If human eyes could look at God’s body, what would we see? In God: An Anatomy, Francesca Stavrakopoulou catalogs the anthropomorphic references to God in the Bible, from his feet to his scalp, in order to gain a clearer picture of what the deity enshrined in its pages looks like. A professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient religion at the University of Exeter, Stavrakopoulou draws on the testimony of those who saw God or were in his physical presence, including Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. She searches the Bible not only for body parts but also for God’s very human behaviors, emotions, and appetites. (God is, in her reading, unquestionably male.) She returns often to the original languages of the scriptures and corroborates her findings with archaeological evidence and older mythology underlying the figure of Yahweh.
Stavrakopoulou’s study also recounts the disappearance of this body, almost like a missing-person report: while the ancient scribes of the biblical texts imagined God as embodied, over the course of centuries of Jewish and Christian doctrinal formation, rabbinic commentary, ecumenical debates, and influence from Greek philosophy, his body “gradually vanished,” becoming increasingly incorporeal, occulted, and abstract. (Although her references rove across time, from the medieval Maimonides to Jeff Koons, she does not consider the impact of Islam on conceptions of God’s nature.) This vanishing culminates in God’s alleged death with the complicity of modern atheism and science. The book ends with the image of a divine hulk stretched out on a cold marble slab; traces of human blood remain beneath his toenails, from stamping on populations as if they were grapes.