Christianity in the Middle East

A comprehensive reference book:

The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Christianity in the Middle East, edited by Mitri Raheb and Mark Lamport.

While expensive, this 600+ page book with over 50 contributors has much material difficult to obtain elsewhere. From the Preface:

First, a disclaimer and an orientation statement: this is not a ‘Christian’ book, nor is it written from a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox or Pentecostal or any other faith perspective; this is a book about Christianity as it has existed and does exist in the Middle East. Due to the vast and often extreme historical interactions of people, politics, cultures, languages, and religions, the story told herein is uneven and uncomfortable, and the task, which is not an easy one, is to describe and not prescribe, report and not take sides, and interpret and not prejudice. If our collective efforts are able to elucidate the nature of the ancient and modern faith of Christianity as it has existed–thriving and floundering, triumphalistic and tenacious–for twenty centuries, then we will have succeeded. If not, we have been less that effective in our efforts. Whatever else may be said, certainly the story of Christianity in the Middle East is nothing less than a surviving jewel.

In the Foreword, Philip Jenkins writes:

Much of the history of Christianity involves a gradual but quite thorough displacement from the origins of the faith–ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and geographic. Of course, the faith emerged from a Jewish matrix, and that lengthy process of separation was traumatic enough. But for several centuries, the heart of Christianity lay decisivly in the region that today we term the Middle East. Of the church’s original five patriarchates, four lay in that region–Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria–with Rome as a distant West European outlier. That concentration is all the more marked when we recall the serious claims to patriarchate status of the Church of the East, which long found its seat in Baghdad. Well into the eighth or niinth centuries, if not later, so much of the intellectual and spiritual life of the faith was expressed Syriac, Coptic, and Greek, and Latin was very slow to enjoy a comparable status.

Of necessity, any account of the historic development of Christianity must focus on the Middle East–and that remains true far beyond the “early church.” Through perhaps the half-way point of its story to date, the Christian center of gravity lay far to the east. As late as the end of the first millennium, on ecould make a plausible case that Antioch stood at the geographic center of a Christian world that stretched from India to Ireland, from the Baltic to the Horn of Africa.

So much writing on Christian history focuses exclusively on those Western and Latin regions where the faith would flourish in later ages and underplays or ignores those older Eastern developments. Some accounts seem to suggest that when those regions fell under Islamic political power, Christian life swiftly faded or vanished almost overnight, and nothing could be further from the truth. Partly, such a distortion reflects the inevitable tendency to view the past in terms of the present: we see things not as they are, but as we are. That habit is reinforced by the steep decline suffered by many eastern churches in later eras, and especially after the disasters and persecutions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Particularly from around 1500, the heart of Christianity moved decisively to Europe, and to European realms overseas, and those burgeoning Western churches readily ignored their sadly declined Eastern counterparts.

. . .

If we cannot write the history of christianity without that continuing Middle East theme, neither can we comprehend that region without its enduring Christian presence. Into the twentieth century, Christians made up a substantial proportion of the population of the Middle East, from Persia to Egypt, and most particularly in the Ottoman territories. Only the catastrophic events of the First World War era smashed that older reality, setting the stage for the near total Islamic dominance in many regions. . . .

Sections of the Handbook

  1. Sociohistorical Sketches of Christianity in the Middle East, pp 1-112
  2. Religious Encounters in the Middle East, pp 113-222
  3. Contextual Expressions of Christianity in the Middle Ease, pp 223-340
  4. Sociopolitical Influences on Christianity in the Middle East, pp 341-448
  5. The Story of Middle Eastern Christianity by Country and in the World Context, pp 449-572

The Amazon sample (see link above) gives further information about the book.

Regarding Melkite Christians, chapter 23 is written by Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo (There is a very abbreviated version at the St Elias website.)

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