Iskandar the Prophet

Alexander the Great, conqueror, second Achilles and self-proclaimed son of a god, is one of the most prominent common heroes of the medieval Mediterranean world. Jews, Christians and Muslims made him part of their respective religious traditions. The aim of the present research project is to explore the ways Alexander the Great was integrated into religious contexts, in particular in the Islamic world.

One line of research examines Alexander’s integrating function. As the Muslim empire expanded, the geography of his exploits grew. While the Qur’an already defines a broad frame and has Alexander as the ‘man with the two horns’ travel to the places where the sun rises and where it sets, Arabic and Persian literature have him enter Tibet, China and even al-Andalus. Muslims outside of the Arabic-speaking world integrated Alexander into their own genealogies and histories, thus claiming a place for themselves in the imaginary geography of Islamic history.

Another line of inquiry focuses on philosophical and religious issues in the Alexander legend. While scholarship has paid some attention to ‘superficial’ Islamisations of Alexander (such as his role as a quasi-prophet or his monotheism), this research project also looks at religious functions which become obvious if Alexander’s legend is read as part of a body of literature usually regarded as religious.