Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In the introduction, “How It Came to Be Written,” Bruce Barton states that his chief goal in writing The Man Nobody Knows was to create a more popular, virile, and modern depiction of Jesus. In line with this, in the first chapter, “The Executive,” he argues that Jesus demonstrated the self-confidence and forceful demeanor of a modern business executive. Jesus was audacious and self-assured, and his utterances commanded the attention of those who heard them. As examples of Jesus’ inherent leadership ability, Barton cites his interactions with Nicodemus, an older man of considerable prominence in Jerusalem; with the Roman centurion, a man used to giving orders and being in command of people; and with Matthew, the tax collector. He also draws parallels with the leadership style of President Abraham Lincoln to argue his case.
In the second chapter, “The Outdoor Man,” Jesus’ virility is highlighted. Jesus grew up doing manual labor in his father’s carpentry shop, enjoyed time spent in the “open air,” and was popular among women. He drove the moneychangers out of the temple, and his cures and healings were performed forcefully and with a high degree of certainty and self-confidence.
The third chapter, “The Sociable Man,” continues the process of correcting what the author sees as the theologians’ dour view of Jesus. Barton challenges the statement that “nobody has ever seen him laugh,” using a modernized retelling of the events at the wedding feast at Cana to demonstrate Jesus’ sociability and citing his attacks on “the narrow code of the Pharisees” to give evidence of his overall enjoyment of life. The author again makes a comparison to Abraham Lincoln.
The fourth chapter, “His Method,” begins...
(The entire section is 725 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Sources for Further Study
Fried, Richard M. The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005. A full, well-researched biography of Barton.
Lippy, Charles H. Do Real Men Pray? Images of the Christian Man and Male Spirituality in White Protestant America. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005. The author offers a summary of Barton’s life and career as an example of one of the themes (“The Efficient Businessman”) that he develops in this study.
Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Offers a good summary of the development of modern advertising in which Barton played a prominent role.
Ribuffo, Leo P. “Jesus Christ as Business Statesman: Bruce Barton and the Selling of Corporate Capitalism.” American Quarterly 33, no. 2 (Summer, 1981): 206-231. Offers a solid overview of Barton’s life and career. Of particular interest is the influence of Barton’s father, William E. Barton, on his writing, as well as Barton’s own particular reflection of the progressive worldview.