Response #27 Books Bound in Human Flesh

Mysterious Theologian:  Ben McKelahan

This challenge comes from Emily Scott of St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn, NY, who sent me the following:  “Havard Discovers three of its library books are bound in human flesh.”  Apparently this was a fairly common 17th century practice called Anthropodermic bibliopegy in which human skin was used for the leather cover of books. The practice was popular for anatomy text-books (autopsies provided cheap leather) as well as for folks who wanted to commemorate themselves after death. But the very first known instance of a book being made out of human flesh is of a 13th century French bible.

Human Flesh Book


Prayer to the God Revealed in Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Eternal Word, in the beginning you spoke creation into being. In the ruins of Babel you promised to make one family a blessing to all the world. In the desert, you commanded your people to justice and mercy.  But sometimes words are not enough; and so, in a feeding trough for animals, you became flesh and dwelt among us. And on the cross, you let us flay you so that your flesh might became the cover of the book of your love.  When blood-splattered hatred threatens to blot out your good news, your flesh protects the words of peace. When our sour tears blind us to your words of hope, still we touch your flesh which covers them and remember your sacrifice.  When winds of change threaten to scatter your words of wisdom, still your flesh silently holds them together.  Through your word you made us in your image, but by sharing our flesh, you bind us together as one. Unite us together, O God, that all your peoples might form a living Bible in you. Amen.

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