included attacks on
Christians and Christian communities and, unsurprisingly, they provoked
a bitter reaction.
The Anglo-Saxon poet and scholar, Aldhelm, attended the Canterbury
school of Theodore and Hadrian and also mentioned Saracens in his work.24
In his prose De uirginitate, he drew on Jerome™s Vita Malchi to describe the
monk ˜a Saracenis praedonibus et Ismaelitis grassatoribus obuia quaeque
atrociter uastantibus captus™.25 Aldhelm, characteristically, describes the
Saracens in a striking manner; he is the only medieval author to refer to
them using the terms grassator and praedo.26 He brie¬‚y mentions the Saracens
again in a note on a hermit who dwelt on the border between the Syrians
and the Saracens and subsisted on a diet of ¬ve dried ¬gs each day. The story
of the hermit comes from Jerome™s Vita S. Pauli, and Aldhelm includes it
as an illustration of the difference between the words carica (˜dried ¬g™) and
carex (˜sedge™) in his De pedum regulis.27 It is notable that, although Aldhelm
attended the Canterbury school of Theodore and Hadrian, both occurrences
of the word Saraceni in his writings derive from material by Jerome.
Aldhelm alluded to his Canterbury education in a letter to Hadrian; see his Epistolae,
p. 478 (trans. by Herren in Aldhelm: The Prose Works, ed. and trans. Lapidge and Herren,
pp. 153“4; see also Herren™s notes on pp. 138“9).
˜. . . captured by Saracen pirates and Ismaelite robbers (who were) ravaging violently
whatsoever was in their way™ (Aldhelm, De uirginitate, ed. Ehwald, MGH AA XV, 270;
trans. Lapidge in Aldhelm: The Prose Works, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 91; Aldhelm did
not include Malchus in his verse Carmen de uirginitate). Cf. Daniel in his review of Rotter,
Abendland und Sarazenen (p. 39): ˜The fairly detached picture of Arabs in antiquity becomes
unfavourable as the age of Islam approaches, and Aldhelm, in England, summarises
opinion of them as “muggers and gangsters”™. To clarify Daniel™s summary, the picture of
Arabs as Arabes seems to have remained fairly detached, in Anglo-Saxon England, at least,
while the picture of Muslims (not necessarily Arabs) as Ismaelites and Saracens certainly
was unfavourable from the beginning.
A possible parallel is Jerome™s description of St Paul™s one-time enmity towards the
church: quasi quidam grassator Ecclesiam et praedo uastabat (Jerome, In epistulas Paulinas,
PL 26, 324).
Aldhelm, De pedum regulis, ed. Ehwald, p. 155; cf. Jerome, Vita S. Pauli, PL 23, 21, where
he describes having seen monks living ˜in ea eremi parte, quae iuxta Syriam Saracenis
iungitur™, amongst whom one lived on ¬ve ¬gs a day: ˜quinque caricis per singulos dies

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

bede and the saracens
Bede (c. 673“735) was born in the north of England a few years after the
arrival of Theodore and Hadrian in Canterbury.28 At the age of seven, he
was consigned to the care of Benedict Biscop (?627“689), abbot of the
monastery of St Peter at Wearmouth. Later, in the year 682, he joined
the new sister-foundation of St Paul at Jarrow, also founded by Benedict
Biscop, and afterwards remained there as monk, deacon and priest. During
a lifetime of scholarship and prayer, Bede wrote numerous works including
biblical commentaries, didactic treatises, saints™ lives, verse and the famous
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum which he completed a few years before
his death.
Bede seems to have taken some interest in events abroad during the early
eighth century.29 He read and copied Adomn´ n™s record of the pilgrim
Arculf™s travels in the East, and the Saracens described by Adomn´ n reappear
in Bede™s own description of the Holy Land and his catalogue of place-
names.30 He was also the ¬rst native Anglo-Saxon to write on contemporary
Arab activity in Europe. In his De temporum ratione, Bede mentioned the
Saracen invasion of Sicily and subsequent return to Alexandria with an
enormous amount of booty. He noted Emperor Justinian™s ten-year treaty
with the Saracens and his con¬‚icts with them in Africa. On the Saracen siege
of Constantinople, Bede, unlike other sources, wrote that it lasted for three
years, not two, until the cold and hungry inhabitants prayed to God and
a plague drove off the enemy. Bede also explained how the Lombard king
Liutprand heard that the Saracens had invaded Sardinia, where the bones of
St Augustine were held as relics, and so travelled there, paid a large ransom
and took them away with him to a safer and more honourable location in
Pavia.31 In his Historia ecclesiastica the Saracens appear again, described as
grauissima lues Sarracenorum (˜a terrible plague of Saracens™) who ravage Gaul
For an introduction to Bede™s life and times, see Hunter Blair, The World of Bede, especially
pp. 3“37, 184“94, 298“309, and Brown, Bede, the Venerable, pp. 1“23. On Benedict Biscop
and the foundation of Wearmouth-Jarrow, see, for example, Hunter Blair, The World of
Bede, pp. 155“83.
See Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History, pp. 236“40 and 235“8.
Bede, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 251“80, and Nomina locorum [CPL 1346a], CCSL 119,
Bede, De temporum ratione [CPL 2320]: ˜Sarraceni Siciliam inuadunt et praeda nimia se-
cum ablata mox Alexandriam redeunt™ (CCSL 123B, 527; cf. Liber Ponti¬calis I, 346); ˜Hic
constituit [Iustinianus] pacem cum Sarracenis decennio terra marique. Sed et prouincia

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

but quickly reap a just reward for their wickedness.32 This is usually taken
as a reference to the year 732 or 733 and Charles Martel™s victory against
the Arabs in the battle of Tours and Poitiers.33
Although the De temporum ratione and the Historia ecclesiastica mention the
Saracens, neither says anything about the origins or nature of the people.
Perhaps, by the time the Historia ecclesiastica was written (in about AD
731), Bede felt that no explanation of their origins was necessary. News
of the Saracen attacks in Europe arrived in England at the same time or
after the exegetical writings on Ismaelites and Saracens described above.
If Bede did not always connect the Saracens with the Ismaelites, nor did
he invariably connect the Ismaelites with the Saracens. In his De temporum
ratione, Bede does not even reproduce the common medieval de¬nition of
the Saracens as Ismaelites in the note on Ismael. He merely writes: ˜Abraham
an. LXXXVI genuit Ismahel, a quo Ismahelitae: genuit autem Ismahel XII
duces et uixit an. CXXXVII™.34 However, as will become clear, it is not
through Bede™s chronicles but through his earlier commentaries and other
biblical works that we learn most about the nature and characteristics of

Africa subiugata est Romano imperio, quae fuerat tenta a Sarracenis, ipsa quoque
Carthagine ab eis capta et destructa™ (CCSL 123B, 529; cf. Liber Ponti¬calis I, 366);
˜Sarraceni cum inmenso exercitu Constantinopolim uenientes triennio civitatem obsi-
dent . . .™ (CCSL 123B, 534; cf. Liber Ponti¬calis I, 402, where, however, the term bien-
nio describes the length of the siege); ˜Liudbrandus, audiens quod Sarraceni depopulata
Sardinia etiam loca fedarent ulla, ubi ossa sancti Augustini episcopi propter uastationem
barbarorum olim translata . . . misit et dato magno praetio accepit et transtulit ea in
Ticinis ibique cum debito tanto patri honore recondidit™ (CCSL 123B, 535). These com-
ments soon became known on the Continent: see the Historia Langobardorum composed in
the second half of the eighth century by Paulus Diaconus [CPL 1179], pp. 233“4, which
cites Bede twice on the Saracens.
Bede, Historia ecclesiastica, V. 23 (pp. 556“7).
The slight discrepancy in dates has been variously explained; for an overview, see
Kirby, ˜Bede™s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum: Its Contemporary Setting™, especially
pp. 906“7. Bede may have included the reference whilst revising the Historia ecclesias-
tica, as part of an optimistic ending which indicated that Christianity was victorious in
˜Abraham begat Ismael at the age of eighty-six, from whom descend the Ismaelites: and
Ismael begat twelve princes and lived one hundred and thirty-seven years™ (CCSL 123B,
470). A similar and equally bare statement appears in the De temporibus liber [CPL 2318]:
˜Abraham ann. C genuit Isaac. Nam primo genuit Ismahel, a quo Ismahelite™ (CCSL
123C, 603).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

the Saracens. Before later appreciation of his history of English Christianity,
Bede was best known as an exegete. In his writings on scripture, he selected,
retransmitted and in many cases developed the ideas of earlier exegetes on
the subjects of Arabia, the Arabs and the Saracens, drawing on the writings
of Pliny, Orosius, Jerome and Isidore among others. It seems appropriate
(given the history of commentary on the Saracens outlined above) to study
Bede™s representation of contemporary Saracens in the wider context of their
established exegetical and biblical signi¬cance and also in relation with the
Arabs and Arabia as described by previous authorities.

b e d e a n d o l d t e s ta m e n t a r a b i a
Bede™s methodical borrowing from earlier works, a habit by no means un-
usual in the Middle Ages, is commonly acknowledged.35 He himself asks
how readers could learn about the trees or aromatic herbs mentioned in
the Song of Songs and found in such distant places as Arabia and India
unless he made use of books by previous authorities.36 Frequently Bede
acknowledges his borrowings; discussing a tree of Arabia, Bede quotes an
interpretation from Jerome and cites his Liber interpretationis hebraicorum
nominum.37 He draws on Pliny™s Historia naturalis to describe a lunar eclipse
in Arabia and the colours of different varieties of onyx found there and in
other lands.38 Although much of Bede™s information on towns and regions
of Old Testament Arabia is taken from Jerome and Josephus, Orosius also
in¬‚uences his geography.39 His De locis sanctis derives almost entirely from
Adomn´ n™s work of the same name. Commenting on Genesis, Bede even
includes a line or two of Vergil on the subject of the Sabaeans and incense:
˜thurea uirga Sabaeis . . . centumque Sabeo / thure calent arae™. Here, though,
it is almost certain that Bede got his Vergil at second hand, since Jerome
quoted the same lines in his own commentaries and followed them with

Laistner, Thought and Letters, p. 268.
Bede, In Cantica Canticorum [CPL 1353], CCSL 119B, 180.
Bede, De tabernaculo [CPL 1345], CCSL 119A, 59, where he refers to Jerome™s de¬nitions
of the word settha or settim as spinae or spinarum (LHNom., CCSL 72, 77; 84; 88 and 101).
Bede, De natura rerum [CPL 1343], CCSL 123A, 215, and Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL
118A, 49“50.
Bede, Expositio actuum apostolorum [CPL 1357], CCSL 121, 167, which seems to be based
on Orosius, Historiae, I.ii.18 and 21.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

the same explanatory passage on the Hebrew spelling of ˜Saba™ which Bede
also cites verbatim.40
Much information on Old Testament Arabia is found in just two of Bede™s
works. The ¬rst is the Nomina regionum, which draws on Jerome, Orosius,
Adomn´ n and Isidore, and has been dated to some time between AD 709
and 715.41 The second work, the Nomina locorum, is a similar catalogue
composed a little later from the works of Jerome and Josephus.42 From
the Nomina regionum the reader learns that Arabia lies between the Arabian
and Persian gulfs and is the home of many peoples, including the Saracens.
Quoting Isidore, Bede adds that Arabia is supposed to mean ˜sacred™ because
it produces incense, and thus it is called beata.43 He notes that Damascus
is now occupied by Saracens and ruled by their king, Mauias.44 Syria has
the greatest provinces (Commagena, Phoenicia and Palestine) apart from
those of the Saracens and Nabateans, who number twelve peoples.45 More

Bede, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 144: ˜centumque Sabeo thure calent
arae . . . Filii Regma: Saba et Dedan. Hic saba per “sin” litteram scribitur, supra uero per
“samech”, a quo diximus appellatos Sabeos. Interpretatur ergo nunc Saba Arabia. Nam
in septuagesimo psalmo ubi nos habemus, “Reges Arabum et Saba munera offerent”, in
Hebreo scriptum est, “Reges Saba et Saba” “ primum nomen per “sin”, secundum per
“samech”, quae nostrae litterae similis est.™ Cf. LQHGen., CCSL 72, 12. See also Sutcliffe,
˜Bede™s Knowledge of Hebrew™, pp. 302“4.
Bede, Nomina regionum [CPL 1359], CCSL 121, 167“78; Laistner dates it to AD 709 or
a little after (CCSL 121, v).
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 273“87. Hurst comments brie¬‚y on the authorship of
this work and dates it to around AD 716 (CCSL 119, v).
Bede, Nomina regionum, CCSL 121, 167: ˜Arabia autem sacra interpretari dicitur eo quod
sit regio turifera odores creans; hinc eam Graeci eÉda©mon, nostri beatam uocauerunt™; cf.
Etym. XIV.iii.15.
Bede, Nomina regionum, CCSL 121, 171: ˜Damascus: nobilis urbs Foenicis quae et quondam
in omni Syria tenuit principatum et nunc Sarracenorum metropolis esse perhibetur, unde
et rex eorum Mauuias famosam in ea sibi suaeque genti basilicam dicauit . . .™ Bede
took the name Mauuias from Adomn´ n™s De locis sanctis but it also belonged to a Saracen
queen who converted to Christianity in the fourth century and was mentioned in the
writings of Socrates and Sozomen, among others (Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the
Fourth Century, pp. 138“202). Bede, too, mentions Manuia [sic] Saracenorum regina and
the conversion of her people in his Martyrologium [CPL 2032], PL 94, 838. Cf. Freculf
(bishop of Lisieux 823“51), Chronicon, PL 106, 1221.
Bede, Nomina regionum, CCSL 121, 176“7: ˜Syria . . . regio est inter ¬‚umen Eufraten et mare
magnum usque ad Aegyptum pertingens; habet maximas prouincias, Commagenam,
Foeniciam, et Palestinam absque Sarracenis et Nabatheis quorum gentes sunt duodecim™;
cf. Historiae, I.ii.24.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

information about the internal geography of Arabia and particularly its Old
Testament cities is given in the Nomina locorum. Asor was associated with
Kedar and was a city of the Ismaelites in the desert.46 Bede located Moab,
Petra and Rabbath in Arabia.47 To the south of Judaea, beyond Petra, he
described the Amalekites as dwellers in a desert region.48 Judaea™s border
with Arabia was represented by the Jordan.49 Madian was located super
Arabiam and lay between Mount Sinai and the desertum Sarracenorum.50
Bede refers more than once to the Saracen desert, and links it with Ismael
in a comment that the region of Kedar lies there and is named after a son of
Ismael.51 It is not entirely clear from these two works alone where exactly
the ˜heremo Sarracenorum™ is located. However, it should be borne in mind
that the Nomina locorum and Nomina regionum were intended as aids to biblical
study. The book of Genesis states clearly that Ismael lived in the desert of
Paran.52 In other books of the Old Testament Paran is often referred to using
words such as desertum or solitudine.53 According to Genesis, the homeland
of Ismael™s descendants stretched from Havilah as far as Shur across the
north of Arabia.54 However, commentators on the Bible frequently located
the Saracens (as Ismaelites) in Paran too.55
Bede discusses the desert of Paran twice in connection with the Saracens.
In his fullest explanation of the word, he strongly associates the two. The
Bede, Nomina locorum: ˜Asor . . . metropolim Ismahelitarum in deserto Hieremias™ (CCSL
119, 273).
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 283“4. Bede also describes Petra as an Arabian town
lying in Edom (In libros Regum quaestiones xxx [CPL 1347], CCSL 119, 314).
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 48.
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 282: ˜Iordanes ¬‚uuius . . . diuidens Iudaeam Arabiam
et Aulonem atque usque ad mare mortuum ¬‚uens™. Bede also knew Adomn´ n™s statement
that from one bank of the Jordan a man could throw a stone over the river into Arabia
(Adomn´ n, De locis sanctis, CCSL 175, 213).
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 277: ˜Choreb qui et Sinai mons Dei in regione Madian
super Arabiam in deserto cui iungitur mons et desertum Sarracenorum™. Cf. Bede, Nomina
regionum, CCSL 121, 176: ˜Sina: mons in regione Madian super Arabiam in deserto qui
alio nomine Choreb appellatur™.
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 277: ˜Cedar regio in heremo Sarracenorum a ¬lio
Ismahelis Cedar ita cognominata™.
Gen. XXI.21 and Num. X.12.
Paran is described as a desert at Gen. XIV.6; Num. XIII.1, 4 and 27, and I Kings XXV.1.
Gen. XXV.18, I Kings XV.7 and XXVII.8. See Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographie des
alten Orients, pp. 555“7 and p. 555, n. 5.
See Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 112“13 and 233“4.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

name Faran alone, he writes, has come to mean a town across Arabia,
right against the southern regions, adjoining the Saracens who wander
in the desert; by contrast, the phrase deserto Faran identi¬es the region
which scripture describes as the dwelling-place of Ismael, from whom are
descended the Ismaelites and Saracens: ˜Faran nunc oppidum trans Arabiam
iunctum Sarracenis qui in solitudine uagi errant . . . In deserto autem Faran
scriptura commemorat habitasse Ismahelem unde et Ismahelitae qui nunc
Sarraceni™.56 Elsewhere, Bede states explicitly that the Saracen desert is
known as Paran.57 Other references indicate that the desert of the Saracens
is not, however, strictly con¬ned to Paran, but occupies a more loosely
de¬ned area in or very near the Sinai peninsula. A Saracen desert, located
contra Orientem Rubri maris in Arabia, is described as home to the Midianites
in Bede™s commentary on Habakkuk.58 In his commentary on Genesis Bede
quotes Jerome on the Saracens: ˜in eremo . . . Qui uniuersas gentes quibus
desertum ex latere iungitur incursant™ (˜in the waste . . . who invade all
the peoples bordered by the desert™), and in the same work he accompanies
Jerome™s explanation of the biblical deserts of Kadesh and Shur in the
north-west of Arabia and the Sinai peninsula with the phrase Sarracenorum
Jerome is also an important source for Bede on the Christian signi¬-
cance of the Saracens and their homeland. Bede™s commentary on Genesis,
the fourth book of which was composed probably between AD 725 and
731,60 contains a rare acknowledgement (already cited in the Introduction
above) of the fact that on occasion Jerome might be somewhat out of date.
Taking up the prophecy of the angel concerning Ismael, Bede begins with
the words, ˜Signi¬cat semen eius habitaturum in eremo, id est Saracenos
uagos, incertisque sedibus. Qui uniuersas gentes quibus desertum ex latere
iungitur incursant, et expugnantur ab omnibus.™ So far this is excerpted

Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 278. See also his In primam partem Samuhelis [CPL 1346],
CCSL 119, 231.
Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 277: ˜desertum Sarracenorum quod uocatur Faran™.
Bede, Commentarius in Habacuc [CPL 1354], CCSL 119B, 392: ˜Madianitarum autem gens
ab uno ¬liorum Abraham ex Cethura, qui uocabatur Madian, originem duxit, et est in
deserto Sarracenorum contra Orientem rubri maris in Arabia™.
Bede, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 232.
See Jones, CCSL 118A, viii; on p. ix he also notes that Bede™s Commentarius in Genesim is
conventionally dated to 720.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

directly, almost exactly verbatim, from Jerome™s commentary on the same
subject.61 However, Bede then continues:
Sed haec antiquitus. Nunc autem in tantum manus eius contra omnes, et manus
sunt omnium contra eum, ut Africam totam in longitudine sua ditione premant,
sed et Asiae maximam partem, et Europae nonnullam omnibus exosi et contrarii
teneant. Quod autem dicit, ˜Figet tabernacula™, morem gentis antiquum ostendit,
quae in tabernaculis semper, non in domibus, habitare solebant.62

This passage is certainly the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon description of
the Arab conquests.63 It is also a correction, or rather updating, of Jerome.
Bede had probably gathered from the writings of Jerome that by the time
the Vita S. Hilarionis was written, some Saracens at least were not nomads
living in tents but inhabited desert towns such as Elusa. The De locis sanctis
of Adomn´ n, which Bede certainly knew in its entirety, makes the more
forceful point that, by the late seventh century, Saracens were occupying
previously Christian cities such as Jerusalem and Damascus. In the passage
above, the phrases Sed haec antiquitus, nunc autem in tantum and morem gentis
antiquum ostendit test the links between the Saracens of Bede™s day and their
ancient ancestor Ismael: some things had changed, in that the Saracens no
longer wandered in the desert and were no longer accustomed to dwell in
tents rather than in buildings; some had not, in that the Saracens were ful-
¬lling absolutely the words of the angel concerning Ismael™s aggression. The
seventh-century Arabs represented by Bede did not escape Jerome™s earlier
identi¬cation of the northern Arabian population as Ismaelite Saracens.64

Jerome, LQHGen., CCSL 72, 20“1.
˜But this is how things used to be. Now, however, to such an extent is “his hand against
everyone and everyone™s hand against him” that they oppress the whole length of Africa
under their authority and, moreover, inimical and full of hate towards everybody, they
hold most of Asia and a considerable part of Europe. As for why it says “will raise [his]
tents”, though, it indicates the ancient custom of the people, because they always used
to live in tents rather than in houses™ (Bede, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 201).
According to Jones: ˜The reference to the Saracens . . . suggests a date after 721™ (CCSL
118A, ix“x).
Cf. Bonner: ˜[Bede] accepts the tradition and merely brings it up to date™ (˜Bede and
Medieval Civilisation™, p. 73). See also Southern™s suggestion that Bede was the chief
disseminator of the link between Saracens and Ismaelites (Western Views of Islam, p. 17),
and the comments by Jones in his preface to Bede™s Commentarius in Genesim (CCSL 118A,
ix, n. 19). I would add that the tradition mentioned by Bonner consisted of writings

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Although Jerome supplied the initial identi¬cation of Saracens with
Ismaelites, Bede elaborated on the spiritual signi¬cance of the identi¬cation.
In the fourth book of his commentary on Samuel, composed c. AD 716, Bede
Narrat enim scriptura Ismahelem a quo genus duxere Sarraceni in deserto Faran
habitasse illum uidelicet de quo dictum est: ˜Eice ancillam et ¬lium eius, non enim
heres erit ¬lius ancillae cum ¬lio liberae™. Cuius uicinitatem turbulentam horrescens
¬lius liberae, id est populus spiritali gratia renouatus, queritur dicens, ˜Heu me
quod incolatus meus prolongatus est, habitaui cum habitantibus Cedar™, et cetera
usque ad ¬nem psalmi quae Sarracenos specialiter aduersarios ecclesiae cunctos gen-
eraliter describunt. Sed ut etiam de ancillae ¬liis, id est de huic saeculo seruientibus
populis, Christus ad libertatem uocaret hosque secundum Isaac promissionis ef¬-
ceret ¬lios fugatus a superbis Iudaeis descendit in desertum Faran, hoc est humiliata
gentilium corda suae gratia pietatis infudit.65
This is a dense and allusive passage. The immediate signi¬cance is that
Ismael (ancestor of the Saracens) and his mother represent the non-Christians
of the world. The ¬rst proponent of this allegory, minus the Saracens, was
Paul in his letter to the Galatians,66 and it was expounded further by Jerome
and other biblical commentators.67 In this version, Bede introduces David,

which, as well as informing later comments on Islam, were themselves current during
the medieval period, and indeed served as the chief in¬‚uence on medieval thought on the
subject of Saracens and Ismaelites.
˜For scripture proclaims [Hagar] to have led Ismael (from whom came the race of the
Saracens) to the desert of Paran and to have lived there “ namely, he of whom it is
said: “Cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the servant shall not be heir
with the son of the free.” At whose troubling proximity the son of the free (that is,
the population renewed in spiritual grace), shuddering, complains, saying: “Woe is me
that my sojourning is prolonged! I have dwelt with the inhabitants of Kedar”, and the
other [comments] until the end of the psalm which in general describe all the Saracens
particularly as enemies of the church. But as, with regard to the son of the slavewoman
(that is, the people serving this worldly age), Christ would call them too to liberty and
would make them the sons of the promise according to Isaac, having ¬‚ed the arrogant
Jews he went down into the desert of Paran; that is, he ¬lled the hearts of the gentiles with
humility and the grace of his piety™ (Bede, In primam partem Samuhelis, CCSL 119, 231).
The citation is from Ps. CXIX.5“7: ˜Heu mihi, quia incolatus meus prolongatus est!
Habitaui cum habitantibus Cedar. Multum incola fuit anima mea. Cum his qui oderunt
pacem eram paci¬cus; cum loquebar illis, impugnabant me gratis.™
Galat. IV.22“31.
For example, see Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, CCSL 40, 1783“5, and Jerome, In
epistulas Paulinas, PL 26, 391“3.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

a type of both Christ and Christians, whose extended stay with the peace-
hating inhabitants of Kedar is at ¬rst employed as a further allegory of the
Christian community™s distressing encounter with Ismael. This allusion to
Ps. CXIX both gestures towards the Saracens again “ Kedar was a son of
Ismael “ and recalls Bede™s sentiment elsewhere that ˜inter insidias hostium
peregrinamur in terris™.68
In this case, the enemy is explicitly stated to be the Saracens. However,
they are inextricably associated here as elsewhere with Ismael, son of the
slavewoman, and the inhabitants of Kedar and Paran.69 All these could also
reasonably be glossed huius saeculi and gentiles in this context: they are in
worldly servitude and can win manumission and spiritual irrigation through
Christ, signi¬ed by David. The terms gentiles and huius saeculi occur more
than once in other works by Bede to describe opposition to the church.70 The
desert near Egypt, as part of a spiritual landscape, represents the wanderings
and barrenness of the earthly life in which the soul is a traveller.71 Thus,
Bede coordinates various associations and interpretations of Ismael, Kedar
˜. . . we are strangers on earth among the snares of the enemy™ (Homiliae [CPL 1367],
CCSL 122, 263). The idea of the Christian soul as a traveller away from God also derives
ultimately from St Paul and is repeated by Bede throughout his exegetical and homiletic
writings; see, for example, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 210; De templo [CPL
1348], CCSL 119A, 185; In Ezram et Neemiam [CPL 1349], CCSL 119A, 268 (which
cites Paul by name); In Cantica Canticorum, CCSL 119B, 216 and 260; and Homiliae [CPL
1367], CCSL 122, 275. The image was not con¬ned to the exegesis of Bede; cf. Jerome,
Tractatus in psalmos, CCSL 78, 256, and Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum, CCSL 98, 1143.
Bede interpreted Faran as ˜onager siue frugifer aut ferocitas eorum™ (˜wild ass or fruitful or
their ferocity™), the last of which seemed to him particularly appropriate ˜propter incolas
diros ac feroces Faran™ (CCSL 119, 810).
For example: ˜Hoc effugii genus hodieque seruatur in ecclesia quando quis antiqui hostis
insidiis uel huius saeculi laqueis circumfusus spei ¬deique suae munimine saluabitur™
(Expositio actuum apostolorum, CCSL 121, 45) and ˜Sed saepe contingit tot ac tantas inter se
hostes ecclesiae, hereticos dico uel gentiles . . . Iudaei gentiles et heretici cum sint hostes
ecclesiae cuncti alterutrum se singuli uerbi gladio feriunt™ (In primam partem Samuhelis,
CCSL 119, 117“18).
Bede, In Ezram et Neemiam, CCSL 119A, 267: ˜Egressi enim sumus . . . de Aegyptia
seruitute ut ueniremus ad terram repromissionis . . . Manebamus in tabernaculis et ten-
toriis per desertum longo tempore iter agentes donec ueniremus ad patriam cum in
baptismo renuntiantes non solum satanae quasi regi Aegypti, id est tenebrarum, sed et
omnibus pompis eius atque operibus huius saeculi uelut peregrinos nos in hoc mundo
ac uiatores alterius autem uitae quam a domino speraremus ciues esse promisimus™. See,
similarly, De tabernaculo, CCSL 119A, 85. The same theme is taken up in the Old English
poem The Seafarer [Cameron A3.9], ed. Krapp and Dobbie, in which, as McPherson

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

and Paran on a literal and an allegorical level and with reference to both
the Old and New Testaments. His explanation introduced into Latinate
exegetical thought the idea that the Christian population endured among
Saracens who were simultaneously the temporal and spiritual enemies of
the church.
In primam partem Samuhelis was not so broadly disseminated during the
early medieval period as other commentaries by Bede.72 However, some
of the identi¬cations and interpretations brought together in the above
passage can be found in a more diffuse form elsewhere in his writings. As
noted above, Bede linked the desert of Paran with the Saracens at various
points. He had also already explained in his commentary on Genesis that
Ismael and his mother signi¬ed the Old Testament, schisms and heresies,
and would rightly be discarded in favour of the new covenant of Christ
as represented by Isaac.73 Kedar, the son of Ismael, reappears in Bede™s
works several times. He refers to Ps. CXIX and Gen. XVI.12 on Kedar and
Ismael respectively to help explain the meaning of the lines ˜nigra sum sed
formosa . . . sicut tabernacula Cedar, sicut pelles Salomonis™ at Songs I.5.74
His characteristic blend of biblical and contemporary information is again
Cedar Ismahelis fuit ¬lius de quo dictum est: ˜Manus eius contra omnes, et
manus omnium contra eum.™ Cuius praesagii ueritatem et exosa omnibus hodie
Sarracenorum qui ab eo orti sunt natio probat et psalmista angoribus obsessus ad-
¬rmat cum ait: ˜Habitaui cum habitantibus Cedar multum incola fuit anima mea
cum his qui oderunt pacem eram paci¬cus™; neque enim Dauid aliquid odiorum ab
Ismahelitis pertulisse legitur sed uolens exaggerare mala quae patiebatur a Saule

has indicated, the ocean also ful¬ls the function of the eremitic desert (˜The Sea a
Desert™, pp. 116“17). On medieval western perceptions of the Saracen desert, Rotter con-
cludes, ˜Aus der Wuste kommt nicht Gutes; die Sarazenen personi¬zieren diesen Befund™
(p. 113). The desert could also be a place in which to seek spiritual enlightenment.
This idea was in¬‚uential in the early Anglo-Saxon period but over time saintliness seems
to have become associated with a cenobitic lifestyle. See Clayton, ˜Hermits™, especially
pp. 147“51 and 167. See also Rollinson, ˜The In¬‚uence of Christian Doctrine™, pp. 280“1.
Bede™s commentary on the book of Samuel is known in only eight manuscripts, compared
with over 950 manuscripts throughout Europe representing Bede™s other exegetical works,
˜perhaps because his extreme use of the allegorical method in this commentary proved
distasteful™ (Hunter Blair, The World of Bede, p. 299).
Bede, Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 209 and 239“42.
Songs I.5: ˜I am dark but beautiful . . . like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

uel ceteris aduersariis eius se gentis improbitate uexari questus est quae cum nullo
hominum aliquando pacem habere curabat. At contra Salomon et nomine erat et
uita paci¬cus.75
In Cantica canticorum is of uncertain date. Since it appears in the list of books
at the end of Historia ecclesiastica, it can be assumed to have been composed
before 731.76 Its pointed hostility towards the Saracens and emphasis on
their aggressive nature could be seen as another reason to group it tentatively
with those works written by Bede after the year 711 and the Arab invasion
of Spain.77 The commentary on the phrase nigra sum sed formosa continues,
and Bede establishes that Kedar and its tents, and, by implication, the
Saracens, signify literally the dark side of the church:
Et notandum quod Cedar ipso iam nomine quod tenebras sonat uel peruersos
homines uel immundos spiritus insinuat sicut Salomon quoque qui interpretatur
paci¬cus etiam mysterio nominis ipsum indicat . . . Quidam hanc sententiam ita
legentes: ˜Nigra sum et formosa™, dicunt quod ecclesia nigra sit in carnalibus suis
uel falsis fratribus ˜sicut tabernacula Cedar™ formosa autem in spiritalibus ˜sicut
pelles Salomonis™.78

˜Kedar was a son of Ismael, of whom it is said: “his hand shall be against all, and
the hands of all against him”, the truth of which presentiment is demonstrated today by
the nation of the Saracens, hateful towards all, which sprang from him; and is asserted by
the psalmist, beset by troubles, when he says: “I have dwelt with the inhabitants of Kedar;
my soul hath long been a sojourner; with them that hate peace I was peaceable”. Nor
do we read that David suffered any hatred from the Ismaelites, but, wishing to magnify
the ills he endured at the hands of Saul or other of his enemies, he bemoaned himself
as harassed by the wickedness of a people that cared never a whit to have peace with
anyone. But Solomon was peaceful both in name and life™ (Bede, In Cantica Canticorum,
CCSL 119B, 195). This description of the Saracens or inhabitants of Kedar, ˜cum nullo
hominum aliquando pacem habere curabat™, recalls in tone if not its exact wording that
of the Canterbury commentator, ˜numquam cum omnibus pacem habentes sed semper
contra aliquos certantes™. It is possible that both Bede and the Canterbury commentator
also had Ps. CIX in mind when they wrote about the Saracen disregard for peace.
In the preface to CCSL 119B, Hurst estimates it perhaps to have been composed in
Wallace-Hadrill, ˜Bede™s Europe™, p. 78. On his argument, see below, p. 137.
˜And it is to be noted that “Kedar”, now, by that very name, since it means “shadows”, ar-
rives at the meaning of either perverse men or unclean spirits, just as “Solomon” too,
which is interpreted “peaceful”, even signals the same thing by the mystery of the
name . . . Some, reading this verse thus: “I am dark and beautiful”, say that the church
is as black in its worldly or false brethren “as the tents of Kedar”, but beautiful in the
spiritual “as the curtains of Solomon”™ (In Cantica Canticorum, CCSL 119B, 195“6).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

The interpretation of Cedar as ˜shadows™ comes from Jerome, but was used
by other exegetes whose works were also known to Bede.79 He extends the
interpretation to signify wickedness, and contrasts it with Salomon, meaning
˜peaceful™.80 The idea is repeated in De tabernaculo, probably written in
AD 720“5, where Bede explains the inhabitants of Kedar as ˜his qui in
tenebris errorum ac scelerum uersantur quod uocabulum Cedar sonat™.81
Both etymologically and allegorically, the meaning of Cedar is unfavourably
compared with that of the true Christian, and Kedar, son of Ismael, emerges
in opposition to the church just as the Saracens and Ismael did in Bede™s
commentary on Samuel cited above.
Throughout Bede™s exegetical works, the Saracens occupy the same ide-
ological space as the erring, the worldly and the gentiles in opposition to
the spiritual Christian fraternity; in short, as enemies of his church they
enjoy the company of Jews, Philistines, heretics and the devil.82 Following
Jerome, Bede too describes them as idolaters, explaining: ˜sidus Remphan,
id est facturae uestrae . . . Signi¬cat autem Luciferum, cuius cultu Sarra-
cenorum gens ob honorem Veneris erat mancipata™.83 Rotter suggests that
if a Christian reader here associated Lucifer with the devil he might have

Cf. Jerome on Ps. 119 (Tractatus in psalmos, CCSL 78, 256): ˜Cedar in lingua nostra
interpretatur tenebrae . . . Diu fui in tenebris, diu uixi in tenebris, diu fui in corpore
mortis huius™. See also Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, CCSL 150, 1783“4, and Gregory,
Homiliae ii in Canticum Canticorum, CCSL 144, 36.
Cf. Jerome: ˜Salomon paci¬cus siue pacatus erit™ and ˜Salomon paci¬cus™ (LHNom., CCSL
72, 138 and 148).
˜. . . they who turn to the shadows of error and wickedness, which is what the word
“Kedar” signi¬es™ (CCSL 119A, 137). On the dating of the De tabernaculo, see Plummer,
Venerabilis Baedae Historia ecclesiastica, p. cl.
For example, describing the community of the faithful: ˜renuntiantes non solum
satanae . . . sed et omnibus pompis eius atque operibus huius saeculi™ (Bede, In Ezram
et Neemiam, CCSL 119A, 267); also ˜de abysso, id est de cordibus impiorum, diabolus et
hereticorum trahens agmina secum pugnare coepit aduersus ecclesiam Christi™ (In primam
partem Samuhelis, CCSL 119, 93) and, on the Philistines: ˜Et usque hodie spiritus immundi
aduersus ecclesiam certantes stant superbo tumore elati . . . Philisthiim namque peruersos
non minus homines quam angelos ¬gurant uno eidemque diaboli regno militantes™ (In
primam partem Samuhelis, CCSL 119, 146).
˜. . . the star Remphan, that is, your created [idols] . . . means, then, Lucifer, to whose
cult the people of the Saracens were attached on account of their worship of Venus™ (Bede,
Expositio actuum apostolorum, CCSL 121, 36). He is expanding upon the apostle Stephen™s
speech at Acts VII.43.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

concluded that the Saracens worshipped Satan.84 The connection is tenuous
but interesting. Bede himself writes that the name of the king of Damascus
is Aretas (described in the Old Testament as a king of the Arabs).85 He then
glosses Damascus as sanguinem bibens and Aretas as descensio, and explains that
the city represents the adversities of this world, while the king represents
the devil.86 The connection between Aretas and the Saracen deity of Lucifer
is weak. However, in that the Saracens inhabit Damascus and are enemies of
the church, and Aretas, representing the devil, rules Damascus, there exists
a tentative association between the Saracens and the devil on an allegorical
This association is not found in the works of Jerome, except insofar as
a medieval reader might have misinterpreted ˜Lucifer™ as Satan rather than
the evening star. Rotter acknowledges that an older, biblical image of ˜pa-
gan Arabia™ might have in¬‚uenced the shaping of a later image of ˜pagan
Saracens™ but he suggests that Bede introduced something quite new into
medieval thought with the possibility of Saracens as devil-worshippers.87
Bede™s allegorisation of the Arab king Aretas as the devil certainly ap-
pears to be original,88 as would be the possibility of a devil-king having
Saracen subjects, had Bede left any substantial evidence to connect the
two.89 However, concerning the link between the Saracens and Lucifer as,
possibly, the devil, all the information given by Bede is already contained in
84 85
See Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 248“9. II Macc. V.8.
Bede, Expositio actuum apostolorum, CCSL 121, 45, in which he allegorises the descent of Saul
in a basket from the walls of Damascus as follows: ˜Murus enim Damasci, quae sanguinem
bibens interpretatur, aduersitas saeculi est, rex Areta, qui interpretatur descensio, diabolus
intellegitur, sporta, quae iuncis palmisque solet con¬ci, ¬dei speique coniunctionem
designat™. Jerome also mentions the king in the phrase Damascus (cui imperabat Areta) (In
Isaiam, CCSL 73, 184).
Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 246“8. He simultaneously concedes that only by
error or lack of education could a medieval reader have assumed from Bede™s writings that
the Saracens were devil-worshippers.
However, even this allegory may be implicit in Jerome. His LHNom. contains the glosses
descensio and descendens for Areta and Arad and also a gloss de¬‚uens for diabolus; CCSL 72,
135. One might speculate that Bede con¬‚ated the similar meanings of descendo and de¬‚uo
to associate Areta with diabolus. This cannot be proven, but given Bede™s reliance on
Jerome™s glosses as demonstrated above, it is an attractive theory.
Aretas was king of Damascus, which, according to Bede™s Nomina regionum (CCSL
121, 71) and his version of Adomn´ n™s De locis sanctis (CCSL 175, 220), was ruled by
a Saracen king in the late seventh century. Aretas was also known as a king of Arabia

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Jerome™s commentaries. Rotter brie¬‚y notes one of Jerome™s glosses of the
name ˜Rafam™ and the description in the Vita S. Hilarionis of the Saracens
of Elusa and their stone-cult of Venus, but he does not appear to consider
Jerome as a source for Bede on the meaning of ˜Aretas™ or ˜Damascus™ or
even on the more general subject of Saracen Venus-worship.90 Yet, in a
commentary on the same passage of Amos to which Stephen and Bede refer,
Jerome had already written that sidus dei uestri and facturae uestrae referred
to Lucifer in precisely the context of the Saracen adoration of the star.91
Jerome had also identi¬ed Lucifer with Venus in the Vita S. Hilarionis, and
had elsewhere glossed the Hebrew name of the star (Rafam, Refan) as factura
nostra and facturae nostrae,92 the name of the city (Damascus) as sanguinem
bibens93 and the name of the king (Areta) as descensio.94 The styling of Aretas
as king of Damascus is also found in Jerome.95 Although these elements
are scattered among Jerome™s works, Bede was accustomed to con¬‚ate data
from different books and authors.96 It might also be noted that Bede had
little understanding of Hebrew and his de¬nitions of the names Remphan
and Aretas imitate Jerome™s very similar glosses.97 Further, although Bede
clearly rewrote his source material, there remains a recognisable echo of the

(II Macc. V.8). However, Bede, following Adomn´ n, names the Saracen king Mauuias,
not Aretas, and it seems unlikely that he meant to identify the Saracens as Arabs.
Rotter (Abendland und Sarazenen, pp. 247“8 and n. 89) suggests that Bede followed Pliny
in identifying Venus with Lucifer, and borrowed only Jerome™s gloss of Rafam as ˜facturae
nostrae uel laxitati eorum™ (LHNom., CCSL 72, 148). ˜Der Rest ist demnach einwandfrei
Bedas Zutat™ (Abendland und Sarazenen, p. 248).
Jerome, In prophetas minores, CCSL 76, 296.
The phrase appears slightly differently elsewhere: ˜Refan, factura nostra, uel reliquies
nostra™ (LHNom., CCSL 72, 123).
Jerome, LHNom., CCSL 72, 110: ˜Damascus sanguinem bibens uel propinans™; see CCSL
72, 64 and 145 for further similar de¬nitions.
Jerome, LHNom., CCSL 72, 154: ˜Areta stupor uel descensio™. Note also the similar gloss
of Arad or Arrad in the same work: descendens (p. 62), descendi and ˜suscitauit descen-
dens uel suscitauit descensionem™ (p. 78) and ˜consurrectio descensionis aut testimonium
descendens™ (p. 98).
Jerome, In Isaiam, CCSL 73, 184.
For example, Orosius with Isidore, or Jerome with Adomn´ n, on the subjects of Arabia
and the city of Damascus respectively; see above, pp. 125 and 135, n. 89.
See Sutcliffe, ˜Bede™s Knowledge of Hebrew™, pp. 303“6, and Hunter Blair, The World of
Bede, pp. 233“4.

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

wording employed by Jerome in his Vita Hilarionis.98 It seems very likely
that Jerome™s writings inspired Bede™s account of Venus as the Saracen
Wallace-Hadrill proposes that Bede™s perception of the Saracens and their
religion changed during the early eighth century. He bases this argument on
what he sees as a shift from a ˜neutral™ view in Bede™s early work De locis sanctis
(composed between 702 and 709) to the later comments on Saracen Venus-
worship, along with other hostile references.99 Wallace-Hadrill suggests
that Bede™s initial detachment towards the Saracens changed to hostility
as a result of the Arab invasion of Spain and raids into Aquitaine.100 This
is a reasonable deduction, but any accurate re¬‚ection in his writings of an
alteration in Bede™s attitude towards the Saracens over time is compromised
by the fact that he cited his sources almost verbatim on the topic. The only
change which Bede made to Adomn´ n™s account of the Saracens in the Holy
Land was to add the phrase qui nostra aetate fuit to his description of the
caliph, which, given the negative connotations of similar phrases elsewhere
in the works of Bede, is not an expression of neutrality.101 It is also hard to
see how Bede could feel any detachment towards Islam, given that he must
have read a number of hostile comments on the Saracens by Jerome and
other authorities well before undertaking the composition of his De locis
sanctis at the beginning of the eighth century and the De temporum ratione in
about 725.102
Bede™s works are signi¬cant in the history of English (and western) per-
ceptions of Islam because of his reworking and updating of Jerome™s earlier
comments. Merely in terms of making exegetical information on the sub-
ject of the Saracens available to a yet wider audience, Bede reproduced
much of what Jerome had already written. More interestingly for the role
and signi¬cance of the Saracens in Christian history, Bede identi¬ed the
Muslims of his own day with the Ismaelites of the Old Testament, using
Jerome™s descriptions of the fourth-century Arab nomads as a model. A
Jerome has ˜Colunt autem illam [sc. Venus] ob Luciferum, cuius cultui Saracenorum natio
dedita est™ (Vita Hilarionis, PL 23, 41), while Bede reverses the relationship between Venus
and Lucifer in very similar words: ˜Signi¬cat autem Luciferum, cuius cultu Sarracenorum
gens ob honorem Veneris erat mancipata™ (Expositio actuum apostolorum, CCSL 121, 36).
Wallace-Hadrill, ˜Bede™s Europe™, pp. 77“8.
100 101
˜Bede™s Europe™, pp. 78“9 and 83. See above, nn. 82 and 86.
Jones, CCSL 123B, 241; Hunter Blair, The World of Bede, p. 4.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

certain ambiguity in his phrasing meant that his comments, like Jerome™s,
suggested that the Bible itself taught that the Saracens were Ismaelites.103
Bede™s exegetical treatment of the Saracens was not simply a typological
interpretation which presented the actions of the Ismaelites as a historical
forerunner of the Muslim conquests. His descriptions dealt with the unal-
terable spiritual nature of Ismael and its continuing manifestation in the
people of the Saracens. Multiple orders of meaning were involved. On one
level, Saraceni was a word signifying a contemporary people, the Saracens,
and Ismaelitae was a word indicating an Arabian tribe mentioned in the
Old Testament. Examples of each used without reference to the other can
be found in the works of both Jerome and Bede. Etymology indicated a
connection between the names Saraceni and Sara, and between Ismael and
Ismaelitae. The story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ismael provided an an-
cient historical link between these names which touched on a sensitive area
in Christian analyses of the Old Testament and de¬nitions of self. According
to the theory whereby the Ismaelites were ashamed of their birth and the
name Saraceni was derived from Sara, the Ismaelites were thought to have
altered their name to Saraceni. As a contemporary phenomenon, the Saraceni
had conquered Christian lands and caused a rupture in the smooth progress
of Christian history. On an allegorical level, the Ismaelites of the Old Tes-
tament signi¬ed all those who opposed the church and were cast out into
the desert, the inimical wanderers of a dark spiritual wasteland. Over cen-
turies of Christian thought, these various elements were linked together to
create a well-de¬ned and religiously inspired image of the Saracens. Bede™s
chief contribution to the history of western perceptions of Islam was to
present the Muslim conquerors of the seventh century as a living verse of
the Old Testament. The Jews were the only other potential candidates for
such an incarnation of the spirit of Ismael. They had also for some time
been consigned to a spiritual space in opposition to Christianity, but in
the eighth century their continuing existence did not command the same
alarmed attention as the Saracen military success.
The identi¬cation of Saracens as Ismaelites and of Muslims as Saracens
were successive stages in a long tradition according to which Saraceni,

For example: ˜In deserto autem Faran scriptura commemorat habitasse Ismahelem unde
et Ismahelitae qui nunc Sarraceni™ (Bede, Nomina locorum, CCSL 119, 278) and ˜Narrat
enim scriptura Ismahelem a quo genus duxere Sarraceni in deserto Faran habitasse™ (Bede,
In primam partem Samuhelis, CCSL 119, 231).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in early Anglo-Latin

however they manifested themselves, could be assimilated within the terms
of Christian history. In the West, such assimilation began as an abstract,
highly literate process, involving detailed analysis of the Bible. The Muslims
were realised as Ismaelites in a far more concrete manner in an eastern work
known as the Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius. The propagation throughout
the West of texts which drew on this eastern apocalypse disseminated fur-
ther ideas about the Saracens which extended, but did not contradict, the
notions described above. The Mesopotamian author of the work referred to
the Muslims throughout as ˜sons of Ismael™ and thus located them within
exactly the Old Testament context that had already become widely familiar
in the West. It is to the Latin recensions of this text which were known in
Anglo-Saxon England that we now turn.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

Three manuscripts from the end of the Anglo-Saxon period contain ver-
sions of the work known as the Reuelationes of pseudo-Methodius. Salisbury,
Cathedral Library, 165, 11r“20v, contains a copy of an early and lengthy
recension.1 Another, later recension, constituting an abbreviation of the
earlier text, is represented in London, British Library, Royal 5.F.xviii, 29v“
32v.2 A recent study of Salisbury manuscripts indicates that the folios
of Royal 5.F.xviii which contain Reuel.2 date from the late eleventh cen-
tury and were copied in Salisbury at about the same time as the copy of
Reuel.1 contained in Salisbury 165.3 Another example of Reuel.2 known in
The text of the Reuelationes contained in the Salisbury manuscript is referred to below as
Salisbury 165; the ¬rst recension of the Latin Reuelationes, of which it is an example, is
referred to generally as Reuel.1 or ˜the ¬rst Latin recension™. Salisbury 165 is not collated
in any edition. However, it is clearly an example of the ¬rst recension of the Latin text
as edited by Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte, pp. 59“96. In his introduction, Sackur notes the
existence of many such corrupt later copies of the ¬rst recension of the Reuelationes; he
bases his edition on early manuscripts and one ¬fteenth-century edition (pp. 57“8). Even
these display faulty Latin, which remains uncorrected in Sackur™s edition (p. 59). Webber
indicates that the scribe who copied Salisbury 165 worked in Salisbury in ˜Group I™, whose
activities Webber dates to the end of the eleventh century (Scribes and Scholars at Salisbury,
pp. 15“16 and 153, n. 48 (scribe xii, Group I copied the relevant folios). Twomey (˜Ps
Methodius: Revelationes™, p. 33) erroneously describes Salisbury 165 as an example of the
second recension.
Referred to below as Royal 5.F.xviii; the recension of which it is an example is referred to
as Reuel.2 or ˜the second Latin recension™. Readings from this manuscript are collated in
the edition of the second recension of the Reuelationes by Prinz, ˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische
Aktualisierung™, pp. 6“17.
Webber, Scribes and Scholars at Salisbury, pp. 13 and 159, n. 5 (scribe ii from Group I copied
the relevant folios).

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

Anglo-Saxon England is found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 163
(Bodley 163). The text is contained in part of the manuscript which prob-
ably dates from the late eleventh century.4
The ultimate source of the Reuelationes was composed in Syriac in the
seventh century, and purported to be an account by an early fourth-century
bishop, Methodius of Olympus, of the ages of the world and the succession
of earthly kingdoms up until the Day of Judgement. The Syriac original
was in fact most probably composed in northern Mesopotamia more than
three hundred years later, during the second half of the seventh century, and
its author is therefore referred to as pseudo-Methodius.5 The Apocalypse of
pseudo-Methodius, as his work is often known, proved popular and gave rise
to multiple Greek, Latin and vernacular translations and revisions. In the
present discussion, the phrase ˜the pseudo-Methodian tradition™ embraces
the original Syriac apocalypse along with all subsequent derivations. Of
these the various medieval Latin versions are collectively termed the Reue-
lationes. The original source is referred to below as the Syriac Apocalypse and
its earliest translation into Greek as the Greek Apocalypse.
Pseudo-Methodius modi¬ed an established genre in order to explain
the new situation facing Christian Mesopotamia in the seventh century.
He combined events and prophesies described in the Old Testament with
his own account of the Islamic conquests in order to explain the Muslim
successes as the will of a Christian God, assert the invincibility of the
Byzantine empire and show that world history was moving rapidly towards

See Lapidge, ˜Surviving Booklists™, pp. 149“50, and d™Evelyn, ˜The Middle English
Metrical Version™, p. 192; she collates variants from Bodley 163 in her edition of Reuel.2.
Throughout the present discussion, Reuel.1 and Reuel.2 are cited according to the editions
by Sackur (¬rst recension) and Prinz (second recension) as described above in notes 1 and 2,
except in the discussion of the Old English Notes on Genesis below, where d™Evelyn™s readings
from Bodley 163 are also considered.
Reinink, ˜Ismael, der Wildesel in der Wuste™, p. 344. The Syriac text is represented in
several manuscripts and is edited by Reinink in Die Syrische Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodius.
Accounts of the origins and contents of the Syriac Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius may
also be found in Ogle, ˜Petrus Comestor™, pp. 318“19; Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic
Tradition, pp. 13“33; and Palmer, ed., The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles,
pp. 222“6; the latter also contains a brief annotated bibliography of other recent editions
and studies, pp. 227“9. The exact date of composition of the Syriac Apocalypse is debated;
see Martinez, ˜The Apocalyptic Genre in Syriac™, pp. 340“1, n. 9, for a summary of
scholarship prior to Reinink™s edition.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

the triumph of the Christian kingdom of heaven.6 He concluded with a de-
scription of a future Byzantine Christian ruler handing over earthly rule to
God, followed by the confounding of the Antichrist and the coming of the
Son of Man in glory. The optimistic outlook of the Syriac Apocalypse made
it very popular among eastern Christians who had recently come under
Muslim rule and it was quickly translated into other languages, including
Greek.7 The Greek Apocalypse in¬‚uenced subsequent Byzantine apocalyp-
tic writing and the medieval Alexander legend.8 In the eighth century
the Greek translation was translated into Latin, purportedly by one Petrus
monachus, a man known only through a seldom-transmitted preface of ques-
tionable authenticity. The result was Reuel.1 (of which Salisbury 165 is an
example). Altered, in parts elaborated, but in general very much abbrevi-
ated by subsequent redactors, the Reuelationes continued to be widely copied
and to exert an in¬‚uence on various medieval writings.9 Reuel.2 (of which
the English examples are Royal 5.F.xviii and Bodley 163) represents the
¬rst major revision of the primary Latin text. Thus the pseudo-Methodian
tradition had already had a signi¬cant effect on eastern and western Chris-
tian perceptions of the Muslims before Reuel.1 and Reuel.2 were copied in
England in the late eleventh century.
The pseudo-Methodian tradition conveyed to its audience the idea that,
according to the pattern of Christian history, the Byzantine empire (Ro-
manorum imperium) would not be overcome before the end of the world.10

˜. . . the author of [the Syriac Apocalypse] was convinced that he could give a coherent
explanation for the Muslim oppression without major alterations in the traditional view.
But in order to do that, he had to rework the whole tradition about the kingdoms and
restate it afresh . . . Doubtless, the main tool . . . was the Scripture™ (Martinez, ˜The
Apocalyptic Genre™, p. 344); see also pp. 339“40 and 351“2.
For a full account of the various Greek recensions of the text, see Lolos, Die Apokalypse
des Ps.-Methodius (¬rst and second recensions) and Die dritte und vierte Redaktion des Ps.-
Methodius (third and fourth recensions).
Twomey, ˜Pseudo-Methodius™, p. 33; Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, pp. 13“
14; and Reinink, ˜Ismael, der Wildesel™, p. 336.
On the diffusion and in¬‚uence of the pseudo-Methodian tradition in medieval England,
see d™Evelyn, ˜The Middle-English Metrical Version™, pp. 144“51.
The terms Romanorum imperium or regnum Romanorum are used in the Reuel.1 to refer to
the Byzantine Greek empire; see, for example, Reuel.1, p. 80 (where ¬lii Hismahel appear
as the enemies of this Christian realm). The same phrase appears in the Reuel.2; see
p. 14, where rex christianorum et Romanorum has the alternative reading rex Gregorum [sic]
siue Romanorum. However, given the general shift in emphasis from East to West in the

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

Judging by the lengthy and bitter account of the ˜sons of Ismael™ in the
Syriac Apocalypse, another purpose was to catalogue and condemn the recent
upheavals of the Islamic conquests and rationalise them as part of some kind
of optimistic eschatological vision.11 All the texts discussed below retain
the basic structure of the Syriac Apocalypse, which falls into two parts. The
¬rst is a ˜historical™ section which describes the succession of earthly king-
doms from the Fall up until the lifetime of Methodius. The second section
consists of ˜prophetic™ writing which deals with the future domination of
the earth by the sons of Ismael, their defeat in battle at the hands of the
Christian emperor and his armies, the devastation wrought by the unclean
peoples of the north, their defeat, the coming of the Antichrist and the
end of the world. The ¬ctional break between the past and the supposedly
prophesied future is indicated by a change of tense during a description of
events in the fourth century. This was in order to make it appear as though
the division between history and prophesy occurred during the lifetime of
Bishop Methodius, to whom the work was attributed. The actual division,
however, corresponds with events some time after the Muslim conquests of
the early seventh century, when the real author of the Syriac Apocalypse lived
and wrote.12
The ¬rst Greek translation remained close to the original Syriac, includ-
ing passages and references which were aimed at a speci¬cally Mesopotamian
audience; similarly, the primary Latin translation, referred to here as Reuel.1,
is largely faithful to its Greek original. Nevertheless, various omissions and
additions occurred during the transmission of the material, not to mention
occasional confusions; many copies of the Reuelationes are written in ungram-
matical Latin.13 Some of the most signi¬cant changes in the Latin versions
of the apocalypse seem to have occurred between the ¬rst and subsequent

second recension, it is possible that imperium Romanorum was understood by many and
perhaps most western readers to refer to the Christian world centred on Rome: see Reuel.2,
p. 11, where the phrases regnum Romanorum and Romanum imperium appear several times in
the same context as that in which they were used in the ¬rst recension, and compare with
the later, added phrase Italia . . . parte intacta erit . . . Romana gentes [sic] non capietur (Reuel.2,
p. 12).
Martinez provides a useful characterisation of Syriac apocalyptic writings (˜The Apoca-
lyptic Genre™, pp. 339“40) and stresses their interest in past and present history.
Prinz, ˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische Aktualisierung™, pp. 1“2.
Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, pp. 52“60, and Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte,
pp. 55“6.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Latin recensions; Reuel.2 is characterised by extensive alterations and tele-
scoping of events to suit the political and historical situation of the day. One
such change was the addition of the term Saraceni to refer to the Muslim
conquerors alongside the original ¬lii Ismahel or Ismahelitae. The pseudo-
Methodian tradition lent itself very well to this kind of emendation. Its
central premise, that the true Christian empire would never fall and that
Muslim triumph was a temporary and purifying chastisement to test the
faithful before the (imminent) arrival of the kingdom of heaven, seems to
have possessed a remarkably ¬‚exible and enduring appeal for generations of
Christians confronting Muslim success. The names by which the Muslims
were known in the various recensions indicate as much. By the beginning of
the eighth century, the Ismaelites were referred to as the familiar Saracens,


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