Art, Beauty, Interpretation and History and Method
Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press: Nov 10, 1999), 304 pages.
Ask anyone to name the most influential person in history, and chances are the reply will be, simply, "Jesus." Here, 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." Pelikan proceeds from the premise that the "image" of Jesus - his identity as perceived by successive epochs - is a mirror reflecting the course of Western civilization, and that tracing that image through time will reveal the "continuities and discontinuities" of the past two millennia. His project uncovers mostly discontinuities; Western culture's christological imagery changes dramatically from age to age. Pelikan begins by looking at the early concept of Jesus as prophet and and rabbi, prevalent in the first century. Subsequent chapters cover in chronological order 17 other major representations of Jesus. These include Jesus as Logos, as "bridegroom of the soul," as "Universal Man," and so on. Behind these wildly divergent images, however, a rainbowlike pattern emerges: Jesus's prestige arches steeply upwards from his humble origins as a crucified wonder-worker, reaches its apogee in his medieval elevation to alpha and omega of the cosmos, declines in modern times to his quasi-mundane role as prototypical social liberator. This man, it seems, can be all things to all people; like the Beauty he embodied for the Romantics, Jesus lies in the eyes of the beholder.