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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

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  925 Ratings  ·  163 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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The History of the Church by EusebiusFox's Book of Martyrs by John FoxeA History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullochA History of Christianity in the United States and Canada by Mark A. NollThe First Thousand Years by Robert L. Wilken
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11th out of 122 books — 26 voters
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54th out of 59 books — 8 voters


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Community Reviews

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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
David Sarkies
Dec 18, 2015 David Sarkies rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People Interested in the history
Recommended to David by: I saw it in a Christian Bookshop
Shelves: christian
The Story of the Middle Eastern Church
19 December 2015

Well, here I am sitting on the Overland, one of the very few interstate trains that exist in Australia - when it comes to travelling interstate, or even to regional centres, most Australians rely upon the humble aeroplane, which is not surprising considering the train journey from Sydney to Perth takes something like four days to complete, and even travelling from Melbourne to Sydney takes something akin to 12 hours. The train I'm on happens
...more
Justin Evans
Aug 21, 2010 Justin Evans rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
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
Terence
Dec 22, 2008 Terence rated it liked it
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
Louise
Mar 07, 2015 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 21, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
Sincerae
May 13, 2016 Sincerae rated it really liked it
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
Libby
Dec 25, 2014 Libby rated it really liked it
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
Stephen
For the first millennium of the church's history, Europe was less Christendom than a dismissed backwater. The heart of the faith was its fount in the middle east, where it saturated the landscape and spread through two empires across the vast expanse of Eurasia. Within five hundred years of Christianity's millennial birthday, however, its reach had vanished, lost in political upheaval and newly arrived competition. Though advertising itself as a history of the global church, Lost History is prin ...more
David Bales
Nov 20, 2009 David Bales rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 30, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lisa
Aug 12, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic-history
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.
Reed
Apr 12, 2014 Reed rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, christianity
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
Jan 27, 2010 Ed Cyzewski rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2014 Frank Peters rated it really liked it
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
Aug 07, 2012 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Nov 27, 2008 Kathy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
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
Jan 12, 2009 Jason rated it it was ok
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
Sep 01, 2009 Sorqaqtani Beki rated it did not like it
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
John Martindale
Jul 23, 2016 John Martindale rated it really liked it
A fascinating book. Many other reviews gave a good overview of its content so I'll just share a couple of reflections this book brought to mind.
In light of working in a Christian missionary organization with a focus on unreached people groups--mainly those in the 10/40 window, it was interesting to say the least to learn of the golden age of Christianity in these very regions. It was also so tragic to hear of the ethnic cleaning that Islam later engaged in--slaughtering millions of Christians
...more
Joel Wentz
Jun 30, 2016 Joel Wentz rated it really liked it
Christianity has a much more varied and interesting history than most seminary courses would seem to indicate, at least as argued by Jenkins in this volume. I must admit that I found his case quite persuasive, and his work is meticulously researched. The notion that the Christian church was actually predominant throughout the Middle East and Asia certainly questions the Euro-centric narrative that I've been fed as an adult, and it provoked many serious reflections, such as: can a church be 'orth ...more
Rosemary
Jun 02, 2016 Rosemary rated it it was amazing
I so enjoyed reading this book. More like a novel, for the exciting as well as horrifying picture it presents of the history of the Christian Church in the Middle East- and I really should make that Churches - because what Jenkins does is show the variety of churches that came about as Christianity birthed itself after the death of Jesus. This is NOT a book about Christian belief, but a book about what happened to the Eastern Churches: Copt in Egypt and parts of Syria (including what is now Leba ...more
L
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 Christian churches that existed to the east of the Roman Empire. These churches and their leaders ruled the Middle East for centuries ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Oct 25, 2014 Dominic Foo rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2015 Shaun Liu rated it really liked it
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
Aug 18, 2012 Moses Operandi rated it really liked it
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
Jul 19, 2015 Esther Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Mandatory read for every Christian
Joe Selness
Apr 06, 2016 Joe Selness rated it it was ok
This is an incredibly interesting subject and I was hoping to gain a sort of cursory understanding of Christianity east of Constantinople. Unfortunately, this book was, to my mind, unfocused and unclear. Rather than writing an account of Eastern Christianity organized chronologically, geographically, or theologically, Jenkins wrote in circles, jumping from the 8th century to the 13th century and back again repeatedly restating his main thesis that Western Christians know nothing about Christiani ...more
Adam Shields
Feb 17, 2015 Adam Shields rated it really liked it
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
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John 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 ...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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