The Church in the Middle East
Under the Empires
This is the church of Saint Jacob of Nisibis, a Syrian Orthodox church in Nusaybin, Turkey, in Mesopotamia. Photo credit: Gareth Hughes, Wikimedia, Public Domain. Jacob (died c.338 or c.350 AD) was the second bishop of Nisibis, appointed in 309 AD. Jacob organized the building of this church in 313 - 320 AD. He was a signatory to the Council of Nicaea in 325, founded the theological School of Nisibis modeled after the School of Antioch, and taught the great poet-theologian Ephrem the Syrian, among others. All this anchored the Syrian-speaking church in its Trinitarian expressions in communion with her Greek and Latin-speaking counterparts, and emphasized Jesus healing human nature as atonement.
Starting in 337 AD, the Persian Empire expelled Christians from its border region with the Roman Empire, out of fears that the Christians would side with the Christian Roman Emperors. Christians continued to be a minority religion in the Persian and Arab Empires, and in the modern Middle East. Ephrem the Syrian re-established the School in Edessa, where it operated from 363 - 489 AD, but fell under Nestorian leadership. When Byzantine Roman Emperor Zeno ordered it closed in 489 AD, Nestorians re-established the School at Nisibis for a time. They fled persecution by the Byzantine Christians by resettling at Gondishapur, in the Persian Empire. They established the Academy of Gondishapur, and taught theology, philosophy, medicine, and science. Gondishapur became the intellectual center of the Sassanid Persian Empire, and drew scholars from India and China.
the church in the middle east: under the empires
The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by three factors: (1) to demonstrate that Christianity has not been a “white man’s religion”; (2) the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars; and (3) explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity, to understand how Christians were faithful to Christ or not. Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus, and the human experience of biblical Israel.