Disarming Death: Theomachy and Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15


  • Jeffrey A. Keiser McGill University


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.

Author Biography

Jeffrey A. Keiser, McGill University

Jeffrey A. Keiser is a course lecturer in Bible and Western Culture at McGill University (Montreal, QC) and adjunct professor of religious studies at St. Michael’s College, Vermont. His research focuses on Greek hero cult and the letters of Paul. He is the coeditor of Essays on Mysticism and Phenomenology (ARC 35, 2007) and author of several articles on early Christianity.





Section IV: Coming back to Life in Myth and Narrative