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Jonathan Phillips: Holy Warriors; Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of Christianity

After the First Crusade, Holy Warriors covers the relations between Muslims and the Franks in the Levant, gives a portrait of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem and her reign, the desire for a Second Crusade, and draws interesting portraits of two larger than life warrior-Kings, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. It continues with the Third and Fourth Crusades, the Sack of Constantinople, Frederick II, the Fifth Crusade and the Recovery of Jerusalem, the Crusade of Louis IX and the rise of the Sultan Baibars as well as giving information on smaller crusades of which most of us are unaware. The next to last chapters covers a longer period from the trial of the Templars to the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the last chapter brings us up to date covering the idea of Crusade from the era of Sir Walter Scott to Osama bin Laden to and George W. Bush. It ends with a succinct conclusion.

Having an eye on the past is a reasonable and reliable way to learn future possibilities for the Church.

The strength of Philips’ book is his knowledge of European secular history. He could have done more with the conflict in the Kingdom of Jerusalem with the existing Eastern Church, Jacobite/Nestorian and Orthodox and the establishment of a rival Roman Church. This would have impacted the telling of the story of Queen Melisende, a very interesting chapter in an overall engrossing book, as I am sure that her being Armenian had much to do with the political struggle between the followers of her Frankish husband and her camp. The helpful text here would be Christianity: A History in the Middle East, a textbook made of chapters by representatives of the different Christian bodies of the Levant, Coptic, Maronite, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Protestant, and others (see additional reading). It has two chapters on the Crusades, one by a European and another by an Arab. The contrast of the two on the Crusades is enlightening, but reading the whole textbook is an education in itself on how different is the perspective of the Christians in the Middle East to that of Europe and North America. The Crusades were a series of missteps and none so painful as the misunderstandings between Western and Eastern Christians. Europeans insisted on installing their own clerics as chief officers of the church. They often did so thinking that the various Armenian, Syriac, Orthodox, Nestorian, Jacobite were either heretic or somehow deficient. The Lost History of Christianity show how misunderstandings since the early Councils led to many splits. In the West we have been taught that it was all fights over the language used to explain theological concepts using Greek philosophical terminology, but much of it, especially between the Council of Ephesus and Chalcedon was also about politics. The Armenian Church, for example, thought Ephesus was enough and did not participate in Chalcedon.

If you are familiar with Philip Jenkins’ previous works, you already know how he offers his global perspective on Christianity and how trends in religion affect culture. Having an eye on the past is a reasonable and reliable way to learn future possibilities for the Church. The Church of the East had a long interaction with Islam and Dr. Jenkins provides innumerable insights. Having recently read a half dozen works on the history of Muslim-Christian relations, it is safe to say Jenkins’ work ranks among the best. The publisher calls it “groundbreaking” and it is that.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2010

About the Author: Eric Jonas Swensson is an author, blogger, historian, and social media director. He was a pastor for 17 years before resigning to go overseas on the trip that became the basis for his book, A Year in Tyr (2011). His dissertation has been published as Kinderbeten: The Origin, Unfolding, and Interpretations of the Silesian Children's Prayer Revival (Wipf & Stock, 2010). Google+

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