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American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon Hardcover – December 15, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0374178901 ISBN-10: 0374178909 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (December 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374178909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374178901
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From The New Yorker

To the Puritans who settled the Colonies, Jesus was a marginal figure, and the Old Testament more important than the New. In the four centuries since, however, he has slipped the bonds of Christianity altogether to become icon and brand, as American as Mickey Mouse or the Coca-Cola bottle. 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 his multiform manifestations in response to changing cultural currents, from Thomas Jefferson's publication of a book of Jesus' life and sayings that excised all mention of the miracles and the resurrection to the Hindu Vedantists' veneration of "Christ the Yogi."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

Stephen Prothero is the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and chair of the religion department at Boston University. His work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, Oprah, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, National Public Radio, and other top national media outlets. He writes and reviews for The New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. He holds degrees in American Religion from Harvard and Yale.

Customer Reviews

This was a fascinating, well written book.
Dr. Marc Axelrod
These are some of the questions that Stephen Prothero looks at and what makes "American Jesus" an interesting and highly recommended read.
Harold McFarland
By Prothero's account, it will not create the first American controversy generated from images of Jesus in popular art and culture.
C. Stephans

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Marc Axelrod VINE VOICE on August 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a fascinating, well written book. Prothero discusses how Jesus has been co-opted and claimed by numerous groups in the United States. He discusses the Jesus Movement's Hippie Jesus, the Black Jesus, the Oriental Jesus, the evolving Jewish understanding of Jesus, and the Sweet Savior Jesus of the 19th century church hymns.

Prothero also has a chapter about the movement in the early 20th century to make Jesus more muscular and masculine. He also has an informative discussion about the impact of the classic Sallmann painting "Head of Christ."

I also enjoyed the chapter about the Elder Brother Mormon Jesus. I had no idea that there was such a difference of opinion about how to approach Jesus within Mormon circles.

The only comment I have by way of criticism is that Prothero tends to be a bit sensationalistic in the way he writes. He speaks of the Second Person of the Trinity breaking free from the control of God the Father, as if there was a heavenly falling out between the two.

He also makes unneccesarily sharp bifurcations between Calvinism and evangelicalism, apparently not realizing that many Calvinists were evangelicals (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield).

But this book is so well written and well researched in spite of its flaws, that I have no choice but to give it my highest recommendation. Again, it must be stressed that this is not a book about the biblical Jesus or the historical Jesus, but it is a look at the cultural American Jesus, and how He has been viewed by Americans.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Harold McFarland HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 7, 2004
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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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Fritz Zimmerman on September 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Whether you're a believing Christian or not, you probably have some idea in mind of what Jesus is/was like as a person. And since the USA is arguably the most Jesus-centric culture on earth, you might believe that those around you share that idea. But that may, apparently, be a mistake. As Prothero's engaging and far-reaching book explains, the American Jesus is able to conform to just about any perception one wants to have of him, depending on the national mood (or even one's individual mood). Is Jesus the compassionate, soft-spoken proponent of hearth and home and simple pleasures? Is he the manly firebrand who overturned the money-changers' tables? Is he the free-spirited, counter-cultural flower-child of 'Godspell'? The Elder Brother of the Mormons? An avatar of Vishnu? A Boddhisatva? Or was he fundamentally a Jewish teacher who should be studied in a Jewish context? In America, Jesus is all of these things at once, or some of them, or something else entirely. In America, everyone's entitled to a Jesus they can call their own, and this book shows how we came to that pass. I only wish the author had spent some time covering Islam, but the Muslim presence in this country has been of recent enough beginnings that there may not yet be an American twist on the Koranic Isa (Jesus). Still, I recommend the book to believers and non-believers alike.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By C. Stephans VINE VOICE on February 8, 2004
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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