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.
[Stephen 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. It seems all major religions have some version.
Nowhere is Jesus' elasticity clearer than in art. The most famous American image is Warner Sallman's virile 1941 "Head of Christ," with flowing brown tresses and and luminous tanned skin, which Prothero says has sold more than 500 million copies. But there are also African and Asiatic images; there's Jesus looking pensive or stern and Jesus laughing; "Christ the Yogi," sitting cross-legged in a painting at the San Francisco Vedanta Society. There's Jesus in a business suit, on a wanted poster, decked out in boxing gloves in the ring, and Jesus the 110-foot-tall hot-air balloon, ascending periodically above Northern California.
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