Mosaic from Madaba. The Apostles' Church. © Jordan Tourism

The Making of the Medieval Middle East

A bold new religious history of the late antique and medieval Middle East that places ordinary Christians at the centre of the story

The Making of the Medieval Middle East. Religion, Society, and Simple Believers
By Jack Tannous
Princeton University Press 2018

In the second half of the first millennium, the Christian Middle East fractured irreparably into competing churches. MeanwWhile the Arabs conquered the region, setting in motion a process that would lead to its eventual conversion to Islam. Jack Tannous argues that the key to understanding these dramatic religious transformations were the ordinary religious believers, often called “the simple” in late antique and medieval sources. Largely agrarian and illiterate, these Christians outnumbered Muslims well into the era of the Crusades, and yet they have typically been invisible in our understanding of the Middle East’s history.

What did it mean for Christian communities to break apart over theological disagreements that most people could not understand? How does our view of the rise of Islam change if we take seriously the fact that Muslims remained a demographic minority for much of the Middle Ages? In addressing these and other questions, Tannous provides a sweeping reinterpretation of the religious history of the medieval Middle East.

This provocative book draws on a wealth of Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources to recast these conquered lands as largely Christian ones whose growing Muslim populations are properly understood as converting away from and in competition with the non-Muslim communities around them.


Jack Tannous is an assistant professor of history at Princeton University.


Read the introduction


Mosaic from Madaba. The Apostles’ Church. © Jordan Tourism