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Dissecting Yahweh: The Materiality of the Divine Body and Its Biblical Autopsy

This Leverhulme-funded project offers an anthropology of the ancient deity Yahweh, at the heart of which is the careful but visceral exploration of the materiality of the divine body. The primary objective of the project is to identify and explore the texture and value of bodily materiality in ancient constructions of the Iron Age deity Yahweh – including those attested in the Hebrew Bible - in order to better understand perceptions of the material and the bodily within ancient religious practice and discourse. I propose that divine bodies, like human bodies, were not understood as materially or socially 'complete' (or 'bounded'), but were regarded as ongoing social ‘projects’, recursively brought into being by means of an array of socio-ritual practices and cultural performances, whether undertaken by the deity, the deity's colleagues, or worshippers. Within this context, I will argue that human and divine sensory engagement with the material and the bodily, and in particular the dividual texture, composition, and agency of divine and human body parts (such as hand, face or genitalia), played a dominant and hitherto under-explored role in the social construction of Yahweh and the religious experience of his worshippers.

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou