M. David Litwa, who earned his doctorate at the University of Virginia and teaches Greek there, describes his book as attempting to “trace the discourse of deification from ancient Egypt all the way to . . . modern America,” thus offering “a general introduction to the topic of deification, in all its diversity”. “From the very first time I heard of it until the present day,” he explains, “I have remained strangely fascinated by the idea of deification and its modern import”. His focus is on the “West,” which he defines rather generously (though not unreasonably) as including ancient Egypt, Persia, and Palestine, as well as Greece and Europe.
Ordered chronologically, the book’s fifteen chapters range from the deification of the great eighteenth-dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III through the Greco-Roman ruler cults, the Orphic tablets, the “Mithras Liturgy,” and the Hermetic literature, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s atheistic doctrine of human self-deification and the contemporary transhumanist movement. One chapter treats “Paul and the Gospel of Deification,” a subject that Litwa has discussed at length in his We Are Being Transformed: Deification in Paul’s Soteriology. Others cover Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, and St. Augustine, as well as the Baghdad Muslim mystic al-Hallaj and the German Dominican thinker Meister Eckhart. The Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas (who wrote of humans as potentially “joint divinities” or “co-gods” with God) and the German Reformer Martin Luther also receive chapterlength examinations.