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Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture Paperback – November 10, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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From Library Journal

Writing for the general reader, eminent church historian Pelikan proposes that, while the figure of Jesus provides the chief continuity in the history of Christianity, each age has depicted him in accordance with its own character. He demonstrates this in 18 brief yet magisterial essays, each describing an image of Jesus and its significance for a period in the history of the church. The gospels present Jesus as a rabbi; understanding Jesus as lord first produced tension between Christianity and the Roman Empire and later fostered the development of a Christian empire; an ascetical understanding of Jesus underlay monasticism; incarnational theology was a factor in the Renaissance, etc. History Book Club main selection. Terrance Callan, NT Studies Dept., Athenaeum of Ohio, Cincinnati
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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A celebratory study of Jesus' impact on Western art, thought and culture over the last 2,000 years. -- New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300079877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300079876
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Marshall on January 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is not a devotional work, it is an insightful and valuable slice of intellectual history. Pelikan is a Christian, but distances himself from those he describes. I think the combination of sympathy and critical distance helps the reader have his own conversation with the persons described. Pelikan bites off more than he can chew. How can there be room in one readable, coherent and reasonably short book for Augustine and Blake, Renan and Ricci, Constantine and Gandhi? But Pelikan pulls it off pretty well, summarizing the history with interesting anecdotes, and making reasonable comments. Not all of which I think are correct, though.

"It is not sameness but kaleidescope variety that is its most conspicuous feature." Pelikan includes a great deal of evidence for both, though. Early Christians attempted to translate Jesus as "logos" to relate to Greek thinking. Modern Christians in India and China undertook a similar task of describing Jesus as the "fulfillment" of the deepest truths in those great cultures. (Work I have studied quite a bit.)

I give the book five stars, because it is brilliant, fascinating and informative. Nevertheless, Pelikan's position seems to soak up some of the subjectivm he chronicles.

It is important to distinguish between images that are arbitrary, and those that depend on a reality that can be referred to. One could write a book called "The Moon through the Centuries." But that would be a different kind of book from "Martians through the Centuries," because in the first case, we just need to look up to be corrected. Pelikan does not take sufficient account of the fact that Jesus is more like the first than the second case. Kaleidescope is a mosaic of splintered reflections.
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I recently finished Jesus Through the Centuries. It's definitely unlike anything I've read before. Having been introduced to the name Jaroslav Pelikan in the pages of Christian History magazine, I cannot be grateful enough for the experience of finally reading one of his works.

Pelikan gives us a bird's eye view of how the subject of Jesus has been treated by a variety of individuals over time. One will gain a greater appreciation for the early church fathers, particularly Augustine, as well as the influence of classic Greco-Roman culture in molding the popular image of Jesus in the early centuries of Christianity. How Jesus was viewed by both monks and mystics is also touched upon in this work. Regarding the former, Pelikan notes how early monasticism emerged as a reaction against unbiblical ideas that had infiltrated state-sponsored Christianity.

Later on, readers will discover that Erasmus, after being inundated with complex medieval theology, sought to draw people back to a more Bible-based view of the Messiah. To add to this, we find how Martin Luther guided his own countrymen to discover Jesus as a relatable figure through the pages of his German New Testament.

Readers are further made aware of how such otherwise great thinkers as Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson sought to water down biblical Christology during the Enlightenment period. Thankfully, a more biblical view of Jesus resurged through the Romantic poets, Russian authors such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and the German theologian Karl Barth.

In addition to the fascinating prose, classic art is presented throughout this text. Also, Scripture is alluded to in occasionally unfamiliar, though helpful, ways on a number of occasions. I must say this work strengthened my faith at a much deeper level than some of the recent bestsellers have. Though it may take a while to digest, I simply can't give enough praise for Jesus Through the Centuries.
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Format: Paperback
Jaroslav Pelikan's 1985 overview of Christianity's founding figure, Jesus Christ, as seen through the centuries after His birth and death is a remarkable, readable account of just how varied the face of Christ has been depending on those doing the viewing.

In the first century, working from at least second-hand accounts, the writers of the Gospels portrayed a parable-slinging, question-asking rabbi very much in the Jewish tradition. A few centuries later, after Christianity conquered the Romans, Christ became "the Victor and King". Greek scholars saw in Him a Logos, a unifying cosmic principle under which the world operated, and by which it could be understood in turn. And so on. In 18 chapters that read like delicately-connected essays, Pelikan charts how Christ was viewed, seeing not only a reflection of varied cultures but an evolution to a truly universal figure, one in the end reaching and connecting even to those who don't believe in Him.

It's a brave and majestic aim, one I don't think Pelikan quite achieves. As the Age of Reason called into question Christ's divinity and miracles, Pelikan reaches to non-Christian figures like Thomas Jefferson, Hume, and later Gandhi for some kind words that feel like thin gruel after the soul-baring asseverations of Augustine and Dante.

"Jesus Through The Centuries" makes its best points without pressing. Take the cosmology of the early so-called Dark Ages, where seeds of reason were planted: "From the ascription of the creation of the universe to Jesus the Logos it also followed, by a necessary inference, that the Logos was not only the beginning but the end, the Goal of the cosmos.
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