The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died
by Philip Jenkins
HarperOne, 336 pp., $26.95
In the summer of 2002, I traveled in southeastern Turkey to meet with members of the two-millennia-old Syriac church, of whom only a few thousand are left in their homelands. Their language, Syriac-Aramaic, is as close as any living language to the one that Jesus spoke, yet they are forbidden by the Turkish government to teach it to their schoolchildren. We came to deserted villages such as Kafro, whose inhabitants had been driven out by the attacks of Turkish Hezbollah, and which were now sealed off by the military. We visited the monastery of Tur Abdin, a major center of Eastern Christianity, now dwindling under suffocating government restrictions. We met the only two monks remaining in the monastery of the village of Sare.
In Nisibis (now Nusaybin in southeast Turkey), where a famous Christian community dates back to the second century, and which nurtured Ephrem, the greatest of the Syrian theologians, there is a church dating from 439. It was locked and abandoned after World War I when the inhabitants, fleeing massacre, escaped into Syria. For 60 years there had been no Christians there, but now the diocese had sent a Christian family from a local village, who live in a small apartment in the church and try to keep it from falling apart.
For the whole book review by Paul Marshall, see Hudson Institute