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The Arabian Nights in Historical ContextBetween East and West$
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Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199554157

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554157.001.0001

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Christians in The Arabian Nights

Christians in The Arabian Nights

Chapter:
(p.131) 5 Christians in The Arabian Nights
Source:
The Arabian Nights in Historical Context
Author(s):

Nabil Matar (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554157.003.0006

The authors of the Arabian Nights did not view the Christians as monolithic, undifferentiated, and adversarial villains, as some critics have argued. The single story about the Coptic Egyptian in China in the 14th-century Syrian manuscript reflected an idyllic and invented past, invoked through the figure of a caliph who ruled an empire never perturbed by external or internal upheavals, diseases, or invading armies. That positive depiction of the Christian changed in the last recension of the Nights (the Bulaq edition). As the stories moved westward from Baghdad to the Byzantine world and to the Franks, the Christians who in the Baghdad or the China of the Syrian manuscript had been as native to the world of Islam as the "nasara" of the Quran became adversarial and alien living in the piratical port of Genoa. Focusing on the stories in the Nights that include Christian figures, this chapter shows the difference in representing Christians of the Arabic East as against Christians of the Byzantine world and the Frankish Mediterranean. In the last case, parallels are drawn with medieval and early modern European captivity narratives.

Keywords:   Christians, Christianity, Byzantines, Copts, Franks, captivity narratives, Baghdad, Genoa

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