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. (New York: Harper One, 2008, Pp. 315. $15.99.)
Philip Jenkins follows on the success and trajectory of his recent series of publications on global Christianity in The Lost History of Christianity. The present work is at the same time a variation on the theme, as instead of describing the historical demographic trend of "global South" Christianity (The Next Christendom, 2002), the ways in which these "global Southerners" read and understand the Bible (New Faces of Christianity, 2006), or the challenges to western Europe posed by Muslim immigration (God's Continent, 2007), Jenkins here describes the "golden age" of global Christianity, a millennial period that ended some five hundred years ago.
Jenkins hopes to redraw the mental map that many westerners have of Christianity in the East during the Middle Ages (as represented by the tripedal map on the book's cover) . He does this by telling of the Nestorian, Jacobite, and Coptic churches that flourished in the region for over one thousand years, before succumbing to the combined effects of nationbuilding, geography, political dissent, warfare, or even decisions that Christians within those churches made. The Lost History describes expansive, vibrant, and dynamic churches whose members were intimately engaged in economic, intellectual, and political affairs from northern Africa to China. Thus, through the Middle Ages, the "norm" of Christianity was Eastern, Semitic, and cosmopolitan. Or, as Jenkins puts it, Christianity did become European, but one thousand years later than we usually think (25).
The sensitivity with which Jenkins tackles the complex and controversial topic of Muslim-Christian relations through the Middle Ages is commendable. Instead of lamenting the loss of historical Christian centers in Iraq, north Africa and Syria to bloodthirsty Muslims, or depicting Muslim rule as exemplary of bucolic religious tolerance (per Karen Armstrong) , Jenkins explicates the many historical continuities that exist between ancient eastern Christianity and Islam. By focusing upon this lost history of the interrelatedness of (Eastern) Christianity and Islam, Jenkins offers hopeful possibilities for future relations between the two religions, particularly with an eye to contemporary Western Europe. …