God: An Anatomy

Knopf. Jan. 2022. 608p. ISBN 9780525520450. $35. REL
Were the biblical authors being literal or literary in their anthropomorphic (and andromorphic) depictions of God? Drawing parallels between ancient Israel and Israel’s neighbors, biblical scholar Stavrakopoulou (religion, Univ. of Exeter; Reading the Hebrew Bible), concludes that YHWH was more the cosmic character drawn in the image of his people than the transcendent spirit of a more abstract theology. Working through various anatomical features of God provided by the text of the Bible, archaeological artifacts, and texts of related ancient cultures, Stavrakopoulou places Israel and Israel’s God in a larger cultural context. In doing so, she presents a larger-than-life but all-too-human deity who rose from being a minor member of a large pantheon to being its sole and all-encompassing occupant. From there YHWH undergoes the inexorable process of fading into the ineffable. Some of Stavrakopoulou’s assumptions are—although perfectly respectable—not unassailable, namely that there was nothing particularly distinctive about Israel’s pre-exilic religion and that ancient Israel’s neighbors had a naively literal view of the depictions of their own deities. Regardless, Stavrakopoulou has drawn a masterful line from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to that of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.
VERDICT Stavrakopoulou demonstrates scholarly acumen and popular flair.
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