"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).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Libyan Christianity

With all the recent attention on Libya, and the conflict leading to the ouster of its dictator, a new book about Christianity in that country could not be more timely: Thomas C. Oden, Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition (IV Press, 2011), 336pp.
About this book, the publisher tells us: 
The chronicle of early Libyan Christianity is not a story for a Christian audience only but also for Muslims, especially those who have an African heritage. Just as Spain has a rich history of Islam, Libya has a rich history of Christianity. In both cases the history has centuries of experience to offer to a broken and conflicted world. Libyans will benefit by more clearly realizing this fact: the soil on which they walk daily has embedded in it five hundred years of Christian roots and residues. This does not imply any claim to any form of territorial or political legitimacy. It only asks for the accurate recollection of a story long forgotten. Nor is it a story whose audience primarily resides in schools and churches and mosques. It is for all who seek the truth that is revealed through the honest study of history.
All three of the monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—hark back to Abraham. All three impinge on Libyan history. All three agree on one crucial premise: The majesty of God is revealed in history. The providence of God is being worked out in actual personal histories. This history can be examined by skeptics and secularists, as well as those already convinced.Whether recognized or not, the truth of God’s presence is being revealed before our eyes daily through humans, according to Jews and Christians, with some analogies in Islam. This is a beginning point in the comparative exegesis of sacred texts of all three traditions. The Christian narrative will be informative to open-minded Muslims willing to listen to the ancient African background and ancestry of their own classic Muslim intellectual history. The Muslim phase of the African story emerges in the last half of the Common Era’s first millennium. The Muslim narrative will be illuminating to open-minded Christians without denying their faith. Christians will learn about how much of the spirit of Western intellectual achievement began in Africa, and in no small part in Libya. In doing so, they will learn of the ways in which Christians of Spain and Europe have been beneficiaries of Muslim philosophical, moral and scientific wisdom.Whether Christian or Muslim or secular or tradition-oriented, African youth have not had the opportunity to hear their own full story told. The texts and ideas and movements that Africa spawned before Europe discovered them must be more fully translated, disseminated and studied before this will happen.

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