Jewett, Robert 1933-

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JEWETT, Robert 1933-

PERSONAL: Born December 31, 1933, in Lawrence, MA; son of Walter L. (a clergyman) and Elizabeth (Bailey) Jewett; married Janet Miller (a speech pathologist), June 11, 1956; married Heike Goebel; children: (first marriage) Ellen. Education: Nebraska Wesleyan University, B.A., 1955; University of Chicago, B.D., 1958; University of Tuebingen, D.Theol., 1966.

ADDRESSES: Home—Rothenberg im Odenwald, Germany. Office—University of Heidelberg, WTS, Kisselgasse 1, D-69117 Heidelberg, Germany. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected].

CAREER: Theologian, educator, and author. Federated Church, Harvey, IL, minister of education, 1958-60; minister of churches in Dakota City and Homer, NE, 1964-66; Morningside College, Sioux City, IA, instructor, 1965-66, associate professor, 1966-72, professor of religious studies, 1972-80; American Church, Paris, France, theologian-in-residence, 1973; Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL, professor of new testament interpretation, 1980-87, Harry R. Kendall professor, 1987-96, senior professor, 1996-2000, professor emeritus, 2000—; Joint Garrett/Northwestern Ph.D. program in religious and theological studies, member, coordinating faculty member, 1982-2000.

Visiting lecturer for summer session, Wesley Theological Seminary, 1976, University of Montana, 1978, Iliff School of Theology, 1976-78, Vancouver School of Theology, 1982-91; guest professor of New Testament, Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches seminar, University of Heidelberg, 2000—.

President, chair, or member of numerous boards and committees, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, the Pauline Theology Group, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Society of New Testament Studies, Catholic Biblical Association, and American Academy of Religion.

MEMBER: Society of Biblical Literature, Society of New Testament Studies, American Academy of Religion, American Interprofessional Institute, American Association of University Professors, Nebraska Annual Conference of United Methodist Church, Chicago Society of Biblical Research (president, 1993-94), Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Gamma Mu, Blue Key.

AWARDS, HONORS: Blatchford traveling fellowship from Chicago Theological Seminary, 1960-61; Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst fellowship, 1961-64; Melcher National Book Award, 1974, for The Captain America Complex; honorary D.D., Morningside College, 1995, Kalamazoo College, 1998, Coe College, 1999.


Paul's Anthropological Terms: A Study of Their Use inConflict Settings (monograph), E. J. Brill (Leiden), 1971.

The Captain America Complex: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1973.

(With John Shelton Lawrence) The American Monomyth, introduction by Isaac Asimov, Anchor Press (Garden City, NY), 1977.

A Chronology of Paul's Life, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1979.

Jesus against the Rapture: Seven Unexpected Prophecies, Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1979.

Letter to Pilgrims: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Pilgrim Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Christian Tolerance: Paul's Message to the ModernChurch, Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1982.

(Editor, with D. E. Groh) The Living Text: Essays inHonor of Ernest W. Saunders, University Press of America, 1985.

The Thessalonian Correspondence: Pauline Rhetoric and Millenarian Piety, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1986.

(Commentary) Romans, Graded Press (Nashville, TN), 1988.

Saint Paul at the Movies: The Apostle's Dialogue withAmerican Culture, Westminster/John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 1993.

Paul the Apostle to America: Cultural Trends andPauline Scholarship, Westminster/John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 1994.

(Coeditor) Common Life in the Early Church: Essays in Honor of Graydon F. Snyder, Trinity Press International (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph overShame, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.

(With John Shelton Lawrence) The Myth of theAmerican Superhero, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.

(With John Shelton Lawrence) Captain America in aTime of Jihad, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.

(With John Shelton Lawrence) Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.

Also editor of Christology and Exegesis: New Approaches. Contributor of more than 130 articles and reviews to numerous publications, including Christian Advocate, Christian Century, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Anglican Theological Review, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Sojourners, Christianity and Literature, and Journal of Religion.

Member of editorial board of Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism, 1980-86; member of editorial board of the supplement series of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Sheffield Academic Press, 1991—; and member of the editorial advisory board of Jian Dao: A Journal of Bible and Theology, 1994-2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert Jewett is a theologian and author whose books, many of which were written with John Shelton Lawrence, examine American culture through the lens of religion and mythology. In The Captain America Complex and The American Monomyth, for example, Jewett attempts to explain contemporary American beliefs and behavior in sociotheological terms. In The Captain America Complex, Jewett proposes that our actions in the international political arena have been governed by two very different biblical doctrines—"zealous nationalism," which propels us to "seek to redeem the world by the destruction of the wicked," and "prophetic realism," which encompasses "affection and compassion for all humans, skepticism toward claimed superior virtue, and reluctance to draw the sword" in order to "redeem the world for coexistence by impartial justice." In Jewett's view, zealous nationalism has held the upper hand throughout most of our history, even as far back as revolutionary times.

Eric F. Goldman of the New York Times Book Review, calling the study "both illuminating and frightening," noted that "Mr. Jewett's presentation is not always felicitous. He can forget the caution of that eminent Prophetic Realist, Reinhold Niebuhr—'Americans are perfectly capable of making fools of themselves without need of any religion at all.' Often he writes as if the predilection for militant ideology in foreign policy comes entirely from Holy Writ, ignoring none-too-holy factors, economic and otherwise, which helped create and sustain the zeal." Nevertheless, concluded Goldman, "The Captain America Complex holds its reader. Mr. Jewett's analysis of the nature of the biblical influence on foreign policy attitudes . . . is original in fundamental ways."

An America critic basically agreed with Goldman, and wrote: "The book is sound enough sociologically and theologically, but it neglects the structural, economic and political factors that supplement the mythic sources in bringing about and sustaining America's righteous zeal. . . . Still, the book powerfully challenges both scholars and preachers to test concretely the American reality against the best of the Judeo-Christian heritage."

Jewett's The American Monomyth, written with Lawrence, explores the American version of the myth of "an Eden-like society helpless in the face of evil but rescued by an outsider, a superhero, who then disappears again." The authors' study focuses on the world of popular entertainment, where a Captain Kirk or a Lone Ranger restores order and goodness by vanquishing the forces of evil. They trace this myth in its American form back to the time of discovery and colonization in the New World, when America became a symbol of the second chance being granted to Europeans to create a new and better society. A reviewer for Choice called The American Monomyth "enlightening and frightening," while a New York Times Book Review critic noted that the authors' thesis is "sensible" and that they provide "persuasive evidence of its presence in our cultural life." However, the reviewer continued, "the book is written with an uncertain hold on the English language. . . . As a substantive matter, I wish there had been a look at myths of other nations—Robin Hood and the Arthurian legends of England, Japan's Samurai—which look an awful lot like this 'uniquely' American monomyth. Still, this is a useful reminder that a nation's ideas about itself show up in the most unexpected of places."

In The Myth of the American Superhero, Jewett and Lawrence revisit the theme of the American monomyth, purporting that the consciousness of the nation still today views the world—and America's place in it—in a mythical manner and argue that the idea of the "superhero" is built upon antidemocratic values. Here the authors trace the violence associated with the superhero abounding in modern media—from Buffalo Bill through the movie The Matrix. Rather than focus on one genre of superhero, however, they connect them all by tracing the "mythic similarity" underlying them. "This gives the text an underlying feeling of scope that usually is missing in such works," commented Matthew Kapell in Extrapolation.

Kapell was impressed with the authors' insights in their analysis of The Matrix. He points out that where most other critics commented on the same religious themes, Jewett and Lawrence (he calls them "nothing if not experts in their field") forego analyzing the "obvious markers of religion" and instead "quietly note that the hero, 'early in his training for world liberation,' must 'ignore a pretty woman in a red dress.' This need to remove oneself from the pleasures of the world is central to [Joseph] Campbell's monomyth, and the application of it here is notable in that so many other critics have missed it."

Fred Edwords pointed out in the Humanist that while the role of the myth is clearly obvious in ancient cultures, its role and influence is virtually every bit as predominant and influential in modern culture. "Myths frame social thinking," noted Edwords. "However, some . . . maintain that what we see around us are essentially ancient myths living on in our cinema, literature, and other art forms. [Lawrence and Jewett] beg to differ. Their book is an exploration into what they term the American monomyth and how its unique character manifests itself throughout our culture."

In his review for Journal of American Culture, Ray Browne noted that the authors examine present-day cultural dimensions, such as politics, socioeconomics, media, and entertainment, in an effort to comprehend how the superhero of each dimension arrives at that status and what they must do to stay there. "Their fundamental question," wrote Browne, "is: Can democracy coexist with religious heroes?" He remarked that for anyone who wonders or who has an interest in modern-day culture, "this searching and suggestive study is required reading and thinking."

In Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, Jewett and Lawrence again explore the themes of the superhero, zealous nationalism, and prophetic realism—the latter two having religious roots. Lillian Daniel wrote in the Christian Century that the authors "present a compelling argument . . . that American zealous nationalism is expressed less through its often forgotten biblical roots and more by the steady drumbeat of the American entertainment media and their superheroes, who 'reluctantly' step in to rescue passive, incompetent communities." She quotes the authors: "Helpless communities are redeemed by lone savior figures. . . . We are a nation so immersed in Captain America, Superman, Popeye, the Lone Ranger and video games that we are no longer shocked when governments employ nondemocratic means to achieve democratic ends." Daniel explained that, while many people may be concerned that violence in video games and the entertainment industry incites violence in society, the authors have an even more frightening concern: "widespread passivity in the face of force, and the loss of faith in democracy. [They] want to retire Captain America and replace him with responsible, faithful, realistic community." She remarked: "This provocative romp through political history, biblical commentary and pop culture gives the church much food for thought."



Jewett, Robert, The Captain America Complex: TheDilemma of Zealous Nationalism, Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1973.

Jewett, Robert, and John Shelton Lawrence, TheAmerican Monomyth, introduction by Isaac Asimov, Anchor Press (Garden City, NY), 1977.

Jewett, Robert, and John Shelton Lawrence, The Myth of the American Superhero, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.

Jewett, Robert, and John Shelton Lawrence, CaptainAmerica and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.


America, February 16, 1974, review of The CaptainAmerica Complex.

Choice, October, 1977, review of The AmericanMonomyth.

Christian Century, November 14, 1979; August 23, 2002, Lillian Daniel, review of Captain America and the Crusade against Evil, pp. 36-39.

Extrapolation (Kent State University, Ohio), summer, 2003, Matthew Kapell, review of The Myth of the American Superhero, p. 266.

Humanist, May-June, 2003, Fred Edwords, review of The Myth of the American Superhero, pp. 44-45.

Journal of American Culture, March, 2003, Ray Browne, review of The Myth of the American Superhero, p. v26.

Library Journal, February 15, 2003, Carolyn Craft, review of Captain America and the Crusade against Evil, p. 143.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003, James Fredericks, review of Captain America and the Crusade against Evil, p. 19.

New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1973, Eric F. Goldman, review of The Captain America Complex: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism; July 31, 1977, review of The American Monomyth.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 2003, Don Lattin, review of Captain America and the Crusade against Evil, p. E6.


University of Heidelberg, (November 13, 2003), Robert Jewett vita.*

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Jewett, Robert 1933-

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