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“The Arabs” in the ecclesiastical historians of the 4th/5th centuries : effects on contemporary Christian-Muslim relations
By David D. Grafton
HTS Theological Studies/Teologiese Studies, vol. 64: 1 (2008)
Abstract: Historical inquiry into the origin and history of “the Arabs” has long been a part of Western Orientalist literature. However, Christian scholars from the 7th century onward sought to understand the rise of Islam from within a Biblical framework. This article looks at how the early church historians of the 4th and 5th centuries viewed “the Arabs” and passed on those images to their ecclesiastical descendents. It aims to argue that the pejorative image of “the Arabs” as uncultured pagan barbarians of late antiquity was extended to Muslims in the 7th century and transferred into the Latin derogatory term “the Saracen”. This negative image has been perpetuated in Western Christian literature and continues to color Western Evangelical Christian and Dispensational images of “the Arabs”. The article shows that such perceptions have as much to do with the cultural stereotypes disseminated from the ecclesiastical historians as they do with Biblical hermeneutics.