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The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia [Paperback]

Philip Jenkins
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Feb 2009
This book tells a surprising story. Many think of Christianity as a Western faith, which grew out of its origins in the Middle East towards Rome and into Europe, paving the way for the Enlightenment, science and modernity. However, Philip Jenkins reveals, the largest and most influential churches of Christianity's youth lay to the east of Rome, covered the world from China to North Africa, encountered a full spectrum of acceptance to persecution under Islamic rule and only expired after a thousand-year reign after Constantine. This is the story of these churches of the East and how they became extinct - but not before becoming the dominant expression of Christianity for its first 1,000 years and helping to shape both the Asia and the Christianity we know today.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Lion Books (20 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745953670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745953670
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 697,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"In this highly readable and sobering exploration of how religions - including our own - grow, falter and sometimes die, Jenkins adds a unique dimension to present day religious studies in a voice and style that non-specialists can also appreciate."--Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard University

About the Author

Philip Jenkins is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. He was educated at Cambridge and has written 20 books and over a hundred articles and reviews. He has won several book prizes in Christian and secular arenas alike.

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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
A fascinating insight into a neglected corner of church history, this is the story of the spread, flourishing and long slow decline of so-called Nestorian and Jacobite Christianity in Syria, Mesopotamia and points east along the Silk Road into what are now Afghanistan, China, and Japan. (Technically known as the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Nestorian and Jacobite branches of the faith grew out of the split from so-called `orthodox' Christianity amidst the politicking of the 5th-century Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.)

This is a tale that Jenkins tells well, particularly when it comes to the tremendous flowering of the faith from the fifth and sixth centuries onwards. He highlights the vital role centres of learning like Nisibis had, both in preserving the teaching of thinkers of the ancient world such as Aristotle, and in acting as a centre of insightful theological speculation to rival Rome and Constantinople. Although he ventures once again into territory he's covered before in examining the not-always harmonious relationships between Christianity and often intolerant Islam (especially from the 13th century onwards), Jenkins' account is nevertheless nuanced enough to make it clear that Christians were sometimes tolerated (albeit as second-class citizens), and to address openly how external factors - especially disastrous political alliances with the Mongols, periods of economic hardship and the provocations of other branches of Christianity - played their part in the relatively rapid demise of the Church of the East.

Jenkins brings the account up to date with an analysis of how the Church of the East is gradually but inexorably on the wane in its ancient heartlands of eastern Turkey and Iraq today.
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56 of 69 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Politically correct ranting 28 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm very interested in Syriac Christianity and the various Arabic Christian groups and literature that arise from it. I therefore hoped that this would discuss the history of both, down to our own time. I was also under the impression that this was a book written by a Christian, not least because Lion Publishing was founded to make Christian books available. Boy, was I wrong on all counts!

The first couple of pages discuss terminology. Should we refer to "Church of the East" or "Nestorian"? Both have their merits. Rather diffusely, he decides to stick with the latter. I agree; but his treatment of the pro's and con's was rather vague.

After this, I was somewhat disconcerted to find a dreary PC rant occupying the opening pages. And it went on and on. After 20 pages of inverted racism -- Charlemagne bad, orientals good -- I began to grow somewhat impatient. I have no interest in learning how much a salaried and tenured state appointee at some very comfortable US university hates those to whom he owes everything. What I want to hear about, and paid good money for, is the history of Coptic, Syriac and Arabic Christianity.

The book seems to be stuffed with PC opinionising, and distinctly light on any kind of systematic and structured history. (If you are PC, it may not annoy you as much as it did me!) It was telling that he quoted with evident approval some rather hypocritical remarks by the nauseating high priestess of the Episcopal Church of the USA -- currently engaged in sueing her own congregations out of the buildings they paid for in order to promote unnatural vice --, when she attacked the Pope for pointing out the threat of Islam. Unless you are a raving lefty, drooling with hate at anything western, you'll find it contemptible.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What is OK about genocide? 25 Aug 2011
I am writing this off the cuff and without the book in front of me. But just wanted to say this quickly. I've been working on a dissertation on the church of the east over the last two years, and work in Chinese and Syriac, and a bit of Arabic and Persian. Jenkins is a good writer and has interesting ideas, but this is not a specialist's book at all. Samuel Moffet's book on Christianity in Asia or Gillman and Klemkeit's book, which has a title very similar to Moffet's, or Christoph Baumer's book on the Church of the East, all do pretty much the same job Jenkins' book does more or less and in some ways better, but these books are not highly specialized either. The issue of course is that the C of E requires such a tough learning curve, one that I myself fall off of many places, it's almost the case that nobody is fully a specialist in all the areas the C of E got to.

But Jenkins is an interesting thinker. I agree with another reviewer here that he is far too PC. He talks about how "these communities did not just disappear on their own, they were decimated" but then seems to put the blame on other things besides Islamic intolerance. His coverage of the periods 1200-1400 and the late 19th and early 20th century, which were by far the worst periods for the Eastern Christians, are pretty hard hitting. But then he again and again lets Islam off the hook.

The last section of the book has a couple of sentences where you can see the he basically sees Islam as part of the world's heritage and as having a legitimate theological role in the world. He asks the question "will Christians begin to see Islam as a partner in the battle to confront a spiritually cold west, as an alien and demonic force, or as a parallel and equally legitimate path to the divine?
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