In everyday usage, the “Middle East” is generally taken to mean the region that runs more or less from Egypt to Syria to Iraq and the Gulf. It has, especially in recent decades, come to overlay the issues of oil, the Arab-Israeli conflict and terrorism (Islamic or political). Conventional wisdom has it that the word came into use with the fall of the Ottoman Empire as, among other things, a replacement for the less precise and less useful “Near East”. In other words, the general perception is that the expression is either self-evident or that it emerged thanks to a sort of natural evolution in terminology.

Perhaps no place epitomizes Faulkner’s oft-quoted maxim that “the past is never dead” more than Jerusalem. And there are few other places where there is so little agreement about what the past was, or is. John D Hosler takes a particular slice through this history by focusing on “conquest: those ‘falls’, or moments from the seventh through the thirteenth century when possession of the city passed from adherents of one religious confession to another by way of conflict”—a story, he posits, that “is highly pertinent to its modern controversies.”

The Sasanians ruled an empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Aral Sea. Under them, the Zoroastrian religion developed its most subtle metaphysics. Greek philosophers flocked to their capital in Ctesiphon, while in Babylon, the Jewish Talmud ripened. Iranian painting, metalwork and music were received enthusiastically in China and India.

It’s the 16th century, and the Ottoman Empire has just defeated the Mamluk Sultanate, conquering Damascus and Cairo, important centers of Arab learning and culture. But how did these two groups—Arabs and “Rumis”, a term used to refer to those living in Anatolia—interact? How did Arabs deal with these powerful upstarts, and how did Rumis try to work with their learned, yet defeated, subjects?