Pure Soul in Unclean body: Some Remarks on Christian-Islamic Divergences

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In this paper we analyse, on a transcendental and material basis, religious admonitions and priorities pertaining to the soul’s purity and the body’s (un)cleanness as constituents of dominant or challenging world views and behavioural systems. They are approached as a complex and historically determined social topic rather than as a simply cultural one. Explanations are also attempted regarding the differing Christian and Islamic soul-body perceptions and the syncretistic practices in the late-medieval Balkans, when Christian (Hesychasm) and Islamic mystic versions were widely diffused. Finally, we trace the religious imprint of relevant corporeal stances in today societies.




Brown, Peter, “Antiquité tardive”, in Histoire de la vie privée, vol. I. De l’empire romain à l’an mil, ed. Veyne, Paul (Paris: Seuil, 1985), p. 226.


Veyne, Paul, “L’empire romain”, in Histoire de la vie privée, I, p. 59, on the progressive humanisation of the slavery due to the influence of stoȉcism: “cette humanisation prétendue fut en réalité une moralisation, due non pas à quelque tendance ‘naturelle’ de l’humanité civilisée”. Cf. Axtell, Harold L., The Deification of Abstract Ideas in Roman Literature and Inscriptions (New Rochelle, n.y.: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1987). Such a process of pagan consciousness formation is also traceable in Late Antiquity novels, for example, Heliodori Aethiopica.


Patlagean, Évelyne, “Les États d’Europe centrale et Byzance ou l’oscillation des confins”, Revue historique, 616 (2000), p. 831. Høgel, Christian, Symeon Metaphrastes: Rewriting and Canonization (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2002). See also n. 2.


Lemerle, Paul, Le premier humanisme byzantin. Notes et remarques sur enseignement et culture à Byzance des origines au Xe siècle (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1971); von Grunebaum, Gustave E., “Parallelism, convergence, and influence in the relations of Arab and Byzantine philosophy, literature, and piety”, in Islam and Medieval Hellenism, p. 100, “rassemblement of spiritual forces”.


Patlagean, Évelyne, Un Moyen Âge grec Byzance IVe-XIe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2007), pp. 8 ff., 54 ff.


Veyne, “L’empire romain”, pp. 37–8, 48.


von Grunebaum, Gustave E., “Observations on the Muslim concept of evil”, in Islam and Medieval Hellenism, pp. 117–34; Soltes, Ori Z., Our Sacred Signs. How Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source (Cambridge, ma.: Westview Press, 2005), pp. 67–8.


von Grunebaum, Gustave E., “The sources of Islamic civilization”, in Islam and Medieval Hellenism, p. 11: “the Muslim was a man without original sin, in need of guidance but not on reparation. He also was used from time immemorial to see and value himself in the context of a collective, his clan and his tribe”. By contrast, the hesychast version of orthodoxy overemphasized the sin-burden by representing it as burden of the “grosser and mortal flesh” (“παχυτέρα καὶ θνητὴ σὰρξ”), resulting in man-God distance/oblivion and in immorality (“[…] οὐκ ἔχοντας τὴν πρέπουσαν μνήμην τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ εἰς ἀσελγείας ἐμπεσόντας […]”), John Kantakouzenos, Contra sectam Mahometicam, Patrologia Graeca [hereafter P.G.] vol. cliv, col. 548.


Sahas, Daniel J., John of Damascus on Islam: The “Heresy of the Ismaelites” (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 93–4, 64. On the syncretistic practice baptism before circumcision, see n. 56.


von Grunebaum, Gustave E., “Islam: experience of the Holy and concept of man”, in Islam and Medieval Hellenism, p. 9: “[…] the transfer to the human universe transposed the choice between the good and the bad as such to one between obedience and disobedience. Sin became rebellion. […], the Koran does not suggest a structural vision of evil. Unbelief […] is the unpardonable sin”; idem, “Parallelism”, pp. 101 f.; von Grunebaum, “The sources of Islamic civilization”, pp. 9 f., n. 42.


Hillenbrand, Carole, The Crusades Islamic Perspectives (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), pp. 284–5.


von Grunebaum, “Observations on the Muslim concept of evil”, in Islam and Medieval Hellenism, pp. 119, 126–7: “Sin must be repented and atoned for, the damaged relationship healed and restored. Thus blasphemy is sin, but the feeling that the touch of the unbeliever impinges on the sacrality of the Holy Book is an apprehension of pollution. So is the sentiment that the presence of the unbeliever will desecrate a sanctuary”.


Sahas, John of Damascus, pp. 120, n. 3, 70–1, 158, appendix III; Ducellier, Chrétiens, pp. 251–2, 280, 299, 313, Theodoros Abu Qurra Opuscula Islamica, in Glei, Reinhold and Adel Theodor Khoury, Johannes Damaskenos und Theodor Abū Qurra Schriften zum Islam, Kommentierte griechisch-deutsche Textausgabe (Wȕrzburg: Echter, 1995), p. 90: “Μουχούμετ κηρύττων τὸν Μαγαρισμὸν”.


 Cf. Khoury, Adel Théodore, Les Théologiens byzantins et Islam textes et auteurs (VIIIe–XIIIe s.) (Louvain: Editions “Nauwelaerts”; Paris: Beatrice-Nauwelaerts, 1969), p. 273, early thirteenth century.


Hillenbrand, Crusades, pp. 294, 407–8. On eleventh-century dirty monks etc. referred to in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Turkish epic poetry, Balivet, “Église”, p. 83, on the ecclesiastic terminology “patrik”/“batrach” (= patriarch), “medropolit” acquiring malicious connotation: dirty, filthy, nasty, p. 87 “par les vieux prêtres pollués, par la crasse de leur visages qu’ils ne lavent pas!”, pp. 95, 96 – a stance not excluding “une alliance turco-byzantine ouverte […] parfois contre un ennemi commun, l’Occident latin ou les Mongols”, p. 82.


Hillenbrand, Crusades, pp. 303, 272: “They do not cleanse or bathe themselves more than once or twice a year, and then in cold water”, pp. 273 ff., overview of relative sources, pp. 277–8, 295. See also, from the Westerners’ viewpoint, the English and French defamatory connotations of the word “bagnio” and “bagne” (from the Italian bagno), initially meaning the prison for hostages near the bath-house in Istanbul, while in the following centuries signifying prison of the galley slaves, house of prostitution etc.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagnio (April 4, 2014).


Dagron, Gilbert, “Apprivoiser la guerre. Byzantins et Arabes ennemis intimes”, in Το εμπόλεμο Βυζάντιο (9ος-12οςαι.) [Byzantium at War (Ninth to Twelfth Centuries)], ed. Kostas Tsiknakis (Athens: Goulandri-Ηorn Foundation, 1997), pp. 37–49; Rotman, Youval, “Byzance face à l’Islam arabe, VIIe–Xe siècle. D’un droit territorial à l’identité par la foi”, Annales hss, 60/4 (2005), 767–88.


Ducellier, Alain, “L’Islam et les Musulmans vus de Byzance au XIVe siècle”, Βυζαντινά, 12 (1983), p. 117. Similarly, Symeon archbishop of Thessaloniki views the Ottoman expansion as God’s punishment for Christians’ sins: Talbot, A.-M., “Symeon”, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, [hereafter odb], ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan, vol. III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 1982.


Ocak, Ahmet Yașar, La revolte de Baba Resul ou la formation de l’hétérodoxie musulmane en Anatolie au XIIIe siècle (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 1989), p. 57f. After founding a zaviye (derviş lodge) the stock farmer Turcoman Baba Resul, leading an ascetic life and being represented as a God’s friend, was followed by disciples as a shaman (priest and magician), p. 79 on babas; Mélikoff, Irène, Hadji Bektach: un mythe et ses avatars Genèse et evolution du soufisme populaire en Turquie (Leiden: Brill, 1998), pp. 29 ff. Cf. the Bulgarian Ivajlo’s visions and claims “as a God-given savior from the Tatars” (1278/9), Fine, John V.A. Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans A Critical Survey from the Late twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), pp. 7, 23 ff., 195.


Gautier, P., “L’Édit d’Alexis Ier Comnène sur la réforme du clergé”, Revue des Etudes Byzantines, 31 (1973), 165–201.


Ducellier, Chrétiens, pp. 36 1f., ch. “Début de synthèse en Anatolie”; see also the synthetical and path-breaking work by Balivet, Michel, Romanie byzantine et pays de Rûm turc Histoire d’un espace d’imbrication gréco-turque (Istanbul: İsis, 1994). Cf. the Byzantium “paradox” idea, explained in idealistic terms and without taking into consideration the development of the inter-faith mystic piety: Shepard, Jonathan, “The Byzantine Commonwealth 1000–1550. Introduction”, The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. V Eastern Christianity, ed. Michael Angold (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 12: “It is in this ability [claims to moral superiority over the ‘barbarians’], rather than just brute force, which ensures a ‘superordinate’ centre’s [Constantinople] continuing prestige and goes a long way towards explaining the Byzantine paradox”.


Patlagean, “Byzance”, pp. 610 ff., 566, 589; Greenfield, R.P.H., “Saint Sisinnios, the Archangel Michael and the female demon Gylou: the typology of the Greek literary stories”, Βυζαντινά, 15 (1989), 83–141; Lauritzen, Frederick, “Psellos the Hesychast. A Neoplatonic reading of the Transfiguration on Mt Tabor (Theologica I.11 Gautier)”, Byzantinoslavica, 70 (2012), 167–79; cf. Kohlberg, Etan, Shī’ism (Aldershot: Ashgate 2003), p. 32 on human-shape Satan, Κontoulis, Elias, “Ο εικονογραφικός κύκλος του Προφήτη Ηλία στη Μονή των Φιλανθρωπηνών Μια ερμηνευτική προσέγγιση” [Prophet Elias’ Iconographic Cycle at the Philanthropenon Monastery. A hermeneutic approach], Δωδώνη, 34 (History & Archaeology Department, Ioannina University 2005), pp. 174–5, living water (ζῶν ὓδωρ) as baptism and holy-Spirit allegory. The terminology on popular religion, private/inward devotion, inner/no corporeal senses, etc. is discussed by Williamson, Beth, “Sensory experience in Medieval devotion: sound and vision, invisibility and silence”, Speculum, 88/1 (2013), pp. 1–43.


Balivet, Michel, “Un épisode méconnu de la campagne de Mehmed Ier en Macédoine: L’apparition de Serrès (1416/819 H.)”, Turcica, 18 (1986), p. 141. Süleyman was not the only of Bayezid’s sons to have a heterodox affiliation (“ἐφ’ ἡμίσυος καβοὺρ ἐγένετο”); his “under age” brother, a hostage at Constantinople, stated that he was a Christian and on his bed-death was baptized by Manuel II, Doukas, Ιστορία Βυζαντινή, ed. I.M. Bekker (Bonn, 1834), pp. 91 and 99. Zachariadou, Elizabeth A., “Süleyman Çelebi in Rumili and the Ottoman chronicles”, Der Islam, 60 (1983), p. 295; Kastritsis, Dimitris J., “Religious affiliations and political alliances in the Ottoman succession wars of 1402–1413”, Medieval Encounters, 13 (2007), pp. 232 ff., 235.


Beldiceanu, Irène, “Péchés, calamités et salut par le triomphe de l’Islam. Le discours apocalyptique relative à l’Anatolie (fin XIIIe-fin XVe s.)”, in Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople, ed. Benjamin Lellouch, Stefanos Yerasimos (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999), pp. 28–9. Zachariadou, Elizabeth A., “À propos du syncrétisme islamo-chrétien dans les territoires Ottomans”, in Syncrétismes et hérésies, pp. 395–403.


Balivet, Romanie, p. 165; Balivet, Islam mystic, pp. 6 ff. Mélikoff, Hadji Bektach, pp. 160, 245.


Balivet, Michel, Islam mystique et révolution armée dans les Balkans ottomans Vie du Cheikh Bedreddîn le “Hallâj des Turcs” (1358/59–1416) (Istanbul: İsis, 1995), pp. 109, 63 f., 67 ff. on Beddredin’s Isawi world view; Balivet, Michel, “Deux partisans de la fusion religieuse des Chétiens et des Musulmans au XVe siècle: Le Turc Bedreddin de Samavna et le grec Georges de Trebizonde”, Βυζαντινά, 10 (1980), 361–96. On the upsurge “with the aim of founding a state based on a new religion derived from both Islam and Christianity”: Zachariadou, Elizabeth A., “Religious dialogue between Byzantines and Turks during the Ottoman expansion”, in Zachariadou, Elizabeth A., Studies in Pre-Ottoman Turkey and the Ottomans (Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 2007), pp. 301 ff., 302–3 on mixed marriages. Demir Baba, disciple of Bedreddin, is venerated as a saint (more significant than Hacı Bektaş, d. c. 1270) by the Kızılbaş at Zavet, Deliorman in Bulgaria, where his tekke is, Mélikoff, Hadji Bektash, pp. 53 ff.


Balivet, Islam mystique, p. 64; Zachariadou, Elizabeth, “Co-existence and religion”, Archivum Ottomanicum 15, (1997), 119–29.


Balivet, Islam mystique, pp. 77 : “Börklüce, Turc d’Ionie, donc de la même region que les fugitives de Palatia/Milet et d’Alto-Luogo/Ephèse […] séjourna à Samos où il dut rencontrer le moine interrogé ultérieurement par Doukas à Chio”, pp. 81, 84 n. 99, 110; Mélikoff, Hadji Bektash, p. 149, his memory is celebrated in the Silistra-Deli Orman region, which was the centre of the revolt; Zhukov, “Börklüce Mustafa”, pp. 124, 127. See also n. 87.


Albert, Odeurs, pp. 101 f., ch. “Longévité et immortalité”; pp. 106 ff. Maguire, The Icons, ch. “The Saints and Household Magic”, pp. 118 ff. See my study The Rise of a Mystic Piety in the Late-Medieval Balkans. Heresies and Myroblytoi Saints, forthcoming 2nd edition, Stefan Nemanja, grand jupan, who died as monk Symeon (1207) at the Monastery of Chilendar, Athos, and was venerated as myroblyte-saint, on the instigation of his son Sava, also a monk and later the first prelate of the Serbian church, is the major Balkan paradigm of mystic piety and politics intermingling, Obolensky, Byzantine Commonwealth, pp. 301, 222–3.


Balfour, Συμεών Έργα θεολογικά, pp. 204–5, “Ἳνα καὶ ἡμεῖς θεοὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἢ θεάνθρωποι τελεσθῶμεν ἢ υἱοὶ θεοῦ φύσει; Οὐδαμῶς· ἀλλὰ κατὰ χάριν […] διὰ τοῦ κατὰ φύσιν […] Υἱοῦ”, p. 225, “οἱ ὑπέρ τὸ σῶμα γενόμενοι”. Cf. Balivet, Romanie, p. 148.


Hillenbrand, Crusades, pp. 257 and 284.



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