Saturday, June 06, 2009

the lost (Asian and African) history of Christianity part 1

(This is part 1, part 2 is here).

Reading The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died has just been fascinating.

The book describes a vital and energetic first 1000 year period in Christianity, a period during which the Middle East, Asia and Africa where much more dominant than Europe. In so doing, it provides some contemporary myth-busters.

Myth one – Christianity is a Western religion. Take the city of Merv, located in what is now Turkmenistan. During the 12th century it was one of the largest cities on the planet. From the year 420, the town had a bishop, from the year 500 a seminary with a significant intellectual output including access to Aristotle (This was some 600 years before universities began to emerge in Europe).

Or take the fact that in 1287, a Christian bishop, in ethnicity from near Beijing, was sent by Kublai Khan to the Christian Europe. He turned at to meet the Pope, who was amazed at his “orthodox” faith.

Myth two – The Catholic (Western) church supressed various Gospels (of Thomas, Judas etc). Why then do church leaders throughout Asia and Africa show familiarity with these alleged supressed “gospels”, yet still reject them because they knew they were “late and tenditious.” (88)

Myth three – Christianity suffers when the other faiths emerge. Quite the opposite, “Christians needed to maintain their highest intellectual standards because of the constant competition they faced from other faiths.” (46)

Myth four – The church needs good leaders to grow. Not so, for “Syriac Christian writers used the word merchant as a metaphor for those who spread the gospel. One hymn urged:
“Travel well girt like merchants,
That we may gain the world.
Convert men to me,
Fill creation with teaching.” (63-64).

Myth five – Christianity and Islam are enemies. Actually, peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians occurred for nearly 500 years throughout the Middle East. While Muhammad received his first revelations in 610, it was not until the 14th century that sustained persecution led to a decisive collapse of Christianity through the Middle East, Asia and much of Africa. The Middle East even 100 years ago was a place of religious diversity: “an area in which Christians remained a familiar part of the social and cultural landscape.” (140-1).

Jenkins writes lucidly, pulling a huge amount of reading into clear, lucid prose. Only read this book if you’re willing to have your prejudices -that Christianity kills cultures and the Crusades are the only way the church has treated Muslims – challenged by careful historical study.

Posted by steve at 06:15 PM

1 Comment

  1. In my list of books to purchase / read. It looked great, and that has been reinforced for me by your post. Thanks.

    Comment by Paul Fromont — June 6, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

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