It was quite humbling to open the Spring 2011 edition of the Journal of Early Christian Studies and learn that my translation of Decret's Early Christianity in North Africa had been reviewed by the leading Patristics scholar J. Patout Burns of Vanderbilt University. Overall, Prof. Burns gave an affirming critique. He writes:
"Edward L. Smither has done a great service in translating François Decret's 1996 Le christianisme en Afrique du Nord ancienne, which provides a brief but reasonably comprehensive survey of the development of Christianity in Roman Africa from its beginnings through its unrecorded death by suffocation under the weight of Islamic civilization, perhaps as late as the eleventh century. . . Smither's translation of the French is readable and accurate. . . The French version is listed by Worldcat in only thirty-one libraries in the United States; this English translation has already doubled that availability of the study. This book might be well used as an introduction when students will read primary materials."
His general overview of the book is also quite useful for potential readers:
"After an introductory study of the Phoenician and Roman contributions to the organization and urbanization of the area, the narrative devotes a chapter to the origins of Christianity in the second and first part of the third century, relying on martyrdom narratives, archeological evidence of Christian burials, and the writings of Tertullian. Three chapters are then dedicated to the third century, detailing the conflicts with the Roman state in the mid-century persecutions, the development of church organization, and the elaboration of Cyprian's ecclesiology. The seventh chapter, the longest and perhaps most useful contribution of the book, provides a detailed account of the division of the Donatists from the Catholics and the schisms within the Donatist movement in the late fourth century. A survey of the other religious traditions—traditional Roman practice, Judaism and Manichaeism—at the end of the fourth century prepares for the study of Augustine, which is focused on the Pelagian controversy, the reformation of the African church under Aurelius, and the complex dealings of the African bishops with the Roman church and the imperial government. The final chapter sketches the Vandal and Byzantine occupations and the Arab conquest, using archeological evidence to date the end of African Christianity. The text is supplemented by two maps, a chronological table, an index, and the bibliography of the original French edition, which is largely in that language."
After surviving his critique, I contacted Prof. Burns and we exchanged some pleasant emails and discussed the possibility of going on a study tour together to visit some early Christian sites in Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Inshallah, we will.
To access the complete review, see Journal of Early Christian Studies 19:1 (Spring 2011), 145-46.