Where Did the Flesh Go?

April DeConick offers a healthy Gnostic Easter Meditation, counter-balancing more orthodox reflections we’re used to hearing this time of year. She has a nice take on the Valentinian understanding, but I strongly dispute any tracing of this back to Paul. She writes:

“We are very familiar with the ‘orthodox’ Easter story, the story of Jesus rising from the dead, a story interpreted to be a resurrection of Jesus’ physical body, leaving behind an empty tomb. But there were many early Christians who regarded this as nonsense. Didn’t Paul say that flesh would not inherit the Kingdom?”

He did say this, but I don’t think it meant the original body stayed in the tomb and wasn’t raised. The biggest obstacle to understanding Paul is his adamant hostility to “the flesh”. It keeps interfering with his (equally adamant) insistence on the continuity between the old body and the new one.

Guest-blogger Alan Segal accounts for the ambiguity in terms of Paul’s Pharisaic background. In-between the Sadducees (who shunned an afterlife because they already had paradise, of sorts, on earth) and the millenial revolutionaries (who needed a strong/”fleshy” idea of the resurrection for the sake of justice), the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the old body without necessarily bringing flesh into the picture. They seem to have grounded the resurrection in terms of Jewish apocalyptic, but not to the extent that angry millenarians did. After all, they did have a happier fleshy existence than revolutionaries and martyrs. Segal notes the rabbinic favoring of the first half of Isa 26:19 (“the dead shall live”) over the second half (“their corpses shall rise”):

“We can translate tehiat hametim as ‘vivification of the dead’, even ‘resurrection of the dead’, but not ‘resurrection of the flesh’.” (Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, p 608).

Paul was even more hostile to “the flesh” than most Pharisees, and like them he insisted on continuity between the old and new body. The metaphor of the seed (I Cor 15:35-38) suggests that God transforms the old body, no matter how dead and decayed, into a new glorified one. He’s quite clear: the old seed itself is given a body (15:38), and the perishable itself must put on imperishability (15:53-54). Richard Carrier’s two-body hypothesis is wrong: Paul believed the original body was raised, and so he presumably believed in an empty tomb.

The question is what happens to all the flesh from the old body. Is it still there but mixed with the spiritual? In that case “flesh and blood” would have been Paul’s loose way of referring to an ordinary human body as yet unchanged — meaning “flesh and blood in and of itself cannot inherit the kingdom”. But Paul seems to have hated “the flesh” more than that. He’s so consistently hostile to it in his letters that he probably believed it was all eradicated in the new body — in which case the old body is so transformed that the flesh has been transmuted into (or supplanted by) something else altogether. I suppose that’s what Paul’s (unsatisfying) ambiguity is all about.

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4 thoughts on “Where Did the Flesh Go?

  1. Alan Segal did blog on this blog.He wrote ‘But, now that I think of it, consider what the mother of the seven martyrs says in 2 Macc 7–namely that if God can make the world from nothing he can certainly resurrect you from nothing.’CARRSo the idea of a totally new creation was well established in Judaism.LOREN‘It keeps interfering with his (equally adamant) insistence on the continuity between the old body and the new one.’Is there continuity between the body of Adam and the body of Eve?The writer of Genesis adamantly insists that there is.So Eve was not a different person to Adam. She was Adam, but transformed.Or perhaps ‘continuity’ is not all it is cracked up to be. Paul can envisage a resurrected person being resurrected from where the original body had been sown, so there is ‘continuity’, but otherwise there is as much as discontinuity as there is between a seed and the plant that germinates from inside that seed.There is no point in bringing Paul’s Pharaiasic background into the picture, other than to note that he called such beliefs ‘garbage’ (Philippians)Paul emphasises discontinuity throughout 1 Corinthians 15. It is he who creates a dichotomy between the resurrected body and the natural body, as sharp as the dichtomy between a fish and the moon.Fish do not turn into the moon, precisely because they are made of a different material.And Paul says ‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead.’Corpses are made of the wrong material to be turned into resurrected bodies.I really don’t understand your position.How can something be transformed when there is none of it left?How can God turn water into wine , if all the water has evaporated?That would really have been a miracle at Cana. Bringing empty jars of water and turning the non-water into wine.How can bodies which have been eaten by fish, or worms, or burned to smoke and ash be ‘transformed’?

  2. <>There is no point in bringing Paul’s Pharaiasic background into the picture, other than to note that he called such beliefs ‘garbage’ (Philippians)<>Come on, Stevie, you know better than this. The Pharisaic beliefs which Paul considers “rubbish” in Philip 3 pertain to righteousness by the law and the privileged identity of Israelites, not resurrection beliefs. None of the “gains” listed in vv 4b-6 (dismissed as “losses” in vv 7-11) have anything to do with the nature of the resurrection.<>I really don’t understand your position.<>That’s because you can’t cope with ambiguity and paradoxes. <>How can something be transformed when there is none of it left?<>I don’t claim to understand the precise mechanisms of what Paul had in mind here. All I know is that he insists on God transforming the decayed body into a new one, even if flesh and blood will play a minimal (if any) role in the end result.

  3. LORENCome on, Stevie, you know better than this. The Pharisaic beliefs which Paul considers “rubbish” in Philip 3 pertain to righteousness by the law and the privileged identity of Israelites, not resurrection beliefs.CARRPhilippians 3What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish…It is about ‘all things’, surely.This does not mean that Paul automatically rejected all of his old beliefs, just that we have to read him to see which ones he retained and which ones he did not.Paul lists one of his previous gains ‘as confidence in the flesh’.He now regards as rubbish any idea that people should have confidence in the flesh.What can this mean except that the fleshly body is doomed, and that it will die and rot?

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