The Assassins of Alamut are presented in popular media and academic studies as the eleventh-century forerunners of today’s “suicide terrorists,” thus producing a genealogy of spectacular Middle Eastern suicide-homicides that stretches back some nine hundred years. “Sex, Lies, and Paradise” analyzes accretions of stories about the Assassins to see how the Assassins got their name, were believed to anticipate an Islamic paradise in the afterlife, and came to represent for the West a volatile nexus of sex and violence. This effort of literary archeology considers both Eastern and Western fabulations, examining in particular how two popular, widely circulating European texts—Marco Polo’s Travels and Mandeville’s Travels—were key in shaping Western understanding of Islamic history in terms of a civilizational identity that “clashes” with that of the Christian West. The article begins and ends by reflecting on the stakes involved, both today and in the past.

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