cover image God: An Anatomy

God: An Anatomy

Francesca Stavrakopoulou. Knopf, $35 (608p) ISBN 978-0-525-52045-0

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. (Jan.)