God: An Anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou | Theology and Religion | University of Exeter) is a biblical scholar and broadcaster. She is currently (2024) Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. The main focus of her research is on the Hebrew Bible, and on Israelite and Judahite history and religion.

In this book Stavrakopoulou presents Yahweh, the Hebrew god, as he was originally envisioned by ancient worshippers. This is with a distinctly male body, beard, genitalia, superhuman powers, earthly passions, and a penchant for the fantastic and monstrous. It was only after many centuries of sanitisation that theologians, Jewish and Christian, began to reconsider their god as incorporeal. Eventually, they placed Him outside space and time altogether – a pure, eternal spirit. This was a move of genius because His existence could, from then on, never be falsified. The author wants to recover the full blood, guts and gore god of the ancient Hebrew writers.

The Chapter headings are: ‘Feet and Legs’, ‘Genitals’, ‘Torso’, ‘Arms and Hands’, ‘Head’. The range of primary evidence examined is impressive. Stavrakopoulou has a command of the ancient languages plus knowledge of methods in archaeology. There are sixty-eight pages of concise endnotes with expertly selected citations showing an understanding of the scholarly debates around the interpretation of primary evidence.

The author’s argumentation is robust, and sophisticated. Evidence is examined with forensic precision, but also with humour and compassion. She is both detached, and yet sympathetic and respectful towards the ancient communities which generated these faith traditions.

Here are a few excerpts to give you a flavour:

‘Single and celibate. Asexual and childfree. In the textcentric modern West we have become so accustomed to the neutered Christ of The New Testament that it is difficult to comprehend or even perceive the veneration of the sexualised virility of this divine man within those societies preceding our own. But across the visual cultures of late antique, medieval and Renaissance Europe, close attention to Christ’s genitals in legends, relics, icons and artwork served not only to highlight his maleness and his humanity but his death-defying divine virility’ (p. 146)

‘But for the ancient writers of biblical books, god was so familiarly corporeal, masculine and sexual, that these characteristics were easily harnessed to tell the story of his intense and turbulent relationship with his people, Israel – a people he expected to desire, love and obey him as a good wife should.’ (p. 161)

‘On the body of the biblical god, the divine penis was more than a divine accessory of patriarchal masculinity. It was the corporeal manifestation of the divine thrust of all life – heavenly and earthly, cultural and social – in the cosmos’. (p. 163)

By the end of this book you’d almost be persuaded that humans had invented the gods, including Yahweh, all along. These are Stavrakopoulou’s final words in her last chapter, ‘An Autopsy’: ‘The Christian construct of God as a transcendent, invisible, incorporeal being is a distorted refraction, not a reflection, of the biblical image of God. The real God of the Bible was an ancient Levantine deity whose footsteps shook the earth, whose voice thundered through the skies, and whose beauty and radiance dazzled his worshippers. This was a deity who crafted god-shaped humans from clay, and breathed life into their nostrils. But this was also a god who wept and talked and slept and sulked. A god who felt and fought and loved and lost. A god who sometimes failed and sometimes triumphed. This was a god more like the best of us and the worst of us. A god made in our own image’.

Check if this widely praised work of biblical scholarship for the general reader is in stock at your local library Home | South Lanarkshire Libraries (sllclibrary.co.uk)

Winner of The PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize
Shortlisted for The Wolfson History Prize
A Times Books of the Year

Francesca Stavrakopoulou has spoken about her research in many YouTube videos, a few being listed here.

God: An Anatomy – interview with Dr. Stavrakopoulou (youtube.com)

Francesca Stavrakopoulou discusses “God: An Anatomy” with Candida Moss (youtube.com)

608 pages in Picador

First published 2021

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1509867332

Francesca Stavrakopoulou

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