Book Review: The Lost History of Christianity, Philip Jenkins

The Lost History of Christianity:
The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died
by Philip Jenkins, 2008, HarperOne.

lost-history-jenkinsThis book could easily have been several things it is not: an academic treatise, an intemperate diatribe against Islamic violence, or an uncritical glamorization of Nestorian and Jacobite Christianity.

In the able hands of Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity becomes a balanced reading of the loss of a treasure of knowledge and culture the world is too ignorant about to mourn. While meeting all the standards of academic rigor, the book manages to avoid tedious prose. While firmly recognizing and decrying Islamic violence, Jenkin’s account recognizes both the culpability of non-Islamic violence and the reality in which religion becomes an excuse for violence seeking power. While lamenting the lost treasures of knowledge that would be afforded us had Middle Eastern Christianity survived, Jenkins is honest about the differences in doctrine in the Eastern churches.

The Lost History of Christianity is filled with little-known and infinitely intriguing facts:

-The world’s view of Christianity is tainted with a Western veneer that does not accurately reflect its historical genesis.

-While the Holy Roman Empire wallowed in ignorance and violence, the Middle Eastern Church was intimately familiar with classical literature and pursued peaceful relations with Islam and Buddhism.

-Great minds such as Timothy, Patriarch of the East in 780 C.E., have been all but lost to the destruction of Middle Eastern Christianity.

-Great works, including Syriac versions of classical literature which do not exist today and manuscripts of the Bible and other early Christian literature, were all in the possession of these churches which died an early death.

-Middle Eastern Christians preserved Semitic customs, calling Jesus Yeshua as late as the thirteenth century, calling themselves Nazarenes, an calling their scholars Rabbans!

-These Eastern churches possessed scrolls found in Jericho — perhaps some of the Dead Sea Scrolls now lost to us.

-The Eastern Churches mounted a monument in the East explaining the good news in Buddhist style to reach out peacefully to them (rather than the oppositional approach of later churches).

-The great surviving Patriarchate of the Middle Eastern Assyrian Christians is now in Chicago!

-The Eastern canon gives the lie to the claim that Christendom suppressed the apocryphal gospels for political reasons.

-The Karen Armstrong depiction of Muslim tolerance

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5 Responses to Book Review: The Lost History of Christianity, Philip Jenkins

  1. peterygwendyta says:

    Great review. I look forward to reading this book. I have read some of Philip Jenkins other books especially “Global Christendom” and found that while they have a very good academic quality about them, they are still very readable for the lay person. Thanks again for your blogs.

  2. jeffcstraka says:

    Cynthia Bourgeault refers to this same “suppression” of these other branches of Christianity and hence our loss of the Wisdom Jesus. I’ve also been reading Bart Eherman’s stuff on the formation of our New Testament. Interesting stuff! This book sounds like one to add to my queue!

  3. louismmvii says:

    Nice synopsis, seems like a good read. Is there any fresh info/assertion on authentic apocryphal text?

  4. rostrand says:

    Years ago, while teaching AP English, I came across a sample question which asserted: “Good literature provokes a healthy degree of disquietude.” This book must quality because it ruffled some of my feathers. Most significantly, it thoroughly challenged my ethnocentric view of the world and my faith. It was a thoroughly secular book, as evidenced by frequent gibes at “religious” preconceptions, but this added a degree of objectivity–at least in a non-sectarian manner (No writing is without prejudice, and Jenkins has strong secular-humanist undercurrents). It helped me to step back and view the whole the tableau of Christianity, including its victims and victimization. I have suspected for many years that Islam is not as inherently hostile as my evangelical friends assume. However, I did not appreciate how Jenkins slipped in his most egregious anit-Christian vituperation at the end, instead of being forthright about it in his Forward. In this, Jenkins displays the contemporary stance of intellectuals that is all too common: they are tolerant of everyone but Christ.

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