"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, May 11, 2012

Islam Encountering Byzantium

As I have noted before, we are still struggling to learn about the first encounters between Eastern Christians and Islam in the first millennium especially. A new exhibit at the Met in New York, which I plan on seeing this summer, helps aid our understanding. Accompanying that exhibit is a new book, which Peter Brown, perhaps the most distinguished antique historian of our time, discusses here at length in the New York Review of Books. That book is Helen C. Evans, ed., Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), 332pp. (Distributed by Yale University Press.)

About this book the publisher tells us:
This groundbreaking volume explores the epochal transformations and unexpected continuities in the Byzantine Empire from the seventh to the ninth century. As the period opened, the Empire's southern provinces—the vibrant, diverse areas of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean—were at the crossroads of trade routes reaching from Spain to China. These regions experienced historic upheavals when their Christian and Jewish communities encountered the emerging Islamic world, and by the ninth century, an unprecedented cross-fertilization of cultures had taken place.
This extraordinary age is brought vividly to life by leading international scholars, their writings accompanied by sumptuous illustrations of the period's most notable arts and artifacts. Resplendent images of authority, religion, and trade—embodied in precious metals, brilliant textiles, fine ivories, elaborate mosaics, manuscripts, and icons, many of them never before published—highlight the dynamic dialogue between the rich array of Byzantine styles and the evolving Islamic aesthetic. With its masterful exploration of two centuries that would shape the emerging medieval world, Byzantium and Islamprovides a revelatory interpretation of a period with profound ramifications for the modern era.

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