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From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the…
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From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East (1997)

by William Dalrymple

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William Dalrymple is a Scottish-born travel writer and historian, specialising in books about the Near and Far East. 'From the Holy Mountain' is a deceptively simple description of Dalrymple's travels as he follows in the footsteps of John Moschos's 'The Spiritual Meadow', a 6th century guide to the Christian monasteries of the Byzantine empire, beginning at Mt. Ethos in Greece through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel (including the occupied West Bank) and Egypt, ending at the Al Kharga Oasis deep in the deserts of Upper Egypt. Along the way he focuses on meeting the remaining Christian (almost exclusively Orthodox) communities in these countries. The stories he hears are by turns surprising and expected (depressingly so).

That the countries and governments of the Near East are growing more strongly Islamist and increasingly aggressive towards other religions is well known, although many will be unfamiliar with the specific stories revealed here of persecutions both old and ongoing. More surprising is the reminder that the Byzantine Empire was Christian and many communities have a longer history and stronger claim to the land than Muslims or Jews would like everyone to think. Further, given the antagonism between Islam and Christianity being offered today, it is ironic to learn that much of the religious practice of Islam was drawn from early Orthodox Christianity. As Dalrymple points out, Were John Moschos to return today he might find more familiar in the worship in a mosque than in a Western Christian church.

Dalrymple writes well, with humour and compassion for all the people he meets. He draws you into his journey and helps you see what he has seen with his own eyes. As an armchair traveller too scared to leave his home town, Dalrymple stirred my wanderlust. What better recommendation for this book? ( )
1 vote pierthinker | Mar 25, 2016 |
This book convinces you that there is no plain-vanilla Christianity as the author visits ancient Christian groups in the middle east. This is a valuable book to read today since most of the areas that had been visited are now conflict areas - it shows what is likely to be lost to world culture. ( )
  M_Clark | Mar 13, 2016 |
In late 6th century AD, a Byzantine Mystic John Mochos along with his disciple Sophronius conduct an epic journey though Byzantium covering Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. These travels and experiences were penned into an epic tome called The Spiritual Meadow.

The author attempts to conduct the same journey and travel in the footsteps of the two mystics, carrying along a translation of the Spiritual Meadow for reference. Amazingly, many of the Monastries and other sites visited by them are still intact and surviving as they were built.

One common theme you notice in the book through conversations conducted with the surviving members of the various Christian denominations is the tremendous pressure exerted on their communities and the constant threat and fear under which they have to live. In Turkey, the population has dwindled to almost nothing and may die out toally in the next few decades. In Israel they are treated as second class citizens and have been forced to emigrate in large numbers leaving behind only the old.

In Lebanon though the Maronites were the majority, their Political intransigence led to a devastating civil war which in turn led to a mass exodus of all the wealthy and educated christians out of the country and reducing them to a minority.

In Egypt, even tough the Coptics are present in fairly large numbers, they are being increasingly threatened by Islamic Fundamentalism.

Surprisingly, in Syria the christian populations are thriving and prospering. In that country are to be found great Byzantine cities that are intact though abandoned. Seems that it would make for a great vacation and destination for an history buff and archaeologist.

All in all a very wonderful read. His style of writing is excellent and he intends to tranport you into the world that he is describing. You can almost feel yourself living in Byzantium in the times of the great emporors Constantine and Justinian.
  danoomistmatiste | Jan 24, 2016 |
In late 6th century AD, a Byzantine Mystic John Mochos along with his disciple Sophronius conduct an epic journey though Byzantium covering Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. These travels and experiences were penned into an epic tome called The Spiritual Meadow.

The author attempts to conduct the same journey and travel in the footsteps of the two mystics, carrying along a translation of the Spiritual Meadow for reference. Amazingly, many of the Monastries and other sites visited by them are still intact and surviving as they were built.

One common theme you notice in the book through conversations conducted with the surviving members of the various Christian denominations is the tremendous pressure exerted on their communities and the constant threat and fear under which they have to live. In Turkey, the population has dwindled to almost nothing and may die out toally in the next few decades. In Israel they are treated as second class citizens and have been forced to emigrate in large numbers leaving behind only the old.

In Lebanon though the Maronites were the majority, their Political intransigence led to a devastating civil war which in turn led to a mass exodus of all the wealthy and educated christians out of the country and reducing them to a minority.

In Egypt, even tough the Coptics are present in fairly large numbers, they are being increasingly threatened by Islamic Fundamentalism.

Surprisingly, in Syria the christian populations are thriving and prospering. In that country are to be found great Byzantine cities that are intact though abandoned. Seems that it would make for a great vacation and destination for an history buff and archaeologist.

All in all a very wonderful read. His style of writing is excellent and he intends to tranport you into the world that he is describing. You can almost feel yourself living in Byzantium in the times of the great emporors Constantine and Justinian.
  kkhambadkone | Jan 17, 2016 |
Wlliam Dalrymple’s “From the Holy Mountain” (1997) has a chapter on Lebanon, which he visited a few years after the civil war. His description paints a divided and destroyed country, yet with signs of remarkable resurrection. He is particularly interested in the Maronites, the ancient Christian society that survived in the Lebanese mountains, and more specifically in their role in the civil war – not a pretty picture, according to Dalrymple. As with all books I have read from Dalrymple, this one is equally brilliant, a balance between often funny travel experiences put in a broader framework of history, ancient to recent. Interestingly, he traveled west to east through Turkey via Syria to Lebanon (and then on to Israel and Egypt) in 1994, and he must have been in Diyarbakir, SE Turkey, when we were there, too. ( )
  theonearmedcrab | Jan 13, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0006547745, Paperback)

A rich blend of history and spirituality, adventure and politics, laced with the thread of black comedy familiar to readers of William Dalrymple's previous work. In AD 587, two monks, John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist, embarked on an extraordinary journey across the Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. Their aim: to collect the wisdom of the sages and mystics of the Byzantine East before their fragile world shattered under the eruption of Islam. Almost 1500 years later, using the writings of John Moschos as his guide, William Dalrymple set off to retrace their footsteps. Taking in a civil war in Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in Egypt, William Dalrymple's account is a stirring elegy to the dying civilisation of Eastern Christianity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:10 -0400)

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"As a writer and as a traveler, Dalrymple treads the now-faint trail marked out by sixth-century monk John Moschos, who wandered the world of Eastern Byzantium, visiting the scattered Christian monasteries and hermitages and recording the rituals he saw and the preaching he heard in a book called The Spiritual Meadow. Unlike its predecessor, Dalrymple's account of his journey through the same regions leads, not to meditations upon the eternal God, but, rather, to insights into a dying culture. For whether among Surianis in eastern Turkey, Armenians in Syria and Israel, or Coptics in Egypt, Dalrymple finds only remnants of the Christian culture from which Moschos drew inspiration. The author cannot stop the often-violent persecution or the steady immigration, which are pushing Christianity to extinction in the land of its birth. Yet he can preserve the voices of the steadfast souls who guard the last sparks of a besieged faith. Thus, this book stands - like the chapels, monasteries, and tombs visited during the journey - as a monument to what once was. But Dalrymple also points the way to a better future by repeatedly stressing the similarities in origin and practice linking Christianity and Islam and by documenting real (though all too rare) instances in which mutual respect and tolerance bring the Muslim and the Christian together in prayer" -- www.amazon.com… (more)

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