An astonishing and revelatory history that re-presents God as he was originally envisioned by ancient worshippers—with a distinctly male body, and with superhuman powers, earthly passions, and a penchant for the fantastic and monstrous.
"[A] rollicking journey through every aspect of Yahweh’s body, from top to bottom (yes, that too) and from inside out ... Ms. Stavrakopoulou has almost too much fun.”—The Economist
The scholarship of theology and religion teaches us that the God of the Bible was without a body, only revealing himself in the Old Testament in words mysteriously uttered through his prophets, and in the New Testament in the body of Christ. The portrayal of God as corporeal and masculine is seen as merely metaphorical, figurative, or poetic. But, in this revelatory study, Francesca Stavrakopoulou presents a vividly corporeal image of God: a human-shaped deity who walks and talks and weeps and laughs, who eats, sleeps, feels, and breathes, and who is undeniably male.
Here is a portrait—arrived at through the author's close examination of and research into the Bible—of a god in ancient myths and rituals who was a product of a particular society, at a particular time, made in the image of the people who lived then, shaped by their own circumstances and experience of the world. From head to toe—and every part of the body in between—this is a god of stunning surprise and complexity, one we have never encountered before.
Biblical scholar Stavrakopoulou convincingly argues for understanding the Christian God as an embodied being in this fascinating comparative mythology. Despite encountering "broad assumption" among Jewish and Christian insistence that God is "formless," Stavrakopoulou found "ancient texts conjured a startlingly corporeal image of God." She demonstrates this through biblical appearances, alongside the mythologies of an embodied God from the ancient Hebrews' neighbors. Stavrakopoulou starts with the feet and moves upwards, using body parts as jumping-off points to explore cultural and theological issues. She considers genitals (including Ezekiel's vision of God's genitals filling the temple); the torso and organs (with a section on the heart as the seat of cognition); and arms, hands, and head (including an eye-opening exploration of the power of scent in rituals). She moves into what those parts can do, as, when discussing hands, she considers the ancient power invested in writing. By placing Hebrew stories in their local context, she explains what body parts meant to the original writers of the Bible, and offers insights into the reasons and methods that later theologians employed to diminish God's corporeality. Stavrakopoulou writes with the fluidity of a seasoned storyteller, using ample footnotes, but never getting weighed down by academic jargon. This is a provocative tour de force.