American Jesus How the Son of God Became a National Icon

Stephen Prothero

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

376 Pages


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A Publishers Weekly Best Book on Religion
A Chicago Tribune Best Nonfiction Book

American Jesus is a vivid and important chronicle of the distinctive "images of Jesus" cherished by the American people, and an incisive and timely account of Jesus' transformation, in Americans' hearts and minds, from crucified Lord to folk hero, from divinity to celebrity.

The United States is one of the most religious countries on earth, and a majority of its citizens claim membership in one Christian church or another. But, as Prothero argues, many of the most intriguing American appraisals of Jesus have originated outside the churches: in novels, songs, and movies, and among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of no religion at all.

Popular revisions of Jesus are nothing new: Thomas Jefferson famously took a razor to the New Testament to create a Jesus he could call his own; abolitionists and Klansmen, Mormons and hippies, all cast the carpenter from Nazareth in their own image. Together they sparked a multifaceted religious revolution that reinvented Jesus as the dominant figure in the Trinity—and in the culture at large. Liberated from Calvinism and the creeds, Jesus emerged from the shadow of official theology into the spotlight of popular culture. Today, as explored by Prothero, He is even resurrected on the Broadway stage and in a Holy Land theme park.

This study reminds us how—in America, at least, and maybe especially—the sacred and the secular are intimately intertwined.


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American Jesus
PART ONEResurrectionsOneENLIGHTENED SAGEThomas Jefferson is revered in the United States today as the author of the Declaration of Independence, the architect of the First Amendment, and one of the saints of American civil religion. Though questions persist regarding his views on race and his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, he is widely respected nonetheless as one of the nation's great champions of individual freedom. Jefferson's reputation was quite different in his own time. In fact, the country's third president was one of the most polarizing politicians of his
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  • Stephen Prothero

  • Stephen Prothero is chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University. He is also the author of The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott and Purified by Fire: Cremation in American Culture. Prothero has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and other publications.
  • Stephen Prothero
    Stephen Prothero