Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton. His books include Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and, most recently, Treasure in Heaven: The Holy Poor in Early Christianity. (June 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

Cities That Touched Heaven

The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in 2009, many of which were destroyed by ISIS militants in 2015

The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East

an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, March 18–June 23, 2019

The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity Through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE–642 CE

by Matthew P. Canepa
The Metropolitan Museum has once again brought us back to the Middle East—to a cradle of civilization that, by a cruel turn of history, has become a scene of hatred, destruction, and cold-blooded pillage. It is not often that a landscape is conjured up at the very moment when many …

Between Two Empires

Archbishop John presenting Marshal Oshin and his two sons, Kostandin and Hetum, to the Virgin and Child; from the Gospel Book of Marshal Oshin, created in Sis, the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (in present-day Turkey), 1274

Armenia!

an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, September 22, 2018–January 13, 2019

Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages

Catalog of the exhibition edited by Helen C. Evans
Over the past two decades, Helen Evans, as curator of Byzantine art, has organized a series of stunning exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have revealed rich worlds unlike our own, yet bound to us by a family resemblance, as a result of a common origin in the Mediterranean societies of Late Antiquity. In these exhibitions Evans has presented the great alternative to the Catholic West: the Christian Orthodox world of Byzantium, the Balkans, and Russia. She has also reinterpreted the emergence of Islam, for the first time in a major exhibition, not as a brutal break in the flow of Middle Eastern history but as a moment of transition. In her latest exhibition, “Armenia!,” she has outdone herself. Here is the story of an Eastern Christian society that was creative, enduring, and, at many times, gloriously idiosyncratic.

A World Winking with Messages

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, constructed circa 532–537

The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology

edited by Paul Corby Finney

Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine Aesthetic Experience

by Nadine Schibille
The two massive volumes of The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology, each over seven hundred pages long, offer a comprehensive survey of the visual and material aspects of Christianity in its first centuries—roughly from 200 to 600. These dates do not include the earliest Christian communities, for …

Dialogue With God

Confessions

by Augustine, translated from the Latin by Sarah Ruden
What is the correct reaction when we open the Confessions? It should, perhaps, be one of acute embarrassment. For we have stumbled upon a human being at a primal moment—standing in prayer before God. Having intruded on Augustine at his prayers, we are expected to find ourselves pulled into them, as we listen to a flow of words spoken, as if on the edge of an abyss, to a God on the far side—to a being, to all appearances, vertiginously separate from ourselves. The measure of the success of Sarah Ruden’s translation is that she has managed to give as rich and as diverse a profile to the God on the far side as she does to the irrepressible and magnetically articulate Latin author who cries across the abyss to Him.

At the Center of a Roiling World

Mark the Evangelist; illustration from the Garima Gospels, late fifth or sixth century CE. As Peter Brown writes, the discovery of the gospels at the Ethiopian monastery of Abba Garima confirms G.W. Bowersock’s emphasis in The Crucible of Islam on the importance of the kingdom of Axum, to which early Muslims fled for protection in about 615.

The Crucible of Islam

by G.W. Bowersock

The Garima Gospels: Early Illuminated Gospel Books from Ethiopia

by Judith S. McKenzie and Francis Watson
To write about the Arabian background of the Prophet Muhammad, about the origin of Islam in Mecca and Medina, and about the first conquests that led to the formation of the Arab empire (roughly between 560 and 690 AD) is to attempt to describe the first moments of a supernova—the …

Recapturing Jerusalem at the Met

‘Icon with Saint George and the Young Boy of Mytilene’; Holy Land, mid-thirteenth century. According to the ‘Jerusalem’ exhibition catalog, ‘The jug and wineglass held by the youth connect the image to a popular miracle account in which a boy captured by Saracens is made to serve as cupbearer for an amir and pressured to convert to Islam.’

Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven

an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017
The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art “Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven” has risen to the challenge of portraying a remarkable period in the history of a most unusual city. Between 1000 and 1400 Jerusalem lived many lives. In 1000, it was a provincial city, governed from Cairo …

Splendors of the Seljuqs in New York

‘Bowl with Couple in a Garden’; stonepaste plate, Iran, late twelfth–early thirteenth century

Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs

an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, April 27–July 24, 2016
We have every reason to be grateful to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the way its curators have been presenting major exhibitions on hitherto neglected periods and societies. They do not only put Golden Ages on show. They also give careful attention to baffling moments of transformation—such as the …

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