For many persons today it is entirely plausible to imagine God as bodiless, or further still, as an entity created by the human intellect, a conceptual idea unaffected by time and space—but this is not how most ancients viewed God. One encounters, as Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic specialists have made clear, everything from a very human-like body in the Hebrew Bible to an utterly incorporeal deity in the writings of Maimonides with much overlap in between. By contrast, despite the widespread awareness of the Jewishness of the New Testament, NT specialists consistently confine their investigations to narrow debates regarding when Jesus was viewed as the unique embodiment of Israel’s God. To date, however, scholars have not sufficiently explored how other Jews, who lived in the centuries surrounding the turn of the Common Era, conceived of God’s bodily and materialized forms. This oversight has caused specialists of antiquity to assume that early Christianity’s depiction of Jesus as God incarnate stands outside of Jewish tradition. It has also led to instances of antisemitism and racism since when much of Western religious iconography depicts God (or at the very least when it depicts Jesus who is considered by Christian tradition to be God), it images the Divine as a blue-eyed, blond-haired, white Man. By invoking the theoretical framework of David Howe’s Empire of the Senses (2005), as well as subsequent scholarship that has led to a ‘sensual revolution’ or a ‘material turn’ that has swept its way across the humanities, my research traces the multidimensional ways that first-century Jewish authors envisioned God in embodied, materialized, and sense-perceptible forms, as well as how the various seers, prophets, and characters in their works gained knowledge of the divine through their physical bodies. I’ll conclude by situating the entire talk within current scholarly discussions of the body, arguing that it is an illusion to assume that we can separate our scholarship from our bodies. Our bodies, just like our minds, enable us to know.
Also please be on the lookout for other upcoming events in the series!