Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Sons of IshmaelMuslims through European Eyes in the Middle Ages$

John V. Tolan

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813032221

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813032221.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Florida, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FLASO for personal use (for details see http://www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 15 August 2018

Rhetoric, Polemics, and the Art of Hostile Biography

Rhetoric, Polemics, and the Art of Hostile Biography

Portraying Muhammad in Thirteenth-Century Christian Spain

(p.35) 3 Rhetoric, Polemics, and the Art of Hostile Biography
Sons of Ishmael

John V. Tolan

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses and compares several accounts of the life of Muhammad that were written in the Iberian peninsula during the second half of the thirteenth century by Ramon Martí, King Alfonso X of Castile and León, and Pedro Pascual. Two of these authors, namely King Alfonso X and Pedro Pascual, were taken by earlier historians to have indiscriminately mixed Muslim sources and scurrilous Christian legends in order to create strangely hybrid and derogatory accounts of Muhammad's life. However, they can also be read as carefully constructing an image of the Muslim prophet that could be both recognizable in its partial accuracy, and effective in denying legitimacy to Muhammad and his followers.

Keywords:   Muhammad, Iberian peninsula, Ramon Martí, King Alfonso X, Pedro Pascual, Muslim sources, Christian legends, Muslim prophet

In 1298, the bishop of Jaén, Pedro Pascual, was captured by Muslim troops of the Nasrid emir Muhammad II of Granada, whose prisoner he remained until his death two years later.1 While in prison, Pedro looked on as many fellow Christian captives converted to Islam.2 In an attempt to discourage this apostasy, he composed an anti-Islamic tract in Castilian, Sobre la seta Mahometana.3 He includes a hostile description of the life and teachings ofMuhammad, a standard practice of anti-Muslim polemic. What is unusual, however, is that Pedro gives Muhammad's biography twice: he first explains according to Muslim sources, then according to Christian sources.

The first of these two biographical sections shows his knowledge of Arabic and his familiarity with the Qur’ân, Hadîth, and the Mi῾râj (the celestial voyage of Muhammad), which he cites in Arabic, transliterated into Latin letters.4 He explains his method in the following way: “I translated into romance the history of Muhammad as I found it written in our books. Beyond what is found in this history, I wrote some things that certain Moors told me as they attempted to praise their law, and [others] that I found written in the books of the Moors.”5 In addition to his frequent citation of the Qur’ân, Hadîth (“Alhadiz”), and the Mi῾râj, he cites the Arab Christian apologetical work known as the Risâlat al-Kindî.6 He also claims to have read (or at least to know about) Muslim works of polemic, but this knowledge seems limited. “And when I hear what some Moors say in their disputations, the (p.36) praises of Jesus Christ that Muhammad pronounced bother them, because he clearly said them against the Moors.”7 It goes without saying that this is not a sentiment he would find in any Muslim polemic against Christianity.

When Pedro does present material from actual Muslim sources, he often interjects polemic into his narration. When he remarks that Muhammad was born at “Meca,” he reminds his readers that Meca is Latin for adultery (Obras, 4:4). He berates “Adiga” (Khadija) for believing that Muhammad had seen the archangel Gabriel. “Don't you know,” Pedro asks her, “that men lie?” (Obras, 4:8). Muhammad invented his visions of heaven, Pedro says, to stir his troops into battle; that God is not on the Muslims' side is made clear when one thousand Christian troops defeat two thousand Moors, as we see in the exploits of Alfonso VI and the Cid (Obras, 4:26–27). Pedro issues the standard enumeration and approbation of Muhammad's multiple marriages and in several places condemns him for being a diviner and interpreter of dreams (Obras, 4:30–37, 42). He describes contradictions or errors from the Qur’ân and Hadîth (Obras, 4:37–56).

Even in this section, supposedly on the Muslim version of the life of Muhammad, Pedro incorporates material both from the Risâlat al-Kindî and the polemical Latin biographies. He claims, for example, that the Christian Sergio—and his false miracle of finding water in the desert—are found in the Muslim sources (Obras, 4:29). In his section on “how Muhammad died according to the books of the Moors” (“como murió Mahomad según los libros de los moros”), he says (following earlier Christian polemics) that Muhammad tried to baptize himself on his death bed, and that he had declared that either he would ascend alive to heaven or his body would be taken up by angels (Obras, 4:56–62). He has nevertheless produced a biography that—while invariably hostile to the Prophet—is still largely based on Muslim sources.

Very different is Pedro's life of the Prophet according to, as he puts it, “those Christians who saw Muhammad and struggled to know the truth concerning his beginnings and his end.”8 The young Muhammad, Pedro tells us, is the protégé of a heretical Christian monk, from whom he learns the arts of necromancy and astrology. Muhammad becomes king of the Arabs by defeating a bull he has raised (but which the people believe to be sent by God); he passes himself off as prophet by having a trained dove eat in his ear and claiming that it is the Holy Spirit; he has another bull deliver the Qur’ân on its horns.9 The most fantastic and vicious element in this Christian caricature of Muhammad is the account of his death. As (p.37) Muhammad goes off to sleep with a Jewess who dares not refuse him, her family ambushes him, kills him, and has his cadaver cut up and devoured by pigs—all but one foot, which they dress in myrrh and sweet-smelling unguents. When Muhammad's associates come looking for him, the woman claims that angels took Muhammad from her bed and that she held on to his foot, which came off in the subsequent tug of war.10

Apparently aware of the outrageousness of this tale, Pedro here inserts a disclaimer. I do not know, he says, if these stories are in fact true, but I found them in Latin and was asked to translate them, so I did. Anyway, he says, “it seems that the aforementioned writing is true.”11 In other words, Pedro refuses to choose between the Muslim and Christian biographies of Muhammad, but hints that the Christian sources, by “those Christians who saw Muhammad and struggled to know the truth,” are more reliable.

Pedro's strange double biography of Muhammad challenges the commonly drawn distinction between “learned” and “popular” medieval traditions about Islam. The “learned” texts, according to Norman Daniel and other scholars, analyze (and attack) Islam on the basis of Muslim writings, in particular Qur’ân and Hadîth; they attempt to refute Islam on its own terms, as we see in Ramón Martí's De Seta Machometi (composed before 1257). The “popular” texts, by contrast (such as Embrico of Mainz's Vita Mahumeti, discussed in chapter 1), present Muhammad as an object of derision: magician, astrologer, and sex maniac who uses bogus miracles to hoodwink his people into cleaving to a depraved and ridiculous cult. The scholarly texts, it seems, are the products of minds that have known and studied Islam, while the popular texts spring from hearsay and malicious fancy.

Yet here is Pedro Pascual, well versed in Arabic, familiar with Qur’ân and Hadîth, who actually prefers the hostile and ridiculous Christian legends. Why? Norman Daniel has posited that it was animosity that drove Pedro (and many medieval authors) to prefer the most ludicrous and debasing of whatever they heard or read about Muhammad. Those (such as Ramón Martí) who steer clear of such legends are enlightened exceptions to this rather depressing rule.12 Blinded by his hostility, Pedro was unable to distinguish between the true and false about Islam, instead producing a strange amalgam. The same charge could be leveled against Alfonso el Sabio, who creates a hybrid biography of Muhammad from “learned” and “popular” sources.

Yet Pedro and Alfonso construct their texts in anything but a haphazard (p.38) manner. Recent scholarship has shown that Alfonso carefully crafted his Estoria de España to bolster his royal and imperial authority: the choiceof subject and sources is more deliberate than it appears.13 The same can be said of Pedro Pascual's Sobre la seta: the dual biography of Muhammad is calculated to dissuade his readers from converting to Islam. Perhaps we should turn the question around and ask why authors like Ramón Martí shun these Christian legends.

Dominican friar Ramon Martí, schooled in Arabic and Hebrew, in the Talmud and Arabic philosophy,14 directed his missionary efforts against Muslims and especially Jews. He attempted to attack each religion at its base by showing how its own scriptures invalidate its precepts. This strategy is not new: Mozarab Christians attacked the Qur’ân and Hadîth as impious and silly, at the same time trying to find proof of Christian Truth in them.15 Petrus Alfonsi in 1110 ridiculed the Qur’ân and the Talmud, showing supposed contradictions in both.16 Yet the Dominican missionaries pursued this tactic with a zeal and perseverance never seen before: they schooled themselves in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, pored over the Talmud and Qur’ân, produced massive tracts for the use of their missionaries, and (with the aid of King James I of Aragon) forced Jewish and Muslim scholars to debate with them. The best known of these disputations was that between Dominican Pablo Cristiá and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Nachmanides), at the king's court in Barcelona in 1263.17 The Dominicans staged other such confrontations with Muslims and with Jews.

Martí meant his De Seta Machometi, like his anti-Jewish Pugio fidei, to be a practical guide for Christians in theological disputes.18 But while the Pugio fidei was an immense encyclopedia of anti-Jewish argument, De Seta is a brief text in two parts: an attack on the life and deeds of Muhammad followed by a defense of Christianity from the charge of falsification of the scriptures. This sequence is calculated: the attack on Muhammad must prove that Islam is false, while the defense of Christian scriptures—based on the Qur’ân—is meant to prove to the Muslim that Christianity is the true religion. This strategy had been commonly used by Mozarab Christian polemicists against Islam; Martí and other Dominicans were to deploy it not only against the Qur’ân but also against the Talmud: the missionaries attacked it to show that Jews hold an irrational document as sacred, but they mined it for “proofs” that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.

Muhammad is not a true prophet, Martí claims; rather, he is one of the false prophets that Jesus announced in Matthew 7:15–16: “Beware of false (p.39) prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Martí organizes his tract around this central premise. The “fruits” mentioned in Matthew, Martí expounds, are the four signs of prophethood: truthfulness, holiness, miracles, and a true Law. Martí's “Quadruplex refutatio” aims to show that Muhammad meets none of these four tests. His strategy is to make the Prophet a scapegoat: it is the Prophet and his false law that he attacks, not the wisdom of subsequent Muslims. He will try to bring the Arab philosophers into the Christian camp by using their philosophical arguments against Muhammad: he cites Averroes to prove that a true prophet must produce miracles (De seta,16). Muhammad becomes Martí's sole (if formidable) adversary: reason, natural law, philosophy, and even much of Muslim doctrine, he will try to show, are on the Christians' side.

While Martí sticks scrupulously to Arab (and principally Muslim) sources, he at times fails to distinguish between essential Muslim doctrine and pious legend: he attacks with equal force the precepts of the Qur’ân and the sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Hadîth collections of al-Bukhârî and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. This is a problem that the Dominicans faced in their polemics against Judaism as well: in the 1263 Barcelona disputation, Nachmanides takes Friar Pablo Cristiá to task for presenting Talmudic Aggadah as if they were canonical.19

Martí has scoured the vast traditional literature for anything that will seem immoral, impious, or absurd. A good example is his presentation of the following piece of advice attributed to Muhammad in al-Bukhâri's Sahih: “When a fly falls in a dish, submerge it there, for if it has poison in onewing and antidote in the other, put first the wing which has the poison and then the other.”20 The choice of passages clearly shows the polemical purpose. By pouncing on whatever he finds to be shocking or ridiculous, he can conclude, “All these things seem more the words of an idiot or a scoffer than of a prophet or messenger of God.”21 The purpose is not to understand Islam but to vilify it. While this could no doubt evoke nods of approbation from fellow Dominican missionaries, it is hard to imagine Muslims being convinced through such an arbitrary and hostile selection of Hadîth passages.

But the brunt of Martí's attack is against the sexual foibles of Muhammad and his followers; here he attacks Hadîth and especially the Qur’ân. Martí presents the Muslim paradise, full of the pleasures of eating and lovemaking, and contrasts it with the pure and austere heaven of Paul and the Gospels (p.40) (De seta,30). A recitation of the wives and concubines of Muhammad is enough, for Martí, to prove that he did not lead a holy life. Since holiness is the second “fruit of prophecy,” this helps prove that Muhammad was not a true prophet but a false one (De seta,34–36).

Martí's fourth fruit of prophecy is a good and holy law. He tries to show that the law brought by Muhammad goes against both divine law (as mandated by scripture) and natural law (as mandated by reason). Of the eleven Muslim laws that Martí here assails, seven involve sex and marriage. He derides polygamy as “manifestly against divine law, against natural law and against reason.”22 He similarly condemns what he presents as Muslim law regarding divorce, nonvaginal intercourse, concubinage, coitus interruptus, and homosexuality (De seta, 44–48). Acknowledging that homosexuality is in fact illegal in Islam, he nonetheless claims that since four witnesses are needed to convict homosexuals, Muhammad thus “gave cause and occasion to his followers to perpetrate this crime almost without shame and fear.”23

For Ramón Martí, a missionary friar under a vow of celibacy, the most false and shocking thing about Muhammad and his followers is their sex life: polygamy, homosexuality, even sex in heaven! This obsession flavors Martí's description of Muhammad's death. Martí, unlike Pedro Pascual, eschews the horrendous tales of murder and dismemberment in favor of the Muslim story of his death, which shows the Prophet surrounded by his loved ones, peacefully dying with his head in the lap of his beloved wife ‘Â’isha. For Muslims, this touching scene emphasizes the Prophet's human frailty and the love which his family and followers held for him. Yet Martí is unable to see anything but filth in this scene: “When he died he had his head between ‘Â’isha's breast and her chin, and she mixed her saliva with that of Muhammad. In this way the death or end of Muhammad was vile, unclean, and abominable. And such a death is in no way appropriate for a prophet or a messenger of God” (De seta, 52). In a standard Christian deathbed scene, an attentive priest would hear confession and administer communion and extreme unction, and the dying man would prepare his soul to meet its Maker. Instead of the Body of Christ, Martí seems to be implying, Muhammad's last solace was the saliva of profane kisses; instead of the anointing hand of a priest, he is caressed by the breasts of a woman; instead of confessing and turning away from sin, he is clinging desperately to it.24

Martí, unlike most earlier Latin polemicists, has sketched a biography of Muhammad that Muslims would recognize as true in most of its details, (p.41) gleaned as they are from Arab (and principally Muslim) sources. Yet the selection and presentation of these sources show an unshakable hostility: from the wide range of material in the Qur’ân, ibn Ishaq, al-Bukhârî, and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Martí focuses on what will shock a Christian clerical audience: the sex life of the Muslim prophet and Muslim laws regarding sex and marriage.

If we turn back to the “learned-popular” distinction with which we started, Martí does not look quite as “learned” as he did at first glance. Granted, he peruses authentic Muslim texts in Arabic, but he does so with an invariably hostile eye, looking for what will condemn Islam and support conversion to Christianity. Well schooled in Arabic philosophy, he shows surprisingly little theological sophistication in his attack, failing to distinguish between essential and incidental in Muslim doctrine.

When we turn to Alfonso el Sabio's Estoria de España, we find a different picture of Muhammad's life—and particularly of his death. Here is not the place to plunge into the scholarly debates surrounding the composition of this Castilian chronicle and the nature of the king's role in it.25 Suffice it to say that Alfonso seems to have closely supervised the creation of this sweeping history, which was originally supposed to narrate the history of Spain from the arrival of Hercules to the accession of Alfonso himself. Most of the text (or of that part of it that was actually composed under Alfonso) deals with Roman and Visigothic history. Alfonso apparently meant it to bolster his claim to the Imperial crown; it is probably no coincidence that he abandons the Estoria at the same time as he gives up his claim to the title of Roman emperor.26 Alfonso's scriptorium also produced translations from Arabic of scientific texts, the Mi῾râj, and possibly the Qur’ân.27 For the Estoria's biographical sketch of Muhammad, Alfonso relied primarily on theLatin Historia Arabum of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo (1208–47).28 Rodrigo's portrayal of Muhammad is similar to Martí's: hostile, but based to a large extent on Arab Muslim sources.29

Yet when recounting Muhammad's death, Alfonso deliberately rejects Rodrigo's account in favor of a more flamboyant (and far less reliable) legend from Lucas de Tuy. He tells us that Muhammad had predicted that he would die after reigning over the Arabs ten years and that three days after his death he would rise from the dead. (Alfonso earlier recounted—following Lucas rather than Rodrigo—that Muhammad had claimed to be the Messiah.)30 One of his disciples, Albimor, wishing to put Muhammad to the test, poisons him. At his death his disciples watch his body closely for three (p.42) days; seeing that he will not rise, and repulsed by the stench of his rotting corpse, they leave him. Albimor later returns to find the body devoured by dogs. He takes the bones and has them buried in Medina.

Why does Alfonso deliberately choose Lucas's dramatic legend over the sober, terse account given by Rodrigo, whom he usually prefers? Rodrigo, like Martí and other Christian polemicists, had focused his biography of Muhammad on the implicit contrast between Muhammad and Jesus: Christ, shunning sex and worldly power; Muhammad, eagerly pursuing both. Alfonso wanted to carry this contrast farther, to their deaths: Christ's, the supreme sacrifice and glorious victory; Muhammad's, the death of an Antichrist, complete with a failed resurrection and a rotting, dog-defiled corpse. The death story, gleaned from Lucas, made dramatic and theological sense. It also made sense in the broader sweep of Alfonso's narrative, in which he describes the various groups that had ruled Spain. He privileges two groups, the Romans and the Goths: their rule is legitimate and celebrated. Alfonso sees himself, of course, as the incarnation of both: Roman emperor and Gothic king. The Arabs, by contrast, he portrays as interlopers, never as legitimate rulers.31 Just as Alfonso glorifies the origins of Roman and Gothic rule, he must denigrate the origins of Arab rule. What better way than by presenting their prophet and first statesman as a liar, scoundrel, and Antichrist? Thus, to return to Norman Daniel's dilemma, the failure of Alfonso and his team of scholars to stick with good, reliable Arabic texts does not mean that they are unable to distinguish between their sources. On the contrary, it shows a consummate historiographical skill (if one that most of us like to think we avoid): the ability to shape the past to fit a political agenda.

This brings us back to Pedro Pascual and to the question of why he prefers his dubious Christian sources to his impeccable Muslim ones. Pedro, like Ramón Martí, we have seen, knew Arabic and Hebrew; like Martí, he composed polemics against both Judaism and Islam.32 Yet the purpose, nature, and audience of the two authors' texts could not be more different. Ramón Martí wrote in Latin for a highly educated cadre of missionary friars, whose task was offensive: to convert Jews and Muslims to Christianity through preaching and disputation. Pedro Pascual wrote in the vernacular—Valencian and Castilian—for a less educated audience to whom he presented edifying religious stories and clearly defined boundaries between true religion and error. If Martí has dreams of converting Muslims through his De seta Machometi, Pedro Pascual in apprehension watches Christians (p.43) converting to Islam; his Sobre la seta Mahometana is an attempt to stem that tide of conversion. It is defensive where Martí's work was offensive. Pedro tells his readers, “You will find in it [his book] the material with which you can defend yourself against the enemies of our law.”33

This is why Pedro can include—and prefer—the Christian polemical legends about Muhammad's life and death. While such material would only be ridiculed by the Muslims whom Martí wished to convert, it will prove useful to explain and vilify Islam to Pedro's “amigos,” to whom he addresses his tract by recommending that they read it rather than “fables of romances of love or other vanities,” which is apparently their more usual fare.34

That Pedro knows what he is doing is clear in the organization of his tract. He intends his first chapter (which includes the dual biography of Muhammad) to discredit Islam in the eyes of his Christian readers. In chapters 2–16, by contrast, the beleaguered Christian can find arguments in support of the Trinity, the cult of images, noncircumcision, the Eucharist, the incarnation and divinity of Christ, etc.—in short, for the basic Christian doctrines that Muslims find most shocking or perplexing. He tells his readers which specific arguments they can use against Muslims.35 Significantly, it is only innocuous, defensive arguments that he urges upon his flock, not offensive attacks on Islam or its prophet.

Pedro very carefully modifies his message to fit the purpose to which his readers are meant to put it. Let us look at a small but telling example. In his anti-Jewish polemic, the Disputa contra los Jueus, he describes the differing interpretations of Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, an ῾alma shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The key, controversial Hebrew word, ῾alma, means merely “young girl” according to Jewish scholars, while Christians claim it means “virgin.” For the Christian exegete, this is a clear and incontrovertible prophecy of the Virgin Birth, while for Jews it deals with a mere teenage pregnancy. In his discussion of this passage in the Disputa contra los Jueus, Pedro gives both sides of the argument, preferring, of course, the Christian side.36 When Pedro discusses the same passage from Isaiah in Sobre la seta Mahometana, he does not even acknowledge that there might be controversy about its interpretation. Muslims, after all, believe in the Virgin Birth, so there is no need to trouble his readers with Jewish objections (Obras, 4:169). In other words, he gave his readers exactly the information he thought they would need in view of the specific religious adversary, Jew or Muslim.

Christians and Muslims in thirteenth-century Spain spoke to each other (p.44) about their respective creeds. Pedro himself refers several times to such discussions he had with Muslims.37 There is also evidence that Christians, Muslims, and Jews participated together in practices and beliefs that we today might consider on the borders of “religion”: weddings, burials, festivals, magical and astrological practice. Pedro condemns Muslims' involvement in magical and divinatory practice, and blames Muslim influence for Christians' participation in such practices. He condemns, for example, a ritual that seems to have been practiced by Muslims around him. In order to appease the fates, who come to visit a child seven days after its birth, Pedro tells us, the Moors shave part of its scalp, give it a name, set the table with a white sheet, and leave various treats for the fates: bread, water, and figs (for girls) or dates (for boys). He condemns this as a “vile heresy” and says that it contradicts Muslim fatalism as expressed in the Mi῾râj. Pedro says that he himself questioned Moors about this practice, which seems to have been current in Spain in his day (Obras,4:97–98); indeed, he seems to be eager to discourage his Christian readers from participating in such “heretical” rituals, which probably shocked Muslim ῾ulama as much as it did Pedro and which may well have crossed confessional lines. Pedro felt that such practices and such fraternization with Muslims were dangerous. They could lead down the slippery slope toward apostasy. He needed to give Christians arguments to deploy against Muslims and particularly to instill in them a sense of difference from Muslims, to construct a wall of antipathy that would prevent his readers from converting. Whereas Christian missionaries to Islam at times emphasized the similarity between Islam and Christianity in order to attract Muslim converts (or to argue to a Christian audience that conversion of Muslims should not be difficult), Pedro Pascual had to convince his readers that the similarities between Islam and Christianity were illusory, that the two religions were diametrically opposed.

While theological distinctions may be enough to instill a feeling of difference in the friars who deployed Ramón Martí's missionary tracts, they were unlikely to impress Pedro's vernacular audience. Martí, we recall, dwelled on the sexual foibles of Muhammad and Muslims, which were enough to shock any good Dominican who had taken his vow of celibacy. But perhaps polygamy and sex in heaven would not have repulsed Pedro's readers as much as it would have intrigued them; remember that stories of love and adventure are their more usual fare. Instead, violence and destiny must be seen to separate the two communities and to make them inevitably opposed.

Having already inspired in his Christian readers contempt toward Muslims, (p.45) in his seventh chapter (ostensibly a defense of the Christian notion of martyrdom) Pedro tries to inspire hatred. Like a wartime propagandist, he seeks to stir righteous ire by describing what “they” have done to “us.” By projecting this violent hostility into the past as well as the present, he tries to present it as eternal, inevitable: the wall of violence cannot be crossed. Martyrdom is the great separator: he tells of Christians killed by Muslims, among others Pelayo, martyred in Cordoba in the tenth century (Obras,4:202). He dwells on the story of Friar Daniel, who (along with fellow Franciscan missionaries) went to preach to the moors of Ceuta and was brought before the Muslim king and sentenced to death by decapitation. The Infante Don Pedro of Portugal was in Ceuta at the time. According to Pedro, he witnessed the martyrdom, saw miracles subsequently performed by the martyrs, and brought their heads back to the monastery of Sancta Cruz de Coimbra. Pedro himself saw the heads there, which miraculously looked as fresh as if they had been recently lopped off (Obras,4:201–2). The willingness to suffer martyrdom for the faith is, for Pedro, an imperative; he condemns those who refuse martyrdom and claim to be Christians in their hearts, referring, it seems, to some of his fellow prisoners (Obras,4:202–3).

In this context, Pedro's strange double biography of Muhammad makes sense: he needs to give his readers an idea of what Muslims say about Muhammad, yet to inspire in them so much contempt for Islam that they are ready to prefer death to apostasy. Neither Pedro Pascual nor Alfonso el Sabio is any less shrewd than Ramón Martí; on the contrary, they manipulate their sources with skill and seem to know their audiences better than does Martí. If anything, it is the scholarly Martí who now seems ingenuous, with his dreams of converting Muslims through argumentation. Alfonso and Pedro, nervously watching the interaction of Christian and Muslim Spaniards, forge clever lies in order to prevent apostasy and to keep the boundaries clear between truth and error. Not a flattering picture, perhaps, but let us not call them naïve.38


(1.) See Fita, “Once bulas”; Fita, “Sobre la bibliografía de San Pedro Pascual.” On Pedro Pascual see below, chapter 9.

(2.) He describes this in his Disputa contra los Jueus: many prisoners, he says, “se tornaven a la mala secta dels moros.” Obras, 3:1.

(3.) Pedro Pascual, Sobre la seta Mahometana, in Obras 4:1–357. The only manuscript I have been able to identify for this text is from c. 1500: Biblioteca de El Escorial, Monasterio, MS h.II.25, ff.1r–179r (Bibliography of Old Spanish Texts, 292); the manuscript also contains Pedro's Tratado del libre albedrio contra el fatalismo de los Mahometanos (ff.179r–199r) and a series of proverbs (199v–200r).

(4.) Obras, 4:106; the transcription contains errors that may be due to subsequent corruption by scribes. In other works he gives quotations in both Arabic and Hebrew. Obras, 2:209 (Arabic), 3:38 (Hebrew). On Pedro's use and knowledge of the Mi`râj, see Asin Palacios, Escatología musulmana de la Divina comedia, 378–80; Cerulli, Il libro della scala.

(5.) “Translade de latin in romance … la historia di Mahomat asi como fallé escripta en nuestros libros … y demas de lo que se contiene en esa historia, escrivi algunas otras cosas que me dixeron algunos moros, cuydando alabar su ley, e que fallé escriptas en los libros de los moros.” Obras, 4:3.

(6.) Pedro cites the Hadîth in several places, particularly 41–49. He cites al-Kindi by name at 41 and 46. On this well-known work of Christian polemic, probably an anonymous tenth-century text but most frequently referred to as the “Apology of al-Kindî,” see Burman, Religious Polemic; Burman, “Tathlîth al-wahdânîyah”; Abel, “ĽApologie ďAl-Kindi”; Burman, “The Influence of the Apology of al-Kindî”; Tolan, Saracens.

(7.) “En quanto entiendo por lo que decían algunos moros en las disputaciones, pésales de los alabanzas que dixo Mahomad de Jhesu Christo, ca manifestamente contra los moros dixo.” Obras, 4:217.

(8.) “Los Cristianos que vieron a Mahomad, e pugnaron de saber la verdad de su començamiento e de su fin.” Obras, 4:67 (emphasis mine).

(9.) Obras, 4:67–84. On these legends, see Cambier, “Ľépisode des taureaux”; see above, chapter 1.

(10.) Pedro Pascual, Obras, 4:138–42; see above, chapter 2

(11.) “Semeja que la ystoria sobre dicha escripta es verdadera.” Obras, 4:142.

(12.) Daniel, Islam and the West, esp. 255–76; he discusses Pedro at 116–18 and 261–64.

(13.) See Menéndez Pidal, “Cómo trabajaron las escuelas alfonsíes”; Catalán, “El taller historiográfico alfonsí”; this and other studies on Alfonso's historiography are reprinted in his La estoria de España de Alfonso X; Fernandez-Ordonez, “La Estoria de España.” See also Fraker, “Alfonso X”; Cárdenas, “Alfonso's Scriptorium and Chancery”; Linehan, History and Historians, 463ff.; Márquez Villanueva, El Concepto Cultural Alfonsí; Martin, ed., La historia alfonsí.

(14.) On Ramón Martí's anti-Muslim polemics and his knowledge and use of Arabic texts of philosophy, see Tolan, Saracens, 233–74.

(15.) Burman, Religious Polemic.

(16.) Petrus Alfonsi, Dialogue against the Jews; Tolan, Petrus Alfonsi, 12–41;Tolan, Saracens, 148–67.

(17.) See Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond; Cohen, The Friars and the Jews, 108–28.

(18.) Ramón Martí, De seta Machometi;Tolan, Saracens, 236–39.

(19.) This occurs at several points in the debate, according to Hebrew text purporting to be Nachmanides' own record of the disputation. Nachmanides, The Disputation at Barcelona.

(20.) “Quando ceciderit musca in vas, submergite eam ibi, quia in una ala portat venenum et in altera medicinam, ponite ante alam in qua est venenum deinde aliam.” De seta Machometi, 32. Hernando (at a note to this passage) has identified the source as §LIX, XVI and XVII of al-Bukhârî's Sahih, ed. O. Houdas and W. Marçais, in Les traditions islamiques, 4 vols. (Paris, 1903–14). On al-Bukhârî's Sahih, see J. Robson, “al-Bukhârî, Muhammad b. Ismâ`îl,” EI2 1:1336–37; Robson, “Hadîth,” EI2 3:24–30

(21.) “Hec autem omnia videntur plus verba stulti vel derisoris quam prophete vel nuntii Dei.” Ramon Martí, De seta, 32.

(22.) “Manifeste contra mandatum divinum, contra legem naturalem et contra rationem.” Ramon Martí, De seta, 44.

(23.) “Dedit causam et occasionem suis quod quasi sine verecundia et timore multi perpetrent illud scelus.” Ramon Martí, De seta, 48.

(24.) Thanks to Gretchen Starr-Lebeau for suggesting this contrast.

(25.) For the text of Alfonso's Estoria de España, I have used the version known as the Primera crónica general de España.

(26.) This is the conclusion of Fraker, “Alfonso X.”

(27.) Márquez Villanueva, El Concepto Cultural Alfonsí, 90, 111n13. On the use of the Mi`râj in the texts of Rodgrigo Jiménez de Rada and Alfonso el Sabio, see Miguel Asin Palacios, La escatología musulmana de la Divina comedia, 376–78, 384–87.

(28.) Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, Historia Arabum. Menéndez Pidal lists the sources used by Alfonso, chapter by chapter, in his edition of Alfonso X, Primera crónica general, cxxv–cxxvii for the chapters on Muhammad.

(29.) While it is beyond the scope of this article to offer a full analysis of Rodrigo's treatment of Muhammad, Rodrigo uses material from Hadîth collections: for example, he tells, in Historia Arabum § 1, the story of two angels who took out his heart and cleansed it of sin. The legend is well known to Muslim authors; it is reported, for example, by Abû Bakr Ahmad al-Baihaqî in his eleventh-century biography of the Prophet; on this and other such pious legends about the Prophet, see Schimmel, And Muhammad Is His Messenger, esp. 68.

Rodrigo also seems to use Christian anti-Islamic polemics and earlier Latin chronicles. He follows the Crónica mozárabe de 754 in erroneously stating that Muhammad conquered Damascus. Crónica mozárabe de 754, 8; on this text, see Wolf, “Christian Views of Islam.”

(30.) Alfonso X el Sabio, Primera crónica general §478, p. 265. Lucas de Tuy, Chronicon mundi. On Lucas, see Martin, Les juges de Castille, 201–49; Linehan, History and Historians, 357–58; González Muñoz, “La leyenda de Mahoma en Lucas de Tuy”; Henriet, “Hagiographie léonaise et pédagogie de la foi.”

(31.) See Cárdenas, “Alfonso's Scriptorium”; Márquez Villanueva, El Concepto Cultural Alfonsí, 100ff.

(32.) Typically, Pedro inserts a refutation of Islam into his anti-Jewish Disputa contra los Jueus sobra la fé Catholica. Obras, 2:203–10.

(33.) “Fallaredes en él con que vos defendades contra los enemigos de nuestra ley.” This is in the epilogue to Sobre la seta Mahometana, in Pedro Pascual, Obras, 4:348.

(34.) “Fablillas de romances de amor o de otras vanidades.” Obras, 4:3.

(35.) In ch. 8, for example, on the Last Supper and Eucharist, after explaining two Old Testament prophecies, he says, “E estas dos profecias podedes alegar contra los Judios e contra Moros.” Pedro Pascual, Obras, 4:208.

(36.) Disputa, Obras 2:217. He is following the lead of Petrus Alfonsi; see Tolan, Petrus Alfonsi, 14, 112.

(37.) Obras, 4:98, 144. Informal theological dispute was possible in thirteenth-centurySpain, as is suggested in texts by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. See van Koningsveld and Wiegers, “The Polemical Works of Muhammad al-Qaysî”; Earlier in the century, Aragonese king James I had expressly prohibited laymen from disputing the faith with infidels, preferring to trust the job to well-schooled Dominican missionaries. Burns, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, 90. As usual, if a king has to outlaw it, it must be hap-pening.

(38.) Many thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for providing me with a 1995 Summer Stipend and to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for the Kohler International Studies Grant and New Faculty Research Grant; this support enabled me to conduct research for this article at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. Thanks also to Horacio Santiago Otero and the other members of the Centro de Estudios Históricos of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas who helped make my Madrid visit productive and enjoyable. An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta in January 1996. (p.170) My thanks to Jodi Bilinkoff, Gretchen Starr-Lebeau, and Thomas Burman for their helpful comments and suggestions at that meeting.