Jewish, Christian, and Pagan Images of God
Imprint: Baylor University Press
632 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 12 b&w photos, 3 b&w illus.
- Published: October 2019
God is unbounded. God became flesh.
While these two assertions are equally viable parts of Western Christian religious heritage, they stand in tension with one another. Fearful of reducing God’s majesty with shallow anthropomorphisms, philosophy and religion affirm that God, as an eternal being, stands wholly apart from creation. Yet the legacy of the incarnation complicates this view of the incorporeal divine, affirming a very different image of God in physical embodiment.
While for many today the idea of an embodied God seems simplistic—even pedestrian—Christoph Markschies reveals that in antiquity, the educated and uneducated alike subscribed to this very idea. More surprisingly, the idea that God had a body was held by both polytheists and monotheists. Platonic misgivings about divine corporeality entered the church early on, but it was only with the advent of medieval scholasticism that the idea that God has a body became scandalous, an idea still lingering today.
In God’s Body Markschies traces the shape of the divine form in late antiquity. This exploration follows the development of ideas of God’s corporeality in Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions. In antiquity, gods were often like humans, which proved to be important for philosophical reflection and for worship. Markschies considers how a cultic environment nurtured, and transformed, Jewish and Christian descriptions of the divine, as well as how philosophical debates over the connection of body and soul in humanity provided a conceptual framework for imagining God. Markschies probes the connections between this lively culture of religious practice and philosophical speculation and the christological formulations of the church to discover how the dichotomy of an incarnate God and a fleshless God came to be.
By studying the religious and cultural past, Markschies reveals a Jewish and Christian heritage alien to modern sensibilities, as well as a God who is less alien to the human experience than much of Western thought has imagined. Since the almighty God who made all creation has also lived in that creation, the biblical idea of humankind as image of God should be taken seriously and not restricted to the conceptual world but rather applied to the whole person.
1. The Body of God after Antiquity
2. The Body of God in the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Early Christian Theologians
3. The Body of God and Divine Statues in Antiquity
4. The Bodies of Gods and the Bodies of Souls in Late Antiquity
5. The Body of God and Late Antique Jewish Mysticism
6. The Body of God in Late Antique Christian Theology
7. The Body of God and Antique Christology
Conclusion: Settled Conceptions of God?
This remarkable book by Christoph Markschies goes to the heart of some of the most important and most difficult issues in the biblical tradition. In a time when much Christian reflection is pressed in the direction of 'spirituality,' Markschies’ study is an important reference point. I have no doubt that a translation of the work will be a welcome resource for a very long time to come.~Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
Christoph Markschies is one of the finest scholars of early Christianity in the world today. In this important book, he renders his contribution to one of the most significant and current issues in the early history of the religions latterly named Christianity and Judaism. A must read for scholars and interested layfolk.~Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California at Berkeley
Markschies offers us an intimate description of God’s body in this comprehensive historical study of God’s corporeality as an otherworldly being. From the Bible to the writings of Jewish mystics and Christian theologians in late antiquity, this book is the first of its kind to assemble and meticulously analyze the traditional understanding of God as body and embodied, an understanding that impacted the development of Christology and the concept of the soul.~April D. DeConick, author of The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today
A very demanding but valuable read.~The Bible Today
God’s Body: Jewish, Christian, and Pagan Images of God is not a simple work, but is surprisingly interesting and readable, and should appeal to scholars in Biblical, Jewish, and Christian Studies, and to scholars of Greek and Roman paganism and philosophy.~Carole M. Cusack, Journal of Religious Studies