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Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  429 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Among the highly regarded works of intellectual history of the past decade. "An enlightening and often dramatic study . . . as stimulating as it is informative."--New York Times
Published February 19th 1987 by Harper Perennial (first published 1985)
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This is not a book of devotions or inspiration (and I imply no condescension towards those genres, having read many myself)but an intellectual history of theology, culture and the arts. Pelikan's command of the scholarship is superb, even, at the risk of gushing, awe-inspiring. I found myself making marginal notes all over the place to look up innumerable authors and texts whose work he cites, some famous and some I'd never heard of. Each chapter, roughly 12-15 pgs, covers a different image or c ...more
The other John
Oct 20, 2008 The other John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another treasure snapped up at the Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale. This book is a brief look at the perception of Jesus through the centuries by the "Christian" culture. While Jesus Himself has not changed over the centuries, the way His followers perceive Him has. Pelikan breaks the book up into 18 different roles that have at one point in history been the dominant perception of Jesus of Nazareth. In each chapter, Pelikan explains the concept, showcases those who held it an ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 27, 2015 Erik Graff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pelikan fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
Picked this up in a San Francisco resale shop. There were three hardcover copies, all with different prices, making this purchase a satisfying one.

Pelikan has impressed me with his scholarship in the past. This, however, is more an impressionistic piece about different facets of the Jesus figure as they reflect back on the historical periods which focused on them. It is as much about Pelikan's sense of Western European history and culture as it is about Jesus-as-archetype.

I suppose such a study
Mar 10, 2008 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of how the image of Jesus shifts over time and place. I especially enjoyed the chapters on St. Francis of Assisi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Thomas Jefferson.
Dec 28, 2016 Arthur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not sure at all how to put into words how deeply thoughtful and meaningful this book is. A friend of mine describes Pelikan as a "polymath," but I think that may be an understatement. Jesus and Mary Through the Centuries (companion texts) is at once a history of the world, specifically but not only the western world, a study of the beneficial and not so beneficial relationships between faith and culture, a demonstration of how the world has sought to understand and communicate the impacts (perso ...more
Jun 01, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently finished Jesus Through the Centuries. It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve read before. Having been introduced to the name Jaroslav Pelikan in the pages of Christian History magazine, I cannot be grateful enough for the experience of finally reading one of his works.

Pelikan gives us a bird’s eye view of how the subject of Jesus has been treated by a variety of individuals over time. One will gain a greater appreciation for the early church fathers, particularly Augustine, as well as t
Aug 17, 2012 Ethan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
A magisterial analysis of the different emphases regarding Jesus of Nazareth's life and character throughout the ages and how cultures have been shaped by Jesus from the first century until now.

The author highlights Jesus in context, the meeting of Jesus and Greek philosophy, Constantinian and Augustinian views of Jesus, the development of the monastic life, renewal in the late Middle Ages, views of Jesus during the Renaissance, Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism, and Jesus as a Lib
Feb 28, 2012 Hilary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-for-class
I really can't say enough about this book. I know from talking to classmates that it's not for everyone, but I loved it. Pelikan does a exceptionally difficult task--looking at cultural history over a long period of time--so well that he makes it look easy. This isn't going to be the book for you if you're looking for highly technical discussions of theology or philosophy, or if you want in depth coverage of a particular time period, but if you're interested in a deftly interpreted overview of h ...more
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A typically great book by Jaroslav Pelikan. This book tells the story of the variety of ways that Christ has been viewed from the first century until the modern day, explaining the effects that each of these views has had on the cultures of the world. For anyone who wants to get a sense of the depth of impact that Christ has had on the entire world, this book is a great place to start. This being the illustrated edition, it is also filled with beautiful images of Christ, of His Mother, and of Hi ...more
Paul Patterson
Aug 04, 2014 Paul Patterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive yet succinct overview of Jesus images. Depending on the tradition the reader comes from these images will be attractive or repelling. My prejudice is to see Jesus in human, historical and ethical terms and as an exemplar of normative humanity and yet a mirror of God. These images and much more are found within the book. I was not drawn to either the scholastic images or the Platonic or mystic that seem more dependent onthe Perrenial Tradition than the Scriptural texts or Jewish con ...more
Michael Laminack
This is such a fascinating read. Pelikan walks through different artistic depictions of Jesus throughout history, describing for each the biblical, philosophical, and cultural roots of each image. The unique contribution of the book is that the reader is provided an image to study and the knowledge to recognize theological implications of the image within its historical context. It's rare for an academic work to so successfully integrate visual and verbal illustration as this book accomplishes.
Roger Burk
Jan 02, 2016 Roger Burk rated it liked it
Dispassionate account of the various ways Jesus has been regarded, from the first century to the twentieth. Not much to be learned, except that there's not much to be learned. Each century looks through the same Gospels, decides what to ignore in order to get a picture of Jesus that seems plausible to them, and comes up with a totally different idea of the character of Jesus. You can believe one of them, or you can believe the evangelists who either were or talked to eye-witnesses.
Mar 31, 2016 Samuel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic book that deals with how different eras/cultures have pictured the figure of Jesus. This is a must-read for every Christian who is interested in exploring perspectives other than their own on "who Jesus is," and in wrestling with some huge questions regarding his significance for various fields of inquiry. It is, however, written in particularly academic prose, and assumes some general knowledge about church history.
Oct 20, 2008 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you think Jesus has always been the person whom christian profess to have a "deep, personal relationship" with? Think again! This book outlines how the person of Jesus has been viewed throughout history and how it has changed over time to meet the needs of the contemporary culture in every case.
Jeremy Stock
Jun 27, 2014 Jeremy Stock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More than just a great teacher... Otherwise he would never have been crucified... He was God and man... King, rabbi, priest, Savior, and Lord.

You cannot go your entire life without confronting the question of Christ. God be with you in your own journey.
Ryan Robinson
Feb 12, 2014 Ryan Robinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We used this book for a class of the same name (minus the subtitle). It is primarily focused on artistic representations but still does a great job of looking at the changes in how we've understood Jesus over the centuries. A very informative book.
Krys park
Sep 09, 2013 Krys park rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thouroughly done cultural study firmly and convincingly placing the iconography of Jesus into a social, political context. It was great to read the way such a dominating message twists and combines thus remaining s
Tom Wamser
Feb 28, 2014 Tom Wamser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very intelligent look at the way the image and concept of Jesus has impacted both the western and eastern Christendom in art, philosophy and politics, and the ways in which the emphasis has changed over time.
Matt Root
I found this a surprisingly disappointing read, considering how much I respect Pelikan as a historian and writer. I wonder, if however, it disappoints more because it is dated and has been superseded by other works.
Aug 08, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Pelikan's works, such as this one, simplify complex theological concepts into accessible reading. This book introduces readings to the evolving consideration of Jesus Christ across eras and cultures.
Feb 25, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting to see how each culture has interpreted and emphasized different aspects of Jesus. To the Jew, Jesus becomes a Messianic Jew. To the Greek, he has more Grecian/Mediterranean features with more emphasis on his divinity. Etc.
Lindsey Reyes
Oct 10, 2007 Lindsey Reyes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of religious history
I read this for a class, but would probably have read it in my downtime just as easily. Pelikan takes the reader through eras in western history and analyzes the popular view of Jesus in that specific time and place. He also works in paralells with art, saints, etc.
Aug 07, 2014 Marc rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: church, christianity
Fascinerende caleidoscoop van soms erg conflicterende Jezusbeelden, over 20 eeuwen. Toch bedenkelijk dat elke eeuw een mooi afgerond geheel vormt.
Mar 22, 2008 Marcus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent history of Christology. I myself am not religious, but nevertheless enjoy studying religion from an historical perspective.
Feb 11, 2009 Lsbaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I thought I was buying the book for the great prints, but the accompanying explanations turned out to be just as good. Great reference for religion in art.
Nathaniel Kidd
Nathaniel Kidd rated it liked it
Sep 30, 2012
Ted Morgan
Ted Morgan rated it it was amazing
Jan 24, 2013
Russ rated it liked it
Apr 30, 2012
Martha rated it liked it
Mar 28, 2012
Mark Hadley
Mark Hadley rated it really liked it
Feb 02, 2013
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Jaroslav Jan Pelikan was born in Akron, Ohio, to a Slovak father and mother, Jaroslav Jan Pelikan Sr. and Anna Buzekova Pelikan. His father was pastor of Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois, and his paternal grandfather a bishop of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches then known as the Slovak Lutheran Church in America.

According to family members, Pelikan's mother taught him
More about Jaroslav Pelikan...

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“One example is the familiar parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), which in some ways might be better called the parable of the elder brother. For the point of the parable as a whole - a point frequently overlooked by Christian interpreters, in their eagerness to stress the uniqueness and particularity of the church as the prodigal younger son who has been restored to the father's favor - is in the closing words of the father to the elder brother, who stands for the people of Israel: 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.' The historic covenant between God and Israel was permanent, and it was into this covenant that other peoples too, were now being introduced. This parable of Jesus affirmed both the tradition of God's continuing relation with Israel and the innovation of God's new relation with the church - a twofold covenant.” 2 likes
“The apostle Paul often appears in Christian thought as the one chiefly responsible for the de-Judaization of the gospel and even for the transmutation of the person of Jesus from a rabbi in the Jewish sense to a divine being in the Greek sense. Such an interpretation of Paul became almost canonical in certain schools of biblical criticism during the nineteenth century, especially that of Ferdinand Christian Baur, who saw the controversy between Paul and Peter as a conflict between the party of Peter, with its 'Judaizing' distortion of the gospel into a new law, and the party of Paul, with its universal vision of the gospel as a message about Jesus for all humanity. Very often, of course, this description of the opposition between Peter and Paul and between law and gospel was cast in the language of the opposition between Roman Catholicism (which traced its succession to Peter as the first pope) and Protestantism (which arose from Luther's interpretation of the epistles of Paul). Luther's favorite among those epistles, the letter to the Romans, became the charter for this supposed declaration of independence from Judaism.” 1 likes
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