. 6
( 10)


and in later redactions the same oppressors were renamed Turci. Almost a
thousand years after the original Syriac apocalypse had been composed, ex-
cerpts from the Reuelationes were distributed among the defenders of Vienna
to strengthen their resolve against the Muslim enemy during the second
Turkish siege of the city.14

t h e l at i n r e u e l at i o n e s
The present discussion is concerned with the particular statements about
Muslim Arabs which the Latin Reuel.1 and Reuel.2 brought to Anglo-Saxon
readers, and with how this information compared with accounts of the
Saracens already known. For this reason, a discussion of the wider in¬‚uence
of the pseudo-Methodian tradition upon other medieval writings which do
not mention the Muslims, including those known to or composed by Anglo-
Saxon authors, has no place here; however, it should be noted that this wider
in¬‚uence did also exist, and in particular that the Greek Apocalypse as well
as the various Latin Reuelationes was an important in¬‚uence upon later Latin
and vernacular literature.15 The present discussion, however, focuses upon
the transmission of Reuel.1 and Reuel.2 as represented by the texts contained
in Salisbury 165, Royal 5.F.xviii and Bodley 163 (which agrees largely with
Prinz™s edition of Reuel.2).
See Prinz, ˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische Aktualisierung™, p. 2, and Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte,
pp. 3“9.
See, for example, Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, pp. 151“225; Reinink,
˜Pseudo-Methodius und die Legende vom r¨ mischen Endkaiser™; and Verhelst, ˜La
pr´ histoire des conceptions d™Adson™.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

These manuscripts contain examples of the ¬rst two of four distinct
recensions of the Latin Reuelationes. These four recensions were identi¬ed
by D. Verhelst who, with M. Laureys, has also produced an extensive,
though not comprehensive list of the manuscripts which contain them,
categorised by their incipits; it does not list Salisbury 165 and Bodley
163.16 Critical editions of the ¬rst and second recensions have, as mentioned
above, been produced by Sackur and Prinz. Examples of the ¬rst recension
are found in manuscripts dating from the turn of the seventh to the eighth
century, and the second recension seems to have been produced some time
during the eighth century. Prinz has showed that Reuel.2 is an altered and
abbreviated form of Reuel.1. He illustrates the relationship between the
two by displaying variants from the ¬rst recension as edited by Sackur
and indicating many passages in which the readings of both recensions
concur.17 The text on which Prinz bases his edition of the second recension
is taken from a comparatively early eighth- or ninth-century continental
manuscript, with variants drawn from a group of four later manuscripts.18
Two of these later four also appear in a separate list by M. W. Twomey of
four manuscripts containing Reuelationes which might have been copied in
England before 1100.19 The other two manuscripts on Twomey™s list are
Salisbury 165 and Bodley 163. These are not mentioned by Prinz. Twomey

Laureys and Verhelst, ˜Pseudo-Methodius, Reuelationes: Textgeschichte und kritische
Prinz, ˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische Aktualisierung™, p. 5.
The early manuscript is Zurich, Zentralbibliothek C 65, 80v“88v (s. viii, St Gall).
The group of four manuscripts comprises: St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek Nr. 569, pp. 252“7
(s. ix/x, of uncertain provenance); Vienna, Nationalbibliothek 492, 3v“8v (s. x, written
in south-west Germany); Royal 5.F.xviii; and Oxford, St John™s College 128. See Prinz,
˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische Aktualisierung™, pp. 4“5.
The four manuscripts containing the Reuelationes which, according to Twomey (˜Ps
Methodius: Revelations™, p. 33), may have been copied in Anglo-Saxon England are:
Royal 5.F.xviii [Gneuss 463.5], which is collated in Prinz™s edition; Oxford, St John™s
College 128, also collated by Prinz; Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 163 [Gneuss 555],
not listed by Laureys and Verhelst in ˜Textgeschichte und kritische Edition™ and not col-
lated by Prinz and, ¬nally, Salisbury, Cathedral Library, 165 [Gneuss 749], not listed by
Laureys and Verhelst and not collated by Prinz. By consensus, Salisbury 165 is thought
de¬nitely to have originated from England before 1100. The dates or provenances of the
other three manuscripts have been debated but Bodley 163 and Royal 5.F.xviii almost
certainly emerged from English scriptoria before the end of the Anglo-Saxon period; see
above, nn. 3 and 4.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

presents them both as further examples of manuscripts containing examples
of Reuel.2.
However, a comparison of the text of Salisbury 165 with the two editions
cited above shows clearly that the Salisbury Reuelationes contains a text which
corresponds closely with Reuel.1, the ˜primary Latin translation™ edited by
Sackur, and not the later Reuel.2 as edited by Prinz. The wording of Salisbury
165 is very similar to that of Sackur™s edition of the ¬rst recension (where it
is not identical); in terms of structure and completeness, too, Salisbury 165
corresponds exactly with the text of the ¬rst Latin recension, while both
differ greatly (and in the same ways) from the second recension. It would
therefore appear acceptable when discussing the text of Salisbury 165 to
cite the text of Reuel.1 from Sackur™s edition. At the same time, the other
manuscripts listed by Twomey indicate that examples of Reuel.2 were also
known in England from at least shortly after 1100, and quite possibly from
before that date. Further evidence for Anglo-Saxon knowledge of the second
recension of the Reuelationes will be discussed below.
In both the historical and the prophetic part of the Syriac Apocalypse, and
in both recensions of the Reuelationes described above, the ˜sons of Ismael™
play a prominent part. Their arrival has disastrous consequences for the
adherents of the true faith whom they encounter and nefariously oppress; in
each case, however, God ultimately delivers his chosen people from their op-
pression.20 The representation of these ¬lii Ismahel or Ismahelitae in Reuel.1
and Reuel.2 forms the main subject of the present discussion. Their ¬rst
appearance occurs in a retelling of the biblical story of Gideon and his
defeat of the Midianites and Ismaelites, enemies of the Israelites.21 They
later reappear in the prophetic section of the apocalypse, where they are
described at far greater length and evidently represent the Muslim Arabs
who were to be overcome in battle by the empire of the Byzantines or
Romans, depending upon the reader™s interpretation of the phrase imperium
Romanorum. The prolix accounts of the Ismaelites in Reuel.1 are too long
to be cited in full. However, characteristic passages deserve to be com-
pared with some accounts of the Saracens already known in Anglo-Saxon
England. The pseudo-Methodian tradition of the Ismaelites coincides with
See Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, pp. 36“51 (English translation of the
Syriac), and Palmer, ed., The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles, pp. 230“42 (for
a closer English translation of only that section of the apocalypse which describes the
Islamic conquests).
Judg. VI“VIII.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

western, Latin statements concerning the Saracens in several interesting

the ismaelite connection
The most obvious is the explanation of the Arabs or Muslims as Ismaelites.
In Jerome™s writings and, consequently, in many subsequent western works
on the Saracens, the description of Ismael in Genesis provided the start-
ing point for an account of the Arabs or Muslims, and passages of Old
Testament prophecy were explained in terms of Saracen or Ismaelite activ-
ity. In Reuel.1, too, considerable importance was attributed to the supposed
Muslim identity with the Ismaelites and with the citation of biblical pas-
sages as forecasts of Muslim activity.22 This scriptural characterisation of
the Arabs or Muslims as Ismaelites is perhaps the most important similarity
between the account by pseudo-Methodius and those by authors known in
Anglo-Saxon England, but there are others. Reuel.1 stresses the signi¬cance
of the name onager attributed to Ismael by God and de¬nes it in terms of
the desert home and aggression of the Ismaelites.23 Jerome had already ex-
plained a meaning of onager which involved the ferocity of the people, but an
Anglo-Saxon who encountered the ¬rst recension of the Reuelationes would
not really have needed his explanation. The account in Reuel.1 agreed with
older descriptions of the aggressive nature of the Ismaelites, which, along
with their desert origins, seems to be their chief de¬ning feature according
to most accounts.
Like earlier western writings, Reuel.1 does not refer to the Muslim con-
querors as Arabs. However, nor does it employ the term Saraceni, but refers
consistently to the ¬lii Ismahel or Ismahelitae. Nevertheless, it is likely that
the medieval reader would have classed these Ismaelites as Saracens. First,
their actions as described in Reuel.1 were recognisable to readers with some
knowledge of current affairs as those of the Muslim conquerors already
known as Saracens in the West. Secondly, by the time Reuel.1 reached
Anglo-Saxon England, the literary relationship between Ismaelites and
Saracens was well-enough established for Latinate readers readily to identify
the pseudo-Methodian sons of Ismael as Saracens. The shorter account in

On western exegetical accounts of the Saracens as Ismaelites, see above, chs. 5 and 6.
The ¬rst recension of the Reuelationes cites Ezekiel, for example: ˜quod dictum est per
Ezechielem prophetam™ (Reuel.1, p. 80).
Reuel.1, p. 85; Salisbury 165, 17r.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Reuel.2 indicates that the eventual identi¬cation of one with the other was
inevitable. The term Saraceni in the second recension refers unambiguously
to the sons of Ismael and the two names are sometimes used together as
synonyms: Sarracini, ¬lii Ismahel. Elsewhere in Reuel.2, Saracens are simply
mentioned in apposition with the Ismaelites.24 In two cases, the phrase
manus Sarracinorum appears independently of any mention of Ismael or the
Ismaelites.25 Clearly, the terms were interchangeable. The addition of the
name Saraceni to Reuel.2 may well have been prompted by the tradition of
Jerome™s, Bede™s and others™ remarks on the common identity of Saracens
and Ismaelites.26 However, this identi¬cation is not explained in Reuel.2 in
terms of the scholarly Christian etymology of Saraceni broadcast by Jerome
and Bede and discussed above.27
The ¬rst example of the word Saraceni in Reuel.2 is immediately followed
by the list of places which would be consumed by battle, perish by the
sword and become wastelands in the Saracen conquest: these include Spania,
Gallia, Iermania, Aquitania and the islands of the sea. Italy, by contrast,
would be partly conquered and partly remain whole.28 In conjunction with
the name ˜Saracen™, these regions are clearly intended to evoke Muslim raids
in Europe and the conquest of Spain. The redactor revised the list of regions
overrun by the Saracens so that Reuel.2 would describe to its audience a
recognisable European situation at the beginning of the eighth century.
The ¬rst recension, by contrast, does not describe either the Old Testament
Ismaelites nor the Muslim Arabs as Saraceni, nor does it contain the more
detailed accounts of Muslim conquests or threats to European territories
which were added by the eighth-century and later redactors of the Latin
text. This means that the Anglo-Saxon reader of Reuel.1 was reading a
text which was closer to the original Syriac Apocalypse than the second
recension but also less relevant to the contemporary situation in Europe.
The revisions brought Reuel.2 further into line not only with the extant
traditions of western Christian scholarship but also with the contemporary

Reuel.2, p. 10 (˜Samisab rex . . . exiuit in deserto . . . in terra Ismahelitarum et possedebit
castra ¬liorum Ismahel . . . deuictus est . . . ab Sarracenis . . . et tunc primum exierunt
¬lii Ismahel™).
Reuel.2, p. 12 (˜tradit illos Deus in manus Sarracinorum™) and p. 14 (˜liberauit eos de
manus Sarracinorum™).
See Ogle, ˜Petrus Comestor™, especially p. 323, where he lists the relevant comments by
Jerome and traces their medieval transmission.
27 28
Reuel.2, p. 14. Reuel.2, p. 12.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

political situation on the Continent. They constitute a good example of
how actual events could be assimilated into the academic structures which
helped to maintain the scholarly status quo and af¬rm Christian literary
˜possession™ of Muslim activities and newly conquered territories in Asia
and Europe.
However, western exegetical writings and Reuel.1 differed in the way
they identi¬ed the Muslims as Ismaelites. In the writings of Jerome and
subsequent western commentators, the Saracens were de¬ned as contem-
porary Ismaelites according to the etymology which explained them as the
duplicitous descendants of Hagar through her son Ismael. The de¬nition
suggested that the Saracens shared certain characteristics with Ismael and
the Ismaelites, who had been described in the Old Testament as hostile,
violent and desert-dwelling. This suggestion seems to have been con¬rmed
for Jerome at least by his own experience of the fourth-century Arab nomads
from the Syrian desert and Sinai peninsula, who made raids on Christian
communities in what he seems to have seen as a characteristically Ismaelite
manner. Although Jerome ¬‚ourished some two centuries before the lifetime
of Muhammad, he provided an important example to later medieval writers
on Muslims in identifying both the Ismaelites of the Old Testament and the
Arabs of his own day as the same people, namely, the Saracens. This was par-
allelled in the writings of Bede when he con¬rmed that the eighth-century
Muslims were the same Saracens again. The pseudo-Methodian tradition
presented the identical notion, that the Muslim Arabs were the same peo-
ple as the Ismaelites of the Old Testament. However, it achieved this not
by means of a scholarly etymology but instead by using the same name to
refer to both peoples and by establishing a series of resemblances between
them. Thus the Old Testament Ismaelites and Midianites who devastate
the Israelites in the historical part of the Reuelationes are described in a way
which makes them resemble the later Muslim Arabs, and the Muslims in
turn are described in terms that recall the Old Testament Ismaelites and
This is brought about partly by employing Old Testament imagery from
the book of Judges VI“VIII and partly from the author™s own invention.
Reuel.1 describes the sons of Ismael as originally having been inhabitants
of the desert. After they were defeated by one Samsishaibus they ¬‚ed their
homeland (solitudinem Etthribum; a reference to the city of Yathrib, later
Medina) and moved into an uninhabitable land where they fought with
the people of the Promised Land (pugnauerunt cum regnis gentium . . . in terra

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

promissionis). They are compared with locusts (Erant autem quasi locustae) and
described as barbarians who wore no clothes (nudo corpore), ate camel™s ¬‚esh
˜stored in bags™? (conpositae in utribus) and drank the blood of animals
mixed with milk (bibebant sanguinem iumentorum . . . lacte mixto). When
these sons of Ismael had conquered the land and laid waste all the towns
and regions, they made ships and travelled into the West as far as Rome,
and took control of the lands there also.29 They became arrogantly proud
(superexaltatum est cor eorum). They were led by four tyrants, sons of Umee,
called Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah and Salmunna, and with them fought against the
Israelites. At this point the author draws a parallel between the Ismaelites
and the Egyptians, and compares Gideon with Moses as the agency by which
God redeemed the Israelites as his Chosen People. The pseudo-Methodian
account of the Ismaelites ends with the statement that Gideon cast them
out, and it is again noted that they originated from the desert or waste
(solitudine) and were connected with Yathrib (Ethribum).30
According to Reuel.1, at this point, the sons of Ismael were to return
in the future and oppress all lands again, and would only be defeated by
the imperium Romanorum (that is, the Christian Greeks), who would utterly
destroy them in battle. This prediction, one of several inserted into the
historical section of the apocalypse, foreshadows the lengthy description
of the later, ˜future™ Ismaelite invasion in which the Muslim Arabs are
described as Ismaelites. Reuel.2 here telescopes the intervening historical
section and moves straight into the Islamic conquests. Reuel.1 returns to
the sons of Ismael with the statement that at the beginning of the new era,
the kingdom of the Persians will fall (eradicabitur regnum Persarum) and the
Ismaelites (semen Ismahel) will emerge from the desert (de deserto Ethribum).
Like the earlier Ismaelites, the Muslims are portrayed as springing from
the desert of Yathrib. However, instead of being described as literally eat-
ing ¬‚esh and drinking blood, these Ismaelites do so by being described
as the ful¬lment of Old Testament prophecy (˜conplebitur quod dictum
est per Ezechielem prophetam “. . . manducate carnes fortium et bibite
sanguinem excelsorum”™). Similarly, the four literal leaders (Oreb, Zeeb,
Zebah and Salmunna) of the Old Testament Ismaelites ¬nd parallels in the

Reuel.1, p. 67; Salisbury 165, 12v. The sons of Ismael in Reuel.2 are also described as
blood-drinkers: ˜bibebant sanguinem iumentorum mixte lacto™ (Reuel.2, p. 11).
Reuel.1, p. 68; Salisbury 165, 12v. For another example of the pride of the sons of Ismael
as they gloried in their victory over the Christians, see Reuel.1, p. 89, and Reuel.2, p. 14.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

account of the Muslims, in the form of a merciless punishment of destruc-
tion, perdition, decay and ruin (˜castigatio sine misericordia . . interitus et
perditio, corruptio quoque et desolatio™).31 Like the earlier Ismaelites, the
Muslims are described as resembling locusts (tamquam locustae); the idea of
the invading people as a plague is further emphasised by the phrase in eis
pestilentia et fames (˜in them [will be] sickness and famine™). The description
of the Muslims again resembles that of the previous Ismaelites of Reuel.1 in
that they are portrayed as becoming overbearingly proud (˜exaltabitur cor
eorum . . . et in superbiam elabitur™).32 Similarly, it is prophesied that the
later Ismaelites too will extend their sway throughout all territories as far
as Rome.33 Historically, this section appears to refer to the ¬rst advances
of the Muslim Arabs out of the Arabian peninsula. Reuel.2 abbreviates the
original account considerably and emphasises the parts of special European

s i m i l a r i t i e s b e t w e e n t h e ˜s o n s o f i s m a e l™
and the saracens
In several respects the Ismaelites of Reuel.1 resemble the Ismaelites and
Saracens of pre-Islamic western exegesis. This is not surprising, since both
were based to some extent on the same information from the Old Testament.
They are described as desert-dwellers and the enemies of the Israelites, and
their defeat demonstrates the agency of God and the special status of the
Chosen People. The sons of Ismael also share some characteristics with
certain Arabian peoples described by Pliny, who wrote that the nomads
subsisted on milk and raw meat, and Jerome, who mentioned that nomads
ate half-raw meat and that the ˜barbarians of the desert™, including Arabs
and Saracens, lived on ¬‚esh and camels™ milk.34 Jerome had mentioned too
that as Malchus was carried through the desert by the marauding Saracens
his food and drink were camel™s ¬‚esh and milk. Also in the Vita Malchi,
Jerome had indicated that the Saracens wore little or no clothing and that
their attacks were motivated at least partly by greed for material wealth. It
31 32
Reuel.1, pp. 80“1; Salisbury 165, 16r. Reuel.1, p. 83; Salisbury 165, 16r.
Reuel.1, p. 89; Salisbury 165, 18v.
˜Nomades, et Troglodytae, et Scythae, et Hunnorum noua feritas semicrudis uescuntur
carnibus™ (Jerome, Aduersus Iouinianum, PL 23, 294“5); ˜Verbi gratia, Arabes et Saraceni,
et omnis eremi barbaria, camelorum lacte et carnibus uiuit . . .™ (Aduersus Iouinianum, PL
23, 294“5).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

is interesting that these attributes of the Saracens in the Vita Malchi ¬nd a
parallel in those of the Ismaelites in Reuel.1. It is possible that both accounts
draw upon common eastern material, though separated by several centuries,
or that in some regards both re¬‚ect real nomadic habits “ the wearing of
loose, light clothing is a plausible example.
However, the Ismaelites of Reuel.1 also possess certain attributes which
western commentators did not commonly associate with the Saracens and
Ismaelites or their forebear, Ismael. Some such attributes seem to have had a
biblical foundation: the phrase quasi locustae, for example, may well echo the
descriptions of the Midianites and Ismaelites at Judg. VI.5 and VII.12, and
the princes Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah and Salmunna are described at Judg. VII“
VIII and listed in Ps. LXXXII.11“12 as enemies of Israel only a few lines
after the Ismaelites and Hagarenes. Other characteristics appear to have been
manufactured by the anonymous author of the original Syriac Apocalypse.
These include the Ismaelites™ drinking of blood, their ship-building and
travelling as far as Rome. The ship-building presumably re¬‚ects the fact
that Mu™¯ wiyah, ¬rst governor of Syria, established a Muslim navy.35 The
drinking of blood mixed with milk is probably included in order to suggest
that the Ismaelites were an unclean people.36
Despite the interesting parallels between Saracen and Ismaelite charac-
teristics in the writings of Jerome and Reuel.1, it is important also to note the
literal differences. The sons of Ismael in Reuel.1 are naked in order to indicate
that they are barbaric, but also so that they may then sacrilegiously clothe
themselves in holy vestments; the Saracens of the Vita Malchi are naked
(Jerome explains) because of the heat of the desert. The sons of Ismael eat
camels™ ¬‚esh presumably because this is an unclean food (as is the blood
with milk) and indicates that the Ismaelites are an unclean people; Jerome
cites the nomadic diet as an example of the principle that one man™s meat is
another man™s poison. The sons of Ismael devastate the land, con¬scate prop-
erty and demand high taxes because this forms part of their role as bringers
of devastation and famine; Jerome™s Saracens, on a literal level at least,

Alexander, ˜Byzantium and the Migration of Literary Works and Motifs™, p. 57, n. 29;
Gabrieli, Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam, p. 155.
The consumption of blood is prohibited at Lev. XVII.10“14 and Deut. XII.16 and 23“5.
The cooking of meat in milk is prohibited at Exod. XXIII.19. The combination of blood
and milk may re¬‚ect a con¬‚ation of these and perhaps other dietary taboos.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

seek booty in the useful form of slaves to look after their ¬‚ocks.37 In
western literature, the actual aspects of the Saracens were to some extent
separated from the allegorical, which yielded its meaning after interpreta-
tion. In Reuel.1 and Reuel.2, literal and ¬gurative meanings are presented
According to pseudo-Methodius, the Old Testament Ismaelites and, later,
the ˜sons of Ismael™ overran not only the lands near the desert of Yathrib but
also travelled into the West to continue their devastations. The lands listed
in Reuel.1 as becoming subject to the Ismaelite depredations included (in
the attack of the biblical Ismaelites) Rome, Illyrica, Thessalonica and Sar-
dinia,38 and were to be (in the later attacks) Cilicia, Greece and Romania,39
Cappadocia, Africa, Sicily and ˜those who live near Rome™.40 This agrees
largely with the much more general statement by Bede that the Saracens
had seized not only Asia and all of Africa but also a good part of Europe.
However, there is certainly a perceptible eastern emphasis in Reuel.1, which
describes no region further west than Rome. Bede, by contrast, was aware of
Saracen attacks in the Iberian peninsula and France, which he condemned
in his Historia ecclesiastica. The redactor of Reuel.2 took into account the
interests of a new readership and added the names of western European
Bede was probably the only other author known to the Anglo-Saxons to
describe the Saracens as a pestilence, lues saracenorum. His short phrase is
not as descriptive as the graphic accounts in Reuel.1 of how the Ismaelites,
in numbers like locusts upon the wind, brought famine and plague to the
land. However, it points to another similarity in the way the Muslims were
However, it should be noted that the Saracens of the Vita Malchi and the Ismaelites of
the Reuel.1 are also similar in that they both represent trials and oppressions which must
be endured and overcome by the Christians of the story in order for them eventually to
triumph and thus make manifest the superiority of the Christian God; furthermore, both
Ismaelites and Saracens can only become an af¬‚iction in the ¬rst place by the will of God
as a punishment of Christian sin. Malchus leaves his monastery to collect an inheritance,
and it is this material greed that exposes him to the physical and spiritual dangers of the
Saracen desert; the Christians of pseudo-Methodius are stated to be suffering beneath the
yoke of the Ismaelites on account of their previous offences against God.
38 39
Reuel.1, p. 67; Salisbury 165, 12v. Reuel.1, p. 83; Salisbury 165, 16v.
Reuel.1, p. 89; Salisbury 165, 18v. Alexander describes the regions which the Ismaelites
overran according to the original Syriac Apocalypse (Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition,
pp. 34“5).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

presented in contemporary Christian literature. That they were described
in terms of plague or pestilence strengthened their association with ideas
of destruction and perhaps even suggested that, as agents of ruin, they
were capable of bringing their native wasteland with them into previously
civilised and fruitful territories.
The second recension of the Reuelationes also described the Old Testament
Ismaelites as aggressive inhabitants of the desert (˜exierunt ¬lii Ismahel de
herimo bella certare™), and included the information that they ate the ¬‚esh of
camels and drank milk mixed with the blood of beasts. As in Reuel.1, the sons
of Ismael were led by the four princes Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah and Salmunna
and were defeated by Gideon.41 All this information is included in one
short section of the text, whereas in the ¬rst recension of the Reuelationes it
occupied several folios. It seems safe to assume that, since so much of the
original Latin was cut to produce the second recension, the statements which
were retained were those deemed particularly appropriate or signi¬cant with
respect to the situation in Europe during the early eighth century. It may
therefore be no coincidence that such statements are those which best tie
in with the descriptions of the Saracens or Ismaelites that were already
circulating in the West.42 The later Ismaelites of the second recension
(i.e. the Muslim Arabs) are also referred to as Saracens and are similarly
depicted as a people who emerge from the desert as a merciless punishment
upon the Christian population: ˜exierunt ¬lii Ismahel de herimo et erit
aduentus eorum castigacio sine misericordia™.43 It is also explained (as in
the ¬rst recension) that this punishment was brought about by the sins of
the Christians.
However, the Ismaelites of Reuel.1 differed from the Saracens of western
exegesis in terms of the role they played as part of a written Christian history.
Reuel.1 attempted to justify the Islamic conquest of Christian populations
and territories in a way which could comfort an oppressed Christian audience
and exhort them to renew their faith. It argued that God repeatedly punished
his people, that the Israelites had already been oppressed by the Egyptians
and the Ismaelites (Exod. XI“XIV, for example, and Judg. VI.8“10) in order
to be redeemed later by God™s agency and that the people of the Ismaelites

Reuel.2, pp. 10“11.
The differences between the recensions are usefully summarised in d™Evelyn, ˜The Middle-
English Metrical Version™, pp. 139“44.
Reuel.2, pp. 11“12. The spellings herimo and castigacio are as they appear in his edition.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

would again become the instrument of divine punishment. According to
Reuel.1 the sons of Ismael were to arise again when the empire of the Persians
fell (absortum fuerit regnum Persarum), and would replace them as the enemies
of the Byzantine empire (˜aduersus Romanorum imperium ¬lii Hismahel,
¬lii Agar™). This is interpreted as a sign that the end of the world (consumatio
saeculi) is nigh.44 The author explains that the Ismaelites are not granted the
power to conquer Christian territories because God loves them, but because
of the sins and wickedness committed by the Christians (propter peccatum et
iniquitatem).45 The murderous and sinful Ismaelites (homicidae et percorrupti)
are thus to act as a ¬re of testing (ignis probationis).46 This justi¬cation for
the Ismaelite devastation, so severe that men will despair of their life, is
presented in the form of a rhetorical question asking how God could allow
such events to take place unless to show the faith (or otherwise) of the
subjugated Christian populations (qui sunt ¬delissimi . . . uel in¬deles) and
to separate the chaff from the wheat (lollia a tritico).47 The idea that the
Christians had been delivered into the hands of the Ismaelites on account
of their sins was not original. It had already been expressed by Sophronius,
patriarch of Jerusalem, during the ¬rst wave of the Muslim conquests, and
it was to be expressed again.
Several of the passages described above indicate that the sons of Ismael
were especially associated with the desert and in particular the desert of
Yathrib. This link with the desert is another similarity between the sons
of Ismael of the Reuelationes and the Saracens as already known in Anglo-
Saxon England. We have already seen numerous examples of Ismaelites and
Saracens as desert-dwellers in the Vulgate, early patristic writings, and the
works of Bede. In the book of Genesis, Ismael was described as inhabiting
the desert of Paran in the Sinai peninsula. Jerome described the Saracens as
Ismaelites but also as a contemporary people who wandered and raided in the
desert regions near Syria. The Saracens of his Vita Malchi captured Malchus
and other prisoners from a road running through such a desert region and

As Martinez has noted, this con¬dent expectation of the last days belonged very much
to the time and place in which the Syriac Apocalypse was originally composed (˜The
Apocalyptic Genre™, pp. 351“2). Bede, for example, did not attach apocalyptic signi¬cance
to the fall of Rome, and the Muslim conquests seem to have meant little to other western
authors of apocalypse, in strong contrast with Christians living under Muslim rule; see
Verhelst, ˜La pr´ histoire des conceptions d™Adson™, pp. 82“3 and 85.
45 46
Reuel.1, pp. 80“1; Salisbury 165, 16r. Reuel.1, p. 86; Salisbury 165, 17v.
Reuel.1, pp. 88“9; Salisbury 165, 18v.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

carried them off as slaves into the waste. Bede continued the desert theme
in his own exegesis. In Reuel.1, a variety of Saracen characteristics “ their
home in the desert, violent enslavement of Christians, comparison with
pestilence and domination of previously Christian cities “ are integrated in
a single and vivid account of the Ismaelites as bringers of ruin and waste.
Reuel.1 thus extends and ampli¬es associations which were only tenta-
tively made by western authors. The sons of Ismael are presented not only
as originating from a desert and returning to it after defeat, but as em-
bracing waste places and even possessing some of the inhuman qualities
of the desert themselves. Where Bede indulged in a brief metaphor to de-
scribe the Saracens as a lues Sarracenorum, Reuel.1 compares the sons of Ismael
with locusts numerous upon the wind, states that they bring famine and
emptiness and characterises them as ravishing the earth and its inhabitants
not only of their established riches but also of their underlying qualities
of fertility and fruitfulness. Each land which they destroy is listed with
a phrase such as in desolationem or erit in solitudine to emphasise its waste
condition. The Ismaelites will own cities which are empty (destitute) and
will divide up the desert between them. They will destroy the trees of ¬eld
and mountain (lignum saltui et speciem montium). The towns will be desolate
(desolabuntur urbes), the lands will be without roads (regiones sine uia) because
the population will be so shrunken; the earth will become sterile because
of the blood that has polluted it (polluitur terra a sanguine, et continebit fructos
suos). Reuel.1 explains that the sons of Ismael are not men (Non enim sunt
homines), but sons of the desert (¬lii sunt a deserto exilientes) and consequently
they ¬rst appear in the desert (ideo in desolationem prodiunt).48
At this point the imagery takes a turn for the bloodier: when they ¬rst
emerge from their desert home, the text announces, the Ismaelites will stab
pregnant women (habentibus in utero) with swords so that mother and child
are pierced simultaneously (fetum . . . simul cum matribus), and will dash the
children from the shoulders of their nurses (infantes ab umeris nutricum . . .
percutient).49 One of the strongest characteristics of the Ismaelites in Reuel.1
is this emphasis on graphic concrete images which ¬nd little parallel in the
more distant and abstract exegetical accounts of the Saracens. The sons of
Ismael are more at home in the company of the tribe of the Donestre in

Reuel.1, pp. 82“5; Salisbury 165, 16v“17v.
Reuel.1, pp. 85; Salisbury 165, 17v; cf. Reuel.2, p. 13, which includes the phrase ˜Non
sunt homines sicut alie gentes™.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

Wonders of the East (who deceive men into approaching and then eat them) or
Grendel (who devours ¬‚esh and quaffs blood with memorable gruesomeness)
or any number of villains responsible for the often lingering martyrdoms of
saints.50 Sensational descriptions of violence did not require their audience
to contemplate the nice intricacies of the spirit of the letter, but demanded
reactions to more immediate questions about bodies and their role in ex-
treme experiences. Both recensions of the Reuelationes emphasise biblical
interpretation but their apocalyptic tone was a new departure in western
thought about Islam and the Saracens. The Vita Malchi and its Old English
translation come closest in presenting the Saracens as immediate physical
entities. Jerome described their clothing and appearance, the milling con-
fusion in which Malchus was seized, the panicky, uncomfortable journey
made by the prisoners across the desert on camel-back and the violent im-
placability of the Saracen master as he forced Malchus at sword-point to
accept a woman. The carnality of the sons of Ismael depicted in Reuel.1,
however, goes beyond this. They couple with their women in the churches,
kill the priests, seize the sacred vestments to clothe their children and put
on their beds and over their horses; they tie up their animals in the holy
monuments as though in a stable; they are like beasts in their food; they eat,
drink and make merry, glorying in victory and desolation, boasting that the
Christians will never ¬nd an escape from their hands.51 Immediately fol-
lowing this section, the emperor of the Romans or Greeks rises up against
them and annihilates them by the sword, ushering in the ¬nal events of
history before the Day of Judgement.52
The kind of new information which Reuel.1 brought to the Anglo-Saxon
readership was mixed. On the one hand, it conveyed several notions con-
cerning the sons of Ismael which closely resembled western exegetical de-
scriptions of the Ismaelites and Saracens. On the other, unlike most earlier
western exegetical accounts, it described the Ismaelites and catalogued the
iniquities and atrocities they allegedly committed in vivid and emotive
detail. Reuel.1 also provided a rare contemporary account of the Islamic
invasions, the historical value of which would have been unapparent, out of

Wonders of the East, ed. and trans. Orchard, §20 (pp. 179 and 197); Beowulf [Cameron

A4.1], ed. Wrenn, ll. 742“743a.
Reuel.1, p. 89; Salisbury 165, 18v; cf. the briefer version in Reuel.2, p. 14, which adds,
however, that the Saracens wear gold and purple, and retains their boast.
Reuel.1, pp. 89“90; Salisbury 165, 18v“19r; as Reuel.2 succinctly has it, ˜destruuntur
Sarracini, ¬lii Ismahel, in gladio™.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

context, to readers in the early medieval West. Speci¬cally, the Reuelationes
provided a very early reference to the people of the Turks and probably the
¬rst reference to the place Yathrib (Medina). These references to a people
and town which were later perceived as very signi¬cant in the history of
Islam would have meant little if anything to an Anglo-Saxon reader (and
patently meant very little to some transmitters of the text who mangled
the names).53

t h e l at e o l d e n g l i s h n o t e s o n g e n e s i s
A group of twelfth-century Old English notes in the eleventh-century
manuscript BL Cotton Claudius B.iv show that the pseudo-Methodian tra-
dition continued to in¬‚uence Anglo-Saxon culture after the Norman Con-
quest, though the annotator himself may not have been an Anglo-Saxon.54
Methodius is cited in ¬ve of the notes. These, along with other notes which
do not mention the name of Methodius, are of interest in trying to estab-
lish which recension of the Reuelationes the author worked from.55 In the
discussion below, the Old English notes are compared with readings from
Reuel.1 (as ed. Sackur) and Reuel.2 (as ed. Prinz) and also readings from the
slightly different copy of Reuel.2 found in Bodley 163 (as ed. d™Evelyn; the
copy in Bodley 163 is abridged at the beginning and therefore only provides
partial evidence). The ¬rst Old English note reads as follows: ˜Methodius
cwa° adam w¦s gesceopa man on wlite of °ritig wintra and naþeles on ane

In a somewhat confused passage, the Reuel.1 mentions a kingdom of the barbarians as
that of the Turks and Avars (Turcorum et Abares); Reuel.1, p. 80. The same phrase in
Salisbury 165 reads tirci et abaret (f. 15v) which evidently re¬‚ects some corruption in the
transmission of unfamiliar names. Indeed, the meaning of the passage as a whole seems to
have suffered in translation in both the text of Reuel.1 as edited by Sackur and the slightly
differing version of the same recension which occurs in Salisbury 165. The reference to the
Turks and Avars does, however, go back to the original Syriac Apocalypse; see Alexander,
Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, pp. 43“4, for a translation of the relevant section.
I refer to the notes as the Old English Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford. Crawford suggests on
the evidence of their imperfect Old English that they were copied out in the second half
of the twelfth century by a scribe without much understanding of the exemplar before
him (OE Version of the Heptateuch, p. 418).
The numbering follows the edition by Crawford. The Old English text is displayed
according to the edition by Crawford with its original errors in grammar and orthography
uncorrected. The Tyronian sign has been expanded. My translations attempt to make sense
of the text in modern English.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

dage and geara and ¦fter °am and twa wintra. and þri wintra and ¦lla
°a o°ron™.56 This does not quite correspond with either the ¬rst or second
recension of the Reuelationes as they have survived (Bodley 163 does not con-
tain the relevant passage). Reuel.1 merely states that Adam and Eve were
virgins in Paradise and were expelled after thirty years. Reuel.2 is slightly
closer to the Old English note in that it explains that God created man
and a helper like him and called them Adam and Eve; here, too, the pair
are driven out after thirty years.57 However, there is no mention in either
recension of the age of Adam when he was created. Unless the note is the
result of a misunderstanding or mistransmission of the Latin explanation
that thirty years passed in Paradise before Adam and Eve were expelled,
one can only conclude that the original author of the Old English notes ob-
tained the information from a different source, perhaps a slightly different
version of the Reuelationes or another text attributed to Methodius, or that
he mistakenly credited the statement to Methodius.
The sixth Old English note of the series reads: ˜Methodius cw¦° adam
slep be is wife and hi gestrinde sunes and dohtra™.58 Statements that Adam
lay with Eve and that she conceived are found at Gen. IV.1 and 25, so it
is unclear why the Old English annotator should have introduced his note
with Methodius cw¦°. As a statement attributed to Methodius, however,
it corresponds only with a phrase in Reuel.2 as edited by Prinz: ˜peperit
Adam et Eva ¬lios et ¬lias™.59 No similar information appears in the ¬rst
recension of the Reuelationes as it is edited by Sackur, nor as it appears
in Salisbury 165. The next note in the series reads: ˜Methodius cwe° þa
adam w¦s ahund wintra and xxx cayn ofsloh abel þa w¦s abel c wintra
¦fter þan adam and eue hine bewyppe hun° wintra™.60 In this case, Reuel.1
˜Methodius said Adam was made man in the appearance of thirty years and even so in one
day and perfectly and after that two years and three years and all the others™ (Old English
Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 419); Crawford cites the faulty Old English of this note
in particular in support of his theory that the notes as we see them today were copied
from an earlier Old English exemplar by a twelfth-century scribe who was unfamiliar
with the language (p. 418).
Reuel.1, p. 60; Salisbury 165, 11r.
˜Methodius said Adam slept with his wife and they had sons and daughters™ (Old English
Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 419).
Reuel.2, p. 6.
˜Methodius said when Adam was a hundred and thirty years, Cain slew Abel; Abel was
then a hundred years; after that Adam and Eve mourned him a hundred years™ (Old English
Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 419).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

and Reuel.2 agree that Adam was aged 130 years when Cain slew Abel.61
However, the statement (not found in the book of Genesis) that Adam and
Eve mourned Abel™s death for one hundred years appears only in Reuel.1,
including Salisbury 165: ˜fecerunt planctum super eum Adam quoque et
Eua annis C™. Manuscripts containing Reuel.2, including Royal 5.F.xviii,
merely record: ˜fecerunt Adam et Eva plantum [sic] magnum super illum™.
(Again, Bodley 163 omits the passage corresponding with these two notes.)
Another Old English note, which does not cite Methodius, records that
Cain killed Abel in Syria, near Damascus.62 Reuel.1 records no place for
Abel™s death and Reuel.2 states it to have taken place in India.63 At this
point, however, the scribe of Bodley 163 has added id est damascum to the
description of the place of Abel™s death.64 Since the other Old English notes
cite information which was not contained in Bodley 163, it seems likely
that both drew on another source. Jerome wrote that, according to Hebrew
tradition, Damascus (sanguinem bibens) was so called because it was the site
of Abel™s death at the hands of Cain.65 Bede glossed Damascus as sanguinem
bibens, following Jerome, and described it as a city under Saracen rule.66
As noted above, the sons of Ismael drank blood (Reuel.1 and Reuel.2) and
also polluted the earth with blood (Reuel.1).67 These connections between
Ismaelites, Saracens, Cain and Damascus are complicated and allusive but
add to a profoundly negative picture of the Saracens. It has already been
mentioned above that the Saracens as known in Anglo-Saxon England re-
sembled Cain in their shiftless lifestyle and spiritual darkness.68 In this
and in their blood-drinking they also resemble Grendel, the monstrous
wanderer in Beowulf, whose connections with Cain have been explored by

Cf. Reuel.1, p. 60, and Salisbury 165, 11r. Prinz notes that a group of manuscripts
including Royal 5.F.xviii agrees with the Reuel.1 at this point (˜Eine fruhe abendl¨ ndische
Aktualisierung™, p. 6).
Old English Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 419.
Reuel.1, pp. 60“1, and Salisbury 165, 11r; Reuel.2, p. 6.
D™Evelyn, ˜The Middle English Metrical Version™, p. 193. The numbering is somewhat
confusing at this point, but there is no doubt that id est damascum refers to the scene of
the crime.
In Ezech., CCSL 75, p. 373; see also LHNom., CCSL 72, 145 (Damascus sanguinis poculum)
and also 154 and 155 (Damascus sanguinis potus). Gen. IV.11 stated of Cain: ˜Nunc igitur
maledictus eris super terram, quae aperuit os suum et suscepit sanguinem fratris tui de
manu tua™.
Bede, Expositio actuum apostolorum, CCSL 121, 45.
67 68
Reuel.1, p. 85 (pollution of the earth with blood). See above, pp. 100“101.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

Ruth Mellinkoff and Andy Orchard.69 Later descriptions of the Saracens in
Crusades literature would also draw on the idea that they were descended
from Cain.70
The thirteenth Old English note reads: ˜Methodius and Josephus
gewriten þ¦t adam w¦s twa hund wintra and xxx þa he gestrinde seth™.71
This points clearly to neither the ¬rst nor the second recension of the Reue-
lationes. The number of years agrees with the ¬rst: ˜CCmo autem et XXXmo
anno . . . natus est Sedh™.72 On the other hand, the fact that in the Old
English these years are measured as part of Adam™s life, rather than as part
of the ¬rst millennium, more closely resembles the second recension: ˜Anno
autem tricentesimo et trecisimo vite Ade . . . natus est . . . Seth™.73 The Bible
itself states that Seth was born in the 130th year of Adam™s life (Gen. V.3).
It seems likely that the Roman numerals indicating how many hundreds
of years Adam had lived before Seth was born became confused in one or
another version of the text consulted by the compiler of the Old English
notes, or that it was miscopied during the subsequent transmission of the
notes themselves.
The eighteenth note, which does not cite Methodius, tries to explain
that after Adam™s death Seth divided his progeny from those of Cain, so
that he (Cain? Adam?) went to ybora landa while Seth stayed on a mountain
next to Paradise, with ˜Cayn in °on felde þe he is bro°or ofsloh™.74 Both
recensions of Reuelationes describe the dwelling-places of the two broth-
ers, but only the second contains a reading which might correspond with

Mellinkoff, ˜Cain™s Monstrous Progeny, part I™, and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies,
pp. 58“85, especially p. 65 on the consumption of blood.
Mellinkoff, ˜Cain™s Monstrous Progeny, part II™, p. 192. Similarly, the sons of Ismael
resemble Nabachodonosor, certain characters in the works of the Beowulf-manuscript
and the medieval Alexander in exhibiting overweening pride just before their downfall,
presumably on the model of Lucifer. See Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 169 and 171.
˜Methodius and Josephus wrote that Adam was two hundred and thirty years [old] when
he begat Seth™ (Old English Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 420).
Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen, p. 61.
Reuel.2, p. 6; d™Evelyn (Bodley 163), pp. 192“3.
˜Æfter adames for°si°e seth ytw¦mde his ofspring fram caynes ofspringe þ¦t hi ywende
to h¦re ybora landa and seth wuneda on ana munte beside paradise. Cayn in °on felde
þe he is broþer ofsloh™ (Old English Notes on Genesis, ed. Crawford, p. 421); ˜After Adam™s
death, Seth divided his offspring from Cain™s offspring so that they went to the land
[Hebron?]; and Seth dwelled on a mountain next to Paradise, Cain in the ¬eld where he
slew his brother™.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

ybora landa; a line or so before the account of Seth and Cain, it states that
Adam was buried in Hebron (˜mortuos est Adam et sepultus est in Ebron™).
This is information not found in the ¬rst recension as edited by Sackur,
nor does it appear in the Salisbury manuscript. Evidently, though, if the
source of the note was an example of the later recension of Reuelationes as
edited by Prinz, its information had become confused at some point during
The Old English notes citing Methodius provide a variety of information
on the text of Genesis, some of which is contained in both recensions of the
Reuelationes, some in only one, and some apparently in neither. They also
include a note on Damascus which may correspond with a variant in the copy
of Reuel.2 in Bodley 163. Although the twelfth-century Old English notes
on Genesis clearly draw upon some text from the Latin pseudo-Methodian
tradition, they do not seem to derive from any of the three manuscripts
containing Reuelationes which are known to have reached England by the
end of the eleventh century. The additional note on Damascus in Bodley
163 suggests that other manuscripts containing either recension of the
Reuelationes could easily have differed in some respects from the recensions
as edited by Prinz and Sackur and that one such might therefore have
provided the information cited by the Old English annotator. This would
mean that, as well as Salisbury 165, Royal 5.F.xviii and Bodley 163 (and their
exemplars), at least one other manuscript containing a text from the pseudo-
Methodian tradition circulated among Old English speakers in England,
perhaps before AD 1100. This seems plausible. Salisbury 165 and Royal
5.F.xviii were copied at the newly founded Salisbury Cathedral during a
period of intense manuscript production at the end of the eleventh century.75
It has been argued that the works copied by the Salisbury monks during this
period were felt to be the most needful components of the new library. This
suggests that both Reuel.1 and Reuel.2 were seen as desirable acquisitions
which would further the intellectual pursuits of the Salisbury monks.76
The fact that Bodley 163 was copied in England at around the same time
indicates that English interest in the pseudo-Methodian tradition was not
restricted to Salisbury.

Webber, Scribes and Scripts at Salisbury, pp. 12“13 (scribe ii, Group I worked on Salisbury
165), and 15 (scribe xii, Group I worked on the same manuscript).
Webber, Scribes and Scripts at Salisbury, pp. 29, 31 and 140“1.

Pseudo-Methodius and the sons of Ismael

The Syriac Apocalypse contained certain ideas about the Ismaelites which
evidently appealed to western Christian readers. These ideas were retained
in subsequent Latin revisions of the original source. Less immediately rel-
evant aspects of the Syriac Apocalypse were eventually discarded or revised
in order to produce Reuel.2, which more closely corresponded with the im-
mediate historical situation of eighth-century Europe than the lengthier
Reuel.1. Thus, in Reuel.2, the description of the Ismaelites as blood-drinkers
and baby-killers, which agreed with extant notions of Saracen barbarity
and ferocity, was retained from Reuel.1; long passages of historical descrip-
tion were omitted as unnecessary; and the term Saraceni and the names of
regions such as Aquitaine, Italy and Germany were added, rendering the
pseudo-Methodian tradition entirely relevant for a contemporary European
Pseudo-Methodius, like Jerome and Bede, drew a number of parallels be-
tween the Old Testament enemies of Israel and the contemporary Muslims.
This suggests an attempt to present the Islamic conquests not as an in-
explicable or original phenomenon but rather as an example of behaviour
which, though abominable, was consistent with what holy scripture had
laid down since earliest times concerning the nature of the Ismaelites, and
which therefore upheld the validity of scripture as well as giving meaning
to historical event. Within both eastern and western Christian literary tra-
ditions, educated authors presented the Muslim conquests as a shock but
no particular surprise. This is at odds with modern perceptions of the rise
of Islam, which emphasise a distinction between the pre-Islamic Arabs and
the Muslims, and tend to explain the success of Islam as at least partly due
to the fervour of new religious conviction. As well as exegetical parallels,
however, the second recension of the Reuelationes, revised to suit a west-
ern readership, introduced a major new idea concerning the Saracens: it
described a succession of recognisable worldly empires in terms of biblical
prophecy according to which the eventual destruction of the Saracens would
be achieved by rex christianorum et romanorum with the sword.77
The addition of the name Saraceni to ¬lii Ismahel to refer to the Muslims
was only possible in the light of an extant exegetical tradition according
to which the Muslims (Saraceni) were already known to be descended from

Reuel.2, p. 14. Reuel.1, pp. 89“90, refers to ˜rex Gregorum [sic] siue Romanorum . . . rex

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Ismael, to dwell in the desert, to be hostile, aggressive and distant from
God.78 This tradition, as we have seen, derived from scholarly and highly
literate treatment of the Bible in Latin exegetical writings. As awareness
of Muslim activity abroad increased and a growing number of Latin texts
were translated into the vernacular, mentions of the Saracens began to appear
in Old English. A century before the Crusades, some of these vernacular
accounts of the Saracens from the tenth and eleventh centuries also presented
a picture of Christian emperors ¬ghting with armies against the Saracen

As has been outlined above and was suggested by Ogle in his discussion of Petrus
Comestor™s handling of pseudo-Methodius and the Saracens (˜Petrus Comestor, Method-
ius, and the Saracens™, pp. 323“4).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens
in Old English

Bede, like pseudo-Methodius, concluded his history on an optimistic note as
far as the Muslim conquests were concerned: the Saracens in Gaul received
the punishment they deserved. A few years later Bede died, but Saracen
attacks on Christian territories continued to excite Anglo-Saxon comment.
Scholars and missionaries who had moved to the Continent referred to
the Saracens in their letters. During Bede™s lifetime, Boniface warned the
Anglo-Saxon abbess Bugga that the perils of undertaking a pilgrimage to
Rome included the present threat of the Saracens.1 In another letter of 745“
6 to Æthelbald, king of Mercia, Boniface described the Muslim attacks in
Europe as an example of a divine punishment upon Christian sins: ˜Sicut
aliis gentibus Hispaniae et Prouinciae et Burgundionum populis contigit;
quae sic a Deo recedentes fornicatae sunt, donec iudex omnipotens talium
criminum ultrices poenas per ignorantiam legis Dei et per Sarracenos uenire
et saeuire permisit™.2 Perhaps he had seen an early copy of the Reuelationes.
Later in the eighth century, Alcuin, writing to a Master Colcu in Ireland,
echoed Bede™s dismay at the extent of the Saracen depredations: ˜heu pro
dolor, quod idem maledicti Saraceni, qui et Aggareni, tota dominantur

Described as ˜minae Sarracenorum, quae apud Romanos nuper emerserunt™ (Boniface,
Epistolae, MGH ES 1, 48).
˜As has happened to other peoples of Spain and Provence and the Burgundian populace;
who so, retreating from God, committed fornication, until the almighty judge allowed
the avenging punishments of such crimes to arrive and in¬‚ict their rage through ignorance
of the laws of God and through the Saracens™ (Boniface, Epistolae, MGH ES 1, 151). Cf.
eastern Christian authors and Reuel.1 on the Muslim conquests as a punishment upon a
sinful Christian population; see above, pp. 40 and 154.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Affrica, et Asia maiore maxima ex parte™.3 The fact that Alcuin added the
phrase qui et Aggareni in a letter on current affairs shows that the iden-
ti¬cation of the Saracens with Ismaelites or Hagarenes in Latin was not
limited to patristic expositions on scripture. At the same time, the patristic
in¬‚uence remained alive and well. Alcuin himself cited Jerome verbatim
on the Saracen-Ismaelite connection in his set of questions and answers on
the book of Genesis.4
However, the identi¬cation of Saracens as Ismaelites does seem to have
been limited to Latin writings. For the vast majority of Anglo-Saxons, the
Saracens remained a literary phenomenon at some remove from their own
immediate concerns. After the mid-eighth century, there were no further
Muslim conquests on the Continent comparable with the sudden expansion
of Islam that prompted western comment in the seventh and early eighth
centuries. Muslim exploits abroad were, in any case, never to demand such
anxious attention from Anglo-Saxon authors as the Viking attacks on the
English coast during the ninth and tenth centuries.
Nevertheless, to readers who conceived of themselves as part of a larger
Christian community looking to Rome, the continuing presence of the
Muslims seems to have remained of interest.5 Roughly a century and a half
after Bede™s death, his Historia ecclesiastica was translated into Old English
(probably as part of King Alfred™s educational programme) and the phrase
grauissima lues Sarracenorum became se hefegosta wol Sarcina (˜the direst Saracen
pestilence™). This and a number of other translated comments introduced
ideas about the Saracens into the vernacular from the long tradition of Latin
accounts discussed in the chapters above. Learning in England may have
declined during the ninth century but it saw a revival from the beginning of

˜But alas, that the same cursed Saracens (who are also [called] Hagarenes) rule all Africa,
and the most part of greater Asia™ (Alcuin, Epistolae, MGH Ep.Car.aeu. 2, 32). Cf. Bede,
Commentarius in Genesim, CCSL 118A, 201. Alcuin continues: ˜De quorum egressione . . .
dudum, ut estimo, scripsi™. The previous letter to which he refers does not, unfortunately,
appear to have survived.
Alcuin, In Genesim, PL 100, 538: ˜Quomodo manus omnium contra Ismaelem, et manus
eius contra omnes [Gen. XVI.12]? Signi¬cat autem semen eius habitaturum in eremo, id
est, Sarracenos uagos, incertisque sedibus™, etc.
On Rome as the centre of the early medieval geographical imagination, see Bridges, ˜Of
Myths and Maps™, p. 70, and also Bede™s famous comment on the location of Britain
(Historia ecclesiastica, p. 14).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English

the tenth which involved extensive contacts with continental centres. There
followed a steady commerce of books, scholars and ideas between England
and the Continent which provided opportunities for contemporary news
and views of the Saracens to make their way into Anglo-Saxon thought.6
As in Bede™s day, it can be assumed that such information provided in itself
an unfavourable picture and also, in the minds of the more literate, met
with an established canon of learned opinion which de¬ned the Saracens
as Ismaelites. In many cases, the news and views must have been conveyed
orally, the spoken equivalents of the earlier epistolary comments by Boniface
and Alcuin. Some literary clues suggest that by the end of the tenth century,
the Saracens had become a familiar concept outside the Latinate readership in
England; these examples will be discussed in more detail below. However,
most Old English written references to the Saracens derive from Latin
written sources.
Given the quantity and variety of Latin materials which were trans-
lated by Anglo-Saxon authors, it is not surprising that most examples of
the Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English depend to a greater or
lesser extent upon earlier Latin accounts. At the same time it is notice-
able that the three peoples were not associated with each other at all in
vernacular literature. In the case of the Arabs, this is to be expected. In
Christian Latin literature, too, the name ˜Arab™ was rarely linked with a
contemporary people and even more rarely with the Saracens. Arabia oc-
curred more frequently in Old English but, again following Latin sources,
only in references to a classical or biblical people. The same is true again
of the Ismaelites and Hagarenes. With the exception of one mention of
the former in the Old English translation of Jerome™s Vita Malchi, they
appear solely in Old Testament contexts, unconnected with the Saracens.
The etymology and exegetical analyses upon which depended the scholarly
identi¬cation of Ismaelites and Saracens were evidently not held to be ap-
propriate material for a non-Latinate audience. Ælfric expressed memorable
anxiety that the literal sense of even the Old Testament itself might prove
a dangerous resting-place for inadequate intellects, and took care, while
translating scripture, to explain passages that might be misinterpreted.7

Lapidge, ˜Schools, Learning and Literature™, pp. 6“9, 17“21, 28“9, 32“4 and 39“41, and
˜Israel the Grammarian™, pp. 89“92 and 103.
Ælfric, Old English Preface to Genesis, pp. 76“7.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

The Saracens nonetheless found their way into the vernacular in glosses,
chronicles, homilies and translations. It is possible that they even entered
that most characteristic Old English genre, heroic verse.

old english poetry
A number of Old English poems are set in the biblical lands which Bede
and other patristic authors had populated with Saracens, including Exodus,
Cynewulf™s Elene (in which Constantine™s mother travels to the Holy Land)
and The Phoenix (in which the bird travels from Paradise to Syria).8 Arabs,
Ismaelites and Saracens are not mentioned in these works, and the evidence
that they achieved a place in any vernacular verse is doubtful. The only
possible poetic reference which has survived takes the form of the enigmatic
name Sercingas in the Old English Widsith.9 This poem, an account of the
journeys made by its eponymous narrator, is known to us only from a
version written down in the tenth century. Though the poem may have been
composed originally as early as the seventh century, several lines containing
the names of biblical and Oriental tribes are probably later interpolations.
The term Sercingas may be an alternative form of the name Seringas in the
same line, which probably refers to inhabitants of the Far East or Central
Asia, but it could also re¬‚ect a corruption of the Old Norse serkir, meaning
˜Saracens™ or ˜Arabs™, or perhaps a variation on other Old English words for
˜Saracens™.10 A similar list of exotic locations and peoples occurs in the verse
Solomon and Saturn, a dialogue-poem composed some time in the late ninth or
tenth century. In this work, the Chaldean pagan sage, Saturn, declares in the
course of a debate with Solomon the many lands and peoples he has visited.
These include cynn Arabia, lare Libia, land Syria, and other eastern regions.11

Exodus [Cameron A1.2], ed. Irving; Cynewulf™s ˜Elene™ [Cameron A2.6], ed. Gradon, and
The Phoenix [Cameron A3.4], ed. Blake. A twelfth-century Old English prose version of
the Cross-legend refers to Arabia as a region about four days™ travel from the eastern shore
of the Red Sea (Napier, ed. and trans., History of the Holy Rood-Tree, pp. 2“4). The Old
English story of the invention of the Cross does not mention Arabia; see The Old English
Finding of the True Cross, ed. and trans. Bodden, pp. 61“3.
Widsith [Cameron A3.11], ed. Malone, l. 75.
Hill, ed., Old English Minor Heroic Poems, p. 98. See also Malone, ed., Widsith, pp. 91“2
and 197“8.
Solomon and Saturn [Cameron A13], ed. Menner, ll. 195b“196. The prose dialogue between
Solomon and Saturn contains a similar list of eastern regions but no reference to Arabia
(The Prose Solomon and Saturn [Cameron B5.1], ed. Cross and Hill, pp. 25“40).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English

As in Widsith, the inclusion of such oriental names provides an impressively
exotic background for the learning or skills of the narrator (though in
Solomon and Saturn, it is Solomon™s Christian wisdom that prevails). In the
absence of any other references to either Saracens or Sercingas in verse, it
is hard to judge how the name would have been understood. Joyce Hill
has commented that neither Seringas nor Sercingas is likely to have conveyed
more than an impression of eastern exoticism to the audience of the poem.12
Compared with other forms of the Latin Saraceni in Old English contexts,
Sercingas is unusual, but, given that the people appears elsewhere in Old
English as Sarcina, it is possible that even if the name in Widsith is a form of
Seringas, it could well have been understood as ˜Saracens™ by an Anglo-Saxon
audience who had already learned of them from another source.
Katherine O™Brien O™Keeffe has analysed the place-names of the verse
Solomon and Saturn in detail and has suggested that several may derive from
the Cosmographia of Aethicus Ister, a work in which the narrator similarly re-
lates his supposed travels through exotic lands.13 A number of manuscripts
of the Cosmographia were known in Anglo-Saxon England from at least as
early as the second half of the tenth century.14 During his wanderings, Aethi-
cus allegedly encountered the people of the Turks, who, he writes, worship
their god using a great pile of stones cemented with bitumen.15 By means
of this edi¬ce, which they call Morcholon (a name that Aethicus de¬nes as
Hill, ed., Old English Minor Heroic Poems, p. 98. Dobbie suggests that the tradition of
the trial of wit between Solomon and Saturn has its origins in Talmudic and Arabic
legends (Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, pp. lvii“lviii). O™Neill argues for a date and place of
composition during the late ninth century in Wessex (˜On the Date, Provenance and
Relationship of the Solomon and Saturn Dialogues™, p. 164).
O™Brien O™Keeffe, ˜The Geographic List™, pp. 134“41; on pp. 133“5 she discusses the
half-line cynn Arabia (186b).
For example: London, BL, Cotton Vespasian B.x ff. 31“124, dated s. x/xi [Gneuss 386];
London, BL, Harley 3859, s. xi/xii [Gneuss 439]; Salisbury, Cathedral Library, 110, s. xiiin
[Gneuss 718]; and Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Scaliger 69, s. x2 [Gneuss
I cite the Latin as it appears in the recent edition by Prinz: ˜fecerunt aceruum magnum
lapide ac bitumine congluttinatum, aedi¬cantes pilas praegrandes mirae magnitudinis
et cloacas subtus marmore constructas phyrram fontem gluttinantem et appellauerunt
Morcholom lingua sua, id est stellam deorum, quae diriuato nomine Saturnum appellant™
(Aethicus Ister, Cosmographia, p. 121). O™Brien O™Keeffe cites the relevant passage from
the edition by H. Wuttke, Die Kosmographie des Istrier Aithikos im lateinischen Auszuge des
Hieronymus (Leipzig, 1853) and provides a translation and comments on textual problems
(˜The Geographic List™ pp. 136“7).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

stellam deorum), the Turks worship Saturn. O™Brien O™Keeffe restates the
case for Morcholon as the inspiration for a puzzling half-line, Marculfes eard,
in the verse Solomon and Saturn.16
Aethicus™s own source for the mysterious Morcholon apparently remains
obscure. However, his passage on Turkish worship exhibits some strik-
ing parallels with Jerome™s account of Israelite idolatry in the desert:
˜Moloch . . . cuius portauerunt tabernacula, et imaginem idolorum suo-
rum statuarumque . . . Et quae sit ipsa imago uel idolum, sequenti sermone
demonstrat: “Sidus dei uestri”, quod Hebraice dicitur “Chocab”, id est,
“Luciferi”, quem Sarraceni hucusque uenerantur™.17 Morcholon could plau-
sibly be argued to represent a corrupt form of Moloch, and stellam deorum
echoes sidus dei.18 The fact that the planet and deity is described as Saturn
rather than Lucifer in the later account may re¬‚ect confusion in Aethicus™s
source or a deliberate alteration, perhaps under the in¬‚uence of other writ-
ings; Isidore, for example, had already connected Saturn with Babylonian
idolatry.19 It may also perhaps re¬‚ect an association between the Turks
as baby-eaters and a general notion, inherited from classical tradition, of
Saturn as the consumer of his own progeny.20 The Cosmographia as a whole
con¬‚ates a variety of material from (among other sources) the Alexander-
legends, the pseudo-Methodian tradition, Isidore™s Etymologiae and Jerome™s
commentary on the minor prophets (in which his explanation of Moloch is
found). It is hard to believe that Aethicus described eastern worship of a
classical planet-deity by means of a stone image and derived name (deriuato

˜The Geographic List™, pp. 136“8; Solomon and Saturn, ed. Menner, l. 180b.
Jerome, In prophetas minores, CCSL 76, 296.
Prinz (in his edition of Aethicus Ister™s Cosmographia, pp. 40“1, n. 138 and p. 120, n. 192)
refers to H. L¨ we™s suggestion that the form Morcholon may have resulted from metathesis,
common in the Cosmographia, in a name which originally read Morlochum (identi¬ed by
L¨ we with the Punic deity Molchomor).
Etym. VIII.xi.23, cited by O™Brien O™Keeffe, ˜The Geographic List™, p. 137, n. 66. See
Cosmographia, pp. 321 and 324“7 for Aethicus Ister™s use of the book of Amos, Etym. and
Jerome™s biblical commentaries.
Aethicus stated that the barbarian (and Turkish) diet included abortiua hominum (Cos-
mographia, p. 168, n. 483). Ælfric explained that Saturn cannibalised his children (De
falsis diis, p. 682). Aethicus™s description of the eating of unclean foods resembles the
pseudo-Methodian account of the Ismaelite diet. A further parallel is the shutting-in
of twenty-two tribes (including the Turks) behind the Caspian gates by Alexander the
Great. On this point, see the detailed study by Anderson which treats of Aethicus™s Turks
as descendents of Gog and Magog (Alexander™s Gate, pp. 49“54).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English

nomine) independently of Jerome™s account, though it may be that he en-
countered it via an intermediary, perhaps oral source. If Jerome is his source
then, according to the argument whereby the author of the Old English
Solomon and Saturn drew upon the Cosmographia for the phrase Marculfes eard,
the element Marculf can be traced back ultimately to the Moloch of Jerome™s
commentary on Amos.
The Cosmographia and Reuel.1 contain some of the earliest references to
the Turks to have reached England, but no Saracens. In the case of the
former, the restyling of Saracens as Turks and Lucifer as Saturn (whether
by Aethicus himself or his source) may parallel the carefree reshuf¬‚ing of
classical and biblical idols to form Saracen pantheons carried out by the
authors of the later chansons de geste. The adoration of any ancient idol was
a suitably damning activity for eastern pagans. The ninth-century Old
English Martyrology indicates as much in its story of Bartholomew™s travels
among the heathen in India.21 The martyrologist (and, later, Ælfric) drew
on a Latin life of the saint to describe a dramatic scene in which an angel
revealed the god of the Indians to be a black-faced devil named Astaroth.22
Thomas, who also travelled in India, is likewise said to have been encouraged
to worship ˜sunnan deofolgyld™, an idol of the sun.23 Objects of worship
such as Morcholon or Astaroþ provided an instant pagan backdrop against
which travellers or missionaries could shine as representatives of Christian
civilisation. Though no Saracens appear during the travels of the saints, the
Old English martyrologist is known to have drawn on a number of works
which mentioned them including Bede™s Historia ecclesiastica, De temporum
ratione and Martyrologium, Aldhelm™s prose De uirginitate, Adomn´ n™s De
locis sanctis and the Liber ponti¬calis. Evidently, although Latin learning
suffered a decline during the middle of the ninth century, information about
the Saracens was preserved and disseminated in these and other writings.25

No consensus has been reached on the precise dating of Old English Martyrology; see
Lapidge, ˜Latin Learning™, pp. 437“8.
Das altenglische Martyrologium, ed. Kotzor, pp. 186“7. Cf. Ælfric, The Passion of St
Bartholomew [Cameron B1.1.33], pp. 445“6. Cross discusses the sources of the story
of Bartholomew in his ˜The Apostles™, pp. 19“20. See also Herzfeld, An Old English
Martyrology, p. xl.
Das altenglische Martyrologium, ed. Kotzor, p. 265. Cf. Ælfric, The Passion of St Thomas
[Cameron B1.3.34], p. 424. On the sources of this account, see Cross, ˜The Apostles™,
p. 23, and Herzfeld, An Old English Martyrology, p. xlii.
24 25
Cross, ˜The Library™, pp. 230“43. See Lapidge, ˜Latin Learning™, esp. pp. 436“9.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

old english glosses
India is mentioned again in a similar apostolic context in the Old English
gloss of a text usually known as the Durham Ritual, where the author con-
nects it, unusually, with the Saracens. The Durham Ritual is a tenth-century
Latin compilation of liturgical material for use throughout the year, col-
lected with miscellaneous writings on a variety of subjects.26 Aldred the
Provost (his dates are unknown), the annotator of the Lindisfarne Gospels,
provided an interlinear Old English gloss to the Latin liturgy towards the
end of the tenth century. He also added educational material on the last four
folios of the manuscript.27 The Saracens are mentioned in an example of
this educational but non-liturgical matter entitled ˜Nomina locorum in quo
apostoli requiescunt™. The Latin text describes the towns and regions where
the apostles were buried. Among them, Thomas the Apostle was said to be
buried in india saracenorum.28 The Old English gloss has india saracina. No
other surviving Old English text describes India as a home for the Saracens
and, as noted in earlier chapters, Latin sources described their homeland as
the desert areas immediately east and south of the Mediterranean. Several
other eastern regions are mentioned in the list appended by Aldred, but none
is connected with the Saracens.29 It is possible that the adjective saracenorum
was intended to distinguish the land of India which Thomas visited from
other regions with the same name. In his homily on Bartholomew, Ælfric
quoted earlier authorities on the fact that there were three nations of ˜In-
dia™: ˜seo forme india li° to þ¦ra silhearwena rice; seo oþer li° to medos; seo
þridde to þam micclum garsecge™.30 Bartholomew visited the third India.
Perhaps the india saracenorum visited by Thomas was the second India, next
to the land of the Medes. This accords with an authorial addition in the Old
English translation of the Historiae by Orosius which speci¬ed a Saracen
land lying east of Egypt. Aldred™s India might then re¬‚ect earlier commen-
taries on the psalms such as those by Arnobius the Younger and Cassiodorus
See Corrˆ a, ed., The Durham Collectar, pp. 76“8, and Lindel¨ f and Thompson, eds., The
e o
Durham Collectar, p. xi.
Corrˆ a, The Durham Collectar, p. 76, n. 2. Aldred™s additions include a list of Hebrew
names given to kings, and explanations of eight Greek words. Perhaps his knowledge of
an india saracina derived from a general interest in the East.
Aldred the Provost, ˜Nomina locorum™, p. 196.
Aldred the Provost, ˜Nomina locorum™, pp. 196“7.
˜. . . the ¬rst India lies next to the land of the Ethiopians; the second, next to the Medes;
the third, next to the great ocean™ (Ælfric, The Passion of St Bartholomew, p. 439).

Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens in Old English

which explained that the Saracens, as contemporary descendants of Ismael,
lived from Palestine as far as the lands of the Medes and Persians.31 The
possibility that Aldred intended the term saracenorum to clarify his note on
the apostle is interesting. Taking into account the addition of a ˜land of the
Saracens™ in the OE Orosius (on which see below), it suggests that by the
late tenth century the Saracens and their homeland were familiar enough
to some Anglo-Saxons to be used as a point of reference in explanations of
more obscure or ambiguous material. The fact that Aldred™s additions are
of an informal nature and glossed for the use of a less Latinate audience
suggests further that the idea of a ˜Saracen India™ could have made some
sense not only to a highly educated audience.32
The Saracens appear in no other Old English glosses. The Micro¬che Con-
cordance to Old English shows that examples of Arabia and the peoples of
the Ismaelites and Hagarenes are far more common.33 This is due to their
appearances in Ps. LXXI.10 and 15 and Ps. LXXXII.6“7. Psalters were
widely copied and glossed during the Anglo-Saxon period, and many con-
verts to Christianity must have encountered the names of Old Testament
peoples for the ¬rst (and perhaps the only) time while hearing or learn-
ing psalms.34 It is beyond the scope of the present discussion to enter
into a discussion of all Old English psalter-glosses, let alone attempt to
outline relationships between them, but a few examples will serve to in-
dicate the way in which they disseminated the names of the Arabs and

˜Cedar Ismael ¬lius fuit, qui genti suae nomen dedit, cuius ¬nes usque ad Medos Persasque
prolati sunt: hi nunc Sarraceni appellantur™ (Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum, CCSL 98,
1143). Perhaps Aldred mistook the antecedent of hi in the last clause as the Medes and
Persians rather than Kedar. Arnobius the Younger commented similarly: ˜Cedar unus
ex ¬liis Israhel [sic] fuit, qui obtinuit solitudinem in regione orientis, quae a deserto
Palaestinae usque ad terras Persarum extenditur, in qua parte nunc Saraceni inhabitant,
quorum pater Cedar ¬lius Ismahel esse reperietur lectione Geneseos. Hi odientes pacem
eousque probantur, ut numquam cum gente aliqua foedus inierint pacis, ex quo orti sunt
usque ad praesentem diem™ (Commentarii in psalmos, CCSL 25, 204).
Corrˆ a, ed., The Durham Collectar, p. 77.
Venezky and diPaolo Healey, A Micro¬che Concordance to Old English.
See Brown, ˜Latin Writing™, p. 40. Until the later tenth century, the Roman psalter (i.e.
the version often described as Jerome™s ¬rst revision of the Old Latin) was in common use
in England. During the Benedictine Reform of the mid-tenth century, use of the Gallican
psalter (a later, thorough revision by Jerome from the Hebrew and Septuagint) prevailed.
All surviving psalters copied after the later tenth century are of the Gallican type; see
C. and K. Sisam, The Salisbury Psalter, pp. 47“8.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Ismaelites.35 The kings of the Arabs are described at Ps. LXXI.10 as reges
arabum (˜kings of the Arabs™) in the Gallican and Roman versions of the
psalter. Old English glosses render reges arabum in a variety of ways.36
Among the manuscripts which contain glosses of this psalm, A, B, C and D
(for example) gloss reges but not arabum, which is evidently to be read from
the lemma; E has: kininges of arabe; F: cyningas . . . arabialandes; G: cyningas
þ¦s landes [nothing specifying arabum]; J: cyningas arabialandes and K: cin-
incgas n [nomen, for Arabum]. From arabialandes and þ¦s landes it is clear that
the Latin arabum could be understood as a place as well as a people. The
same verse in the metrical version of the psalms (the Paris Psalter) describes
kings and nobles of Tarsus and the islands bringing gifts from Arabia and
The Old English glosses of Ps. LXXXII.7 furnish another example of
Jerome™s in¬‚uence on the subject of the Ismaelites. In this verse, Latin
psalters list enemies of Israel: tabernacula Idumaeorum et Ismahelitum, Moab et
Agareni, etc. A number of psalter-glosses (including D, F, G, J and K) gloss
the name of the Edomites as eor°licra (˜earthly™, ˜worldly™) and that of the Is-
maelites as synnahyrendra (D and K: synnehyrendra) (˜obeying sins™; unattested
as a compound outside the glosses). E glosses idumeorum as diobulgild hira
and ismaelitum as þisum maelitum. Apart from E, these glosses represent Old
English equivalents for de¬nitions given in Latin exegesis of the psalms. An
example of such exegesis is the commentary by Cassiodorus which explained
the Edomites as sanguinei uel terreni (˜bloody or worldly™) and the Ismaelites
as oboedientes mundo, non Domino (˜obedient to the world, not to God™).38
Cassiodorus himself took these de¬nitions from Jerome™s commentary on
For an overview, see Pulsiano, ˜A Proposal for a Collective Edition™, pp. 169“71 and nn. 5
and 6. See also the earlier discussion by C. and K. Sisam, The Salisbury Psalter, pp. 52“75.
Sigla are taken from Kimmens, The Stowe Psalter, pp. ix“x. Manuscripts, Cameron numbers
and editions cited are listed in the bibliography of the present work under ˜Old English
˜Cuma° of Tharsis tires eadige / and of ealandum utan kynincgas; / þa him eardgyfu ¦°ele
bringa° / of Arabia, eac of Saba; / ealle him leoda lacum cwema°™ (Krapp, ed., The Paris
Psalter, p. 30).
In E, the lemma idumeorum is divided in two; diobulgild (˜devil-worship™, ˜idolatry™) con-
sequently glosses idum- and hira (˜their™) glosses -eorum. The rendering of the Ismaelites
as þisum maelitum is less easy to explain, but is perhaps the result of some confusion on
the part of the glossator. On the gloss to E and the use of Cassiodorus, see Rosier, The


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