Christians, Barbarians and Monsters: The European Discovery of the World Beyond Islam

Authored by: Peter Jackson

The Medieval World

Print publication date:  October  2001
Online publication date:  September  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415181518
eBook ISBN: 9781315016207
Adobe ISBN: 9781136500053


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At the dawn of the thirteenth century, and before the emergence of the Mongol empire, the horizons of Latin Christendom extended only as far as the Hungarians and Rus′ in eastern Europe and the Byzantine empire and Islamic powers of the Near East (Wright 1925: 256–7; Phillips 1988: 3–25). Beyond lay a world of which educated Catholic Christians had only the haziest and most inaccurate ideas, derived from two sources. One was the Bible; the other was the lore of Classical Antiquity. To the canonical Scriptures medieval Christians were indebted for the long-lived notion of a terrestrial Paradise (Genesis, II, 8–14); the expulsion of Cain and his line (ibid., IV, 9 ff.); the wanderings of Ishmael and his descendants (ibid., XVI, 11–12, and XVII, 20); the centrality of Jerusalem (Ezekiel, V, 5; Psalm 73, 12); the deportation of certain tribes of Israel (the ‘Ten Lost Tribes’) eastwards by the Assyrians (II [IV] Kings, XVII, 6, and XVIII, 11); and the story of the Three Magi of the Nativity (Matthew, II, 1–12; subsequently metamorphosed into kings). That the Apostles had actually preached the Gospel throughout the world, in accordance with Christ’s commission (Acts, I, 8), was confirmed by the apocryphal books of the New Testament, where it was claimed, notably, that St Thomas had evangelized ‘India’. But the Scriptures also offered glimpses of a future that involved contact with the obscure but innumerable Gog and Magog, a nation of horsemen (Ezekiel, XXXVIII, 1–3, 14–16), whose advent would usher in the Last Things (Revelation, XX, 7–8).

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