Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East

In This Review

Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East

By Ussama Makdisi
Cornell University Press, 2007
280 pp. $35.00
Purchase

The efforts of American Protestant missionaries in the Middle East have often been depicted in epic terms: they came and set in motion the process of modernization epitomized by such institutions as the American University of Beirut. A variant view folds missionary activities into the larger story of an intrusive West picking the Middle East to pieces. Neither does justice to a more complex reality. Both concentrate overly on the outsider and give too little agency to the indigenous society. Makdisi, with an elegant reconstruction of this confrontation of cultures in nineteenth-century Lebanon, moves away from such simplifications. He brings to life the handful of American missionaries presuming to proselytize among Christianity's oldest churches. He introduces Maronite bishops, feudal lords, and Ottoman governors confronting changes that challenged their standing. Framing this rich history is the story of two Lebanese converts, the one dying while in Maronite custody, the other personifying new orientations slowly taking root. This richly researched study not only accomplishes the historian's basic task of explaining what happened and who was involved. It also contributes to a better understanding of the confrontation between the West and the Middle East in modern times.