Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Bringing Jesus to the Desert

If you are looking for an easy to read introduction to Eastern Christianity and don't know where to turn then look no further. Earlier this year Zondervan recently published the fourth volume in their Ancient Context, Ancient Faith Series edited by Gary M. Bunge. Written by Bradley Nassif Bringing Jesus to the Desert is part history, part memoir, part survey of the richness, diversity, and depth of the Eastern Church as it found its way into the desert. When reading Paul's letters for example we see a very urban type of Christianity as Christians lived in major cities like Rome, Jerusalem, Damascus, Corinth, and Athens. However, with the rise of Constantine the Great and the increasing political influence of the Emperor Christians began moving further and further into the desert and created little communities in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, among others.

Nassif is a graduate of Fordham University and is currently a professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University in Chicago, IL. Nassif is also a practicing Orthodox Christian as well which also enlightens and enlivens the current volume.

This book is rich with colorful photographs of monasteries, churches, monks, priests, ancient manuscripts, as well as a photo or two of his family. The saying goes that a picture tells 1,000 words and that is true. Nassif weaves his own family narrative into the larger story of the spread of Eastern Christianity. His family has roots in the Middle East so he has the wealth of knowledge when it comes to the culture, religion, and society of the time. There are pictures of his beloved Sitti, or grandmother as well as of his uncle and other family members. It reminds me of Paul's emphasis on the Church as the body of Christ. We tend to think of that metaphor in terms of its larger context but in Nassif's case it is real, each member of his or her family influenced him in big and small ways, especially regarding his faith formation and upbringing.

Bringing Jesus to the Desert includes six chapters:

Holy Land, Holy People 

Anthony of Egypt 

Makarios of Egypt 



Colorful Characters: John the Little, Moses the Ethiopian, and Simeon the Stylite 

While reading this book I was grateful for Nassif's work. There are many scholarly texts on each of the people mentioned above as well as thick tomes about desert spirituality as it is commonly called but very few basic, easy to read, entry level books for the average person. Who would read this book? Probably a non-Orthodox Christian who wants to learn more about the first few centuries of Christianity after Jesus or even an Orthodox Christian who might want to learn more about his or her faith.

To learn more about Bringing Jesus to the Desert click here