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The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died Paperback – November 3, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 159 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Revisionist history is always great fun, and never more so than when it is persuasively and cogently argued. Jenkins, the Penn State history professor whose book The Next Christendom made waves several years ago, argues that it's not exactly a new thing that Christianity is making terrific inroads in Asia and Africa. A thousand years ago, those continents were more Christian than Europe, and Asian Christianity in particular was the locus of tremendous innovations in mysticism, monasticism, theology and secular knowledge. The little-told story of Christianity's decline in those two continents—hastened by Mongol invasions, the rise of Islam and Buddhism, and internecine quarrels—is sensitively and imaginatively rendered. Jenkins sometimes challenges the assertions of other scholars, including Karen Armstrong and Elaine Pagels, but provides compelling evidence for his views. The book is marvelously accessible for the lay reader and replete with fascinating details to help personalize the ambitious sweep of global history Jenkins undertakes. This is an important counterweight to previous histories that have focused almost exclusively on Christianity in the West. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* Jenkins turns from the recent history and trend projections of such invaluable books as The Next Christendom (2002) and God’s Continent (2007) to a much broader canvas, roughly from the fifth century to the twentieth, within which the first global Christian establishment persisted for a thousand years. The predominant churches of that establishment were Nestorian and Jacobite, sufficiently different in conceptions of the nature of Christ to be considered heretical by Catholics and Orthodox. They consisted of hundreds of bishoprics from Egypt and Abyssinia to India and China, with the greatest concentration in Mesopotamia. For centuries, they got along well with neighbor faiths, especially Islam. But the pressure of invaders into Islamic-ruled lands, from the East (Mongols and Turks) even more devastatingly than from the West (the Crusades), and the fact that Christians often allied with those invaders, eventually provoked savage reaction from Muslims, especially, and, most lethally, from Islamicized Turks. So secular politics tolled the long death knell of Nestorian-Jacobite Christianity. In leaner, clearer prose than ever before, Jenkins outlines and analyzes this history, which few present-day Christians have even heard of. This may be the most eye-opening history book of the year. --Ray Olson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061472816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061472817
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"The best reason for the serious study of history," writes Philip Jenkins in The Lost History of Christianity, "is that virtually everyone uses the past in everyday discourse. But the historical record on which they draw is abundantly littered with...half-truths...Historians can, or should, provide a corrective for this" (43). For Jenkins, the history of Christianity is especially susceptible to half-truths which highlight the connection of Christianity to Europe, and its role in promoting colonialism and intolerance. Besides oversimplifying its European sojourn, such presentations ignore the long history of the faith in Africa and Asia. Recovering the one-time splendor and eventual destruction of this ancient non-western Christianity is the "corrective" task Jenkins sets for himself in this timely study.

For most of its history, "Christianity has been a tricontinental religion, with powerful representation in Europe, Africa and Asia." (3). Well into the 14th century, eastern Christian groups like the Nestorians and Jacobites spread deep into the Middle East and Central Asia, as far as China and India, where they produced a richness of Christian scholarship, mysticism and culture which was not widespread in Europe until much later. Today, we tend to think that of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia as inevitably Muslim. But a thousand years ago, despite the political success of Islam, Christianity appeared poised to continue as the dominant faith of these regions. This raises the question: what happened? It is here that Jenkins is most insightful. Politically, he points out how the coming of the Muslims probably appeared more as an "Arab conquest": one more in a string of empires under which the Christians could live.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very excited when I started reading this book. It's topic is very interesting; namely, that, though the Western model of Christianity is currently dominant, for a thousand years after the flowering of Christianity, the Christian churches of Asia and Africa were as powerful and influential (and in some cases, more so) as the Western church, and it is only through the chances of history that these churches have been sidelined or, in some cases, completely wiped out. And certainly, though it may serve our (that is, Western Christians') vanity to think that our success was pre-ordained, very small historical changes could have made the modern world look very different.

To his credit, throughout the book, Jenkins does manage to make a number of interesting points. Early on, his descriptions of the spread of Eastern Christianity all the way to China and Japan, and his extensive quotations from now forgotten patriarchs of churches often considered heretical today (Nestorians, Jacobites) give vivid credence to his arguments. I was also very taken with his argument of how churches have to make there way "into the villages" in order to survive oppression. For example, the great St. Augustine once led a vibrant North African church from Carthage, yet his urban-oriented church could not survive the spread of Islam whereas the penetrating Coptic churches of Egypt still manage to hang on after over 1000 years of Islamic rule.

On the other hand, Jenkins' book suffers from nearly debilitating weaknesses. First, his prose is surprisingly dull for the story he is telling.
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Format: Hardcover
My view of the history of Christianity always had been one that began in the Middle East, then quickly spread west, roughly following the outline of the Roman Empire until the Middle East and Africa were lost to Islam. We'd always heard that Thomas the Apostle had gone to India, but it seemed as though that was an anomalous dead end. In the mid- to late-Middle Ages, the "center" of Christianity involved the trials and tribulations of the eventual rival Greek and Latin Churches, with a few tiny sects (Nestorians, Coptics, Maronites) eking out an existence in isolated pockets on the outskirts.

(I do hesitate to use the word "sect," as it so often seems to connote "wayward minority." History is written by the winners - one can imagine a time when the number of Muslims in the world dwarfs the number of Catholics, with the latter being thought of as a heretical version of the True Faith.)

This book lifts Christianity's first-millennium center of mass and moves it a thousand miles to the ESE. It opened my eyes to the fact that Christianity was thriving in Central Asia and further east, including even a major presence in Japan, and for a very long time. Also, importantly, it makes obvious the overriding role that luck plays in the success or failure of the spread of religion. If the Mongols had adopted Christianity instead of Islam, the world would be a different place. (Rather, was it the Almighty's wish that the Mongols adopted Islam and not Christianity!?)

I must say that the author seemed to be awfully repetitive in the first fourth of the book, and I felt as though I was being hit over the head with a hammer. On the other hand, maybe that's not a bad thing, given the nature of the material.

Over all, this was a fairly well written and an absolutely fascinating read.
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