New Book on Islam and Christianity in the Middle East

Phillip Jenkins is an author who has written on the exploding Christianity of the non-Western world. Christianity is growing, not shrinking, outside of the West, even though it is shrinking drastically here in America.

He has now written a book on the history of Middle Eastern Christianity and its extermination over time by Muslims. I am including here an excerpt from Mark Noll’s review of Jenkins’ new book as it appears in Books and Culture, a publication of Christianity Today. I highly recommend Books and Culture as an easy way to keep up with some of the best information affecting religion and culture.

Say, does anybody want to volunteer to buy Jenkins’ book for me for Hanukkah? :-) So many books, so little money . . .

After three noteworthy books that shook up perceptions of the Christian present, Philip Jenkins is now proposing to shake up the Christian past. Where his much-noticed The Next Christendom (2002) and The New Faces of Christianity (2006) charted the recent emergence of Christian movements in the non-West and introduced their dynamic engagement with Scripture, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (2007) suggested that much conventional wisdom about religion in contemporary Europe needed serious re-thinking. Now in The Lost History of Christianity, Jenkins turns his attention to the experience of Christians in the greater Middle East—which, he argues, has been systematically neglected in the general accounts of standard church history.

The success of Jenkins’ latest effort is indicted by how effectively his narrative ties contemporary incidents into long-existing historical realities. In the cascade of news on Iraq, it has been easy to dismiss intelligence from Turkey as a mere sideshow. Only regional experts, for instance, might have noticed that the city of Urfa in far southeastern Turkey had become a center of Islamic piety and a headquarters for the Muslim political movement that in 2003 defeated Turkey’s secular parties and formed a government that rules to this day. American evangelicals are more likely to recall the horrific murders of three Protestants in Malatya in eastern Turkey that occurred in April 2007. The five assassins immediately confessed that they had slain German missionary Tilmann Geske and two Turkish converts (Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel) because they saw Christian profession, especially by converts, as destroying the Turkish nation.

With Philip Jenkins’ new book in hand, it is immediately obvious that such accounts, with no apparent connection to anything but the fervid antagonisms of the moment, in fact represent the latest incidents in a very long history for the part of the world that was known as “Asia Minor” to the Apostle Paul and then as “Byzantium” during more than a thousand years of full-orbed Christian settlement. In Turkey’s case, much is interwoven with the history of Greek and Armenian Orthodox Christianity, when Urfa was known as Edessa and Malatya as Melitene. Each was a center of majority Christian settlement for a very long period, each contained thousands of Christians as late as the early 20th century, and each experienced intermittent attacks of which recent violence is only the last in a long series. Edessa’s history is especially poignant. As early as AD 200 its king had accepted the new religion and ruled his kingdom as the first formally Christian state. Much, much later, in a savage attack perpetrated as the once-great Ottoman Empire neared collapse, angry Muslims massacred 8,000 Armenian Christians in this same city (1894). That same year, one thousand more fell at Melitene; in the great slaughter at the time of the World War I, Greek and Armenian Orthodox were mostly wiped out in Melitene. Yet as late as 1924, 2,500 Syrian Orthodox believers remained in Edessa, when they were then forced into exile. Today there are no known Christians in Urfa (Edessa) and only a hard-pressed few in Malatya (once Melitene). Following Jenkins, we know it was not always so.

The Lost History of Christianity casts similar light on events in Iraq itself. After Pope Benedict XVI delivered his controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, which quoted a medieval text about the senseless violence of Islam, Muslim reprisals took place in many parts of the world, including the Iraqi city of Mosul, which is situated north of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River, very close to the ancient biblical city of Nineveh. Almost immediately after the pope’s speech, angry Muslims sought out and beheaded Paulos Iskander, a priest in the Syrian Orthodox Church. At about the same time, Father Ragheed Ganni began to send messages abroad about his hard-pressed community in this same city: “priests celebrate mass amidst the bombed out ruins; mothers worry as they see their children face danger to attend catechism with enthusiasm; the elderly come to entrust their fleeing families to God’s protection.” On Trinity Sunday, 2007, Father Ganni and three of his sub-deacons were kidnapped and killed. He was a priest in the Chaldean Catholic Church.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Islam and the West, Messianic Jewish. Bookmark the permalink.

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