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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

Image of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
March 2017
Fred's Rating: 
Philip Jenkins
Total Pages: 

Philip Jenkins has a joint appointment at Penn State University and Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in the media and has been a guest on national radio programs. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the Kindle edition is:

I bought the paperback edition but gave the Kindle edition above for it contains more in its preview than in the paperback preview. The home page has a brief summary (click on ‘Read more'). But there are two better summaries further down the home page. Scroll down to Editorial Reviews by Publishers Weekly and Booklist. I found these two reviews to be better.

I recommend you use the option to ‘Look inside’ and first note on the cover the three-leaf symbol for Christianity. It is centered on Jerusalem and the three leaves correspond to Europa, Asia and Africa. The Middle-East, Central Asia and Eastern Asia don’t appear in this symbol – if they had been included, then Jerusalem would not be near the center during the thousand-year Golden Age of the Church. This book is the first I’ve seen that focuses on the Church in the excluded regions, which is why I bought it. The story Philip Jenkins tells here was well worth reading. The reason being that the story of how the Way of Jesus in the early years of Christianity spread, mainly along the silk road to China, which was well-traveled by merchants and others, also had a southern branch that led to India. This book discusses how very many early Christians spread the words of The Way of Jesus Christ east to the Pacific Ocean as well as down to the Indian Ocean. As a religious historian, Jenkins focuses on the places and the people who were eager to establish places to worship. Those who spread the Word began doing so before they would be known by the name Christians and thus well before there was a Catholic Church and the chosen Books that became canonized. Jenkins relied on very many sources in telling their stories – his Notes on the chapters take up 35 pages of details. But part of the bottom line is the number pf people who heard of The Way of Jesus. It was easier to count the number of bishops, roughly 350, spread over the long roads to China and India.

Use the ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down from the cover to the Contents page. Note that Ch. 1 opens and Ch. 9 closes the big picture of the rather quick rise, duration, and the slow closure of the Golden Age of early Asian and African Christianity. The chapter titles reflect the quick rise and slow demise aspects of this Golden Age. Amazon’s Kindle preview allows you to see three features: five ‘Maps,’ four ‘Tables,’ and the author’s Note on Names and –isms. I recommend you read the 4-pp ‘Note on Names and –isms’. You can read the first 20 pages (where the Kindle preview ends) of the 44-pp Ch. 1 – The End of Global Christianity. It focuses on the Asian and African versions of The Way of Jesus. The only form of African Christianity that remained at the end of the Golden Age is the Coptic Catholicism of Egypt. Coptics were declared to be heretics when the Roman Catholic Church established their version of orthodoxy. But since the Coptic presence came several generations before Islam arose and came to dominate Egypt, the Egyptian respected their early formation and thus allowed the Coptic Church to co-exist in Egypt with Islam. Until the recent rise of the fundamental and violent form of Islam, in general Muslims had allowed Jews and Christians to co-exist, as long as they were peaceful, stayed out of politics, and didn’t try to convert any Muslim. As Philip Jenkins describes, most of the other ‘outposts’ of early Christians eventually found themselves to be located in the wrong place – where a violent regime either banished or slaughtered them. I read of this a bit at a time because I could well imagine how a non-violent form of religion like the early Christians in Asia came to be wiped out. Often their monasteries and churches were kept for other uses, but with all signs of a long prehistory of Christianity removed or destroyed, but not forgotten by some.

We have little information about what these outposts did or taught, only the general knowledge that they formed no threat to the indigenous people along the long paths to the Pacific and the side road to India. Their formation and eventual demise is a history that present-day Christians should know about. Philip Jenkins is to be praised for telling this unhappy story. I rate this book at five stars.

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