Islam and Deceased Middle Eastern Christianity

Very soon I will be reviewing The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins. I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy this book. I was quite ignorant of many of his points about the history of Middle Eastern Christianity. The following excerpt and thoughts are about one facet of the book. This is in no way an anti-Islamic book. But it is a book that is realistic about Islam.

I admit to being confused about why anyone would be drawn to the books of Karen Armstrong, a writer who likes to emphasize the alleged commonalities between the world’s three monotheistic faiths. I admit I am criticizing books I have not read beyond a perusal in the bookstore. But the covers had enough on them to cause me to scoff in disbelief. I don’t prefer to waste my time on books I find unhelpful in any area of thinking I care about. And I care about religion.

Philip Jenkins has a beautiful book describing the lost treasure of Middle Eastern Christianity. Believe me: Middle Eastern Christianity has its warts. But when I share a review of Jenkins’ book, I think many of you will be surprised by the continued connection the Middle Eastern church had to its Jewish roots even in the late Middle Ages.

While in no way being an anti-Islamic book, The Lost History of Christianity does include a sharp critique of Karen Armstrong:

In reality, the story of religious change involves far more active persecution and massacre at the hands of Muslim authorities than would be suggested by modern believers in Islamic tolerance. Even in the most optimistic view, Armstrong’s reference to Christians possessing “full religious liberty” in Muslim Spain or elsewhere beggars belief.

On page 140, he notes that the very term genocide was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, commenting on the massacre of Assyrian Christians in Iraq by Muslim authorities. Hitler himself referred to the incident in a speech in 1939.

Jenkins points out that the last 100 years have been Islam’s most violent. In the last 100 years, Christians have ceased to exist in all but a few places in the Middle East, all due to Islamic massacres, conversions, and expulsions (I might note that the only injustice the world seems to decry is the expulsion of some Palestinians during the war for Israel’s independence).

In 1900, Christians represented 11% of the Middle Eastern population. Today they represent approximately zero. Consider, the U.S. is 2% Jewish and 4.5% Muslim. Yet how many Muslims and Jews do you see or know in the cities of America? Imagine if they all disappeared over the next few decades through slaughter or expulsion (may it never be and God forbid). Yet that would not compare to the violent change and elimination of 11% of the people of the Middle East.

Still, Jenkins points out that some conservative voices are being too alarmist in warning of Islamic law soon overtaking Europe. And Islam has had periods of relative tolerance. Perhaps Islam could return to a more tolerant mode.

But we should not be fooled. We should keep our eyes open. And liberal or conservative, we should decry Islamic violence and intolerance. But most of all, we should mourn the passing of a vibrant Christianity of the Middle East (I will say more about it in my coming review). The treasure that has been lost, the manuscripts that have been burned, and the knowledge forever destroyed about world history and religion are unrecoverable.


About Derek Leman

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

7 Responses to Islam and Deceased Middle Eastern Christianity

  1. judahgabriel says:

    Thanks for bringing attention to this, Derek.

    We had a young Lebanese Catholic man come to shabbat Torah study a few weeks back. While we clearly had theological differences, he is nonetheless a believer in Messiah.

    He described the situation in Lebanon, with Hizb’allah attempting to strong arm all the parties over there. He described Israel’s attack on the country the other summer and what it did to some cities there. (His view of Israel is positive, but that it shouldn’t have attacked the cities, too much loss of life and property.) He described how the Muslim extremists had assassinated a [Catholic] Christian party head years ago, and how deeply that hurt the Catholic community there. It was really eye-opening to hear this stuff first-hand.

    I wonder how long the dwindling Christian community in Lebanon can survive with Hizb’allah having power.

  2. Nate says:

    I’m looking forward to reading Jenkin’s book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  3. peterygwendyta says:

    I am also looking forward to Jenkin’s book. I read his other one on Global Christendom which was very good also. 2 very good books on looking at how Islam fits into the end times are by Walid Shoebat call “God’s War on Terror” and “Why I left Jihad”.

  4. Nate says:

    Derek, what is the full title of the book you’re reviewing? I see what looks like two editions on Amazon.

  5. warland52 says:

    Dear Derek – great post and I wish to read that book as well. I have some familarity with the middle eastern churches from other reading – but more importantly from a bit of experience. I live in the Detroit area. As you know I am a Catholic. The Detroit area has one of the largest populations of muslims, but also of middle eastern christians in the world. Specifically there is a large population of Chaldean Catholics- i.e. Iraqi Catholics. To make a long story short, they were a group from the Assyrian Church of the East that reunited with Rome. They retain their own liturgy – similar to many other eastern liturgies. The Liturgy is normally said in a form of Aramaic (Syriac). At some masses, they also conduct their Liturgy in English and Arabic. I attended a Chaldean Liturgy in Aramaic – I figured if I am privileged to live about 2 miles from a Chaldean Catholic Church – I should darn well attend a mass!! It was amazing to experience them saying the Lord’s Prayer in something close to the very language he likely used. Of course the Chaldean Church in Iraq is being persecuted nearly out of existence. When I say persecuted I mean Churches burned, laity and Priests and Bishops murdered etc. Where is the voice of Karen Armstrong on these outrages?!! Pray for the Chaldean Church and all Christian Churches (and all Christians) in Iraq. And speak out…many have left and wish to come to the US but were not granted refugee status (shame on Bush administration for that one). They are stranded in Syria and Jordan.


  6. warland52 says:

    Here is a link to a website primarily about the Church in Iraq but also more broadly in the Middle East.

    The Church also undergoes serious persecution in Asia and Africa (there have been terrible persecutions in certain provinces in India this year that have been ignored by the mainstream press). I highly recommend another website I will link to in another post which covers Asia.

    For those who might browse Touchstone Magazine (a broad traditional protestant, orthodox, catholic magazine)..they have a column every month called the Suffering Church which gives needed coverage to what goes on around the world. Many evangelicals also suffer horribly for the faith.



  7. warland52 says:

    Sorry for so many posts…here is link to a Catholic website on the Church in Asia including the Middle East.

    Note that in Orissa India there was a “pogrom”. Thats right. Remember the pogroms the Jewish people suffered at the hands of Russians and Poles who dared to wear the name of Christ while doing evil and harm to the Jewish people. Christians in India have just suffered a brutal Pogrom this year. No one in the Media much cared.

    See top right of the linked page.


    For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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