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American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon Paperback – Aug 26 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (Sept. 18 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374529566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374529567
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2.7 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #575,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Hardcover
Prothero (religion, Boston Univ.; The White Buddhist, etc.) eschews American theology in favor of its art, music, literature, and film to answer the intriguing question, "How did the Son of God become a national icon beloved by Jerry Falwell and the Dalai Lama alike?" The author has chosen to capitalize on Jesus the man and universal Christ while largely ignoring the nature and function of a dogmatic Christ as messiah. Objective and dispassionate throughout, the author confidently assures the reader that Jesus really matters-that he serves as a common cultural coin in a country divided by race, ethnicity, gender, class, and religion. Salty and savory quotes (including Langston Hughes's 1932 incendiary poetry describing a black Jesus) season the chapters well and flavor the author's underlying belief that there is a huge difference between authentic Christianity and organized "churchianity." A detailed time line and bibliography accentuate the value of this popular and scholarly survey of the "American" Son of God. It is a witty, entertaining, and eye-opening romp through American cultural history-as exciting as William Manchester's 1974 The Glory and the Dream. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries
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Format: Hardcover
In addition to many valid comments made by other Amazon reviews here, let me feature perhaps the central underlying concept of Prothero's book: the general concept that divinity, like beauty, etc., exists in the eye of the beholder. Jesus has been like a Rohrschach ink-splotch exercise: "What do you see here?" Different viewers of the same ink splotch see varied kinds of faces and objects. Prothero has revealed the history of Americans' "thing-in-the-clouds" Jesus, analogous to children who look at the same cloud and see no recognizable shape, or a dog, or a flower, or their uncle Henry's shoe.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Jesus has effected and transformed America since its inception to our post-modern culture, and America has continually transformed its image of Jesus since the Puritans brought their image of a stern, authoritative God to its shores and Thomas Jefferson cut and pasted his own version of Jesus. This is the claim that historian Stephen Prothero explores in his remarkable new book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
In "American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon", Boston University historian Stephen Prothero examines how Jesus has moved from being a divine Savior to a folk icon. No matter what his or her religious inclination, or lack thereof, nearly everyone in America has embraced Jesus in one form or another. For some it is a religious understanding, for others a recognition of Him as the great teacher, for others a recognition of the political benefits of being associated with Jesus, and to still others He is the ultimate sales tool or the ultimate appeal to a higher authority in support of their particular beliefs.
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.
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