Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

Dignity and the Human Body: 

The Post-mortem Treatment of the Body as an Ethical, Theological and Biblical Task

This workshop series featured a paper reflecting the biblical tradition, complemented by two further papers from other perspectives, including the history of religion, archaeology, church history, systematic and philosophical theology, anthropology etc.

The format reflected CBET's particular effort to overcome the usual divisions between these diverse disciplines, with contributors participating during the day in order to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions.

Introduction by Prof Deines. 

Egon Schiele-Agony (The Death Stuggle, 1912) 

An interdisciplinary workshop series for researchers and students. A selection of the contributions will be published.



Dignity and the Human Body: The Post-mortem Treatment of the Body as an Ethical, Theological and Biblical Task

Workshop 4: 5 March 2016 - Programme

10.00 - Arrival and refreshments

10.20-10.30 - Welcome (Roland Deines, Co-Director of CBET)

10.30-11.45 - Tobias Nicklas (University of Ratisbonne): 'Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead': Matt 8:22//Luke 9:60 in Pre-Constantinan Christianity

11.45-13.00 - Michael Barilian (Tel Aviv University):  The Bible, Jeremy Bentham and 'Bodyworlds'? The Theological roots of Western Medical Ethics in Relation to the Dead Body

13.00-13.45 - Lunch

13.45-15.00 - Chrysanthi Gallou (University of Nottingham): Not Afraid to Touch a Body: Greek-Orthodox Funeral and Burial Traditions

15.00-16.15 - Stuart Richards (Royal Army Chaplains' Department): For the (Un)fallen: A Serving Army Chaplain's Perspective on Death in War



Workshop 3: 24 October 2015 - Programme

9am - Arrival and refreshments

9.20am - Welcome: Prof Roland Deines (Co-Director CBET) 

9.30–10.45am - Prof Richard Bell (University of Nottingham): From Time to Eternity: The Human Body as the Manifestation of the Soul

10.45–11am - Refreshments

11am–12.15pm - Jane Seymour (University of Nottingham, School of Health Sciences): Behind the Screens: Reflections on Nursing Care of the Dead Body

12.15–12.45pm - Lunch

12.45–2pm - Dr Kimbell Kornu (University of Nottingham/St Louis University): Medical Liturgies of Death: Dissection and Donation

2–2.15pm - Refreshments

2.15–3.45pm - Prof Alison Milbank (University of Nottingham): Unquiet Slumbers? Anti-resurrections in the Victorian Ghost Story



Workshop 2: 7 March 2015 - Programme

9am - Arrival and refreshments

9.20am - Welcome: Prof Roland Deines (Co-Director, CBET) 

9.30-11am - Prof Andreas Merkt and Dr Martina Hartl (University of Ratisbonne): The Body of the Martyr: Theological, Anthropological and Political Functions of Corporeal Relics in Late Antiquity 

11-11.30am - Refreshments 

11.30am–12.45pm - Jackie Lymn Rose, Funeral director (A W Lymn The Family Funeral Service): Care of Deceased from Death to Funeral

12.45-1.30pm - Lunch 

1.30-2.45pm -  Dr Frances Knight (University of Nottingham): “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” – A Church Historian’s Reflections on Christian Attitudes to Modern Cremation in the West 

2.45-3pm - Refreshments 

3-4.15pm - Prof Matthias Morgenstern (University of Tübingen): Burying a Jewish Body: The Problematic Nature of Autopsies According to Jewish Law



Workshop 1: 25 October 2014 - Details

Care for the body has always been part of the human experience, with body modifications in various forms (tattoos, circumcision, piercings, hairstyles etc.) attested from the earliest archaeological testimonies. Care for the body, however, does not end with physical death: human culture, from the very beginning, has shown its concern with the meaningful and symbolic treatment of the human body after death. This concern for and interest in the post-mortem treatment of the human body is enshrined in various religious traditions and remains to this day a practical topic, impacting on criminal post-mortems, organ donation and medical determinations regarding the relationship between brain death and bodily death.

There remains, however, a marked discrepancy between public exposure to dead bodies in film and television – witness the profusion of crime dramas with graphic depictions of the dead – and exhibitions (e.g. the “Bodyworlds” exhibitions) and a general reluctance to discuss death and the appropriate treatment of the body with family members and friends. Many now shy away from touching the deceased or preparing them for burial; funeral services involving open caskets, once widespread, are increasingly rare. Many young people have never encountered a dead body.

Human mortality, though it involves the transience of the created body (Gen 3:19, see also Job 10:9), does not result in a disparagement of the body in the biblical tradition. Biblical texts maintain a high appreciation for the human body, even allowing God to be in direct contact with it: God himself created the first human beings, Adam out of earth and Eve out of Adam (Gen 2:7, 21f.).

Even after the departure from Eden the body bears the imprint of God’s own image, lending it a sanctity which renders murder forbidden. In Israel’s patriarchal narratives, the first piece of land Abraham owns in the promised land is the burial cave bought to bury Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen 23); when Abraham and later his son Isaac die, their sons bury them at the same place (Gen 25:7–10; 35:27–29). The importance of these rites is accentuated in the story of the death of Jacob/Israel, whose death in Egypt required embalming and an elaborate funeral procession in order to bring him to the family tomb (Gen 47:29–31; 49:29–50:14). Family burial at a carefully chosen place, and the involvement of sons in the burial of their father and husbands in that of their wives, emerges from these texts as the standard pattern. Detailed rituals in the Torah further confirm the dignity with which the human body is to be treated. Perhaps the peak of biblical appreciation of the dead body is Deut 34:6, where it is said that God himself buried Moses. As this suggests, graves and the bodies therein become a locus of divine commandment, with proper care a prominent act of charity and righteousness (Tobit 1:16–18; 2:3–8).

An association with hope for the resurrection of the body becomes increasingly important in the later biblical tradition and in early Judaism, with post-mortem expectation differentiating Jewish philosophies or sects in the first century CE, according to the writings of Josephus. When Jesus presents an uncompromising summons to a man who wants to follow him only after he has buried his father, he rejects the ethical code of his time for the sake of the immediacy of the kingdom of God. His own burial, resurrection, and post-mortem appearances reformulate the importance of the body in a new, eschatological era.


  • The Biblical Narrative of the Human Body - Roland Deines (University of Nottingham)
  • The Preservation of the Body and the Life Everlasting in the Ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible - Christopher B Hays (Fuller Theological Seminary)
  • Whose Bodies Are They Anyway? The Corpses and Corpora of the Maccabean Martyrs - Jordan Smith (University of Iowa)
  • Death, Ritual and the Virtual Body - Timothy Hutchings (University of Durham)
  • Dignity and the Dead Body: An Indian Perspective - Hamilton Inbadas (University of Nottingham)

Workshop 4: 5 March 2016

Registration is closed for this event.


Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5854