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How the Son of God Became a National Icon
Jesus the Black Messiah; Jesus the Jew; Jesus the Hindu sage; Jesus the Haight-Asbury hippie: these Jesuses join the traditional figure of Jesus Christ in "American Jesus," which was acclaimed upon publication in hardcover as an altogether fresh exploration of American history--and as the liveliest book about Jesus to appear in English in years.
Our nation's changing images of Jesus, Stephen Prothero contends, are a kind of looking class into the national character. Even as most Christian believers cleave to a traditional faith, other people give Jesus a leading role as folk hero, pitchman, and countercultural icon. And so it has been since the nation's founding--from Thomas Jefferson, who took scissors to his New Testament to sort out true from false Jesus material; to the Jews, Buddhists and Muslims who fit Jesus into their own traditions; to the people who adapt Jesus for stage and screen and the Holy Land theme park. "American Jesus" is "a lively, illuminating and accessible survey that takes us into unexpected corners of our shared religious heritage" (Dan Cryer, "Newsday").
Stephen Prothero is chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University. He is also the author of "The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott" and "Purified by Fire: Cremation in American Culture." Prothero has written for "The New York Times Magazine," "The Boston Globe," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal," "Salon," and other publications.
A "Publishers Weekly" Best Book on Religion
A "Chicago Tribune" Best Nonfiction Book
"American Jesus" is a vivid and important chronicle of the distinctive "images of Jesus" cherished by the American people, and an incisive and timely account of Jesus' transformation, in Americans' hearts and minds, from crucified Lord to folk hero, from divinity to celebrity.
The United States is one of the most religious countries on earth, and a majority of its citizens claim membership in one Christian church or another. But, as Prothero argues, many of the most intriguing American appraisals of Jesus have originated outside the churches: in novels, songs, and movies, and among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of no religion at all.
Popular revisions of Jesus are nothing new: Thomas Jefferson famously took a razor to the New Testament to create a Jesus he could call his own; abolitionists and Klansmen, Mormons and hippies, all cast the carpenter from Nazareth in their own image. Together they sparked a multifaceted religious revolution that reinvented Jesus as the dominant figure in the Trinity--and in the culture at large. Liberated from Calvinism and the creeds, Jesus emerged from the shadow of official theology into the spotlight of popular culture. Today, as explored by Prothero, He is even resurrected on the Broadway stage and in a Holy Land theme park.
This study reminds us how--in America, at least, and maybe especially--the sacred and the secular are intimately intertwined.
A "Chicago Tribune" Best Nonfiction Book " Prothero presents] a cultural history of Jesus as American image and icon in] vivid, engrossing detail . . . Within his narrative, ostensibly a popular and often entertaining account of the rendering of Jesus in song, story, and spirituality, the author] has embedded a fairly detailed history of American religion itself."--R. Scott Appleby, "The New York Times"
"Jesus has an American history. To hold him up to the mirror of American culture is to conduct a Rorschach test of ever-changing national sensibilities. What Americans have seen in him has been an expression of their own hopes and fears--a reflection not simply of some 'wholly other' divinity but also of themselves and their nation. This book examines those hopes and fears, exploring not only what Americans have said about Jesus but also what their malleable and multiform Jesus has to say about the United States. It is not a survey of American theology. It is a cultural history--a quest for the cultural Jesus--that draws on images of Jesus in missionary tracts and theological treatises, to be sure, but also in novels, films, biographies, musicals, hymns, spirituals, and the visual arts. In these sources, I have looked for evidence of the character and personality of Jesus the man, not the nature and function of Christ the messiah. I want to understand how Americans relate to Jesus, not how he relates to this theological system or that. I want to know what Americans see in him--whether he is aloof or friendly, dour or merry, masculine or feminine, homely or handsome. I am interested in the man, not the metaphysics."--from the Introduction
"Stephen Prothero, chairman of the department of religion at Boston University, presents] a cultural history of Jesus as American image and icon in] vivid, engrossing detail . . . Within his narrative, ostensibly a popular and often entertaining account of the rendering of Jesus in song, story, and spirituality, the author] has embedded a fairly detailed history of American religion itself."--R. Scott Appleby, "The New York Times "
" Prothero] mines not only sermons and theological tracts but also novels, biographies, songs, films, the press, and the visual arts to 'see how Americans of all stripes have cast the man from Nazareth in their own image' . . . "American Jesus" offers] facts, anecdotes, and insights about its elusive and mystifying subject while tracing] Jesus' journey from an abstract principle into a celebrity and, finally, an icon . . . Well written, judiciously argued, and impressively researched."--Michael Massing, "The New York Times Book Review"
"This wide-ranging history traces a dual evolution: of American religion (not only Christianity but Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism) in terms of its relationship to Jesus; and of Jesus'] multiform manifestations in response to changing cultural currents, from Thomas Jefferson's publication of a book of Jesus' life and
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