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The 21


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The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs

By Martin Moseback


A Review by Dwight A. Moody

I cannot remember a book that has taken me into more unfamiliar territory and yet left me asking that most troubling of questions, “What am I to do with this?”


I am certain you will feel the same way.


You may recall the pictures of 21 black robed and hooded men leading one-by-one 21 other men all dressed in orange onto a Mediterranean beach a few years ago. I recall the image but never saw the video of what happened: the first 21 men each carried a long knife with which they decapitated the men in orange.


It was the vicious murder in 2015 of 21 innocent Coptic Christians by 21 guilty Libyan Muslims.


Twenty of the men were migrant workers from the village of El-Aour in what is called Upper Egypt, or what we would call southern Egypt, somewhere between Cairo to the north and the Aswan Dam to the south. They had gone to Libya for work, as had thousands of others from countries all around northern Africa.


A noted German poet and novelist, Martin Moseback, himself a Catholic Christian with sympathies for the older forms of his faith, felt called to go to Libya and learn more about these men and their death.


What he discovered was very little about the men, largely because they had been transformed into martyrs, with the details of their lives overwhelmed by the emerging hagiography: “they had left home as poor migrant workers and would never return, but had become saints and were now more present than ever, albeit in a different form” (82).


What Moseback did come to understand was more about the Coptic Christian culture that shaped these men, their religion, their martyrdom, and their now exalted status; and this is what he wrote about, and this is what I found so arresting, so fascinating, so new, even so troubling.


Yes, he wrote a few lines about these men: “They were all staying in a single large room, where they slept side by side on the floor. Not a single piaster was spent for their own enjoyment; everything went to their parents and wives…. Those who could read didn’t have much of an edge on those who couldn’t, because they had all already committed the most important things in their lives to memory—the prayers, hymns, litanies, and pericopes pertaining to each part of the liturgical year” (122f). But the reader of this book gets the sense that Moseback harbored a bit of doubt about all these things, wondering if those who recounted these “facts” were not, in fact, stretching the truth just a bit too far.


But what he does report as the truth is the history and character of Coptic Christianity, something few of us in the United States know much about:

  • that it is the oldest organized expression of the Christian faith;
  • that it is led by the Pope of Alexandria from the first day until this;
  • that it was expelled from the Christian community by the “orthodox” bishops at the Council of Chalcedon in 451;
  • that it was overrun by the Muslim hordes in the seventh century and became a minority in its own country;
  • that it uses daily a worship liturgy that is unchanged from its ancient origins (which invoked the envy of the Old Catholic writer of this book);
  • that it is led by monks, bishops, and priests and signaled by the small Coptic cross tattooed on the inside of the wrist or thumb;
  • that it is quick to elevate to martyrdom those who are killed for their faith; and
  • that it is surprisingly strong and vibrant among the native peoples of Egypt who exhibit a preference for miraculous explanations for everything that happens or doesn’t.


Moseback described all this as “the misery and splendor of the Coptic faith in its astonishing perseverance on the dark side of history” (200f).


In some ways, this book is a travelogue, featuring the account of a foreign traveler into a strange land and culture, and that is one way to receive and read the book. But it is also a testament to the faith and practice of Christians of whom we know little; and this testament helps us to reflect more deeply and truly on our own version of Christian faith and practice and what we have yet to learn about meaning and mystery, persecution and perseverance, and faithfulness to Jesus the Risen Lord.




(February 2021)


all rights reserved 2021

Book Review Archive

After Evangelicalism:
The Path to a New Christianity

by David P. Gushee


America’s Religious Wars:
The Embattled Heart of our Public Life
by Kathleen M. Sands


Ann the Word
The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah,
Mother of the Shakers,
the Woman Clothed with the Sun
By Richard Francis


The Asbury Hymnal


The Story of the 
Last “Black Cargo”
by Zora Heale Hurston


Becoming C. S. Lewis 
Harry Lee Poe


Becoming Mrs. Lewis 
by Patti Callahan


The Benedict Option:
A Strategy for Christians
in a Post-Christian Nation
by Rod Dreher


C. S. Lewis, A Life: 
Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet 
by Alister McGrath


Call Stories:
Hearing and Responding to God’s Call

edited by Barry Howard


The Origins of our Discontents 
by Isabel Wilkerson


Climate Church, Climate World 
by Jim Antal


Christ in Crisis:
Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus
by Jim Wallis

by Ayad Akhtar

Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover


The End of White Christian America
Robert P. Jones


Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World
and Why Things are Better Than You Think
by Hans Rosling


From Stressed to Centered 
A Practical Guide to A 
Healthier and Happier You
by Dana Gionta and Dan Guerra


God’s Hand on America:
Divine Providence in the Modern Era
by Michael Medved


The Great Spiritual Migration 
How the World’s Largest Religion
is Seeking a Better Way
to be Christian
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The Greatest Prayer
Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message
by John Dominic Crossan


The Green Good News
Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life
by T. Wilson Dickinson


Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles
by Amy Lotson Roberts & Patrick J. Holladay


A Brief History of Christianity in Asia:
Beginnings, Endings, and Reflections
by R. LaMon Brown and Michael D. Crane


Is God Colour Blind?
by Anthony Reddie


The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd


Israel Matters:
Why Christians Must Think Differently
about the People and the Land
by Gerald R. McDermott


Jesus Loves Obamacare
by Barbara Young


Just Mercy: Story of
Justice and Redemption 

by Bryan Stevenson


The Last Leonardo
The Secret Lives of the World’s
Most Expensive Painting

by Ben Lewis


Let Us Dream
The Path to a Better Future
Pope Francis


Lift Up Thy Voice:
The Grimke Family’s Journey From 
Slaveholders to civil Rights Leaders
Mark Perry


The Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglas, an American Slave 

by Frederick Douglass


Paul: A Biography 
by N. T. Wright


Piety and Power: Mike Pence
and the Taking of the White House
Tom LoBianco


 That All Shall Be Saved: 
Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation 
by David Hart Bentley


This Precarious Moment 
by James Garlow, David Barton


Raising Boys Who Respect Girls 
by Dave Willis


Resilient Faith:
How the Early Christian “Third Way”
Changed the World

by Gerald L. Sittser


Riding the Wind of God:
A Personal History of the 
Youth Revival Movement
by Bruce McIver


A Scandalous Providence:
The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God
by E. Frank Tupper


Songs of American: Patriotism, Protest,
and the Music that Made a Nation

by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw


The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump 
edited by Ronald Sider


The 21: A Journey 
into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs
by Martin Moseback


Truth Over Fear:
Combating the Lies about Islam 

by Charles Kimball


Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe


The Universal Christ 
Richard Rohr


A Warning 
by Anonymous



Where Do We Go From Here?
edited by Kevin Slime


White Too Long:
The Legacy of White Supremacy 
in American Christianity
by Robert P. Jones



Who Lynched Willie Earle?
Preaching to Confront Racism
by Will Willimon


Witnessing Whiteness:
Confronting White Supremacy 
in the American Church
by Kristopher Norris

Books By
Dr. Dwight A. Moody

Here are four books written by Dr. Dwight A. Moody, provided here (or in the near future) in both text and audio format. All are in various stages of production for this web site. Feel free to provide comment on these books using the response form at the bottom of each page.




Free and Faithful: Christian Discipleship in the 21st Century

This was a series of sermons preached by Dr. Moody at Third Baptist Church of Owensboro, Kentucky. It is inspired by (and follows the format of) the influential book by Buddy Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms.  The text here includes an epilogue written in 2018 that offers reflections on the book, 20 years after its publication. It is also the intent of Dr. Moody to provide an audio version of this book; to date, only the Preface and Introduction are available.





On the Other Side of Oddville: Stories of Religion and Everyday Life
For a number of years, Dr. Moody wrote and published in public newspapers around the country a weekly column on Religion and American Life (something he continues to do through this Meetinghouse initiative). This book collects 105 of these 700-word essays. You may purchase a sign copy of this book–$20 inclusive of shipping; simply request it through the Response Form at the bottom of each page of the website. (This text is in production.)




Its’s About Time: A Memoir of Ministry at Georgetown College
From 1997 to 2008, Dr. Moody served as dean of the chapel and professor of religion at Georgetown College in Kentucky. This is the narrative essay that forms the core of this book. Upon leaving the school to launch the Academy of Preachers, he produced this self-published book. The book also included sermons, prayers, letters, essays, and memos; it can be ordered through Amazon. (This text is in production.)



Nine Marks of a Good Sermon
During Dr. Moody’s tenure at Georgetown College, he taught a course in “Communication for Ministry” (and popularly called “Preaching). This material was developed during that ministry and continued during his years as founder and first president of the Academy of Preachers. It is published here without the illustrative sermons included in the book.