"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, February 25, 2022

How Far East Do You Think the Christian East Goes?

In the hands of some, "the Christian East" and cognate phrases is often used to refer to what later generations might know as "Byzantium." Relatively few, however, remember that at one point Eastern Christianity lived the fullness of that term, stretching all across the easternmost reaches of Asia, and not just as a result of some Jesuit or other having got into China in the post-Reformation period. The Syriac expansion into East Asia in the first millennium is well known to specialists, but probably few others.

A new book out in April will correct that, reminding us of The Luminous Way to the East: Texts and History of the First Encounter of Christianity with China by Matteo Nicolini-Zani (Oxford UP/AAR, 2022), 424pp. 

This book, the publisher tells us,

offers a comprehensive survey of the historical, literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources of the first stage of the Christian mission to China. It explores the complex and multifaceted process of the interaction with the different cultural and religious milieux that the Church of the East experienced in its diffusion throughout Central Asia and into China during the first millennium.

Matteo Nicolini-Zani provides an overview of the Christian presence in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907) by reconstructing the composition and organization of Christian communities, the geographical location of Christian monasteries, and the related historical events attested by the sources. Through a new and richly annotated English translation of the Chinese Christian texts produced in Tang China, the volume provides a documented look at what was the earliest, and perhaps the most extraordinary, encounter of Christianity with Chinese culture and religions (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism). It shows how East Syriac Christianity in its eastward expansion along the Silk Road from Persia to China was open to the adoption of other languages and imagery and was able to enculturate the Christian teaching into new cultural and religious forms without losing its identity.

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