Early Christianity in Asia

A critical review of early Christianity reveals that it has its roots in the Middle East. The historical fact is undeniable in spite of the fact that the region is currently dominated by the Islamic faith. From Palestine, where it originated, Christianity spread into the Roman Empire, from where most historians start tracking down this faith in the West.

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The presence of Christianity in the Middle East and in Asia was more widespread than most historians and religious scholars acknowledge. Most literature and studies on early Christians omit the events that took place between the 1st and the 11th centuries CE.

The omission is especially evident with regards to Christianity in Asia. Most people focus on the spread of this faith in Western Europe and across the Atlantic to the New World. A comprehensive historical analysis should not ignore the presence of Christians in Asia and the Middle East.

Some scholars have gone against the grain to explore those areas that are largely disregarded in mainstream religious narratives. For example, Jenkins (2009) unearths some evidence pointing to extensive presence of Christianity in Asia, especially in East and South East parts of this continent.

On their part, Yana (2006) reviews Moffets’ History of Christianity in Asia to shed more light on this topic. The articles by the two scholars exhibit some differences and similarities in relation to the issue of early Christianity in Asia and in the Middle East.

The current paper is written against the backdrop of the two articles mentioned above. The author reviews the different perspectives adopted by the two scholars in addressing the issue of Christianity in Asia.

Early Christianity in Asia

The Presence of Christians in Asia during the Early Common Era

One of the similarities between the two articles is the admission made by the authors about the widespread presence of Christianity in Asia. Jenkins and Yana agree that this faith was a major aspect of the Asian community during the early Common Era.

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From the beginning of this era to 1500 AD, both authors agree that Christianity spread westward into Europe and into the New World. In the same manner, the religion extended eastwards towards Asia. To support this assertion, the authors argue that many monasteries were operating in China by the mid sixth century (Jenkins, 2009, p. 3).

In spite of these observations, Jenkins (2009) is quick to point out the fragmented and scanty nature of evidence pointing to the proliferation of Early Christians in Asia. The two articles focus on the geographical spread of these early pilgrims and their political affiliations. In addition, the various factions of the Eastern Church are brought out clearly.

Yana (2006, p. 43) focuses on the early adherents. Yana pays special attention to the Assyrian Christians. However, it should be noted that the article does not neglect the other Christian groups that existed during this era.

Yana (2006, p. 44) fails to provide a detailed account of the presence of Christianity in major Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea. The glaring omission notwithstanding, the presence of the religion in the region is adequately appreciated.

India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines are regarded as some of the Christian strongholds during the Common Era. On a similar note, Jenkins (2009, p. 34) highlights the presence of this religious group from Constantinople to Samarkand. The Christians were also present in the heartland of China from as early as 1250 CE.

The Spread of Early Christian Sects in Asia

As pointed out earlier, Christian Monasteries were a major fixture in the Chinese community by the mid-sixth century. In addition, the trend was common in the other Christian strongholds in the region. Jenkins (2009) and Yana (2006) are, however, quick in pointing out that Christianity was not the only religion in Asia. It is a fact that it was an influential faith, but there were other spiritual groups competing for the attention of the people in this region.

The Eastern Church was one of the major sects in this continent. It constituted of Nestorians, St. Thomas Christians of India, Maronites, and Jacobites. It was also made up of Armenians, Monophysites, and the Persian Zoroastrians (Jenkins, 2009, p. 33; Yana, 2006, p. 44). The political and economic dispositions of these Christians are explicitly highlighted in the two articles. For instance, Jenkins and Yana inform that the Muslims and the Hindus were the immediate neighbors of the early Christians.

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The presentation of these early Christians differs in the two articles. Yana (2006) concentrates more on their sectarian orientations than on other traits. Yana reviews the leadership of the various groups, with emphasis on the 1500 CE period. The first Western Christian missionaries began accessing Asia from Southern India (Yana, 2006, p. 44). On the other hand, Jenkins (2009) reviews the issue from the perspective of the existing trade routes. Jenkins outlines the spread of Christianity from the beginning to 1400CE (2009, p. 37).

The author postulates that the backbone of this early faith was the silk route. The route passed through the Persian territories into central Asia. It connected the Mediterranean world to Syria, Persia, and Central Asia. Early Christianity thrived on this passage.

Jenkins explores the political influence of early Christians, as well as their rise and fall (2009). On the contrary, Yana (2006) illustrates the religious organization of this group before and after the arrival of Western missionaries. To this end, the articles differ in relation to the focus of the authors.

The differing focus notwithstanding, the Jenkins and Yana agree that the Eastern Church was organized more equally (if not better) than the Western Catholic Church. For instance, Yana (2006, p. 48) acknowledges the presence of a Nestorian patriarch in Mesopotamia Persia. The official headed the Eastern Church between 1472 CE and 1502 CE. His influence was at its peak before the arrival of the Portuguese.

Jenkins (2009, p. 34) mentions the presence of Nestorian Bishops, Archbishops, and patriarchs between 480 CE and 550 CE. In addition, between 780 CE and 823 CE, the Eastern Church patriarch, Timothy Katholikos, oversaw over 85 bishops in 19 metropolitans (Jenkins, 2009, p. 35). The metropolitans spread over Mesopotamia, Persia, Turkestan, Armenia, South India, and Yemen.

The Fall of Christianity in Asia

In spite of its heavy presence in Asia (even before its establishment in Europe), Christianity was practically non-existent in this region by 1400 CE. It appears that the faith lost significantly to Islam. Jenkins and Yana agree that the religion flourished in Asia and in the Middle East as late as the 13th century.

The causes of the fall of Christianity in the two regions differ significantly between the two articles. Both acknowledge that the conflict between this faith and Islam was a possible cause. However, the two articles differ on the major factor behind this fall. The two religions had co-existed for centuries, albeit with occasional bloody clashes.

Jenkins attributes the collapse to political and economic factors. According to Jenkins (2009, p. 38), the invasion of the Muslim Khwarezmid empire in central Asia was the beginning of the downfall. The empire was attacked by Mongol armies led by Genghis Khan in 1219. The Mongols converted to Islam, eventually conquering most of Central Asia and Baghdad. They turned against the Christians.

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Jenkins (2009, p. 40) also attributes the brutality against Christians in Asia by the Muslim on climate change. Fluctuations in weather patterns led to reduced food supplies and famines. The subsequent collapse of trade and commerce resulted in aggressions against Christians, who were considered as having angered God.

Yana (2006, p. 50) views the collapse of Christianity from a purely religious perspective. For instance, the author associates the holy wars against Christians with the fall. The wars were common with the rise of Ottoman Turkey (1300-1918) and Safavid Persia (1500-1736) Muslim empires.

Jenkins and Yana differ on the causes of the failure of Islam to conquer Europe and the survival of Christianity in West Asia. Yana (2006, p. 51) attributes the two phenomena to lack of unity between the Sunni Muslims of Turkey and Shi’ite group of Persia.

On their part, Jenkins (2009, p. 39) links the two issues to sheer chance and default. In addition, Jenkins attributes the fall of Christianity to pure political issues in some parts of Asia, such as China. In China, Christianity was destroyed by the Ming dynasty that ascended to power in 1368 CE. The dynasty was against foreigners. It promoted nationalist agendas (Jenkins, 2009, p. 50).

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Two Approaches

Yana’s approach focuses on the structure of the early Christian Church in Asia. The author also reviews the influence of the Western missionaries on the Eastern Church. Consequently, Yana fails to address the other issues that led to the prosperity and downfall of Christianity in Asia.

Jenkins (2009) provides a more comprehensive coverage of early Christianity in Asia compared to Yana. The author explores all the factors surrounding this religion during that time. Jenkins covers the issues from economical, social, cultural, religious, and political perspectives. The article provides a thorough analysis of the dynamics of the early Christian church in Asia.


Discussions on early Christianity in Asia are usually very obscure. Most conventional historians focus on the spread of the religion after the Western missionaries. They highlight the spread of Christianity into the Roman Empire, Europe, and the Americas. As a result, the history of this faith in the Middle East and in Asia is not well known.

The two articles reviewed in this paper attempt to address the knowledge gap highlighted above. Many people are in agreement that Christianity influenced the growth and development of the Asian continent in a major way. As such, the collapse of this religion in Asia and the rise of Islam remains a complex issue.

Jenkins and Yana provide a thorough historical review of the religion in the region, although from slightly different perspectives. There is need for future researchers to conduct detailed studies in this area to improve the existing body of knowledge.


Jenkins, P. (2009). The forgotten Christian world. History Today, 59(4), 32-59.

Yana, G. (2006). Book review: A history of Christianity in Asia, Volume II, by Samuel Hugh Moffett. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 20(1), 43-64.

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