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
(HarperOne, Hardcover, 9780061472800, 315pp.)
Publication Date: October 2008
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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 and became the chief administrators and academics in the new Muslim empire. The author recounts the shocking history of how these churches—those that had the closest link to Jesus and the early church—died.
Jenkins takes a stand against current scholars who assert that variant, alternative Christianities disappeared in the fourth and fifth centuries on the heels of a newly formed hierarchy under Constantine, intent on crushing unorthodox views. In reality, Jenkins says, the largest churches in the world were the heretics who lost the orthodoxy battles. These so-called heretics were in fact the most influential Christian groups throughout Asia, and their influence lasted an additional one thousand years beyond their supposed demise.
Jenkins offers a new lens through which to view our world today, including the current conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Without this lost history, we lack an important element for understanding our collective religious past. By understanding the forgotten catastrophe that befell Christianity, we can appreciate the surprising new births that are occurring in our own time, once again making Christianity a true world religion.
“Jenkins is one of America’s top religious scholars.”
“. . . persuasively and cogently argued . . . marvelously accessible for the lay reader and replete with fascinating details to help personalize the ambitious sweep of global history Jenkins undertakes. This is an important counterweight to previous histories that have focused almost exclusively on Christianity in the West.”
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
“In leaner, clearer prose than ever before, Jenkins outlines and analyzes this history, which few present-day Christians have even heard of. This may be the most eye-opening history book of the year.”
“Philip Jenkins’ book is a tour de force in historical retrieval and reconstruction, a work of scholarly restoration that strikes an overdue balance in the story of Christianity. It is studded with insight, with the story presented in a lively and lucid style.”
-Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity and Professor of History, Yale University
“Philip Jenkins always writes well on very interesting topics. This time his topic is more than interesting-it is essential reading for anyone with any interest in the history of Christianity.”
-Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity
“...an exceptionally fine study of a great swathe of Christian history, hugely important in the Christian story but very little known. This thoughtful, elegant and learned survey will remedy the neglect of a subject which students of religion absolutely need to know about.”
-Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford and author of The Reformation
“In this highly readable and sobering exploration of how religions - including our own - grow, falter and sometimes die, Jenkins adds a unique dimension to present day religious studies in a voice and style that non-specialists can also appreciate.”
-Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard University
“[Jenkins’] depiction of the long Christian history of Asia, Mesopotamia, and the greater Middle East is both a much-needed education and a spiritually fruitful provocation.”
-Books & Culture
“The Lost History of Christianity is a fascinating study of the first thousand-plus years of the Church--a Church rooted in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. We have much to learn from the tale of its reach, its particular way of being Christian, and its eventual decomposition ”
-Beliefnet.com (One of the Best Religious Books of 2008)
“Using his skill to discredit murky thinking and propose new understandings where the old no longer serve a good purpose, Jenkins offers yet another jewel in what is becoming a crown of paradigm-shattering studies. [This book] will amply reward your investment of time and attention.”
“Philip Jenkins’s marvelous new book...tells the largely forgotten story of Nisibis, and thousands of sites like it, which stretch from Morocco to Kenya to India to China, and which were, deep into the second millennium, the heart of the church.”
-The Weekly Standard
“Jenkins’s well-crafted new volume...is not only a welcome addition to the literature on Christianity as a truly global religion, to which he has already made substantial contributions, but also an invitation to retrieve a forgotten chapter of history that has not inconsiderable relevance to current events.”
-Religion & Ethics Newsweekly