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The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died
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The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  733 ratings  ·  139 reviews
In this groundbreaking book, renowned religion scholar Philip Jenkins offers a lost history, revealing that, for centuries, Christianity's center was actually in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, with significant communities extending as far as China. The Lost History of Christianity unveils a vast and forgotten network of the world's largest and most influential Christia ...more
Hardcover, 315 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by HarperOne (first published October 1st 2008)
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[Name Redacted]
I have a complicated relationship with Philip Jenkins. I was incredibly impressed by his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, but his books on pre-Reformation history contain some difficult and distressing errors. Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way contains a few out-of-left-field examples of his antipathy towards Mormons, Shakers & other non-Protestant, non-Catholic Christian groups. This book, "The Lost History", is likewise plagued by some odd i ...more
Terence
Dec 22, 2008 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Terence by: New shelf at the library
This is an interesting look at the eastern arm of the Christian church, which survived for a thousand years under non-Christian polities (largely Muslim) and, arguably, flourished up through the 14th century AD. Only because of the vagaries of history (or the inscrutable machinations of God, depending upon one's point of view) did Western and Orthodox Christianity survive, that survival feeding the myths that the heterodox sects were suppressed by the Romans and that there were no Christians of ...more
Justin Evans
Not really what I was hoping for, nor what it's advertized as. Most of the book, I would say, is taken up with a) complaints that Europeans and their descendants know too little about the churches of the East and b) attempts to make the history of those churches 'relevant.' You know what? I would much rather have an actual history of them than an argument that we don't have a history of them - which is self-evident, and ignorance of these churches must be the reason most people would read this b ...more
Louise
Success has many parents and failure is an orphan. Jenkins shows how this saying is as true for the world's religions as it is for most anything else. The wide acceptance of Christianity and its growth in influence obscures the history of its losses. I like, many others, have not given much thought about how in the birthplace of Christianity it happens that Islam is the dominant religion.

The book begins with a description of how much of the world was Christian in the first millennium. Jenkins am
...more
Matt
I've never read a history that so thoroughly convinced me that everything I thought I knew about a topic was wrong. The history of Christianity I was taught ran through Europe. Yet much of the populations Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa were Christian for a hundreds of years, if not a millennium. And then they died out. Jenkins discusses the growth and death of these church communities in broad strokes with fairly detailed examples to help make his point. While Islam was Christianity' ...more
Libby
Back in the Dark Ages, when Sister Mary Floretta taught Church History at St. Joan of Arc School, I never heard about the Eastern, Asian or African churches that are the subject of this book. What is worse, they were never mentioned in my college courses on the history of the early church. How could all this history have happened and nobody saw fit to tell us about it? Well, that is one of the topics discussed in this well written, highly informative history. Not only does Jenkins give us the wh ...more
Sincerae
I really enjoyed this history and learned so much. The Lost History of Christianity is an excellent introduction to an obscure subject which the church in America never touches on. The author Philip Jenkins says that much of the information presented in this work is little known except by a few scholars.

This book eradicates the often held belief that Christianity is a Western religion. In fact Christianity was well matured in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa (Nubia and Ethiopia) b
...more
David Bales
Brilliant book about the "lost history" of Christianity; one of my year's top ten best. Once, Christians were the majority from North Africa all the way to India--and had sizable communities beyond, even to China. By the 8th century, Nestorian Christians had established settlements in China, and Christianity was the majority religion in the Middle East until the coming of Islam, and for centuries afterward. Jenkins pieces together how many Islamic traditions were borrowed from Christianity and J ...more
Steve
A remarkable study of history that was largely unknown to me--like most people I associated the History of Christianity predominantly with Europe. It was amazing to learn the the Persian Empire of the first 500 years of the CE was just as amenable to the spread of Christianity as the Roman Empire. The book also includes thoughtful analysis of the decline and "extinction" of faiths and their survival and resurgence. Highly recommended.
Reed
I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the forgotten history of the Christian church from Palestine to China. Because most of the churches throughout Asia were eventually extinguished, many modern Christians do not realize that nearly half of Christendom in the year 1000 AD existed outside of Europe. Places like Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Turkmenistan, Armenia, India, China and more had a strong Christian presence and thriving intellectual tradition.

After outlining
...more
Ed Cyzewski
A must-read for Christians who want to learn about a relatively unknown segment of Christian history. This book is particularly helpful in establishing many of the core beliefs of western Christianity in the broader and ancient roots of the church. For example, many liberal scholars say that the canon and the theology of Christ was changed as a result of Constantine's meddling, but the church east of Constantinople, all of the way to Japan, recognized a similar list of biblical books and general ...more
Frank Peters
This was a good and useful book to read. As the author points out (more than once), the knowledge we have of church history largely ignores everything outside of the west, and certainly ignores those labelled as non-Orthodox who shone in the East for a millennium and more. These Eastern Christians: Syriac and Coptic speaking Nestorians and Jacobites were the focus of the book. I am very happy that their history is in print in English, even in this abbreviated form. While I am very happy that I r ...more
Bill
Filled a massive hole in my church history -- the early church spread to the east as well as the west and thrived there for 1000 years. Because that part of the world is so different now, and because the book of Acts focuses on Christianity's spread west, we have an overly Euro-centric view of church history. Some helpful thoughts also on how Christianity takes root in some cultures and why/how it died in others. Jenkins is often referenced by Christian authors, but this is a history work not a ...more
Kathy
Very different view of the history Christianity than is commonly learned in the US and Europe. As Roman/Latin Christianity followed the contours of the old Roman empire, so Nestorian and Jacobite (and other types) followed the contours of the old Persian empire all the way along the Silk road into India, China, and even Japan, and also down the Nile into Ethiopia. For the 1300 years after Christ, Christians were more numerous, more organized, more scholarly, and even more successful missionaries ...more
Jason
As with other books he has written, Jenkins writes this book with flair. Yet apart from style, the actual content of the book is nothing new. It's value lies in reminding us of the ancient Christian movements in Asia and Africa, but the value is mitigated by Jenkins bias toward relativism. Reminiscent of Bart Ehrman, Jenkins treats orthodox Christianity as a mere historical accident, while treating Nestorianism as a fully legitimate expression of the faith. There are certainly things to be learn ...more
Sorqaqtani Beki
The author ignores the survival of the native Christian traditions of Ethiopia (63% Christian!) and Kerala, India (a healthy remnant community). Of course, to acknowledge them would further weaken his political blathering that mostly reduces to "Fear Islam! Yes, they were ok to live under sometimes, but then they WIPED CHRISTIANITY OFF THE MAP!" I mean, yes, that's mostly what happened in the near-and-middle east, in the dark-and-middle ages, but the book was 1/3 history and 2/3 political rantin ...more
Todd Stockslager
Two thousands years removed from scene, when the Apostle Paul includes Asian Christians in the salutation to some of his epistles, it is easy to read with an ironic and chuckle, knowing that he is referring just to the Byzantine "East", and just for the next 500 years or so until the Middle East would be conquered and converted to Islam. We know that Christianity would only survive and thrive in the Roman west, becoming a European religion; after all, a majority of Americans can trace their root ...more
Dominic Foo
As challenges grow, contemporary Christians can indeed learn lessons from past experience. One involves the idea of success in a society in which religions use worldly prosperity to prove spiritual claims. Many successful global-South churches teach a gospel of prosperity, telling believers that their faith will bring worldly success. Such a doctrine might well be dangerous if Muslim regimes and forces won conspicuous victories while Western influence declined. Global-South Christians are also a
...more
Shaun Liu
This is an excellent introduction to the story of Nicene Creed Christians who prospered outside the borders of the Roman Empire, a story that many readers in the West are unaware about. I'm particularly fascinated with his careful myth-busting of modern claims that there were numerous equally-authoritative Christianities which were subsequently crushed by a repressive Roman Catholic Church; the Church of the East, independent and rejected by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, living under Musli ...more
Moses Operandi
I knew almost nothing about the Christian churches of the East, as far east as China long before Marco Polo. Jenkins' book is a fascinating tale of the rise and death of those churches. His musings about the relationship between Christianity and Islam could be a book of their own; in this one they seem unfocused and distracting. That said, they helped me understand the Byzantine complexity (har har) of the Middle Eastern church that defies simple explanations of its fall.
Esther Dan
Wow! Mandatory read for every Christian
Adam Shields
Short Review: The cover of the book is a stylized map of Africa, Europe and Asia all connected by Jerusalem. This map made sense when the three continents were roughly equal in Christianity. To the east Christians stretched to China and India and had significant communities of Christians that were probably numerically more than the Christians in Europe in the 6th century. But with the rise of Islam and then later Mongols there was both significant persecution and times of relative tranquility bu ...more
Bob
I was very excited when I started reading this book. The topic is very interesting; namely, that, though the Western model of Christianity is currently dominant, for a thousand years after the flowering of Christianity, the Christian churches of Asia & Africa were as powerful & influential as the Western church, simply put Christianity spread East as well as West.

Unfortunately the author (Jenkins) writes from a secular, pluralistic perspective--which assumes religions belong to the priva
...more
Alyson
The Lost History of Christianity is a book that made me realize even more how little we know. It was fascinating to learn about so many different Christian churches throughout history. I also found it interesting and sad considering all of the turmoil and persecution of Christians in countries right now that I didn't even know had Christian churches.

At the end he talks about how we have faith that God directs history and although "permits his chosen people to suffer defeat and dispersal, for re
...more
Bob
This came highly recommended, and I'm glad I read it. However, it had some downsides.

First, the history that it covers is fascinating: it's true that I have only in the last couple years (by people who recommended this book) heard anything about how much the church grew in the Middle East and Asia before the rise of Islam (and even after). I never knew that the Gospel went much east of Armenia, except some vague references I've heard to a church started by Thomas in India. It's a story we don't
...more
Lisa
Much more information on the Eastern Churches and insights into the history of failure than my students usually get. Jenkins argues we need to read about and understand the history of churches in places where they didn't flourish otherwise we are too seduced by the connections between the church and power.
Charlie
As a professional student of church history, it isn't often that I find a book that radically revises my understanding of Christianity. This one did. My mental map and timeline of Christianity has been expanded. Jenkins should be commended for an usually fresh work.
Leo
An eye opening book. I had little idea of the history of the Eastern Church, of its richness, power and Thousand year endurance against so many odds. It is a great loss that so many of their works have been lost to history but due to Philip Jenkins excellent work a new generation is learning of this Church and its Golden Age. One cannot but help to develop a new respect for the Assyrian, Armenian, Coptic and Syrian Churches that exist today under the threat of extinction from Islamic radicals an ...more
Christopher
Jenkins asks all the right questions, though his answers can be a bit off.
Nehe
I am grateful for the book. For one, the fresh material that personally enriched my spiritual awareness; God's church seemed too confined to Europe for the two millennia, but this book introduced me to the once-flourished churches of the East.

Secondly, the writing style is not too pedantic to repel me from reading it like other major history books (cf. Diarmaid MacCulloch's works).

Overall, very intriguing read, although I finished it years after I had started it. I'm glad i picked it back up, si
...more
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Philip Jenkins was born in Wales in 1952. He was educated at Clare College, in the University of Cambridge, where he took a prestigious “Double First” degree—that is, Double First Class Honors. In 1978, he obtained his doctorate in history, also from Cambridge. Since 1980, he has taught at Penn State University, and currently holds the rank of Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities. He is a ...more
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“When they think about Christian history, most modern Westerners follow the book of Acts in concentrating on the church’s expansion west, through Greece and the Mediterranean world, and on to Rome. But while some early Christians were indeed moving west, many other believers—probably in greater numbers—journeyed east along the land routes, through what we today call Iraq and Iran, where they built great and enduring churches. Because of its location—close to the Roman frontier, but just far enough beyond it to avoid heavy-handed interference—Mesopotamia or Iraq retained a powerful Christian culture at least through the thirteenth century.” 0 likes
“In their scholarship, their access to classical learning and science, the Eastern churches in 800 were at a level that Latin Europe would not reach at least until the thirteenth century.” 0 likes
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