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Mirage of the Saracen

Mirage of the Saracen: Christians and Nomads in the Sinai Peninsula in Late Antiquity

Walter D. Ward
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Mirage of the Saracen
    Book Description:

    Mirage of the Saracenanalyzes the growth of monasticism and Christian settlements in the Sinai Peninsula through the early seventh century C.E. Walter D. Ward examines the ways in which Christian monks justified occupying the Sinai through creating associations between Biblical narratives and Sinai sites while assigning uncivilized, negative, and oppositional traits to the indigenous nomadic population, whom the Christians pejoratively called "Saracens." By writing edifying tales of hostile nomads and the ensuing martyrdom of the monks, Christians not only reinforced their claims to the spiritual benefits of asceticism but also provoked the Roman authorities to enhance defense of pilgrimage routes to the Sinai. When Muslim armies later began conquering the Middle East, Christians also labeled these new conquerors as Saracens, connecting Muslims to these pre-Islamic representations. This timely and relevant work builds a historical account of interreligious encounters in the ancient world, showing the Sinai as a crucible for forging long-lasting images of both Christians and Muslims, some of which endure today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95952-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In a world where wealth was determined by agricultural prosperity, the Sinai appeared barren and unimportant. With minimal rainfall and no cities, there was little of interest to Greco-Roman pagan society. To early Christians, however, the Sinai’s biblical connections exerted a powerful attraction, enticing monks and pilgrims to experience the locations of the Exodus. For these Christians, the emptiness of the Sinai was an asset that created the perfect conditions for experiencing solitude (hēsychia). The Sinai was far from unpopulated, however, and Christians encountered an indigenous nomadic population there—a population described as cruel, barbaric, and unrepentantly pagan. The sources...

  8. 1 Saracens
    (pp. 17-41)

    When the Piacenza pilgrim had surmounted the summit of Mount Sinai, his party was “totally amazed” by a supernatural occurrence.¹ This was to be expected, of course. Christians, elaborating on the Exodus account, had long described the noises and divine fire emanating from Mount Sinai.² It had long been tradition that no one could sleep on the summit, because of its sanctity and because the thunder and mystical happenings were too frightening.³ What is surprising about this incident is that the Piacenza pilgrim was witnessing a “Saracen” ritual, in which a priest, who was said to reside on the mountainside,...

  9. 2 Monasticism and Pilgrimage in the Sinai
    (pp. 42-66)

    She caught her first glimpse of Mount Sinai from a cleft in the rocky, barren mountains. In an instant, the light blinded her party as they left the mountains for the remarkably flat and beautiful valley floor. Her goal stood four miles farther on in the middle of the valley. The pilgrim Egeria had left Jerusalem three weeks ago and was tired, dirty, and hungry, but she could not contain her excitement at finally reaching Mount Sinai and the small monastic communities that had developed at its base around the Burning Bush. The monks accompanying her suggested that she pray...

  10. 3 The Sinai as Christian Space
    (pp. 67-91)

    When John of Damascus (d. 749) discussed the things that Christians in his time venerated, he ranked several holy objects and places just below the majesty of the Lord, describing them as “receptacles of divine energy.” Of those receptacles, he considered two locations especially holy: Mount Sinai and Nazareth, because the former is where God made himself manifest and the latter the site where Christ was granted flesh. (Where Mary became pregnant, that is, not where Jesus was born.) Lesser objects and locations of veneration included the Manger, Golgotha, and even the True Cross.¹ The Sinai, which had remained a...

  11. 4 Martyrdom in the Sinai
    (pp. 92-110)

    “Why did the dreadful terror of Mount Sinai remain quiet, and why did it not frighten the lawbreaking hordes with a crash of thunder, with the cover of darkness, and with uncountable strikes of lightning?” asked Pseudo-Nilus when he had escaped an attack on the monks around Mount Sinai.¹ To the marytrs in heaven, he cried out, “Is this the crown you have received for your many struggles?”² Despite his cries, no supernatural force reached down in protection, and monks died near the Burning Bush and the Law-Giving Mountain (Mount Sinai). Even more were enslaved.³ A few monks survived by...

  12. 5 Imperial Response to the Saracen Threat
    (pp. 111-127)

    In an incident reported in several sources, a tribe of “Saracens” led by the woman Mavia revolted against Roman rule sometime between 375 and 378, at the same time when an Arian persecution of Nicene Christians was occurring in Alexandria.¹ Under the rule of Mavia’s husband, her tribe (Tanukh?) was allied to the Romans, but on his death, the tribe is said to have devastated Egypt and Palestine, and as embellished in later accounts, “the whole of the East,” including Phoenicia. She refused to surrender until her daughter was married to a high-ranking Roman official, and a local monk, Moses,...

  13. 6 The Murderous Sword of the Saracen
    (pp. 128-154)

    In early 633, the monk Sophronius traveled to Jerusalem, where he was selected as patriarch of the city.¹ He was actively involved in the theological disputes of his age, and one of his letters, probably composed in the spring or summer of 634, indicates trouble with a group he calls “Saracens.” Rhetorically asking the emperor Heraclius to smite the pride “of all the barbarians, and especially of the Saracens, who on account of our sins have now risen up against us unexpectedly and ravage all with cruel and feral design, with impious and godless audacity,” Sophronius describes the Saracens in...

    (pp. 155-188)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 189-193)