"This is a book about Christianity as it existed and does exist in the Middle East" write the editors in the preface, adding that this story "is nothing less than a surviving jewel." Philip Jenkins writes in the foreword that the Handbook "constitutes a treasury on which scholars will be drawing for decades to come. This is a magnificent contribution." Heather J. Sharkey adds in her introduction that the volume at hand "attests to the vibrant state of scholarship on Middle Eastern Christianity" and predicts that it "will become a reference for scholars and a touchstone for readers."
With such self-praise, the work of a reviewer would seem to be rendered superfluous. But studying this massive volume finds that while the entries are predictably uneven, in their totality they do provide a helpful Handbook, one emphasizing facts over ideas, covering many oft-overlooked topics of Middle Eastern Christianity. The forty-six chapters divide into five sections: sociohistorical, religious encounters, contextual expressions, sociopolitical influences, and country by country. Putting aside the jargon, most readers will probably find a chapter on whatever it is that interests them, from "Missionary Movements in Nisibis, Armenia, and the Silk Road" to "Christian Music and Worship in the Middle East."
Such a rich assortment made this reviewer starkly aware of his own ignorance about the topic. For example, he knew nothing of the 1724 schism between the followers of Sylvester and Cyril, leading to the formation of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church of Antioch. Likewise, he was ignorant that Middle East Christians outside the region are estimated to number 7.7 million, with more than 4 million in North America, 2.6 million in Latin America, and more than a half million in Europe. Contrarily, Christian converts from Islam in Saudi Arabia are estimated to number five thousand. Perusing the Handbook offers a great deal more.