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American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
"In Prothero's hands, Jesus does not so much shape American culture as soak it up, a happy tourist from the Holy Land. American Jesus is interested in the country's singular mix of whimsy, obliviousness to theological complexity, and spiritual lust that has created a Son able to serve many — 'the man that nobody hates' in Prothero's phrase....Prothero ends up bemused by the propensity for endless plagiarism, the American habit of love and theft." Christine Stansell, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
The Story of the Transformation of Jesus from Divinity to Celebrity
The United States (it is often pointed out) is one of the most religious countries on earth, and most Americans belong to one Christian church or another. But as Stephen Prothero argues in American Jesus, many of the most interesting appraisals of Jesus have emerged outside the churches: in music, film, and popular culture; and among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of no religion at all.
Popular revisions of Jesus are nothing new: Thomas Jefferson famously took scissors to the New Testament to produce a Jesus he could call his own. In Prothero's incisive chronicle, the emergence of a cult of Jesus--as folk hero and commercial icon--is America's most distinctive contribution to Western religion. Prothero describes how Jesus was enlisted by abolitionists and Klansmen, by Teddy Roosevelt and Marcus Garvey. He explains how, in our own time, the proliferation of Jesus' image on Broadway stages and bumper stickers, on the cover of Time and on the Internet, in a Holy Land theme park and on a hot-air balloon, expresses the strange mix of the secular and the sacred in contemporary America.
American Jesus is a lively and often witty work of history. As an account of the ways Americans have cast the carpenter from Nazareth in their own image, it is also an examination, through the looking glass, of the American character.
"[A] sparkling and engrossing book." Publishers Weekly
"Prothero assembles a dizzying national collage, piquant but strangely selective." Booklist
"Prothero has crafted a marvelous book — and a great read — on a vital and absorbing subject." Harvey Cox, author of Many Mansions: A Christian's Encounters with Other Faiths
"Wry and pungent....A work on religion that's also entertaining to read — no mean feat." Kirkus Reviews
"This wide-ranging history traces a dual evolution: of American religion...in terms of its relationship to Jesus; and of his multiform manifestations in response to changing cultural currents." The New Yorker
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).
In Prothero's incisive chronicle, the emergence of a cult of Jesus--as folk hero and commercial icon--is America's most distinctive contribution to Western religion.
About the Author
Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University. He is the author of The White Buddhist and Purified by Fire: Cremation in American Culture. He has written for Salon and other publications.
Table of Contents
Part one: Resurrections — Enlightened sage — Sweet Savior — Manly Redeemer — Superstar — Part two: Reincarnations — Mormon Elder Brother — Black Moses — Rabbi.
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