Saturday, January 17, 2004
The Boston Globe profiles Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, author of American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. A snippet:
"There's an element of the celebrity in Jesus," Prothero says, "that puts him alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, looking for face time on NBC." That may sound flippant to some, but Prothero's subject isn't the doctrinal Jesus or the historical Jesus but the familiar figure Americans more than any others have made into a protean being, with more different looks, personalities, and natures than any real man could have.
Starting with the Puritans, who virtually ignored Jesus, "American Jesus" sketches the history of American models of Jesus. The great evangelical revivals of the 19th century partly detached Jesus from complex doctrine, using preaching and music to portray him as an intimate friend, almost a lover. "He walks with me, and talks with me, and tells me I am his own," as C.A. Miles's classic hymn "In the Garden" has it. Later in the century came a feminized Jesus popularized by writings of Henry Ward Beecher, Currier & Ives prints, and a celebrated New York exhibition of paintings by the French artist James Jacques Joseph Tissot.
In the 20th century, the pendulum swung back, with evangelist Billy Sunday fulminating against a sissified Jesus. He was "no dough-faced, lick-spittle proposition," Sunday proclaimed, but "the greatest scrapper who ever lived." The cult of manhood and the outdoors cultivated by Theodore Roosevelt likewise led to tougher versions of Jesus, most famously Bruce Barton's 1925 novel, "The Man Nobody Knows."
Prothero jumps ahead to the 1960s and the present: the androgynous hippie Jesus of the 1960s Jesus Movement; the primarily Jewish Jesus of recent scholarship; the daily-life Jesus of some born-again Christians ("What would Jesus eat? What would Jesus drive?"); the Dalai Lama's Jesus as a Buddhist bodhisattva, or enlightened being; the Vedantist Jesus as an avatar of the god Vishnu.
("Personal Jesus," David Mehegan, Boston Globe 1.17.04)
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 17 January 2004 at 11:43 AM