American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon Paperback – Aug 26 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
No religious personality has captivated so many Americans for so long as Jesus. Indeed, as Boston University historian Prothero demonstrates in this sparkling and engrossing book, Jesus is the one religious figure nearly every American, whether Christian or not, past and present, has embraced. From Thomas Jefferson's cut-and-paste Bible to Jesus Christ Superstar, from the feminized Christ of the Victorians to the "manly redeemer" of Teddy Roosevelt's era, from Buddhist bodhisattva to Black Moses, Prothero surveys the myriad ways Americans have remade Jesus in their own image. He usefully divides these American Jesuses into "resurrections"-revivals of Jesus within mainstream Christianity-and "reincarnations"-appropriations of Jesus by outsiders. This scheme allows Prothero to range widely, and if he sometimes drifts from his primary focus, the digressions are fascinating in their own right. Nearly every page offers a fresh portrait of some corner of American religious history. A work of this breadth must depend heavily on other writers, but Prothero almost always has a judicious interpretation of his own to add-most of all, his contention that Jesus' enduring appeal confirms America's essentially Christian character even as it also demonstrates America's growing religious diversity
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
On magazine covers, movie screens, and even hot-air balloons, images of Jesus abound in a modern America ever more mesmerized by the central figures of Christianity-yet ever less conscious of Christian theology and doctrine. In a wide-ranging investigation, religious historian Prothero probes the cultural dynamics that have transformed Jesus into a ubiquitous American presence while weakening the tethers of orthodoxy. The analysis begins with stern Puritan divines emphatic about the justice of the Father but nearly silent about the mercy of the Son. But the focus soon shifts to liberal nineteenth-century Protestants joyous in their celebration of a tender, even feminine Jesus. A muscular, manly Jesus came next, and eventually even non-Christian Americans were turning Jesus into everything from a Jeffersonian sage to a Hindu avatar. Prothero assembles a dizzying national collage, piquant but strangely selective: Catholic images of Jesus occupy less space in this assemblage than outré characterizations of him in rock music and science fiction. Fortunately, a rich bibliography will help readers to sort out the confusing plethora of American Jesuses. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Thomas Jefferson is revered in the United States today as the author of the Declaration of Independence, the architect of the First Amendment, and one of the saints of American civil religion. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
Top Customer Reviews
Prothero's book, that is, doesn't focus on the question of WHAT, or even IF, Jesus was or is. Prothero lets us see that the Jesus concept is principally that, a concept, one that lets individual minds see a reflection of what occurs cognitively and emotionally in his/her own head and heart. Each Christian denomination, then, merely presents a particular view, which attracts a particular kind of convert who mistakes that particular view as "reality." Each denomination then presents arguments for their own view, eager to convince other religious "viewers" that their doggie in the clouds is the real doggie, and that the viewers who don't see this doggie lack sufficient faith, or righteousness, or status as one of the chosen who recognize the "truth." Jesus, that is, serves as an anchor of private and personal limitations, and then provides motivation hopefully to grow beyond those limitations.
The realist will expend no effort on deciding whether the cloud or the Rohrschach splotch IS a dog or person, etc. The realist will recognize that the cloud is a cloud, and the splotch is a splotch. Anything else is but a mental projection superimposed onto that reality, leaving people to argue over which mental image has more validity. Prothero does a magnificent job of laying out the American history of this cognitive/emotional syndrome.
Prothero, Chairman of the religious department at Boston University, takes an historian's approach to the dynamic relationship between Americans and Jesus during the past three centuries. Prothero writes, "Jesus may be 'the same yesterday and today and forever' (Heb 13:8), but American depictions of him have varied widely from age to age and community to community."
He takes the reader through the stages of Americans' transforming view of Jesus--not the "historical Jesus" or "living Christ" but the Jesus of American culture. Prothero offers an enlightening and encyclopedic tale of how Americans' image of Jesus has been effected by popular writings, artwork, preachers, church movements and even political figures. There is much fodder for Prothero to dissect as he notes the Library of Congress holds 17,000 books about Jesus, twice as much as the second most popular subject (Shakespeare).
He artfully shows how generations of devoted Christians have emphasized different character attributes of Jesus such as his role as ultimate judge, his feminine, motherly qualities, his manliness, love or friendliness.
Prothero focuses on several books and artworks of the 20th century that emphasized Jesus' manly qualities in response to the ubiquitous feminine likenesses of Jesus from the preceding century.Read more ›
This is a fascinating trip through American history as Prothero discusses the progressive change of the American view of Jesus from the Puritanical lawgiver to a tender, caring and effeminate Jesus, to a strong, muscular Jesus and finally to our current state where images of Him are likely to appear on a refrigerator magnet, rock music poster, or a bumper sticker. During this trip he examines incident after incident of how this transformation slowly took place. In addition to discussing these various changes he explains how the various societal factors of the time influenced them.
One of the most interesting points on the relationship of Americans with Jesus is that while His popularity as a celebrity or bumper sticker continues to grow, Bible study has continued to decline. What are the factors that have allowed the average person to so effectively separate Jesus from the religious trappings that have always been associated with Him in the past? How have these small changes allowed us to come to a point where He is truly a celebrity figure with only minimal traits of divinity? These are some of the questions that Stephen Prothero looks at and what makes "American Jesus" an interesting and highly recommended read.
Most recent customer reviews
This book might be an interesting read for sci-fi fans, but it's fatally flawed as history because Jesus never existed. Read morePublished on July 16 2004
Smart, funny, irreverent. Finally a religion book that doesn't assume its readers are all religious!Published on Jan. 4 2004
This book, which would seem to be the first definitive study of the unique ways in which the messiah Jesus of Nazareth has been transformed, reinterpreted and reinvented over the... Read morePublished on Dec 18 2003
I have to confess I'm a Jesus book junkie. Read dozens of books on the "real" or "historical" Jesus. Read morePublished on Dec 15 2003
A tremendously insightful, beautifully crafted study of the many ways that Jesus has, over 2000 years, been defined and redefined through the eye of the beholder, and to suit the... Read morePublished on Dec 6 2003
I loved this book! It is thorough, interesting, and a fun read. Prothero has a great writing style - informal and informative. Read morePublished on Dec 4 2003
Wow! Great subject, great read. I saw that Publisher's Weekly rated this a "Top Pick" for 2003, and it's one of the best books I've ever read on American religion. Read morePublished on Dec 4 2003
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