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There is not just a desire but a profound human need for enhancement – the irrepressible yearning to become better than ourselves. Today, enhancement is often conceived of in terms of biotechnical intervention: genetic modification, prostheses, implants, drug therapy – even mind uploading. The theme of this book is an ancient form of enhancement: a physical upgrade that involves ethical practices of self-realization. It has been called ‘angelification’ – a transformation by which people become angels. The parallel process is ‘daimonification’, or becoming daimones. Ranging in time from Hesiod and Empedocles through Plato and Origen to Plotinus and Christian gnostics, this book explores not only how these two forms of posthuman transformation are related, but also how they connect and chasten modern visions of transhumanist enhancement which generally lack a robust account of moral improvement.

This book studies posthuman transformation (becoming angels and demons) among poets, philosophers, and theologians of the ancient Mediterranean world. It brings together Hellenic, Jewish, Christian, and gnostic authors, and connects their visions of moral transformation to modern Transhumanist visions of biotechnical enhancement.

Now Available

Litwa Dust Cover How the Gospels Became History


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Did the early Christians believe their myths? Like most ancient—and modern—people, early Christians made efforts to present their myths in the most believable ways.

In this eye-opening work, M. David Litwa explores how and why what later became the four canonical gospels take on a historical cast that remains vitally important for many Christians today. Offering an in-depth comparison with other Greco-Roman stories that have been shaped to seem like history, Litwa shows how the evangelists responded to the pressures of Greco-Roman literary culture by using well-known historiographical tropes such as the mention of famous rulers and kings, geographical notices, the introduction of eyewitnesses, vivid presentation, alternative reports, and so on. In this way, the evangelists deliberately shaped myths about Jesus into historical discourse to maximize their believability for ancient audiences.

Advanced Praise:

“In this book Litwa introduces the category of “mythic historiography” and shows that it is a compelling description of what the Gospels are. He rightly argues that these narratives make truth claims about individual events. At the same time, many of the events cannot be accepted in our culture generally as historical fact. The qualifier “mythic” grasps this cultural situation while indicating the deep existential importance of the Gospels that engages many readers.”—Adela Yarbro Collins, Yale Divinity School

“Litwa offers a philosophically sophisticated yet immanently accessible explanation of the relationship between history and myth in the early Christian gospels. He provides a creative contribution to the question of gospel genre, for which the central takeaway is that collapse of myth and history in the Four Gospels procures a protective benefit: should the interest in myth fade, the narrative’s history will carry these texts until, by whatever force, a mythic desire rekindles.”—Clare K. Rothschild, author of Paul in Athens

“In this remarkably clear and learned work, David Litwa shows himself once more to be one of the best scholars working today in the intertextual terrain that lies between Greco-Roman literature and the New Testament.” —William Hutton, College of William & Mary

Recently Published . . .


Finally gathered under one cover are the scattered fragments and testimonies regarding Hermes Thrice Great that complete Copenhaver’s 1992 translation of the Hermetica. Contained within are the 29 fragments from Stobaeus (including the famous Kore Kosmou), the Oxford and Vienna fragments, an expanded selection of fragments from various authors (including Zosimus of Panopolis, Augustine, and Albert the Great), and testimonies about Hermes from 38 authors (including Cicero, Pseudo-Manetho, the Emperor Julian, Al-Kindī, Michael Psellus, the Emerald Tablet, and Nicholas of Cusa). All translations are accompanied by introductions and notes which cite sources for further reading. These Hermetic texts will appeal to a broad array of readers interested in western esotericism including scholars of Egyptology, the New Testament, the Classical World, Byzantium, medieval Islam, the Latin Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.

This book is not just for scholars, but for any reader interested in western esoteric lore from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Those interested in ancient Egypt, philosophy, magic, astrology, medicine, theology, talismans, gems, amulets, divination, theosophy, and theurgy will profit from this work. Hermes Thrice Great had a truly global impact, making his home in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Arabic, and medieval European traditions. How and why Hermes made such a great impression in the Renaissance can only be understood through the history of reception—Hellenic, Christian, and Muslim—traced in this book.

Also available . . .



Desiring Divinity

Self-deification in Early Jewish and Christian Mythmaking

  • Sustained, critical (and non-moralizing) attention to a neglected yet contested topic
  • Rigorous analysis between figures not often compared (e.g., Jesus and Simon of Samaria)
  • In-depth comparison of a variety of texts from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Apocrypha and Gnostic literature
  • See further: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/desiring-divinity-9780190467166?cc=us&lang=en&#

The new Refutatio (Elenchus)

A reliable, readable translation for scholars and students

The Refutation of All Heresies (ca. 225 CE) is a treasure-trove of ancient philosophy, astrology, medicine, magic, Gnostic thought, numerology, heresiography, ecclesial politics, and early Christian studies in general. Offered here for the first time in almost a century is a full English translation, along with a newly-edited Greek text, extensive notes, and a thorough introduction.


  • A full English translation with extensive notes
  • Newly edited Greek text that avoids the pitfalls of the most recent edition
  • A thorough-going introduction that addresses the questions of authorship, date, and audience, as well as the purpose of the book, its organization, method, and importance for Gnostic studies

My response to Reviewers at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting, 2018: 

Refutation Response

We Are Being Transformed

  • Description: This monograph argues for a version of deification in the thought of the Apostle Paul. I define Pauline deification as the reception of immortality and power as a consequence of assimilating to a divine being, Christ. The introduction provides a history of research on deification in Paul from Adolf von Harnack to the present. The meaning of deification is rooted in the ancient significance of “god” (θεός). Thus in my first chapter I show how Greeks and Romans thought of godhood in terms of immortality and power. Jews in the Greco-Roman world, including Paul, agreed that these basic characteristics constituted divinity. Although the rhetoric of ancient Jewish apologists has misled scholars into thinking that Jews rejected deification across the board, chapter 3 shows that Jews in the Mediterranean world were open to their own saints and heroes sharing in divine power and immortality. The rest of this chapter (closing Part I of the study) fleshes out the roots of deification in Jewish thought (focusing on the image of God and the king as Yahweh’s viceregent and begotten “son of God”).
  • In Part II, I make the argument for a Pauline version of deification. Pauline soteriology presents a vision of assimilating to a divine being (Christ). This assimilation to Christ has two post-mortem results: (1) the reception of immortality in a pneumatic body (1 Cor 15:44-52) and (2) the reception of cosmic power manifested in rule over the world and angels (1 Cor 3:21; 6:2-3; Rom 8:32; 16:20). Both of these eschatological benefits incorporate believers into the divine identity of Christ who is pneuma (1 Cor 15:45) and who rules the cosmos (1 Cor 15:25). The reception of the pneumatic body is rigorously compared to Stoic conceptions of deification contemporaneous with Paul. The cosmic rule of the saints is fitted not only into the tradition of ancient Judaism, but is presented as part of a larger Mediterranean type of myth called the “Battle of the Gods.”
  • Part III deals in-depth with potential objections to Pauline deification—namely, monotheism and the doctrine of creation. I argue that “monotheism” (a term of modern coinage) in Paul’s day amounted to a statement about God’s absolute power. It did not prohibit humans from sharing in God’s divine qualities. Similarly, creation in Paul’s day did not mean creatio ex nihilo and thus imply an absolute separation between God and the world. As the case of Christ shows, a human being could participate in divinity so as to truly enter into the category of god/divine being.
  • My conclusion presents an argument for why the language of deification is useful for historically conceptualizing Paul’s vision of salvation. The theological language of “participation” (E. Sanders) is too vague, and “mysticism” (A. Schweitzer) too vacuous to understand the logic of Pauline assimilation to Christ. Deification offers a native historical category of perception by which to understand Paul’s vision of believers’ eschatological transformation as well as their present and future union with Christ.