The answer: Libya. This past week we received Thomas Oden’s newest book Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition. I picked it up just expecting to quickly skim it and was immediately engrossed in the book. Oden writes:

“The ancient Christian era in Africa has been profoundly misunderstood by academics. It has been underreported by historians and insufficiently excavated by archaeologists. Libya is more ignored than any country in the world which has experienced a half millennium of Christian history. This is an extreme case of modern amnesia. The amnesia prevails more in the West than in Africa, but nowhere in Africa more than Libya. It is as if a posthypnotic suggestion has been triggered.”  (34-35, emphasis his)

And consider this:

“Test yourself by asking: Can I name one Christian teacher or biblical interpreter from Libya? If not, you are at just the point I was only two decades ago as I undertook the task of editing the exegetical works of ancient Christianity.”

“Libya is the most neglected of all the historic Christian locations in the ancient world that experienced over five hundred years of Christianity. that is why I have recently made it my first priority to focus on African Christianity. Our time frame is the era from A.D. 1 to 1000–the firs millennium of Christianity.”

“But in Libya itself there is less archaeological excavation, relative to its importance, than in any other North African country, and far less rigorous critical scholarship or theological or literary inquiry. Theer is less architectural investigation of Libyan Christianity than of Egyptian or Algerian or Tunisian or Ethiopic or even Nubian Christianity. This might lead one mistakenly to think that Libya has produced less architecture and literature or had far less intellectual impact on Western culture than these others. Wrong.”

“Those who visit modern Jerusalem or Istanbul or Antioch or Cairo will immediately see abundant evidences of early Christianity. but go to massive Libyan sites like Cyrene or Leptis Magna and try to discover evidence of Christianity. Most of it is hidden, buried or softpedaled. That was the problem that led to this study. If you go there and walk through the ruined ancient cities, you will discover how hard the Christian sites are to identify, despite their long and once prominent history.”

“But they are there. Consult the architectural literature in Italian, French, German, Arabic and Polish (regrettably little exists in English) and you will see what labor is required simply to dig out basic facts from inaccessible archaeological journals and older excavation reports in libraries widely scattered.” (21)

Early Libyan Christianity is a paperback from IVP Academic with 334 pages and sells for $22.00.