The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity Hardcover – June 27, 2006
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'’…Baumer has written a comprehensive and well-researched account…[He] has visited many of the places where the Church of the East exists or has existed, and has an extensive knowledge of the surviving written and archaeological evidence for its history. [The Church of the East] is splendidly illustrated and attractively presented…’’--Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies
"The historian, Christopher Baumer, has produced a beautiful picture book…The book is a pleasure to just flick through – but it’s also a very able history of this virtually lost Christianity" -- Diarmaid MacCulloch, thebrowser.com
About the Author
- Item Weight : 4.02 pounds
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 184511115X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1845111151
- Dimensions : 9.51 x 1.03 x 11.63 inches
- Publisher : I. B. Tauris (June 27, 2006)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,098,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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1. The author had the intention of making this book accessible and understanble to a general reader. While the book certaintly does that good it also had a unintended consequence. Some of the scholarship is somewhat distorted so it easily digestable to a lay person while it glosses over contradictaions and unsavory parts of the church's past and present. For example the author doesn't bother to mention the aftermath of what happened when a Nestorian Monk and a Indian Buddhist worked together to translate Buddhist texts. It wasn't a good outcome but the book makes it seem like Nestorianism had a influence on Eastern religions. No it did not.
2. The book puts to much faith on Syriac sources that are undoubtaby biased and exaggerated on some aspects at face value. The author doesn't seem to include recent scholarship on Hermeneutics done on Syriac texts.
3. The book occasionally resorts to populist rhetoric and history. Because the author capitalizes on a Western pro-Christian lay readership, he paints Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other religions in a bad light and wrongly attributes them (especially Islam) on the reason Chrstianity died off in Asia. The book sort of ignores or downplays the political and environmental impact and reasons to why Christianity in Asia died off.
4. The book commits another academic sin. It vastly exaggerates the importance of the Nestorian presence and impact in Central and East Asia. This author along with other eager but lost souls (Some who are scholars so they should know better) want to paint Nestorianism like it had a impact of Chinese Buddhism, Eastern Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manicheaism, Confucianism, Daoism, etc. and their vital doctrines and holy texts. It did not. If anything it was reverse. These are fanciful speculations that have no basis in reality. All "proofs" are just when texts show similarity. That's not evidence. Ancient Mayan texts show similarity in some concepts like in Taoist texts. Does that make them influenced by each other? No, it doesn't it.
5. Most alarming of all is the authors willingness to historical revisionism. The subtitle itself "... History of Assyrian Christianity" is a total misnomer and anachronistic to the actual historical reality of the church. The book does go into the European influence on the East Syrian Christians but again downplays the fact they invented the term Assyrian and attached it to the Mesopotamian and Persian Christians to bolster nationalism and was very much a political move. Essentially this book is one that distorts scholarship and historical realties to suit his unlearned readers bias and is a thinly-disguised nationalist book for the "Assyrian" Christians.
Those are the only negatives about this book but it still should not cloud the fact that it is one of only three books recommended by Syriacist and is probably the most lucid and understandable one at that. This book might (for good reason) be the standard book for years to come and I heartfully recommend this book not just to scholars and students but also to general readers.
Christoph Baumer is in a unique position to tell their story to the West. An author who has written books on Asia and traveled extensively in that region of the world, he is one of the few to have written on the topic of the Church of the East to actually have traveled to many of their important historical sites. In The Church of the East, he gives us a history of this ancient church that is not only captivating reading but also is visually breathaking with beautiful photographs accompanying the text in this "coffee table" sized book.
Baumer begins with the beginnings of the Church and how Christianity crossed from the Roman world into Asia. The early traditions of the St. Thomas the Apostle and early evangelists who brought the young faith from the Roman world across the Euphrates into Persia and then into India are recounted as well as the early establishment of local churches througout the region.
Baumer then turns to the Christological battles that ensued after the persecution of the Church ended with the ascension of the Roman emperor Constantine. Even as the battles with the Arian heretics had not yet ended in a complete victory for Trinitarian Christology, new disputes were brewing between the Alexandrian and Antiochean theological schools. Complicating the matter was the spectre of imperial politics as patriarchs jostled for ecclesial influence and resentment against attempts at ecclesial hegemony from Constantinople grew.
As Baumer rightly points out, these disputes would have a tragic effect for the Church and leave it torn between the Church of the Roman Empire, the miaphysite Churches in Egypt, Armenia, and Ethiopia, and the "Nestorian" Church of the East. The "Nestorian" moniker that has long been applied to the Church of the East is a bit of a misnomer since Nestorius was the Bishop of Constantinople and the position of "Nestorianism" that the Council of Ephesus denounced has never been held by the Church of the East.
Baumer presents a strong case that differences in language, culture, theological presuppositions and personal ambition all played a role in forming the division of Christendom that flowed out of the disputes behind the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Also, the geopolitical situation of the time also played a major role as Christians in Persia came under suspicion as members of what was now the official religion of Persia's enemy on the world stage.
Baumer then turns to the period following when the Church of the East declared its independance from the Church in the Roman Empire. Faced with persecution from the ruling Sassanians and internal squabbles, the Church of the East still managed to produce some great leaders capable of reforming what ailed the church. During times when persecution abated, there developed a rich theology and spirituality that would guide them in the coming centuries.
Even the conquest of Persia by the Muslim Arabs did not hinder the Church of the East and they opened many monastaries and sent missionaries to foreign lands. Baumer gives an extensive account of the mission to the East that spread the faith throughout Asia. The Church of the East built on its earlier successes in India and spread througout the rest of Asia. For a time won many adherents in China and were tolerated and even given favors by the Mongol rulers.
Of course, their fall would then come from a series of factors that weakened this great church. Baumer give the sad end of the story as the Church of the East was not only weakened by internal struggles, but also was attacked by a new wave of persecution that all but destroyed the gains made in the previous centuries. Cut off from each other, the few remaining communities would struggle to maintain their identities to the present day.
Baumer finishes with the recent history of the Church of the East including the move of the patriarch to Chicago following the genocide against the Assyrians (and other Christians) in the early twentieth century. The author believes a move of the patriarch back to the Assyrian homeland is important to its survival, but one wonders how likely this is with recent events in Iraq.
Overall, Christoph Baumer has written the greatest book available on this misunderstood church. For students of both Eastern Chrisitianity and Church history, it is not to be missed. Both informative and accessible, it fills in an important gap in the Church's knowledge of its own history. It also underscores the fact that Christianity is truly a universal faith.
Top reviews from other countries
Most importantly, for a book that was first published in German, the quality of the English text is excellent. In this respect Baumer's book compares very favourably with Wilhelm Baum and Dietmar Winkler's 'The Church of the East' (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), its closest rival, which is marred by a dreadful English translation that the publishers should never have allowed to see the light of day. As a historian of the Church of the East, I regularly need to consult both books, and while Baum and Winkler's book is a useful source of information, Christoph Baumer's book can be read with both profit and pleasure. Baumer is particularly good on the interaction between Christianity and other faiths, and most readers will enjoy his meditations on the spirituality of the Church of the East and the encounters across the centuries of its missionaries with Zoroastrians, Manicheans, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Moslems.
Baumer and his publishers (I. B. Tauris) should both be congratulated on this book.
Baumer has a very nice style that allows this difficult and abstract topics to be described in a readable manner.