Divine Bodies

Resurrecting Perfection in the New Testament and Early Christianity

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Candida R. Moss
  • New Haven, CT: 
    Yale University Press
    , April
     208 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Divine Bodies by Candida Moss begins with the pressing question regarding the resurrected body of Jesus missing a piece. Since Jesus was circumcised at eight days, he left behind part of his body, which causes worries regarding the resurrection of the body more generally. If the whole person is supposed to be preserved in the resurrection, how can it be that some parts are missing (1-2)? It is here that the core content of Moss’ work is found: what does Scripture—particularly the resurrection—have to say about such anxieties regarding the body’s identity, nature, and continuity of the self (3-4)? Moss’ argument spans several chapters, touching on the important aspects of bodily identity, bodily integrity, bodily functionality, and bodily aesthetics, and asks, “What does each idea require for bodily resurrection?” So, the body, rather than a mere immaterial soul, is the prime focus for Moss. As she reminds the reader, “as long as the pneumatic body continues to be described in anthropomorphized terms, it is harnessed to the aesthetics of the material world” (18). However, this does not necessarily deny metaphysical positions such as substance dualism—it merely gives further license to consider the nature of bodies.

The greatest achievement by Moss in this work is her insightful offering of clever and novel proposals regarding scriptural texts that have often been interpreted in different ways. She does so by providing significant textual background to support her arguments. Indeed, she offers this as her primary goal, attempting to show how cultural expectations and traditional interpretations have actually hidden and normalized the “otherwise thought-provoking uncanniness of the resurrection of the dead” (121). For example, in her chapter on identity, Moss notes the “rather superficial scholarly examination” of Jesus’ actual resurrected body (24). Therefore, she focuses on the marks of his execution. Her prime question is: “If Jesus is recognized by his wounds, then should we not imagine the resurrection of everyone will similarly preserve premortem marks, and by extension, all kinds of infirmities?” (25). So, the claim is that if Jesus retains his wounds, this should mean that any resurrected body does the same. If heaven somehow strips or purifies the body of these marks, it would be akin to a type of “heavenly eugenics”—a striking claim for most modern western ears (26). Typical biblical literature on the resurrection does not even consider this question, much less claim that wounds might be preserved in heaven. Neither does most philosophical literature on the nature of the human person engage these types of issues, preferring to remain rather abstract and disconnected from issues of disability and resurrection.

As another example of creativity, Moss considers the nature of amputation for resurrected bodies from Mark 9:47-48. She argues that amputation was more likely done by a doctor than an enemy or a judge which means this text should be interpreted in light of that (49). Therefore, auto-amputation is an act of virtue and courage (51). Moreover, the force of the text itself “hinges on not getting those body parts (sins) back” (58). Therefore, at least some bodily impairments would persist through the resurrection of the body and remain “unhealed” (64). However, Moss’ argument here ignores the plethora of healing texts in the gospels and the numerous prophecies of healing found in the prophets and Revelation. While her argument may be true, it lacks the overall punch likely necessary to convince most readers. Despite this, the size of her work (121 pages, excluding footnotes) suggests she is more interested in offering potential proposals for consideration rather than engaging all forms of philosophical or theological objections.

The primary negative regarding Divine Bodies is that there are several claims that lack justification. For example, Moss pits the apostle Paul against the rest of the divine scriptures, particularly the gospels, without a sufficient defense. She asserts that Paul’s arguments regarding the resurrection are “flatly rejected by other canonical texts” (13). Because of this, part of her goal is to “disentangle Pauline-fed hermeneutical assumptions” (20). Now, it is not necessarily wrong to propose such a thesis, but it seems at least a footnote would be useful in defending the allegation. The author appears to suggest that such an interpretation of Paul is standard and in no need of defense; however, this is far from the case. Paul could be interpreted otherwise and should be offered the same level of interpretive charity as other authors. As another example, Moss writes that Aristotle’s “whole philosophy – and indeed his whole justification for human flourishing – crumbles” if not all body parts are oriented toward a goal (71). However, this statement lacks full support and defense from potential objections. Why could Aristotle not simply say it is the whole person that tends toward a goal and avoid questions regarding minute parts? Or why could he not offer alternative goals for certain parts? There are ways to avoid this claim that Moss does not address.

Divine Bodies is a novel contribution to the field of resurrection and the nature of the human person. Moss writes with lucid prose, awareness of the vast breadth of literature on the topic, and engagement with a significant number of primary sources. Her work is one primarily of biblical exegesis and how historical background influences interpretation rather than a philosophical treatise on the human person. However, anyone interested in anthropology or the doctrine of the resurrection will be interested in her work. While not all will accept her arguments—many require significant further justification in my estimation—her work does not rise or fall purely with their success. Rather, her success is in providing new and creative possible avenues for considering the nature of the resurrected body.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jordan L. Steffaniak is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK.

Date of Review: 
February 18, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Candida R. Moss is Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. She is an award-winning author, whose books include Ancient Christian Martyrdom, Reconceiving Infertility, and Bible Nation.


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