What would Christianity be like without the soul? While most people would expect the Christian bible to reveal a highly traditional opposition of matter and spirit, the spirit forces of the Old and New Testaments are often surprisingly physical, dynamic, and practical, a matter of energy as much as ethics. The Secret History of the Soul examines the forgotten or suppressed models of body, soul, and human consciousness found in the literature, philosophy and scripture of the ancient and classical worlds. It shows how the spirit forces of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and the Old and New Testaments tended to be quantities not entities, and to be closely bound up with the dynamic physical flux of the human body, rather than cleanly abstracted in some absolute immaterial realm. Forces such as menos and thymos, nephesh, pneuma and dynamis not only blurred the line between body and soul, but were potent and transferable, being used, in New Testament culture, to effect magical cures or bestow magical power. Related to this surprising lack of body-soul dualism is a lack of dualistic afterlife in either Homer or Hebrew scripture, where Hades and Sheol are the sole post-mortem destinations. The Secret History of the Soul restores the living strangeness of a spirit world filled with potent energy and practical magic, in cultures which had not yet glimpsed the abstracted soul of later Christianity.
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Richard Sugg is a Lecturer in English Studies at the University of Durham. He is the author of John Donne (Palgrave, 2007), Murder After Death (Cornell, 2007), Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires (Routledge, 2011), and The Smoke of the Soul (Palgrave, 2013). He has written articles for BBC History, History Today, The Lancet, and The Guardian, and is currently writing a two-volume history of the vampire.
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