Does God take a nap?

OOn the seventh day, the book of Genesis says, after creating the universe from scratch and in darkness, God rested. This self-care model is the whole reason that Jews observe the Sabbath and reduce trading hours in many countries on Sundays. God’s rest implies that, like man, God needs rest. But the idea that God has a body that requires a time of death would be viewed by many contemporary Christians as absurd, if not outrageously heretical. The almighty and the nap are not the ones who go to sleep. But a revolutionary new book by a renowned Bible scholar argues that this is just one of the myriad ways we need to view the body of God, and the Bible’s description of it. it, more seriously.

In her remarkable book God: Anatomy, Distinguished Hebrew Bible Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou at the University of Exeter takes us on a fascinating yet coherent journey through ancient Biblical and Near Eastern ideas about God. In general, the gods of Southwest Asia are lustful, muscular, passionate, and longing. They have limbs, eyes, ears, and genitals, and they use those body parts to function and interact. Yahweh – the God of the Hebrew Bible – is no different. With the precision of a surgeon, she dissected and analyzed God’s body from head to toe and, uh, everywhere in between. Her reasoning was not outlandish. As she meticulously showed descriptions of the body of God everywhere.

As soon as it comes to the question of sleep, there’s a lot of evidence for burnout and divine rest. In addition to spending a personal day on the first weekend, the Hebrew Bible mentions God’s sleeping arm. In Isaiah 51, the prophet asks God to wake him up: “Wake up, arm of the Lord, stay awake, put on strength.” In the aftermath of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.E., a psalmist exclaims, “Be at peace! O LORD, why do you sleep? Awake! Don’t leave us forever! “While God was asleep – and thus the defenses of the people – were degraded, and the city was ransacked. Although modern Christians do not think about God sleeping, they still use these passages. For example, the sentence from Isaiah, decorate Bible notebook cover. We knew about this idea, we just didn’t think about it.

It is not unusual for Jehovah to take a nap. As Stavrakopoulou details in her book, the gods of ancient Southwest Asia used to retreat to their beds to get away from it all. According to an ancient Near Eastern lament, the Sumerian god Enlil is known to have done this. After causing a famine, he fenced himself off in his Temple and pretended to be asleep. It’s passive aggression, sure, but at least he has boundaries. Divine sleep can also indicate other rhythms in the world: changing seasons, famines, droughts, and other events are all signs that God is taking time for himself. Most commonly, however, it is a symptom or cause of divine forgetfulness. Stavrakopoulou explains that when Baal did not respond to the requests of the biblical prophets, Elijah suggested that Baal simply fell asleep.

Of course, the idea of ​​a sleeping God, Stavrakopoulou told me, caused a lot of anxiety both ancient and modern. In the ancient world, she said, the concern was practical: “a god on duty; a god who stopped watching his worshipers who stopped listening to them, [has] stopped interfering in their lives”. That’s a problem. For those influenced by Plato and more abstract understandings of transcendental gods, this concern was more philosophical. The idea of ​​a god who “needs rest” suggests limitations, human frailty, and even disability: “we get the impression of a god who has tried too hard, one The god was exhausted. It emphasizes the impressive enormity and ‘wonder’ of his creative work, yet leaves us with a not-so-all-powerful but limited god. “For many people, the limited God is not God.

This worries Christians because the Christian God is said to be both almighty and completely unlike us. This is bound by religious rivalry and claims the Biblical God is the best of all gods. Stavrakopoulou shows us that biblical texts attempt to distinguish between the only powerful deity of Judaism and Christianity and the weak but humanoid false deity of other traditions. These foreign gods, she told me, “Are ‘crippled’ gods who have eyes but cannot see, hands cannot feel, noses but cannot smell, etc. In contrast, the body of God works perfectly fine.”

As a historian, Stavrakopoulou is interested in reading the Bible as a collection of ancient texts without being swept up in or influenced by more recent religious commitments. Her goal, she told me, was to provide “a portrait of God in his ‘natural habitat’ in ancient Southwest Asia during the first millennium BC, when he was a god like any other in the ancient world.” Her book is perfect for secular readers who previously viewed the Bible as dull or irrelevant.

However, this does not mean that practicing Christians or discerning Jews should stay away from her book. Not only is it an engaging read, but it is also a treasure trove of well-researched material that can serve as a reference for believers, pastors, and teachers. In fact, God’s ‘humanity’ is theologically important to the heirs of these traditions. After all, our bodies are made in the image of God. More importantly, Stavrakopoulou says, we can’t be “pretty” without God-like traits. “The theologians tell us we are in a relationship with God. But it is difficult to have a relationship with the summary. We’re a highly social species, and it’s through our bodies that we fit into society – that’s how we form and maintain relationships. Ultimately, the body of God makes the deity more social.” So is today. Our religious relationship with God is not only spiritual, it is manifest: Christians ask God to “hear” our prayers, be “present” with us, and “carry.” we. These may be metaphors, but they are also methods of interaction.

Furthermore, recognizing the softer aspects — some might say the fragile ones — of God’s body can help those who feel alienated from traditional portraits of the divine. sacred. For decades, scholars interested in gender, disability, and race have criticized the hyper-masculine, muscular, and pale God of European Christianity. Stavrakopoulou challenges us to look back at the legacy of Renaissance artwork with what the Bible really says. God needs rest and a wheelchair (what do you call a wheeled throne?) to move around — as God does in Ezekiel and the subsequent Jewish tradition — more accessible to people with disabilities.

This God is more reliable. For two thousand years, Christians have been trying to imitate Jesus, the incarnate god. What Jesus will do and what God wants are one and the same. But often, living by divine standards is difficult. For overworked and overworked people, a God who takes a nap can be easier to connect than a God of judgment. Does God take a nap?


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