I have been exploring the history of Christianity within the Persian Empire, a subject very well known to specialists working on that area, but less so to their counterparts who study the story in its “mainstream” (Mediterranean and European) forms. Before writing about this in any more detail, it’s important to understand the geographical setting, which means locating some very famous names. Geography may or may not be destiny; but it is very important indeed for the fate of religions.
Anyone even slightly familiar with the ancient world, or with the Old Testament, knows certain names of peoples, regions and great cities ”“ Medes, Persian and Parthians, Susa and Persepolis. Actually placing them in relation to each other is quite a different matter. It matters enormously, though, because each of those regions was differently situated in relation to other nations and cultures. Some, like the Persians, looked west and south, towards Babylonia and the world of the “Persian” Gulf. Others, like the Parthians, never lost touch with Central Asia. At different times, different parts of the broader Persian world dominated, and that shifting emphasis gave a different political and cultural coloring to the empire’s outlook.