Disarming Death: Theomachy and Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15

Jeffrey A. Keiser


This essay reads Paul’s apostrophe to Death in 1 Corinthians 15:54–55 in relation to the wider literary topos of theomachy, or god-fighting. The god-fighter is typically a human or a demigod who, by challenging the gods, threatens to subvert the natural order of the cosmos. A close reading of 1 Corinthians 15 in comparison to other examples of the theomachy topos in Greek, Roman, and Jewish writings shows that Paul presents Christ as a god-fighter throughout this chapter. Paul concludes this presentation with a set of strategically reworked scripture quotations, which he uses to taunt the personified figure of Death for failing to defeat Christ. Far from providing a mere rhetorical flourish, as commentators have suggested, these quotations illustrate the mythological significance of Christ’s coming back to life. As a complement to Paul’s exegetical and philosophical defense of bodily resurrection, they show that the old gods and daimones no longer hold sway over the power of life and death.

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Copyright (c) 2017 Jeffrey A. Keiser

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