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.