Tuesday, February 13, 2007

American Jesus by Stephen Prothero

I confess, the picture on the cover is what convinced me to read this book. I'm not sure if you can tell by the postage stamp picture above this review, but it features a large hot air balloon in the shape of what looks like a Dreamworks-modeled Jesus, presiding over all the ground beneath his nonexistant feet. How could I possibly resist hot-air-balloon Jesus? How could anyone?

The subtitle of the book is "How the Son of God Became an American Icon," and it is a fitting summation of the book itself. It is a well-researched historical account of the different views people have held on Jesus, organized chronologiclaly in part I, and by particular movements in part II.

Overall, the book is fascinating, moving from the Gospel-based Jesus of the Puritans to Thomas Jefferson's "Great Moral Teacher" (and his piecemeal gospel, The Jefferson Bible, which would later influence the Jesus Seminar), through the various masculinization and feminization of Jesus through the ages, and finally ending up at the malleable, one-size-fits-all Jesus of modern America.

The book was well-written, and it was interesting that the progression in American thought can be traced simply by looking at the ways in which we have viewed Jesus. In the 50's, he was a submissive son. In the 60's, he was a subversive hippie. In the 70's and 80's, he became a celebrity, and in the 90's, he became a poster child for everyone from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism.

Some parts dragged a bit (particularly the section about Jesus in modern Judaism), but there was a lot of interesting information in the book, and I'd recommend it for anyone interested in religious cultural studies, or just society's views of Jesus in general. As someone who would probably be considered a very conservative Christian theologically, I enjoyed it a great deal.

1 comment:

Carlton said...

Stop reading kids books.