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From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East Paperback – March 15, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As a writer and as a traveler, Dalrymple treads the now-faint trail marked out by sixth-century monk John Moschos, who wandered the world of Eastern Byzantium, visiting the scattered Christian monasteries and hermitages and recording the rituals he saw and the preaching he heard in a book called The Spiritual Meadow. Unlike its predecessor, Dalrymple's account of his journey through the same regions leads, not to meditations upon the eternal God, but, rather, to insights into a dying culture. For whether among Surianis in eastern Turkey, Armenians in Syria and Israel, or Coptics in Egypt, Dalrymple finds only remnants of the Christian culture from which Moschos drew inspiration. The author cannot stop the often-violent persecution or the steady immigration, which are pushing Christianity to extinction in the land of its birth. Yet he can preserve the voices of the steadfast souls who guard the last sparks of a besieged faith. Thus, this book stands--like the chapels, monasteries, and tombs visited during the journey--as a monument to what once was. But Dalrymple also points the way to a better future by repeatedly stressing the similarities in origin and practice linking Christianity and Islam and by documenting real (though all too rare) instances in which mutual respect and tolerance bring the Muslim and the Christian together in prayer. Travel literature of real substance. Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A memorable historical journey through the twilight of Eastern Christianity in the Middle East, heartfelt and beautifully told. Dalrymple (The City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, 1994) has carved an unorthodox niche for an English travel writer: He is following in the 1,400-year-old path of an Orthodox monk. In 587, Friar John Moschos and a young student trekked across the Middle East, collecting precious relics and manuscripts from obscure monasteries, from present-day Turkey to Egypt. Dalrymples quest is similar; he is preserving the stories of the last generation of Orthodox Christians in the Middle East. Retracing Moschoss steps, Dalrymple finds once glorious Christian communities on the brink of extinction. One Turkish village that had 17 Syrian Orthodox churches now has only one [Christian] inhabitant, its elderly priest. In Turkey, Armenian Christianity has been more systematically erased, with cathedrals renovated into mosques, gravestones obliterated, and any mention of the Armenian presence in Turkey censored from publications, turning their existence into a historical myth. In one town, Dalrymple interviews a superannuated survivor of the Syrian Christian resistance of 1915, when Syrians witnessed the genocide of the Armenians and knew that they were next to be deported. Today, however, the descendants of Orthodox Christians in Turkey and elsewhere are emigrating as quickly as they can. Old churches stand abandoned or are employed for other purposesin Istanbul, for example, Dalrymple is denied entrance to a famous basilica because there is a Turkish beauty contest going on inside. Dalrymple is a talented writer, with a subtle wit, a keen eye for historical irony, and a relish for architectural detail. If his treatment of Eastern Orthodoxy is somewhat romantic, ignoring centuries of internecine conflict among various ethnic groups, it is understandable given his urgency to record the plight of this last generation of Orthodox practitioners in Muslim-dominated areas. An evensong for a dying civilization. (24 b&w and 8 color photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805061770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805061772
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By W M on October 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was familiar with the author's previous works on India and Central Asia so I had high expectations when I bought From the Holy Mountain. I'm glad I did it!
Dalrymple, a Roman Catholic from Scotland, recreates the journeys of the Christian monk John Moschos who wandered from city to cave to monastary throughout the Levant in the 6th century. In so doing the author provides a glimpse of what life is like for the dwindling Christian population still living in the Middle East today.
What he finds is both fascinating and tragic. He meets some of the last surviving members of the tiny Greek communities in Istanbul and Alexandria. He braves PKK terrorists in Turkey and Muslim terrorists in Upper Egypt. He visits desperate Christian Palestinian refugees inside Israel. He breaks bread with besieged monks in Syria and Lebanon. He talks with a Maronite warlord in Beirut. He interviews the vulgar inhabitants of a modern Israeli Jewish settlement called Ariel.
This book is eye-opening. For instance, I had the impression there were far, far fewer Christians in the Middle East than the 14 million quoted by the author. I did not know the astonishing extent to which Islam has retained the rituals, habits and customs of early Eastern Christianity. I was also unaware that Coptic Christians comprise roughly 20% of the Egyptian population. And I did not know how much early Celtic Christianity was influenced by the Byzantines.
One complaint: I'm afraid sometimes Dalrymple mentions too much and in the heated political and religious atmosphere this is not always a good idea. For instance, was it really wise of the author to have remarked on the fortifications currently being undertaken at Ein Wardo? He writes that he has disguised the identities of some of the people he met for precisely this reason.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Duncan C. McDougall on December 20, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After sharing tales of our separate tours of Greece, some 35 years apart, I was told by the Chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, in which I teach, "You must read From the Holy Mountain." I interpreted that as an assignment, and ordered the book. I hereby thank my chancellor for his recommendation.

Not since Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has a travelogue been so much more than a tale about a trip.

From the Holy Mountain is about a Scottish Roman Catholic who, in 1994, decided to retrace the steps taken and chronicled by Fr. John Moschos back in 587 A.D. Dalrymple visits Eastern Orthodox monasteries in the Middle East where, even as late as 1994, local Muslims came to worship, and brought animals to sacrifice to Christian saints whom they believed capable of divine intervention in their lives. The book is about Greece and Turkey and Syria and Lebanon and Israel and Egypt in 587 A.D., in 1994, and episodically in-between.

William Dalrymple is a skilled writer whose prose moves at a fast pace, without sacrificing the detail and anecdotes which lend humor and humanity to his story. Dalrymple has the gift of conversation. His interpersonal encounters keep the story alive.

Dalrymple has a prodigious vocabulary, and visits some obscure places, so the book is best read with a dictionary and a good atlas nearby.

For anyone with an interest in any of the countries mentioned above, an interest in the Byzantine or Ottoman Empires, an interest in early or modern Christianity, in early or modern Islam, or simply with a traveler's soul, From the Holy Mountain is a great book.

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mel on December 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's a pretty quick read and full of information. Written as a conversation between subjects and the author, he has entertaining and rarely heard of facts to make situations more interesting than they would be in a text book.
The entire book is based on the travels of John Moschos, and Orthodox Christian monk, and a fellow monk friend of his leaving from the area near Constantinople in 587 and travelled around the contemporary Byzantine Empire of the late sixth century. They visit monastaries, holy sites, hermits, stylites, seemingly insane ascetics. One of them who was actually commanded by his bishop to desist in his extreme ways lest he harm himself while being crouched over in a 4" high cage in the blazing sun for years on end.
Dalrymple follows Moschos in his travels except 14 centuries later explaining in detail and with sorrow the extreme changes which have taken place due to Muslim invasion, persecution, and denegration of Christian communities. Interviews and conversations with Armenian, Jacobite, Coptic, Greek, and Antiochian Orthodox (all one Church, just the cultural identity around the parishes) as well as a few Catholics, all but one of whom were Marionites, more than just a few Muslims (almost all of whom are Palestinians), a few Nestorians, and in Alexandria what was left of the Jewish community, too small to even have the minimum amount of males to keep up the synagogue services fill the pages in conjunction with quotes and anticdotes from Moschos.
Some of the stories are extraordinarily tragic such as interviews he has with Armenians and Jacobites concerning the rounds upon rounds of massive holocausts the Muslim Turks have wrought on them and are now denying as "Christian Myths and Propaganda" (such as the 1.
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