Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion
I'm Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion here at the University of Exeter.
I studied Theology at the University of Oxford, where I also completed my doctorate. I spent a further three years teaching and researching in Oxford as a Junior Research Fellow, before joining Exeter's Theology and Religion team in 2005. I was appointed to a personal chair in 2011. Alongside my research and teaching, I also undertake various media activities, including writing and presenting the BBC TV documentary series Bible's Buried Secrets, which was recently re-aired on Netflix US.
My research is primarily focused on ancient Israelite and Judahite religions, and portrayals of the religious past in the Hebrew Bible. More specifically, I'm interested in biblical traditions and ancient religious practices most at odds with Western cultural preferences, especially those bound up with the materiality and sociality of the body - whether living or dead, divine or human. My most recent book deals with ancient constructs of God's body: God: An Anatomy (Picador/Knopf 2021) won the PEN Hessel-Tiltman Prize, was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, named as one of the Economist's best books of the year, and serialised in abridged form on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.
Much of my work has been supported by grants awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, and the Leverhulme Trust.
My first book explored the misrepresentation of the religious past in the Hebrew Bible: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities (de Gruyter, 2004). In Land of Our Fathers: The Roles of Ancestor Veneration in Biblical Land Claims (T&T Clark, 2010), I furthered my somewhat morbid interests by examining the relationship between the veneration of the dead and territorial claims in the Hebrew Bible. The dead have proved to be stimulating company: I've since published a number of works examining the social and religious impacts of the human corpse upon the living, and I'm currently working on a monograph called The Social Life of the Corpse - Within and Without the Bible (forthcoming).
I've edited a number of books: Life and Death: Social Perspectives on Biblical Bodies (T&T Clark, 2021); Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah (with John Barton; T&T Clark, 2010); Ecological Hermeneutics (with Exeter colleagues David Horrell, Cherryl Hunt and Chris Southgate; T&T Clark, 2010). I'm General Editor of Bloomsbury's new Hebrew Bible in Social Perspective series, and I work closely with Oxford University Press as co-editor of a series of monographs focusing on biblical characters, called Biblical Refigurations.
Alongside my specialisms in ancient Israelite and Judahite religions, my research interests include material religion; ancient constructs of the body and personhood; anthropological and archaeological approaches to ancient religion; mythology and ritual; kingship in ancient southwest Asia; history and ideology in the Hebrew Bible; methods of historical reconstruction; constructs of ‘popular’ and ‘official’ religion; and ‘secular’ approaches to teaching and learning in biblical studies. I supervise a number of doctoral students working on a wide range of topics pertaining to the Hebrew Bible/early Judaisms and the socio-religious cultures of ancient southwest Asia.
I teach a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules focusing on the Hebrew Bible and its texts and language; ancient southwest Asian religions; the early cultural history of God; the role and place of the Bible in the modern world; and religious constructs of the body in ancient and contemporary societies.
I supervise a number of doctoral students. I am happy to consider working with candidates working on any aspect of ancient Israelite and/or Judahite societies and religions, including their mythologies, rituals, and mortuary practices; the history and literature of the Hebrew Bible; reconstructions of the past in biblical studies; personhood, gender, sexuality in ancient southwest Asia; Levantine mortuary practices; ancient materiality and material-critical approaches to the study of ancient religions; anthropology of ancient religions; anthropology of the societies giving rise to the Hebrew Bible and/or early Judaisms; cultures of the body and body modification in ancient southwest Asian and eastern Medierranean societies.
Candidates interested in working with me are very welcome to send me a 500 word outline of their proposed research and a copy of their CV.
Daniel O. McClellan, 'Divine Agency in the Ideologies of the Hebrew Bible: Cognitive Perspectives'
Rebekah Welton, ‘A Study of Meat and Wine in the Hebrew Bible in Relation to the Law of the Rebellious Son (Deut. 21:18-21)’ (AHRC funded)
Bethany Wagstaff, ‘An Anthropology of Clothing in the Hebrew Bible’ (AHRC funded)
Alan Hooker, ‘You Shall Know Yahweh: God’s Penis and Divine Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible’ (AHRC funded)
Elisabeth Cook, ‘The Foreign Women of Ezra 9-10: Identity and Exclusion in the Hebrew Bible’
David Beadle, ‘Royal Ritual Heavenly Ascent and Netherworldy Descent in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judah’ (AHRC funded)
Jonathan Morgan, ‘Land, Sin and Sacrifice in Leviticus: Towards an Environmental Ethic’ (AHRC funded)
Stuart Macwilliam, ‘Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible’
External impact and engagement
Alongside my media work (see below), I also undertake a number of public speaking events. These include lectures at the British Museum and Smithsonian, events at the Hay Literary Festival and the London Thinks series, as well as lectures for Jewish synagogue communities, Christian cross-denominational societies, and atheist organisations. As a patron of Humanists UK, I have lectured on the roles of the BIble, religion, and atheism in ancient and contemporary societies at a number of Humanist conventions and conferences.
Contribution to discipline
- £45,572, Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, 2016-17
- £45,560, AHRC Early Career Fellowship, 2011.
- £7,110, British Academy, 2007-2009.
- "Uses of the Bible in Environmental Ethics", with David Horrell. £196,333 + c. £45,000 PhD studentship, AHRC, 2006-2009.
- Biblical Refigurations series, OUP
- Biblical Interpretation journal, Brill (2010-13)
- Library of Hebrew Bible/OT Studies series, Bloomsbury
- Hebrew Bible in Social Perspective series, Bloomsbury
- Special issue of Hebrew BIble and Ancient Israel journal (co-edited with Martti Nissinen)
Academic society positions
- Secretary of the Society for Old Testament Study, 2010-12
- Three-part BBC documentary series about the Bible and archaeology, called Bible's Buried Secrets, broadcast in the UK on BBC 2 in March 2011
- 'Talking head' contributions to various television documentaries. Regular appearances on BBC1's debate shows The Big Questions and Sunday Morning Live
- Discussion of biblical scholarship on several TV and radio programmes for both national and international broadcasters
Informing international policy
- Publication on corpse abuse cited at the Supreme Court of the United States in a case about the picketing of the funerals of US soldiers by members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church
- Winner of the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2022
- Shortlisted for the Wolfson Hisory Prize 2022
- Awarded the 2020 Rosalind Franklin Medal for public scholarship
- Student Guild award for Research-inspired Teaching 2013
Bible's Buried Secrets (BBC2, 2011; Netflix US). Presenter of this prime-time, three-part documentary series.
Television programmes (selected examples)
Searching for Exile - The Debate (BBC4, 2013)
The Big Questions (BBC1). Regular appearances on this Sunday morning programme.
Sunday Morning Live (BBC1). Regular appearances on this Sunday morning programme.
BBC Points of View (BBC1, 2011).
The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, studio interview on an Australian prime-time TV news/chat show (ABC, 2016)
The Real Star of Bethlehem: Sky at Night Christmas Special (BBC4, 2015)
Secrets of the Bible (ZDF, Germany/IMG worldwide, 2014).
Bible Secrets Revealed (History Channel, US, 2013).
The Bible: A History (Channel 4, 2010).
Online television (selected examples)
‘God’: a short film for the BBC’s Story of Now interactive documentary series (2015)
‘Are we wired to believe in a higher power?’: Two short films for the BBC iWonder Guide (http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3b6hyc)
‘The Real Garden of Eden’: interactive web material and film for the BBC iWonder Guide
Radio (selected examples)
'God: An Anatomy' on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week (Five episodes on BBC Radio 4, 13-17 September 2021).
'God's Body' on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking (4 November 2021).
Private Passions (BBC Radio 3, 19 September 2021).
Interview on RNZ's Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan (Radio New Zealand, November 2021).
Interview on Radio Cape Town's Afternoon Drive with John Maytham (February 2022).
Interview on FreeThought Radio, USA (January 2022)
Unbelieveable: Is Christianity Sexist? (Premier Christian Radio, 2018).
Living with the Gods: Contributor to two episodes of this major documentary series co-produced by the BBC and the British Museum, presented by Neil MacGregor (BBC Radio 4, 2017)
The Hollow Earth – A Travel Guide: Contributor to this documentary presented by Robin Ince (BBC Radio 4, 2015)
The Infinite Monkey Cage: Christmas Special (BBC Radio 4, 2014 and 2017)
Beyond Belief: Panellist on this discussion programme, debating the impact of archaeology on religion and faith (BBC Radio 4, 2014).
BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast Show: Hosting a debate with teenagers from a selection of faith schools in Manchester, and reporting back to the show live throughout the morning (2013)
Museum of Curiosity (BBC Radio 4, 2011).
Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4. 2011).
Nightwaves (BBC Radio 3, 2011): Panel discussion of TV series Bible’s Buried Secrets.
Podcast interviews (selected examples)
‘The truth about Easter’: an interview on Dan Snow’s History Hits podcast (http://www.historyhitpodcast.com/the-truth-about-easter-francesca-stavrakopoulou/)
‘The historical reliability of the Bible’: an interview on Dan Snow’s History Hits podcast (http://www.historyhitpodcast.com/the-historical-reliability-of-the-bible-francesca-stavrakopoulou/)
National Life Stories (in partnership with the British Library): 8 hours of interviews about my life, research, and career, recorded as an archive of podcasts (https://www.bl.uk/projects/national-life-stories)
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’: live podcast for The Cosmic Shed, debating the relationships between science fiction and religion (http://thecosmicshed.com)
The Godless Spellchecker Podcast: podcast interview (https://www.gspellchecker.com/tag/francesca-stavrakopoulou/)
- THE1072 - Introducing Biblical Hebrew
- THE1101 - The Bible: Past and Present
- THE1109 - Introduction to the History and Literatures of the Bible
- THE2173 - Life and Death in Israel and Judah
- THE2218 - The Invention of God
- THE3173 - Life and Death in Israel and Judah
- THE3218 - The Invention of God
- THEM122 - Approaches to Biblical Studies
- THEM309 - Socialising (with) the Dead