“In the Bible, the feet of God are a crucial element of his social existence – more, important for his existence, and therefore the feet become the special physical and physiological element through which he manifests himself most often in the world ‘. So writes the historian of religion and, I would say, also the anthropologist of the ancient world Francesca Stavrakopoulou, professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient religion in Exeter, as well as star in cultural television programs.
Stavrakopoulou examines the divine limbs from the feet: ‘legs and feet’, ‘genitals’, ‘chest’, ‘arms and hands’, ‘head’. From bottom to top, from the feet to the head, its anatomical description continues according to the same scheme as the medieval Latin text (1250) Our members are Jesusset to music in the homonymous oratorio by Dietrich Buxtehude (1680), where the seven cantatas each correspond to a limb of Jesus’ crucified body: feet, knees, hands, side, chest, heart and head (I recommend the magnificent version directed by René Jacobs with members of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis).
A few decades ago, the art historian Leo Steinberg dealt with the physical, living body and dead body of Jesus Christ, in the masterpiece of analysis that is The sexuality of Christ, originally published in 1983 and in Italian translation by Saggiatore in 1986. Marco Belpoliti turned his attention to this work on Repubblica and Doppiozero and ended the piece with a prayer to the publisher: «Please reprint the book by Leo Steinberg? It is important and unique ». Well. Now he is no longer unique, though extraordinary, because he is in his own God’s anatomy Stavrakopoulou takes up Steinberg’s intuition about the feeling of the physical character of the Judeo-Christian God by bringing it back from Christ to Yahweh and extending it, as well as to the genital parts, to the whole divine body.
A strong and virile god
This is the conceptual reconstruction / interpretation / history of the phenomenon that I have seen in you; the author, a declared atheist, instead tells it more as a kind of satisfaction of her childhood curiosity, which will make her later wonder why we have forgotten that a god without a body, such as the Jewish god, is configured by theology and exegesis, not least influenced by Platonism, was instead a very carnal god, a male figure with a strong body who travels, fights, eats, defecates, has sex, etc.
The result of Stavrakopoulou’s work is a large book of nearly six hundred pages dedicated to presenting the God of the Bible as a divinity with a precise human body: Not the old man with the white beard who gives life to Adam in Michelangelo’s famous portrayal, but a mighty god endowed with strength and virility, with reddish and radiant skin and a dark, curly and polished beard. The author’s thesis is, in fact, that during and after the centuries in which the books of the Old Testament were written, the bodily aspect of this divinity was annulled in favor of an allegorical, symbolic, metaphorical reading. The translators put their efforts into purifying the language and making some expressions presentable, privileged abstraction rather than concreteness, so that the result was a “sanitized” and sweetened biblical text, which in any case still presents traces, in many passages, of the divine. importance.
Francesca Stavrakopoulou appeals to these as well as to the mythology and pre-biblical history of ancient Southwest Asia (the terms “ancient Southeast Asia” or “near the east”, or even the simple “east” are “west-centered” and full of colonial visions, and therefore must be avoided).
Well. On this basis and with the help of the research and the rich iconographic repertoire provided by the team of technicians, editors, graphic designers who worked on the entire book behind the scenes, we continue to dissect and observe the body of Yahwe, the official god of the people of Israel, after the first millennium BC. C. removes the previous El from its position.
The quotes that support the argument are innumerable and escape the judgment and control of any non-specialist reader who tries in every way to capture: this is demonstrated by the journalistic attitude and the use of expression in ordinary language, as well as the introductions of the various sections , taken from contemporary examples; for example, the case of the looting of very precious archaeological material by the Israeli general Moshe Dayan, him with the eye patch, for those who remember him, “corrupt collector of antiques” who seized himself on his arduous journeys.
Stavrakopoulou’s authorship has the light touch that makes it easy to read, even if you sometimes feel suffocated by little known data and references: In short, a case in itself about scientific communication – heroically translated by Leonardo Ambasciano and just as heroic published by Bollati Boringhieri – with an American flavor, with the gigantic dimensions that seem to meet the taste of those who prefer basketball and American football over football due to the latter’s low score, too low to provide satisfaction and imaginative turnover to dollars.
Steinberg and the corporeality of Christ
I started with Steinberg and his The sexuality of Christ I will return to finish. It is clearly not a book intended for a large audience. It is the book for learned and refined readers of a scholar who was the first to have the courage to notice the sexuality of Christ, child and adult (which Derrida or Didi-Huberman will also wander about), in figurative art and understand the causes to the theological and philosophical.
Steinberg’s thesis is that Renaissance art produced a large number of devoted images, in which the genitals of Jesus’ infants and the dead Christ are placed so much emphasis on that a clear genital ostentation. Steinberg’s discovery, for which he was offended by the ecclesiastical hierarchies, but which seems validly confirmed by his data, consists in having understood the artists’ desire to demonstrate the true human nature of Christ by the means of iconography. In his opinion, nothing else intends to sanction the exposure of the newborn’s naked body to the fresh air of Christmas for the shepherds or the powerful of the earth, in the various worship of magic, or even the explicit indication of erection of the penis. Through genital ostentation we want to emphasize the verb made flesh, the real presence of the divine body, the tangible sign of the reality of the incarnation.
The real male body
However genital ostentation – I add – it is something more than a simple representation of the incarnation. It is the exaltation of the true male body, the proof that God wanted to incarnate himself in a male body, in virile flesh, because only this, and not the birth as a woman, guarantees humanity a new birth, a dignified birth, another birth through which only he will enjoy the coveted eternal life.
Observe the questioning gaze of the magicians inside Jesus’ groin, which can be clearly seen in countless paintings quoted by Steinberg, for example inWorship of Ghirlandaio from 1488. The revelation to Magi is the demonstration ad oculos that the child was born complete in all parts of the man, by the man. The exaltation of the virility of Christ goes far beyond his incarnation in the human body. The human body in the form of a man is the only perfect one, as the embarrassment of theologians of all ages struggling with the female body clearly shows.
Embarrassment, as the naive painter of the fresco on the vault of the French monastery of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, dedicated to the creation of Adam in the twelfth century, finds a bold solution: he paints Eve with a beard without organs sexually and completely resembling Adam, which means that before sin, when he was perfect, man was asexual – Eve and Adam both appear without sexual characteristics – but bearded, therefore male (a pearl excavated by Flavio Baroncelli).
The physical god, whose anatomy Francesca Stavrakopoulou describes, has no reason, it must prove nothing but what it is: the representation of a god made in the image and likeness of man, a thought which Xenophanes reached for over two thousand and five hundred years ago: “if oxen, horses and lions had hands and knew how to draw … horses would draw horse-like gods and oxen ox-like gods …”.
And so do men. The theoretical question will therefore be to ask what are the reasons that lead to the abolition of body design and the replacement of realistic language with metaphorical language. Maybe Stavrakopoulou will explain it to us another time, maybe more briefly.