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Tieszen Charles L., Christian identity amid Islam in Medieval Spain, Brill, Studies on the Children of Abraham, vol. 3, 2013, 296 p.

Cyrille Aillet

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1This book is extracted from a doctoral dissertation supervised by David Thomas (Univ. of Birmingham) and proposes a new look at the Mozarabs, Christians who lived under Arab rule in al-Andalus. This word, borrowed from the Arabic root musta‘rab, appeared first in a Latin document from the Cathedral of León (1024) and soon came to designate “Arabized” Christians originating in Muslim lands or living in areas recently absorbed by the Northern Kingdoms. Indeed, Arabic became a cultural medium among the Christians of al-Andalus during the ninth century and was still in use among Mozarabs of Toledo at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Like many other scholars before him, Charles Tieszen focuses on the question of the identity of Christians living among Muslims.

2The key-notion of identity is not defined by the author and is left vague. It appears, however, that the author intended identity as the representation of community vis-à-vis of the dominant culture, Islam, reconstructed thanks to a small number of polemical texts. The first set of sources, recently studied by Jessica Coope, is the well-known hagiographical text of Eulogius concerning the martyrs of Cordoba. The text describes the martyrdom of forty-eight Christians accused of apostasy and religious blasphemy and executed by Muslim authorities (851-859) according to Sharia law. The author, Eulogius, and the theologian Alvaro de Cordoba tried to promote these Christians’ “martyrdom” as a model for local Christianity. The work of Eulogius and Alvaro de Cordoba is compared with later treatises composed in Toledo during the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Latin (the Liber denudationis and Petrus Alfonsi’s Dialogus contra Iudeaos) and in Arabic (the Tathlīth al-wadaniyya refuted by Abū l-‘Abbās al-Qurṭubī in Kitāb al-i‘lām bi-mā fī dīn al-naārā min al-fasād wa-l-awhām and recently studied by Kaddouri (2000), and the Letter of al-Qūī commented by al-Khazrajī in Itāb maqāmi‘ al-ulbān), four texts that have been studied by P.S. van Koningsveld and D. Burman and more recently by D. Potthast (2013). Tieszen’s work does not bring a convincingly new interpretation to the literature. Furthermore, the chronological gap between these two sets of writings should have been examined with greater care. Can we seriously imagine that they reflect the same “Mozarabic” milieu? And how precisely should we define this milieu?

3The inner variety of the Toledan writings is itself a challenge for interpretation and no doubt a reflection of cultural divergences which this essay examines only superficially. Neither the reference in the field, the study of Jean-Pierre Molénat (1997), nor the excellent study of D. Olstein (2006) were consulted. The authenticity of the Risāla al-Qūī is not discussed, precisely because the author had not read the original writing of al-Khazrajī. He might also have discovered in reading previous publications (van Koningsveld, 1994 ; Burman, 1994) that the Kitāb al-i‘lām by al-Qurṭubī contains a number of valuable extracts of Christian apologetical treatises: the Muṣḥaf al-‘ālam al-kā’in attributed to Saint Augustine (briefly quoted at page 12), the Risāla attributed to ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Ghuṣn, the Kitāb al-urūf and the Kitāb al-masā’il al-sab‘i wa-l-khamsīn.

4The author seems to ignore many important studies on the subject, among which we may cite French scholars Urvoy (1994), Molénat (1997), Roisse (1999, 2004), Henriet (2002), Aillet (2010); German scholars (Goussen, 1909), Graf (1944-1953); and Spanish scholars, Galmés de Fuentes (1983), González Muñoz (1995 and 1996), Kaddouri (2000), Penelas (2001), Olstein (2006) and Aillet, Penelas and Roisse (2008). How can anyone write about Christian Arabic literature in Iberia without at least reading the Arabic version of the Psalter written by Ḥafṣ b. Albar in 888 (edited by M.-Th. Urvoy in 1992), the Arabic translation of the Historiae adversus paganos of Orosius (edited by M. Penelas in 2001) or the other Arabic translations of the Bible examined by Ph. Roisse (1999, 2004)? Even restricted to a narrow conception of identity, such a study should have taken these writings into consideration. Similarly, the assertion that Christian polemical literature in al-Andalus began only in the middle of the ninth century is doubtful: the two Mozarabic chronicles composed in the eighth century, a few decades after the Muslim conquest, have also contributed to the reshaping of Christianity in an Islamic context. It could have been interesting to consider other ninth century writings, like the poorly studied Apologeticus of Abbot Samson.

5Given that this book only relies on a well-known and studied set of sources, previous historiography should have been described and analyzed more carefully instead of being relegated to treatment only in footnotes. In doing so, the author could have defined a clearer field of investigation. Unfortunately, expert scholars will discover in this essay little more than a refashioning of older ideas. It is hard to comprehend how so many French and Spanish references have been omitted, especially in the age of the Internet (see the bibliography below). One may also wonder how such a methodologically deficient study has been edited by Brill.

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Aillet Cyrille, 2010, Les Mozarabes. Christianisme, islamisation et arabisation en péninsule Ibérique (ixe-xiie siècles), Madrid, Casa de Velázquez.

Aillet Cyrille, Penelas Mayte, Roisse Philippe (ed.), 2008, ¿Existe una identidad mozárabe? Historia, lengua y cultura de los cristianos de al-Andalus (siglos ix-xii), Madrid, Casa de Velázquez, Collection de la Casa de Velázquez (101).

Galmés de Fuentes Álvaro, 1983, Dialectología mozárabe, Madrid, Editorial Gredos.

García Moreno Luis, 1999, « Monjes y profecías cristianas próximo-orientales en al-Andalus del s. ix », Hispania Sacra 51(103), p. 91-100.

González Muñoz Fernando, 1995, El latín de los escritorios mozárabes, Santiago de Compostela, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.

—, 1996, Latinidad mozárabe. Estudios sobre el latín de Albaro de Córdoba, La Coruña, Universidade da Coruña - Universidad de Córdoba.

Goussen Heinrich, 1909, Die Christlich-arabische Literatur der Mozaraber, Leipzig, O. Harrassowitz.

Graf Georg, 1944-1953, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Studi e testi, nº 118, 5 vol.

Henriet Patrick, 2002, « Sainteté martyriale et communauté de salut. Une lecture du dossier des martyrs de Cordoue (milieu du ixe siècle) », in Michel Lauwers (éd.), Guerriers et moines. Conversion et sainteté aristocratiques dans l’Occident médiéval, Nice, CNRS, Collection d’Études médiévales de Nice (4), 2002, p. 93-139.

Kaddouri Samir, 2000, « Identificación de “al-Qurṭubī”, autor de al-I‘lām bimā fī dīn al-naṣāra min al-fasād wa l-awhām », Al-Qanṭara 21(1), p. 215-219.

Molénat Jean-Pierre, 1997, Campagnes et monts de Tolède du xiie au xve siècle, Madrid, Casa de Velázquez.

Olstein Diego, 2006, La era mozárabe : los mozárabes de Toledo en la historiografía, Salamanca, Universidad de Salamanca.

Penelas Mayte (ed.), 2001, Kitāb Hurūshiyūsh (traducción árabe de las “Historiæ adversus paganos” de Orosio), Madrid, Csic-Aeci.

Potthast Daniel, 2013, Christen und Muslime im Andalus. Andalusische Christen und ihre Literatur nach religionspolemischen Texten des zehnten bis zwölften Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz.

Roisse Philippe, 1999, « Los Evangelios traducidos del latín al árabe por Isḥāq b. Balashq al-Qurṭubī en 946 d. C. », in Concepción Castillo Castillo, Inmaculada Cortés Peña, et Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala (éd.), Estudios árabes dedicados a D. Luis Seco de Lucena (en el XXV aniversario de su muerte), Granada, Grupo de Investigación «Ciudades andaluzas bajo el Islam», Universidad de Granada, p. 147-164.

—, 2004, « La circulation du savoir des Arabes chrétiens en Méditerranée médiévale », Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 1, p. 185-231.

Urvoy Marie-Thérèse, 1994, Le psautier mozarabe de Hafs le Goth, Toulouse, Presses universitaires du Mirail.

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Cyrille Aillet, « Tieszen Charles L., Christian identity amid Islam in Medieval Spain, Brill, Studies on the Children of Abraham, vol. 3, 2013, 296 p. »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 137 | 2015, mis en ligne le 13 juin 2014, consulté le 01 juillet 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Cyrille Aillet

Université Lumière-Lyon 2, CIHAM-UMR 5648, IUF

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