Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christians and the Middle East: A Book Review

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle EastFrom the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East by William Dalrymple
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dalrymple is a Trinity College man, and although the jacket characterizes him as a 'travel writer,' this book is much, much more.  Published in 1997, it should be a timeless classic. The author starts out to journey through the early Eastern Church's great poles of Alexandria, Constantinople, and Antioch. His road map is to follow the travels of John Moschos, author of The Spiritual Meadow, who journeyed through this world around 578 A.D.  If this sounds a bit arcane and dry, the book, story, writing, and sense of people and place are anything but; it is compelling reading, especially in light of the redrawing of maps in the Middle East that has been put into motion today.

From the genocides of 1895 and 1915 in eastern Turkey, Armenian and Suriani (Syrian) Christians have almost been eradicated from the history, culture and archaeology of this region. The author writes,
"From 200,000 in the last century, the size of the community fell to around 70,000 by 1920. By 1990 there were barely 4,000 Suriani left in the whole region;now there are around nine hundred, plus about a dozen monks and nuns spread over the five extant monasteries." One village with seventeen churches now has one inhabitant.

In Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians are despised by both Arabs for apostasy and by Jewish settlers for being cooperators with terrorists.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted as saying the end result of Jewish policies to erase the Christian presence will turn Jerusalem into a "Christian theme park" for tourists and souvenir hunters.

The plight of Alexandria, home to the world's biggest library and a seat of learning in philosophy, languages and sciences, has a similar depiction.

Finally, in Egypt, the Coptic Christians (Coptic is related to a word that means 'Egyptian') have been persecuted and suffered a forced diaspora.

None of these very sad and melancholy developments are editorialized. Rather, it is absolutely remarkable how much hope springs from the stories, like the proverbial mustard seed.  This is the power of the author's grounding, openness to people, and genuine affection for the regions in which he travels.  The people who help him in his journey, from Muslim taxi drivers to nonagenarian monks living in total isolation, are all remarkable characters.  They give us hope, as does this book.

As another reviewer said, read this book and give copies to others.  It is a wonderful read on many levels.

View all my reviews

No comments: