Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $17.99 $22.50 CAD
- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 1, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. Historically a tolerant faith, Islam has, since the early 20th century, witnessed the rise of militant, extremist sects. This development, along with the rippling effects of Western invasion, now pose existential threats to these minority faiths. And as more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of greater freedoms and job prospects, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.
Drawing on his extensive travels and archival research, Russell provides an essential record of the past, present, and perilous future of these remarkable religions.
More Advance Praise for
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
"As the al-Qaeda splinter group, ISIS, storms across Syria and Iraq and attempts to destroy the Yazidi religious sect, now comes Gerard Russell, an erudite, polylingual former British diplomat, who documents the fates of the ancient religions of the Middle East, many of which are on the brink of extinction. Russell writes beautifully and reports deeply, and his account of these 'disappearing religions' will be an enduring anthropology of largely-hidden worlds that may disappear within our own lifetimes."
—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
"Oxford and Harvard, fluency in Arabic and Farsi, postings with the British Foreign Service in the Middle East and Afghanistan—as a scholar-diplomat Gerard Russell seems almost too good to be true. He brings these gifts to his beautifully written account of some of the most fascinating and little known communities facing the challenges of globalization. Read it to understand the complexity of—and hope in—our world."
—Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC, and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
"An eloquent and sensitive portrayal of the Middle East's lesser known religions, whose existence is severely threatened by the strident nationalisms and proxy wars that are currently tearing apart a region once renowned for its tolerance. Gerard Russell gives a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, those whose traditions—handed down through many centuries—are being disregarded and indeed obliterated in a blaze of violence and hatred. He lifts the 'veil of ignorance' and reveals just what is at stake—both in the Middle East and around the world. Through extensive and meticulous research, and encompassing years of travel to distant places to meet in person those whose lives have been turned upside down, Mr. Russell's passionate message touches the heart and reminds us of the value and beauty of tolerance."
—Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University
"At a time when minorities—and even majorities—are being persecuted across the Middle East, ancient faiths continue, just barely, to survive. Gerard Russell not only recalls a more tolerant past through his sketches of now exotic tribes and rituals, but also paints a deep and complex relief to help us understand this troubled region's evolution. Russell is a true classical diplomat: explorer, linguist, scholar—and master storyteller."
—Parag Khanna, author of The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order
"Gerard Russell's beautifully written book provides wonderful insights into the Middle East and the beauty of the different cultures that have flourished there for centuries. It is a welcome respite from the usual portrayal of violence in the region, and at the same time a wakeup call of what will be lost if a perverse form of violent extremism is allowed to prevail. At a time when religion is so often seen as a cause of war, this book shows how lives can be enriched by maintaining rituals and beliefs through generations."
—Emma Sky, Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
Journeys into the Disappearing
Religions of the Middle East
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
Copyright © 2014 by Gerard Russell
Published by Basic Books,
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 250 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10107.
Books published by Basic Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, or call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designed by Pauline Brown Typeset in Times New Roman
A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN: 978-0-465-03056-9 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-0-465-05685-9 (e-book)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my parents
And to Linda Norgrove, Vadim Nazarov,
and others who shared my journeys
but are no longer here to read this book
Foreword by Rory Stewart
Map of the Forgotten Kingdoms
CHAPTER 1: Mandaeans
CHAPTER 2: Yazidis
CHAPTER 3: Zoroastrians
CHAPTER 4: Druze
CHAPTER 5: Samaritans
CHAPTER 6: Copts
CHAPTER 7: Kalasha
Sources and Further Readings
Foreword by Rory Stewart
By the early eighth century, Muslim rulers controlled most of the land between Afghanistan and the edge of North Africa. But Islamic states—which developed in Europe a reputation as fierce and exclusive—proved ultimately more tolerant of other religions than Western Christianity. In Europe, "pagans" were eliminated so completely and so rapidly that the details of the pre-Christian religion of somewhere like Britain can barely be recovered. In the Muslim world, however, complete "pagan" religions were allowed to survive intact into the twenty-first century, and it is still possible to interview their believers.
There are the Yazidis of northern Iraq, whose temples include a statue of a peacock, somehow associated with the devil. There are the Kalasha of the Afghan-Pakistan border, whose faith incorporates wooden statues of ancestor-heroes. From Lebanon to Iran religions survive—some with a special relationship to fire, others that center on immersion in water, others with focus on the sun and the moon. Some of these faiths long predate the birth of Christ.
The subject is wonderful. These groups are not just symbols of religious sensibilities and possibilities now faded. They suggest a great deal about the origins and evolution of the major world religions. And they are challenging components of a modern world: intricate compressed identities, rooted in history and landscape, but also systems of belief that have changed dramatically over time, incorporated rival religions, and been exported to new lands.
But the subject is almost impossible. These religions are formidably difficult to access, understand, or describe. They survived partly because they are located in some of the most remote, mountainous, and dangerous regions of the Middle East. The believers sometimes speak obscure, archaic languages. The archives and scholarly accounts of the faiths are intimidating. In some cases the religions are esoteric: it is forbidden to record, discuss, or reveal their beliefs. In other cases, the religions are persecuted, and believers have had to learn to conceal the details of their faith, to avoid being murdered. They rarely can or will speak to outsiders. It is, therefore, very difficult to imagine someone qualified to address the subject.
Gerard Russell is one of the few people able to write a book of this kind. Born in 1973 in America to British parents, Gerard Russell studied classical languages and philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford. He then joined the British Foreign Service, which sent him to Cairo to learn Arabic. His Arabic became sufficiently fluent for him to become the UK public spokesman on Arabic news channels. He was posted to Iraq after the US invasion, became consul general in Jeddah, and then was political counselor in the embassy in Kabul. In those posts, when many diplomats remained isolated from the local populations, he developed strong friendships with Arabs and Afghans outside the compound, aided by his linguistic skills, and became an ever greater expert on the countries and people with whom he lived. In 2009, he joined a group of Afghan specialists at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, at Harvard's Kennedy School.
He is so modest that it can be tough to remember just how difficult it must have been to produce this book. He presents himself again and again as simply a bemused tourist, clattering around on rural buses. But he is an erudite scholar with patience and a very nimble mind. He has an extraordinary capacity for synthesizing and presenting complex information. He has a great knack for winning the trust of interviewees. When he interviews people in Iran or Lebanon, he is doing so in fluent Arabic or Farsi. When he traces the influences on the Yazidis or the Mandaeans, he does so with a deep knowledge of Islamic history and Christian doctrine. When he writes about the bombs and attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, he writes as someone who has worked and lived through the politics and violence of those insurgencies. The network of friends on which he relies to move through dangerous areas or gain access to religious leaders has been developed over years. This—his first book—is the fruit of two decades of experience and reflection.
Each of these religions has been shaped by a dozen other religions, living, evolving, and vanished. Theology is a subtle and tough discipline, where apparently "trivial" disagreements prove to have vast and often fatal consequences, frequently provoking sectarian killings. Many of the most basic facts about these faiths are still subjects of fierce debate, some driven by new data, some simply by new politics and fashions in anthropology or world religion. Thousands of books and articles demand to be read. Unpublished manuscripts in archaic languages need to be consulted. Some of the best accounts are a century old but need to be filleted for the prejudices of their authors. Much of this information is—inconveniently—relevant and good.
And "modernity," conflict, and "the West" overshadow everything. Many of the religious homelands of these faiths are today in active conflict zones—Iraq, Afghanistan, the edge of Syria—that have been swept up in the fortunes of regimes supported or toppled by the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Qatar. "Pagan" families have experienced occupation, proxy wars, honor killings, kidnappings, and giant truck bombs. The "pagans" are now clean-shaven men in suits or young professional women. In the last three decades, unparalleled numbers have left their rural homes, lost their links to their original landscape and extended family, and begun to marry out and forget their old religion. And perhaps the majority of believers have now fled as refugees to the West. So an honest portrait of a contemporary faith requires a description not only of a three-thousand-year-old temple and its ancient priest but also of a converted cinema in London or a community center in Detroit, all surrounded by the juddering fantasies and pressures of contemporary Western culture.
Russell navigates all of this, creating an almost effortless narrative, so that twenty years of dedication, study, imagination, and care are left very much in the background. It is tempting at times to hope for a more romantic account, more focus on his own emotional responses, a clearer glimpse of his own faith or views on God. There could have been space for Wordsworth's fascination with paganism as another energy or possibility:
—Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
But Russell resists this, just as he resists the temptation of boasting about his discoveries or of turning the story of the decline, persecution, and scattering of these religions into a prolonged lament.
Instead, he achieves something perhaps ultimately more valuable and more lasting—a careful chronicle. He truthfully and exactly records encounters with these religions in the twenty-first century. He introduces us in detail to his informants, gives us their context, and hints at their prejudices. He is never afraid to admit ignorance, uncertainty, or contradiction. He hints at a deep problem that the theologies of some of these religions no longer exist, if indeed they ever did. Some worshipers appear to continue their rituals without clear doctrines of sin or redemption; without clarity about the meaning of the words, or the objects and symbols in their temples; without any remaining memory of the stories of their gods. He links all his discoveries to contemporary landscapes.
This combination of linguistic skill, deep cultural understanding, courage, classical scholarship, and profound love of foreign cultures was once more common. Russell is in the direct tradition of British scholars/imperial officers such as Mountstuart Elphinstone, Macaulay, or even T. E. Lawrence. But it is now very rare. It is not an accident that Russell has now moved on from the British diplomatic service and Harvard University. Academics seem to be absorbed in ever more intricate internal arguments, which leave little space or possibility for a project of this ambition and scope. Foreign services and policy makers now want "management competency"—slick and articulate plans, not nuance, deep knowledge, and complexity.
Russell instead, brings older, less institutionalized virtues to bear. This book is a patient and nuanced challenge to grand theories and abstract ambitions. He is rigorous in his focus on the details of culture and history. He uncovers and helps to preserve the diversity and bewildering identities and commitments under the surface of a "global world." He demonstrates how the autonomy, dignity, and ability of alien cultures can challenge Western vanities and preconceptions. And above all, he manages to link his love and his learning to living landscapes and living people. There is much to learn from this book.
c. 2560 bc Great Pyramid built in Egypt
c. 1900 Indo-Europeans arrive in India, perhaps including ancestors of Kalasha
1842 Babylon emerges as an independent city-state
c. 1000 Date of composition of the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta
740/722 Assyrians attack Israel, take the Ten Tribes into captivity
597 Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem, deports leading Jews to Babylon
331 Alexander the Great conquers Persia; shortly after, he passes the Hindu Kush
ad 70 Sack of Jerusalem by the Romans and destruction of the Second Temple
274 Death of Mani, founder of Manichaeism; Mandaeans already exist in Iraqi Marshes
313 Constantine issues Edict of Milan, granting recognition to Christianity
529 The Byzantine emperor Justinian closes Plato's Academy
634–654 Arab Muslims conquer all lands from Morocco to Iran
635 The first Christian missionary arrives in China from the Middle East
1017 The Druze faith is first taught openly in Cairo
1095 Pope Urban II preaches the First Crusade
1160 Death of Sheikh Adi, a key figure in the Yazidi religion of northern Iraq
1258 Sack of Baghdad by Genghis Khan
1263 Birth of Ibn Taymiyyah, conservative critic of Druze and other heterodox Muslims
1501 Beginning of the reign of Shah Ismail I of Iran, who converted the country to Shi'a Islam
Map of the Forgotten Kingdoms
Imagine that the worship of the goddess Aphrodite was still continuing on a remote Greek island, that worshipers of Wotan and Thor had only just given up building longboats on the coasts of Scandinavia, or that followers of the god Mithras were still exchanging ceremonial handshakes in subterranean Roman chapels. In the Middle East, in contrast to Europe, equally ancient religions survived—often in marshes, wildernesses, mountains, and other remote or impenetrable places, and sometimes under the veil of a strict code of secrecy.
These religions might have dominated the modern world if history had taken different turns. A follower of the austere vegetarian preacher called Mani almost became emperor of Rome. Had he done so, the Roman Empire might have spread Mani's teachings, not Christianity, across Europe; instead of going to Bethlehem, European pilgrims might head instead to the Iraqi Marshes, where Mani first preached. Instead, the Manichees became extinct, but their closest cousins, the Mandaeans, are still living in Iraq. Had it not been for the invasions of the Mongols and Tamerlane, Baghdad might still be a world center of Christianity, for there was a time when the Iraq-based Church of the East had bishops and monasteries as far east as Beijing.
In the course of fourteen years as an Arabic- and Farsi-speaking diplomat, working and traveling in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, I encountered religious beliefs that I had never known of before: a taboo against wearing the color blue, obligatory mustaches, and a reverence for peacocks. I met people who believed in supernatural beings that take human form, in the power of the planets and stars to steer human affairs, and in reincarnation. These religions were vestiges of the pre-Christian culture of Mesopotamia but drew as well from Indian traditions that had been transmitted to the Middle East through the Persian Empire, and from Greek philosophy. They preserved, too, the customs of ancient civilizations of which they were the last, frail descendants. These are some—and only some—of the groups described in this book.
As I met these different religious groups, I was inspired and amazed at their constancy in faith. They have held on to practices and traditions without change for more than a thousand years—sometimes preserving them for many millennia, under constant pressure to convert. Most of these groups, though, are now more vulnerable than ever, and this book aims to give them a voice. They are worth hearing for other reasons as well: they connect the present to the past, bringing us within touching distance of long-dead cultures. They link the Middle East with European culture by showing how the two emerged from shared roots. They follow their religions differently than Europeans and Americans do—the Copts, for example, take on a burden of prayer and fasting that exceeds even that of monks in the West; the Druze have a religion that makes no demands of them at all, save that they marry within it. Thus the groups featured in this book seem to me to address three things that troubled me during my time in the Middle East: humanity's collective ignorance of its own past, the growing alienation between Christianity and Islam, and the way the debate about religion has become increasingly the preserve of narrow-minded atheists and literalists..
We have intellectual cousins in unexpected places. Greek philosophy is not a European phenomenon, for example, but a Mediterranean one and it influenced the Middle East as much as it did Europe. To give another example, when Alexander the Great marched through what we now call Afghanistan and Pakistan, he felt that he could see echoes of his own culture—and he was right, because Europe and North India share a common Indo-European heritage. Such links exist with people who live even farther east. The Christians of Iraq a thousand years ago shared their church with Mongolians; they had a Chinese patriarch and a bishop of Tibet, and influenced the modern-day Mongolian and Tibetan alphabets. Everywhere in the Old World, at least, apparent differences can conceal unexpected connections and commonalities. As I wrote this book I was always delighted to find these: they disprove the theories and beliefs of those who want to corral people into separate cultures and civilizations and set them at war with each other.
At the same time I enjoyed finding differences, too: ideas that differed from my own and challenged me to reflect on what I myself believed and why. The Lebanese–French writer Amin Maalouf, in a book called On Identity, called for a fight "for the universality of values" but also against "foolish conformism . . . against everything that makes for a monotonous and puerile world." I agree with him—though I could never in my own mind decide whether cultural diversity should be treasured whatever the price. Should we be sad if a community grows rich and abandons its customs, or if a religious belief is defeated in argument? I don't pretend to know the answer: I just believe that we happen to be fortunate that they have survived, and that today religions that have been sincerely observed for many generations are able to examine each other's ideas and learn from them.
How did they survive so long under Muslim rule? Very often Islam is presented as an intolerant religion, and some of its own followers regrettably want it to be so. The existence of the minority religions described in this book shows that image of intolerance to be untrue, for they survived under Islam, while no equivalent faith survived in Christian Europe. The reasons for this, though, are complex. For the remainder of this introduction, let me try to summarize them.
One reason goes back well before Islam or Christianity. There were religions in the Middle East that were more sophisticated than the pre-Christian religions of Europe and which had common roots with Christianity and Islam. So whereas Christians had no hesitation about putting an end to the Norse or Celtic religions and relatively quick success in doing so, some Middle Eastern pagans—deeply learned in Greek philosophy and Babylonian astronomy, and possessing a complex theology—clung on much longer.
Also, though the Prophet Mohammed certainly wanted to put an end to the traditional religious practices of the Arabs, which involved worshiping multiple deities, the Koran was by contrast relatively benign toward religions that were monotheistic and had religious texts, such as Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. These groups were called "people of the book." Several of the groups discussed here survived because they managed, somehow or other, to secure this label for themselves.
The early Muslims were not systematic about suppressing even openly pagan practices in the first three or four centuries of Islam, when Muslims remained the minority in many parts of the Middle East. When Muslim preachers did seek converts more aggressively, some of them were prepared to tolerate a wide range of beliefs and practices that elided the difference between Islam and the old religions it was supplanting. A group of newly converted Muslims, for example, might say that their rites of reverence to the stars were legitimately Islamic because the stars were angels—and so they could preserve some parts of the older, pagan heritage that they were giving up by adopting Islam.
None of this means that minority faiths were treated well. This was a time when to disagree with the ruler about theology was also potentially to challenge his right to rule. It was understood, in both the Byzantine and Arab empires, that those who rejected the ruler's religion would be disadvantaged. The "people of the book" were legally inferior to Muslims and paid an extra tax. When they rebelled against the imposition of taxes, as the Copts did in the ninth century ad
Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University
An eloquent and sensitive portrayal of the Middle East's lesser known religions, whose existence is severely threatened by the strident nationalisms and proxy wars that are currently tearing apart a region once renowned for its tolerance. Gerard Russell gives a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, those whose traditionshanded down through many centuriesare being disregarded and indeed obliterated in a blaze of violence and hatred. He lifts the veil of ignorance' and reveals just what is at stakeboth in the Middle East and around the world. Through extensive and meticulous research, and encompassing years of travel to distant places to meet in person those whose lives have been turned upside down, Mr. Russell's passionate message touches the heart and reminds us of the value and beauty of tolerance.”
Tom Holland, author of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World
It is unbearably poignant that a book so learned and so beautifully written should have been written about the religious minorities of the Middle East just as many of them seem on the verge of extinction. Rarely have I read anything so timely.”
Carne Ross, former diplomat and founder of Independent Diplomat
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms has the beauty, wisdom, and tragedy of the best elegies. Gerard Russell's book is both timely and necessary, a scholarly and personal observation of religions that are the heritage of all mankind, yet are rapidly disappearing. It is part travelogue and part history of some of the original wellsprings of human culture, both ancient and modern, but also a meditation upon rites and beliefs that are mysterious and fascinating but grievously threatened. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is essential reading for everyone who cares about the Middle East, religion, and indeed our common history.”
Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
As the al-Qaeda splinter group, ISIS, storms across Syria and Iraq and attempts to destroy the Yazidi religious sect, now comes Gerard Russell, an erudite, polylingual former British diplomat, who documents the fates of the ancient religions of the Middle East, many of which are on the brink of extinction. Russell writes beautifully and reports deeply, and his account of these disappearing religions' will be an enduring anthropology of largely-hidden worlds that may disappear within our own lifetimes.”
Emma Sky, Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University
Gerard Russell's beautifully written book provides wonderful insights into the Middle East and the beauty of the different cultures that have flourished there for centuries. It is a welcome respite from the usual portrayal of violence in the region, and at the same time a wake-up call of what will be lost if a perverse form of violent extremism is allowed to prevail. At a time when religion is so often seen as a cause of war, this book shows how lives can be enriched by maintaining rituals and beliefs through generations.”
James Traub, columnist for foreignpolicy.com
Gerard Russell has written a wonderfully beguiling Baedaker to the vastness of the Middle East, where ancient religions have survived like the remnants of an all-but-extinct species. At a time when the region is boiling with sectarian violence, Russell reminds us that the Arab world, and Islam itself, has given shelter to ancient faiths when Christian Europe would not. Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms is a loving tribute to the ancient and the strange, to spliced genealogies, and to the heroic defense of heterodoxy in an increasingly intolerant world.”
A nation-hopping guidebook to the theology and customs of believers who can't fully inhabit the imaginations of many Western readers without a proper introduction.... Engaging and informative.... Russell introduces a cast of characters who, even when offering cagey responses to his earnest questions, humanize groups that news reports tend to treat as extras on the world stage.”
Gerard Russell, a former British diplomat who has served throughout the region, is a worthy successor to the great British Arabists of the past, passionately interested in the area and its people.... Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is informative, thought-provoking and timely. It provides fascinating insights into the mosaic of religious beliefs that can be found throughout the Middle East, and also into how that diversity emerged and survived. Eschewing discussion of modern politics, it presents a challenge, nevertheless, to those who bear the responsibility for how this diversity can be preserved in the years to come. All humanity will be the loser should it disappear.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers
An important and engaging book for anyone interested in the Middle East.”
Russell penetrates the secret workings of these religions tolerated throughout the ages by Christian or Islamic rulers, even pursuing his research to immigrant churches in Dearborn, Michigan. A pertinent work of history and journalism. As armies again march in the Middle East, these communities are at new risk.”
Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith, author of The End of Iraq
This beautifully written account of the Middle East's unknown and vanishing religions could not be more timely. Just as the world turns its attention to the extremist attacks on Iraq's Yazidis, Gerard Russell tells us who they are. Russell's bookbased on his travels among the Yazidis, Mandaeans (followers of John the Baptist), Zoroastrians, Samaritans, Copts, and Druzeis the story of people and faiths that have links back to the dawn of civilization. It is travel writing in the tradition of Rebecca West and Robert Kaplan, but possibly better.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
[A] fascinating account of minority religions in Middle East.... By tying modern practice to historical context, Russell provides a valuable briefing on the ancient and medieval history of the region. He also muses on the immediate future of each community, particularly with respect to political instability and immigration, and his cheerfully personal tone makes all this information lively. This important and enjoyable glimpse into little-considered religious dynamics of the Middle East deserves to be widely read and distributed.”
Russell, a former British and UN diplomat who lived in the Middle East for 15 years, proves an excellent tour guide as he introduces the remnants of these near-extinct groups a fascinating read, especially when it becomes clear that, with a few twists of history, some of these religions would have been at the top, not the bottom.”
A fascinating and gracefully written study of minority religions, recommended for its appreciate of cultural richness and variety.”
Wall Street Journal
It is difficult to imagine a more timely book than Gerard Russell's Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East. Equal parts travelogue and history, Mr. Russell's meticulously researched book takes readers into some of the region's least-known minority communities: the Mandaeans of Iraq, the Copts of Egypt, the Zoroastrians, the Samaritans, and, yes, the Yazidis.”
New York Review of Books
[A] remarkable book.... The great virtue of Russell's book is its courageous spirit of sympathy for an immense range of human experience.... An urgently needed corrective in our age of deepening religious divisions.”
A fascinating survey of threatened and vanishing minority religions across the broader Middle East, written in an even tone sprinkled with wonder.”
New York Times Book Review By the Book
[A] highly topical study of Middle Eastern anomalies which is teaching me a lot, and should be read by all Western policy makers those who do read.”
Literary Review (UK)
Part vivid odyssey, part lucid history.... Gerard Russell's timely and humane depiction of [these cultures] is a compelling read.”
- On Sale
- Dec 1, 2015
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Basic Books