A Forgotten Golden Age
The Lost History of Christianity
by Philip Jenkins
315 pages, $26.95
In the old walled city of Famagusta in Cyprus, a curious building testifies to the mixed heritage of the island's peoples. Towering over what is now a predominantly Turkish-Cypriot-inhabited city is a gothic edifice once known as St. Nicholas Cathedral, built by the Crusaders some seven centuries ago. On the north side of the church stands a minaret, built after the Turkish conquest of the island in 1571, marking the church's subsequent transformation into the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque. A once largely Christian population has been replaced by a largely Muslim one—a situation repeated elsewhere throughout the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia.
Given my own paternal roots in the island, I was drawn to Philip Jenkins's latest book, The Lost History of Christianity, and especially its subtitle, "The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died." In his celebrated earlier work, The Next Christendom (Oxford University Press, 2002), he chronicled the dramatic shift in recent decades of Christianity's center of gravity from Europe and the West to the "Global South" (Africa, Asia, and Latin America). As he told this story, he dropped some tantalizing hints that the historical demographics of Christianity might not have been what most people think they were.
Jenkins now fleshes out those hints in this new volume. Most of his readers will be familiar with the two worlds of Latin and Greek Christianity, centered in Rome and Constantinople respectively. Few will be aware of the territorially vast Christian world east of the Roman Empire extending from the Syriac-speaking Near East to the ...