Jesus Through the Centuries


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His Place in the History of Culture

Pelikan, Jaroslav

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"Jesus Through the Centuries reflects the deep faith and spirituality of the noted historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan expressed with Apostolic simplicity and clarity.  It expresses sound scriptural doctrine and profound cultural history of the last 2,000 years which can also serve as a blueprint for examining the images of Jesus through the study of politics, society, and economic events in history.  Through its contents, the book evinces a profound understanding between tradition and innovation through each particular age marked by intellectual vigor, theological substance, humanity and warmth.  Even more, Professor Pelikan emits an historical faith that is unabashedly Christocentric, straightforward and poetic, which will make the book appeal to a wide audience because of its rich humanism, and its informed use of references to writers and philosophers from St.  Gregory of Nyssa to Albert Schweitzer.  His book should be read by not only historians and theologians, but by all Christians who wish to seek ways of coming closer to one another through an understanding of Christ down through the ages."—His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America

"Jaroslav Pelikan has one of the most seminal minds in this generation.  Nowhere is this more evident than in his most recent volume, Jesus Through the Centuries. It is not a doctrinal study nor a volume on the life of Christ but, rather, an analysis of some eighteen images of Jesus as he has been perceived through the centuries, images running from the Rabbi to the man who belongs to the world.  Pelikan shows the enormous influence of Jesus on human culture, illustrating this through history, literature, philosophy, and art.  It is a book that could only have been written by a mature scholar, but it can be read with profit and joy by anyone interested in the place of Jesus in the formation and development of culture from the first century until today.  It is highly recommended."—James I McCord, Chancellor, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton

"Like a master jeweler working with hard but valuable material, Jaroslav Pelikan has given distinctive shape to a great subject.  He has chiseled eighteen surfaces, each with a different image of Jesus Christ affecting human culture.  The result is an often glittering intellectual history that illuminates important chapters of human sensibility with flashes of light and color from Eastern as well as Western Christianity. Jesus Through the Centuries invites us to go beyond narrow scholarship in our study of that historical record and to reexamine what we are in the light of what Jesus was."—James H. Billington, author of Icon and the Axe and Fire in the Minds of Men

"With learned insight and readable style, Pelikan traces the cultural incarnations of Jesus through nineteen centuries. . . .He concludes that Jesus now belongs to the whole of humanity, far beyond the reach of the organized Church and ecclesial theology.  And I agree."—Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame

"In a fascinating survey, he identifies a diverse and even contradictory array of devotional, artistic, political, and literary images of Jesus. . . . historians, skeptical and devout, will find numerous insights into the cultural development of the Christian West."—Booklist

"Yale historian Pelikan ably explores the universe of power and influence embedded in that revered five-letter name, as he surveys the role of the carpenter from Galilee in 'the general history of culture.' . . . A lively writer, Pelikan salts his study with delightful ironies and oddities, such as the crucial role played by two American presidents—Jefferson and Lincoln, both believers in separation of church and state—in redefining modern attitudes towards Jesus.  He also offers some tantalizing speculations:  would Auschwitz have befallen the Jews if Christendom had acknowledged Jesus as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph as well as Son of God?  The book as a whole suggests a larger question:  what might our planet be like today if Jesus had never lived?  On the basis of this stimulating, scholarly, but never tedious book, the question is too large to answer; Jesus's influence has been so pervasive that we cannot imagine the world without him."—Kirkus Reviews

"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."—Library Journal

"A fascinating study, by a Yale professor and theologian, of the varying reinterpretations of Christ from epoch to epoch."—National Review

"As a historian, Pelikan documents the image of Jesus in culture; as a Christian, he is compelled by the example of the Son of God. The book beats with a big heart. Arranged chronologically, the material in the book covers the astonishingly broad range of cultural functions played by Jesus since his birth in a village called Bethlehem on the western edge of the Judean wilderness. . . . The ultimate effect of Pelikan's gracious little masterpiece on this situation, which is becoming increasingly contentious, should, I think, give new meaning to the old image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace."—Thomas D'Evelyn, Christian Science Monitor

"We have here, besides feast for any reader, believer or not, a splendid educational tool, a welcome epilogue to H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture on a broader canvas."—Commonweal

"An enlightening and often dramatic story. . . . As a succinct account of the image of Christ before faith began to falter, in the indubitably Christian centuries, it is as stimulating as it is informative."—John Gross, New York Times

"Mr Pelikan, who is the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, writes for a broad readership. What he offers us in Jesus Through the Centuries is a rich and expansive description of Jesus' impact on 'the general history of culture. . . . Jesus Through the Centuries seems to me unique among current publications in bridging scholarly and popular discourse on the prophet from Nazareth over the past 2,000 years. Believers and skeptics alike will find it a sweeping visual and conceptual panorama. Mr. Pelikan is particularly adept at discerning the political implications in various Jesus images."—John Koenig, front page, New York Times Book Review

"Pelikan here draws on his commanding grasp of Christian history not to try his own hand at one more 'life' of Jesus, but to lay before us the principal images that have appeared, sometimes recurrently, from the 1st century to the 20th. Starting with 'The Rabbi' and moving with precision and balance through 18 well-crafted chapters, he uses stained glass and statuary, hymns and doggerel, creeds and exposes, to carry the reader finally to 'The Man Who Belongs to the World.' The final chapter demonstrates conclusively that if imaging Jesus ever was the monopoly of the 'Christian West,' it surely is no longer."—Harvey Cox, front page, Washington Post Book World

"A work of scholarly virtuosity. . . . Pelikan demonstrates that, to believers and non-believers alike, Jesus of Nazareth has been 'the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost 20 centuries."—TheWilson Quarterly

"Professor Pelikan of Yale University is one of the most distinguished historians of Christianity in the English-speaking world today. . . . For anyone interested in literature, the history of Western civilization, or theology, this book provides a wonderful resume. . . . Not many books combine so much sophistication and culture with personal faith and piety."—H. Boone Porter, The Living Church

"Jesus Through the Centuries is designed to take the nonspecialist, even nonreligious, reader on a pilgrimage through the Christian centuries in quest of the symbolic Jesus: the figure of Christ as framed successively by the sensibilities of generations past. . . . The range, insight and dramatic interest of Pelikan's survey make it truly an intellectual delight to read. . . . An admirable and impressive achievement."—Daniel L. Pals, Christian Century

"Pelikan sets forth intricate theological formulations so clearly that the general reader can follow them readily and can see how they evolved and compelled belief. . . . Beautifully written, intellectually stimulating, and a great pleasure to read."—Stephanie Martin, Wilson Library Bulletin

"Though it is based on a prodigious learning, it is a learning that is here deployed so gracefully and unobtrusively that this book will be found compellingly attractive by any cultivated reader who wants not so much a life of Jesus or a history of theological reflections on Jesus as an account of the various roles that have been played by Jesus of Nazareth 'in the general history of culture. . . . A book of uncommon brilliance . . . that wonderfully illumines every major moment in the history of Western culture and that reveals how indelibly this culture is marked by the Man Christ Jesus."—Nathan A. Scott, Jr., Commonweal

"Pelikan is one of those superb scholars who roams easily through a wide network of scholarly material, and in this volume he moves from century to century, indicating the influence of Jesus in the political, social, and economic histories of the western world. . . . A quite provocative book."—Kenan B. Osborne, Commonweal

"Pelikan's book is a feast for the eye as well as the mind. . . . The publisher has put together a book that is a tribute to the art of publishing."—The Presbyterian Outlook

"Jaroslav Pelikan has given us another superb book."—Christianity Today

"There is every reason why this book should become a long-lasting bestseller.  While Pelikan presents Jesus as a kind of universal cultural hero, his book is also a factual, informative history of Christianity, every chapter mirroring an age as it was drawn to Jesus, and illustrating the artistic, literary, and spiritual form that the attraction took. . . . A rare book."—Thomas Molnar, National Review

"This is a work of mature scholarship that brings rich resources to all who seek a vision of Jesus.  It unfolds the understanding of Jesus, not from the perspective of the biblical scholar, or historian of doctrine, but from the way in which Jesus has been a part of the unfolding spiritual quest of humankind."—Donald G. Dawe, Theology Today

"Brilliantly successful."—J.M. Cameron, New York Review of Books

"This volume is a treasure. It is a gem with many facets. Buy it. You will enjoy it, and use it, for many years."—James H. Burtness, Word & World

"In this incredibly rich book, Pelikan demonstrates clearly that Jesus, despite his humble origins, is the 'man who belongs to the world.' . . . This book helps the reader to see a bit more of his 'beauty, ever ancient, ever new.'"—Frank C. Roberts, Calvin Theological Review

"Literate, erudite, and engaging. It has organized familiar material in a creative way; and each chapter is filled with thought-provoking and well-expressed insights."—M. Edmund Hussey, Theological Studies

"The book is based on a thesis that is brilliant in its simplicity and, once articulated, compelling in its applicability. . . . It is a study of a lived tradition that finds expression in music, poetry, myth, art, custom, ritual, the cult of saints, and the cults saints cultivate. It is 'history from above' and 'history from below.' Only the most sensitive ear could hear the heartbeat under it all. That is what Pelikan does."—John W. O'Malley, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"The author . . . has made a potentially complex subject readable.  At the same time he has produced a convincing argument that in Western culture the 'spirit of an age' tends to be influenced more by contemporary views about Jesus rather than that the concepts of him are shaped by the Zeitgeist. . . . He has planted seed for  further thought and discussion while widening a horizon for one of his readers."—Edwin T. Greninger, International Social Science Review

"Pelikan's cultural history of Jesus Through the Centuries does honor to an author of masterful scholarship, encyclopedic erudition, catholic imagination, humane wit, and ecumenical generosity.  For the reader, it is a rare gem of a book."—William P. Loewe, Catholic Historical Review

"Celebratory study of Jesus' impact on Western art, thought and culture over the last 2,000 years."—New York Times Book Review

"An engaging and accessible history of ideas."—Dan Cryer, Newsday

Jaroslav Pelikan is Co-Winner of the 2004 John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Winner of the 1986 Logos Bookstores Award given by the Association of Logos Bookstores
ISBN: 9780300034967
Publication Date: September 10, 1985
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