- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; unknown edition (March 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805061770
- ISBN-13: 978-0805061772
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 82 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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“Elegant, poignant . . . courageous . . . pitting the idealism of the past against the hatred, dispossession, and denial of the present.” ―Karen Armstrong, author of History of God
“This splid book should take its rightful place on the same shelf as Chatwin's In Patagonia. [It is] rich with the poetry of antique places and transports the fascinated reader smoothly into a vanishing world . . . There are, finally, innumerable wonderful stories in From the Holy Mountain.” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
“Dalrymple is a born travel writer, with a nose for adventure and a reporter's healthy skepticism. His quirky, exhilarating mosaic will appeal to readers of all faiths.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
William Dalrymple is the award-winning author of the British bestsellers In Xanadu and The City of Djinns. He divides his time between London, Edinburgh, and Delhi.
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The incidents, the brilliant pictures of places he visits and the people he meets, are illuminating, most of it news to me.An extraordinary man, brave, hugely observant and objective. This is what reading is for.
On the first question I can report that his style had broadened and deepened since his earlier book. In Xanadu had a breathless, almost over-excited air to it, quite fitting for the work of a young author. The style of From the Holy Mountain is more reflective and mature, although it loses nothing of the sense of wonder and excitement of the earlier work.
The second question has a more involved answer. The travelers whose journey Dalrymple is recreating are John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist through the Byzantine Empire to the Holy Land and ultimately to Upper Egypt in the late 6th Century. They set off on their travels during a time of great upheaval and uncertainty in the Byzantine Empire, traveling through and around the Holy Land. Compared with Marco Polo's journey these travels are almost completely unknown.
Dalrymple chose to start at Mount Athos which he visited to see the codex of The Spiritual Meadow, Moschos' collection of the tales he heard on the way. It is not far-fetched to say that From the Holy Mountain becomes Dalrymple's Spiritual Meadow as he shares with us the stories of the people he met and the places through which he traveled. He then heads east through Istanbul, Anatolia, Syria, through Lebanon, the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Cairo, and ultimately into Upper Egypt to conclude his journey in the Great Kharga Oasis. This journey took Dalrymple nearly six months and during that time he passed through some of the most troubled and contentious areas in the world. In all that time he never loses sight of the primary purpose of his journey which was to chronicle what had become of the Christian communities in the region in the 1500 years since Moschos and Sophronius had passed that way.
Dalrymple's two great strengths are his deep knowledge of ancient culture and history, and his genuine fondness and empathy towards the people whose lives he briefly encounters during his journey. These two aspects of his writing complement each other wonderfully in that he is able to give a sympathetic and knowledgeable account not only of the present situation in which communities find themselves but also to provide insight into how they came to be there. He is fully engaged in the problem of understanding how this region has became a place in which such deep animosities and hatred are daily acted out between three of the world's great religions, the three peoples of the Book. It will come as no surprise that he offers no simplistic or easy answers, but what he does provide is a detailed and insightful account of a region that has become more, rather than less, troubled in the 20 years that have passed since he wrote his account.
The answer to my second question then is a resounding, "yes". In my view this is an even better book than In Xanadu. Dalrymple has taken a less promising theme and turned it into a grand narrative encapsulating three of the world's most important religions over a period of immense historical change. He manages to chronicle the political, historical and religious developments that have turned this part of the world into such culturally rich, but politically and religious difficult place to understand. Reading this book has significantly improved my understanding of the region and its people.
But then this book is real. William Dalrymple is searching for Christians. Well ok he is searching for Christian descendants of ancient Christians . . . in the places John Moschos visited . . . 1400 year ago. The major point of the book seems to be that Christian History in the Middle East is literally vanishing . . . both physically though the deterioration and destruction of churches, monasteries and sacred sites . . . and culturally through the persecution, extermination and exportation of Christian people groups.
So William (the author) goes to those places that John Moschos went to. It turns out, the places were real. And that there are real stories to tell from real Christians living in real places in "Bible Land" which in modern terminology means Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and . . . Egypt. Those places in this book are mainly monasteries. The last of the remaining monasteries. The common theme in the interviews with monks, pious laity and cab drivers seems to be that twenty years is the estimate for years left for remaining Christians in the Middle East. Imagine that . . . 20 years left after 2000 years. . . and this was in 1994 . . . almost 20 years ago . . .
As an "American Christian" layman there was a considerable learning curve for me here. However I can't help feeling awful about the different Christian people interviewed in this book who said something like . . . "no Christians helped us . . . we were alone." I can't help thinking that as American Christians . . . we are pretty oblivious to what is going on in the world . . . if it isn't a situation of complete charity . . . well dang . . . it's too complicated . . . say how did our ball club do tonight!!??
Anyway this is a great read, by an unassuming author that inspired Bruce Feller (Walking the Bible) and I suspect Peter Hessler (River Town . . . other China nonfiction). Unlike Feller, this author begins to pray (p. 287) for the remaining Mideast Christians. I think we should be praying for them too . . .