Previous investigations have not converged on a generally accepted model of the dissipative part of joint passive moment. To provide a basis for developing a model, a series of measurements were performed to characterize the passive moment at the metacarpophalangeal joint of the index finger. Two measurement procedures were used, one in moment relaxation over a range of fixed joint angles and the other at a series of constant joint velocities. Fung's quasi-linear viscoelastic theory motivated the development of the passive moment model. Using this approach, it was not necessary to make restrictive assumptions regarding the viscoelastic behavior of the passive moment. The generality of the formulation allowed specific functions to be chosen based on experimental data rather than finding coefficients which attempted to fit a preselected model of the data. It was shown that a nonlinear viscoelastic model described the passive stiffness. No significant frictional effects were found. Of particular importance was the nonlinear behavior of the dissipative part of the passive moment which was modeled by joint speed raised to a power less than one. This result could explain the differing findings among previous investigations, and may have important implications for control of limb movement.