Most persons now living can expect to witness the turning from the second to the third millennium of the Christian era. The year 2000 anno Domini looms as a seeming tower in time, commanding our attentive awe as we approach it. But in our age there is something oddly jarring about "the year of our Lord," that signal event in history from which centuries and millennia are counted. How is it that the very reckoning of time by a materialistic modern world remains bound to the advent of a historical figure whose explanation was spiritual?
For a secular time these questions pose a disconcerting anomaly and irony. Now a scholarly new study by the eminent Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan has deepened the inquiry by reminding us that Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost 20 centuries. "If it were possible with some sort of super-magnet to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name," Pelikan asks, "how much would be left?"
Jesus Through the Centuries offers a richly developed cultural study of 18 different images of Jesus Christ. While Christ metaphysically is "the same yesterday and today and for ever," in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Pelikan has engaged the many and varied historical images encompassed in that continuity.
Among these images are Jesus as...