American Jesus book cover

American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2003)

The Story of the Transformation of Jesus from Divinity to Celebrity

The United States (it is often pointed out) is one of the most religious countries on earth, and most Americans belong to one Christian church or another. But as Stephen Prothero argues in American Jesus, many of the most interesting appraisals of Jesus have emerged outside the churches: in music, film, and popular culture; and among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of no religion at all.

In Prothero’s incisive chronicle, the emergence of a cult of Jesus–as folk hero and commercial icon––is America’s most distinctive contribution to Western religion. Prothero describes how Jesus was enlisted by abolitionists and Klansmen, by Teddy Roosevelt and Marcus Garvey. He explains how, in our own time, the proliferation of Jesus’ image on Broadway stages and bumper stickers, on the cover of Time and on the Internet, in a Holy Land theme park and on a hot-air balloon, expresses the strange mix of the secular and the sacred in contemporary America.

Acclaim for

American Jesus

A Witty Panoramic View of Jesus

“Wide-ranging... Indispensable... Splendid... Prothero conducts his quest for the American Jesus with broad and imaginative research, and reports his findings in a lucid and lively prose... Sifting through a vast assortment of material…Prothero offers a generous and often witty panoramic view of [Jesus].”

– Eugene McCarrahar, Villanova University

Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2003

Vivid, Engrossing Detail

“Prothero is nothing if not sly. Within his narrative, ostensibly a popular and often entertaining account of the rendering of Jesus in song, story and spirituality, he has embedded a fairly detailed history of American religion itself.”

– R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame

New York Times, January 8, 2004

Expert Analysis

“Prothero uses the image of Jesus as "a Rorschach test of ever-changing national sensibilities." The results of that test, carried out with such energy and wit, will make it impossible to tolerate simplistic references to America's Christian or secular character ever again.”

The Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 2003