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When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today Hardcover – December 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ever since his groundbreaking study of religion and society (The Secular City) more than 40 years ago, Cox has devoted his work to a fascinating array of topics: Pentecostalism, interreligious dialogue, liberation theology and Eastern religions. Now, after more than 20 years of teaching a course on Jesus and the moral life to Harvard undergraduates, he shares his experience. He admits honestly that he initially failed to see the value of such a course in a pluralistic religious university setting. Once he began to teach it, however, students filled the lecture hall, and small discussion groups crackled with open and hard-hitting questions about the relationship of Jesus and morality. With sparkling prose, Cox organizes the book around the New Testament stories told by and about Jesus to demonstrate the ways that each can be used to inform moral choices. For example, one of his students made the connection between the Lukan stories about Mary's choice to give birth to Jesus and the ethical decisions that Harvard female undergraduates confronted in advertisements that offered them cash for their fertile eggs. Above all, Jesus emerges as an elusive figure whose actions and words are, according to Cox, harder than ever to pin down.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Cox (The Secular City, Fire from Heaven) links a rabbi’s 2,000-year-old teachings to today’s vast ethical issues to illuminate how we can apply Jesus’s philosophy to our own times. In Cox’s eyes, for example, the Prodigal Son becomes a rebellious dropout. If this situation doesn’t exactly ring true in your view, you may still find inspiration in this provocative, wise, and often humorous book, no matter your religious bent. As one critic points out, When Jesus Came to Harvard does not provide guidance on making moral choices, nor does it take readers step-by-step through Harvard students’ dilemmas. Instead, Cox considers different interpretations of the Bible and cautions against various fundamentalist movements. When in doubt, he writes, just ask yourself, "What would Jesus have done?"

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (December 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618067442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618067442
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Kearney VINE VOICE on March 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the Boston area at least, many people are reading Harvey Cox's WHEN JESUS CAME TO HARVARD. Cox is a familiar name in the religious circles in the area, and his book is a great read. With this book we get the level of scholarship one should expect from a professor at Harvard, the insights of a gifted teacher who engages students and shares some of their reflections and insights, and a very readable book that proves what so many already know, the message of Jesus Christ is always relevant and has something to say for our world today.

Cox did not intend to ever write such a book. He was asked to teach an undergraduate course at Harvard a number of years ago on the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. The university was concerned that while it was preparing the world's future leaders, it did little to shape moral education and began requiring at least one semester in ethics. The university in its wisdom decided that Jesus should be included as well, which caught many at this bastion of secularity by surprise. It also asked Harvey Cox to be the instructor. Cox was reluctant, but agreed and it has since become one of the university's most popular classes. This work is basically a summary of the course and the story of the class itself.

Cox's basic stand in the book is that the moral teachings of Jesus Christ are similar in many ways to other moral teachings and one can find common ground in the teachings of Jesus Christ without being a believer. He also stresses Jesus' Jewishness and how he was similar to a rabbi of his day which is not original to Cox, but he is able to stress his being a rabbi in a manner that is respectful to Judaism while at the same time acknowledges Jesus' unique role.
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Format: Hardcover
Based upon his Harvard course called "Jesus and the Moral Life," Harvey Cox allows the reader into his struggles with making Jesus' teachings applicable in the here and now, a world much different than that of Jesus a couple thousand years ago. This book is intended for anyone dissatisfied with moralistic fundamentalism as well as "do your own thing" relativism. There is no sense of elitism in Cox; rather, he admittedly struggles over what many passages mean, illustrates an open minded give-and-take with his students, and offers alternative interpretations to many of the Gospels.

His most important conclusion is to understand that Jesus was a Rabbi, and was a master of the respected rabbinic practice of "midrash"--of imagining what is not explicit. This method of imaginitive exposition frequently relies on analogies, and it's purpose is to be an instrument for imparting contemporary relevance to biblical events.

Cox tackles a breadth of tough issues, from the embarrassment or resentment people have about money, to what it means to love one's enemy. In the end, Cox calls for new spirituality to link the spirit to action, prompted by his perception that students today are lacking the "fire in the belly." Referencing great Christian leaders of the recent past like Martin Luther King, Cox states there was a "tone" in religion then, "an idealism in Christianity that linked Jesus' concerns for the poor and the outcasts of society to social action."

This is a thought-provoking work that is highly recommended. While Cox does not force his views upon anyone, he will make everyone think about what the Gospels mean today.
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Format: Hardcover
This is both the most provocative and most powerful book I have read about Jesus in a long time. It's both a great relief and a joy to immerse oneself in this story - in the midst of a culture that makes the following of Jesus seem either really stupid or far too facile. Cox's fine writing, stellar knowledge of Judaism, good humor, and personal honesty are the gifts here.
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Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with some suspicion, since I'm not a traditional Christian and not quite open to unfounded beliefs. However, Cox uses his experience as a professor to write a script that anyone can play out. It doesn't force Cox's or Christianity's view of life upon you, but rather opens the door for Christians to start using their minds and non-Christians to look for some non-scientific guidance. It isn't a fundamentalist Christian novel, and you might be offended if you are a literalist (whom he openly refutes). Also, Cox tends to get off-topic quite sometimes (I'm not sure why I read the chapter on alternative medicine).

Those looking for a spiritual guide, a devotional, or a refutation of modern or traditional Christianity will not find it. However, this book provides a useful look at a way of looking upon religion and ethics that fuses humanism with deism, that allows us to be free but grounded morally. It's not the end-all, but it certainly is an interesting way to look at things.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the many things I learned in my eight years as a campus pastor at Stanford (1995-2003) is that, contrary to a common but powerful misperception, religion is alive and well on university campuses. True, you can find rock-ribbed secularists, and political-correctness codifies what passes for acceptable discourse, but among the graduate students and faculty that I worked, and far beyond in other religious communities at Stanford, many people enjoyed lives of vibrant faith. Professor Harvey Cox has written a book that documents his similar experiences based upon over forty years of teaching at Harvard Divinity School.

In the early 1980s Harvard created a Moral Reasoning division in the undergraduate curriculum, and stipulated that every student had to take one course in moral reasoning as a graduation requirement. They asked Cox to teach what became known as Jesus and the Moral Life, a course which met with overwhelming success and overflowing classes for the nearly twenty years that he offered it. Before then, the last course that Harvard had offered with "Jesus" in the title that Cox could find in old catalogs had been taught by George Santayana who had left in 1912. After the first three years, with burgeoning enrollments of seven to eight hundred students every year, no wonder the president took Cox to lunch to discover how and why the course was so popular.

Cox has written this book for those whom he describes as "dissatisfied seekers" who have a genuine interest in Jesus and religion, but who rightly despair of conservative, self-assured, and smug literalists on the one hand, and "wimpy 'well whatever' laxity" on the other (pp. 8, 319). Most of his students, he observes, were "benevolent but uncomfortable relativists" (p.
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