Spiritual Body FAQ

By Richard Carrier

[See Other FAQs]

 

This page presents answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Richard Carrier's chapter "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb," in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, pp. 105-232, edited by Jeff Lowder and Robert Price (Prometheus Books: 2005). Launched in October of 2005, this FAQ will be updated continually. Please note that the content of this FAQ is only intended as a supplement. It is assumed you have already read the original chapter in its entirety. But if after reading that chapter and this FAQ you still have questions, you may submit them to Richard Carrier.




Questions

QUESTION: Have you responded to published critiques of your work in The Empty Tomb?

QUESTION: Have you formally debated your spiritual-body theory with anyone?

QUESTION: Is it true that many other scholars agree with you that the earliest Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead by switching to a new body and leaving the old one behind?

QUESTION: Is it true that even N.T. Wright "comes close to conceding" your interpretation and even allowed "that God keeps a vast warehouse of new 'bodies' waiting for us in heaven, like some freakish android farm"?

QUESTION: In your debate with Mike Licona and in your online essay "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" you failed to address X. So what about X?

QUESTION: Isn't the idea of "visions" implausible?

QUESTION: Do you simply assume (e.g. on pp. 151-54) that "visions" can't be of real, external, supernatural beings?

QUESTION: A lot of what you argue would apply equally well to transformation, with the old body disappearing, certainly, but by changing into an entirely different substance, like water into wine. Wouldn't that still entail an empty tomb?

QUESTION: Doesn't Philippians 3:21 clearly state that the body will be transformed?

QUESTION: Paul said he was a Pharisee trained in Jerusalem, a "Hebrew of Hebrews," who rivaled his fellow Pharisees in his zealous defense of their dogmas (Philippians 3:5-6; Galatians 1:13-14; Acts 22:3, 23:6), so how can you argue that Paul held a view of the resurrection that sounds more like that of the Essenes, which was quite contrary to what Pharisees believed?

QUESTION: Didn't Jewish ideology require the body that dies to be the same one that must rise in the resurrection?

QUESTION: Even if Paul was teaching a two-body doctrine of the resurrection, it was still bodily resurrection, and wouldn't that have been an impossible sell to pagans who thought such a thing was impossible?

QUESTION: Was the pre-Christian Osiris really "resurrected" according to ancient sacred narratives?

QUESTION: Do you really think the Osiris myths inspired Mark's narrative?

QUESTION: Your theory is that some of the Corinthians were bothered by the fact that the body of Jesus remained in the grave, even though he was resurrected as a spiritual being, because they apparently thought Jesus was, unlike us, already a spiritual being, and therefore if we died we could not be resurrected as he was. But wouldn't Paul have already taught the Corinthians these things when he originally converted them?

QUESTION: Since you agree the Corinthian doubters didn't doubt the resurrection of Jesus, why do you expect Paul to have cited testimony pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus?

QUESTION: Many translators render 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 as "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption," etc., yet you translate it as "one is sown in decay, one is sown in indestructibility," etc. Why?

QUESTION: When Paul compares our present bodies with a seed that is planted (1 Corinthians 15:36-37), implying our new bodies are the plant that blooms, doesn't this entail that they are the same thing, since a seed merely transforms into a plant? After all, the seed and the plant aren't separate things, but the same thing!

QUESTION: Paul repeatedly says it is the dead who rise, and since that makes no sense unless something that is dead is doing the rising, doesn't this suggest he means our dead bodies rise?

QUESTION: In Romans 8:11 Paul says God "will also give life to your mortal bodies" just as he did to Jesus, and then he says in 8:23 that we await "the redemption of our body." Don't these passages clearly indicate the same body that dies is the body that will be raised?

QUESTION: Did you mistranslate Romans 8:11-13 (p. 149)?

QUESTION: Why would Paul emphasize that Jesus was "buried" if he thought the body of Jesus simply remained in the grave to rot?

QUESTION: In Acts 13 Paul speaks of the body of Jesus not decaying. Wouldn't that mean he believed his corpse rose from the dead?

QUESTION: You say "no flesh can enter heaven" because Paul says "flesh and blood cannot receive the kingdom of god" (p. 135), but I've heard that the phrase "flesh and blood" was a common metaphor for a mortal existence, so should we take Paul literally here?

QUESTION: Regarding your note 196 on page 214, is there any other evidence that the Rufinus translation of Origen is untrustworthy?

QUESTION: You argue that Origen believed in your two-body resurrection theory and even credited it to Paul, but I have seen quotes from Origen that deny this. What's up with that?

QUESTION: On p. 138 you note how Paul speaks of the resurrection as getting into a new garment. You argue this means the old garment is destroyed, but couldn't it mean we'll put on a new substance over our existing bodies?

QUESTION: How can you say Paul "clearly says, contrary to Luke, that the risen Christ is a spirit" so "Christ's resurrection-body" could not "have had blemishes like wounds" (p. 135), when neither Luke nor John actually say Christ's resurrection body still had wounds?

QUESTION: You argue that Paul's discussions of the resurrection differ fundamentally from those of Talmudic Jews, but don't the arguments in the Talmud come from a time much later than Paul's?

QUESTION: Immediately before your chapter, Robert Price argued that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 was an interpolation and never written by Paul ("Apocryphal Apparitions," pp. 69-104), but you treat the material as authentic. Why?

QUESTION: You find parallels between Mark's empty tomb narrative and Orphic mystery narratives, and between Luke's Emmaus narrative and the epiphany of Romulus, but despite the parallels, aren't there still a lot of differences?

QUESTION: In note 160 on p. 211 you explain how the early Christians believed "that all mortal creation shall be replaced with an immortal one...for only then can God be 'all in all' as promised." What did you mean by that?

QUESTION: You refer to Paul's "infamously low opinion of women, repeatedly insisting that they shut the hell up" (p. 193), citing 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 (n. 373, p. 231), but I was told that in the first passage Paul was only quoting and rebutting his opponents, while in the second passage he was only saying women cannot domineer men. What about that?

QUESTION: Were the Scribes really a distinct religious sect?

QUESTION: Do you really argue that the Assumption of Moses refers to a two-body resurrection?

QUESTION: Why would Christians have invented the story that women discovered the empty tomb?

QUESTION: Do you really believe "the Pharisees were the one sect against which the Christian sect was most opposed, and least like" (p. 108)?

QUESTION: Doesn't the repeated use of the word "this" (touto) in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 mean “this body" and therefore the same body?

QUESTION: Why do you think Paul's Corinthian opponents believed there was no life after death?

QUESTION: How can you say "Paul does not believe in anything like a soul--only the spirit, which only those in Christ have" (p. 133) when in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 Paul says men have their own spirits distinct from God's?

QUESTION: You say "there can be no doubt that the earliest Christians believed the present world would be annihilated" (p. 211 n. 160) but since 2 Peter 3 compares the future conflagration with the great flood, which didn't annihilate the world, might he be using the image of burning only figuratively?

QUESTION: Do you really say the vision Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 is the same vision that converted him described in Galatians 1 and Acts 9?

QUESTION: Doesn't all the evidence for a Zoroastrian belief in a mass resurrection post-date Christianity?

QUESTION: You say "John claims to derive from an unnamed eyewitness, but only in a section of his Gospel that looks like it was added by a different author" (p. 156), but isn't this eyewitness also identified in John 1:14 and 19:35?

QUESTION: Why do you conclude that Mark crafted the empty tomb story to refute Paul's conception of the resurrection?

QUESTION: Isn't it contradictory to suggest (as you do throughout pp. 158-65) that Mark developed his empty tomb narrative from both Psalmic and Orphic symbolism?

QUESTION: You compare Mark's empty tomb narrative to the salvation instructions on an Orphic burial plate (on pp. 162-63), noting that in both there is a white marker on the right, but don't other such plates say the white marker is on the left?

QUESTION: Why do you claim (on p. 163) that the women at the tomb "are told to remember something Jesus said"?

QUESTION: Why do you imply (on p. 162) that when "the women enter the tomb" they are entering "the land of the dead" and then say (on p. 163) that "the women are searching for something in the land of the dead: Jesus, the water of life," when a tomb is not synonymous with the land of the dead?

QUESTION: Why do you think Mark 16 is alluding to Ecclesiastes 4:15?

QUESTION: Isn't it contradictory to argue for your theory when you believe Jesus didn't really exist after all?




Answers

 

Q: Have you responded to published critiques of your work in The Empty Tomb?

A: Yes. See my answer to this question in my Burial of Jesus FAQ.

 

Q: Have you formally debated your spiritual-body theory with anyone?

A: Yes. I debated it with theology scholar Jake O'Connell in 2008 (see On Paul's Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O'Connell Debate). Two professional judges assessed it as a draw, meaning my theory cannot be ruled out even by the best possible case against it. Dennis MacDonald (of the Claremont School of Theology) even thought my theory likely, while David Instone-Brewer (of Tyndale House at Cambridge) reported that he already thinks Hellenized Jews "tended towards a new-body view" like the very one I propose, while Rabbinic Jews favored the raising of corpses (as I've argued myself), he just thinks Paul is ambiguous as to which he favored. Two other judges disagreed with each other on the outcome, one ruling my theory a win (Tony Burke of York University), the other a loss (John P. Dickson of Macquarie University, naturally a conservative Christian—and in effect the other judges came out 3 to 1 against him).

 

Q: Is it true that many other scholars agree with you that the earliest Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead by switching to a new body and leaving the old one behind?

A: Yes. These include: James Tabor, "Leaving the Bones Behind: A Resurrected Jesus Tradition with an Intact Tomb" in Sources of the Jesus Tradition: An Inquiry (forthcoming); Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography (2005), pp. 57-58; Peter Lampe, "Paul's Concept of a Spiritual Body" in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (2002), edited by Ted Peters et al.: pp. 103-14; Gregory Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995); Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995); Adela Collins, "The Empty Tomb in the Gospel According to Mark" in Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (1993), edited by Eleonore Stump & Thomas Flint: pp. 107-40; and C.F. Moule, "St. Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection," New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 106-23. Many others think it's likely or at least possible (e.g. see answer to previous question).

 

Q: Is it true that even N.T. Wright "comes close to conceding" your interpretation (n. 2, pp. 197-98) and even allowed "that God keeps a vast warehouse of new 'bodies' waiting for us in heaven, like some freakish android farm" (n. 165, p. 211)?

A: Yes. Wright wrote the following:

Though Moule is no doubt right that Paul can envisage here the possibility of 'exchange' (losing one body, getting another one) rather than 'addition', as in 1 Corinthians 15, we should not lose sight of the fact that even if such an 'exchange' were to take place the new body would be more than the present one. (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003: p. 367)

Wright thus admits that Moule's understanding of what Paul could mean (which corresponds to mine) is no doubt right, and then fully allows that 1 Corinthians 15 can indeed be interpreted that way, though he does not assert it should be. Hence Wright concludes that even if that's what Paul meant, our "new body" would still be "more than the present one." That is absolutely clear and unambiguous: Wright is saying point blank that this interpretation is acceptable even if not certain, and that even 1 Corinthians 15 can mean 'exchange'. All Wright wants to add is that even if we accept this, Paul is still saying the new body will be substantially better than the one we have now, which is exactly my view. Thus, Wright clearly comes as close to conceding my argument as he can without actually endorsing it.

That Wright appears to assert entirely contradictory things elsewhere in his book (e.g. Wright, p. 358) only demonstrates that his book was not coherently written and lacked a competent editor. For there is no other way to interpret his words on p. 367 than as accepting Moule's (and my) argument as potentially correct. On the very next page he confirms this attitude when he says (emphasis added) that Paul "looks forward to eventual bodily resurrection, to a new body which will have left behind the decay and corruption of the present one, and which will function in relation to present life like a new and larger suit of clothes to be put on over the existing ones" (Wright, p. 368). A new body, leaving the present one behind. Wright does not challenge or criticize this conclusion, but practically affirms it.

In fact, not only does Wright grant this as a live possibility (Wright, p. 367) and even arrive at almost the same conclusion himself (Wright, p. 368), he actually adds his own speculations as to how this 'exchange' of bodies would take place:

Did Paul, perhaps, believe that Jesus' new body, his incorruptible Easter body, had been all along waiting 'in the heavens' for him to 'put on over the top of' his present one?...[Either way] Paul probably believed that, at Easter, Jesus' 'mortal body' was 'swallowed up by life', a new bodily life in continuity but thus also discontinuity (immortality instead of mortality) with the previous one. (Wright, p. 371)

And then:

The creator will therefore make a new world, and new bodies, proper to the new age. From one point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are the redeemed, remade versions of the old ones; that is the emphasis of Romans 8. From another point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are 'stored up in heaven'...[though that may only mean] that they are safe in the mind, plan, and intention of the creator God. (Wright, pp. 372-73)

Wright repeatedly waffles between the idea of an entirely new body and a new "outer body" enclosing our old "inner body" (a view that makes little sense--on whether "putting on a new garment over an old one" would allow retention of the old body, see the relevant question below). But he clearly agrees that the resurrection body is a new body newly created by God, and not just the old body refurbished. He even hints (twice) that Paul may have imagined these new bodies as already 'stored up in heaven', waiting for us, which would make Paul's view almost identical to that of the modern day Heaven's Gate cult, whose members also imagined their new bodies as already waiting for them "in heaven" and their old bodies as mere "containers" to be left behind. Wright allows that maybe this only meant the idea of these new bodies was 'stored up' in God's mind, which is how I would interpret 2 Corinthians 5, but the difference is not that great. Wright still allows that it could be an entirely new body, and not a mere restoration and improvement of the old one.

Despite all that, since Wright waffles even here, and appears to contradict himself elsewhere, I only allowed that he "comes close" to conceding my view. I don't assume he agrees with me.

 

Q: In your debate with Mike Licona and in your online essay "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" you failed to address X. So what about X?

A: This is a generic question I keep getting asked, where "X" can be anything from the significance of some bible verse to the merit of some argument or other. The answer is almost always the same: it was physically impossible to cover everything in my three-hour live debate with Mike Licona (available on DVD as Licona vs. Carrier: On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ), while the very purpose of my chapter in The Empty Tomb was to complete the argument I merely outlined on the Secular Web (in General Case for Spiritual Resurrection, part of my collection entitled Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story). Consequently, almost everything that had to be omitted from the debate or the online article has been included and adequately addressed in the book. Therefore, instead of asking why I didn't address X, please read the book--where I probably did address X. But if not, it will probably be addressed below.

 

Q: Isn't the idea of "visions" implausible?

A: No. In fact, naturally-occurring visions were far more plausible in that time and culture than today, and they now have confirmed biological, psychological, and historical precedents, as I demonstrate at length in the book, including ample evidence from surviving Christian texts that visions were a regular component of early Christian experience (pp. 151-54, 182-88, with associated notes on pp. 216-17, 226-29; see also my remarks on the Plausibility of Hallucination). For further corroboration of the socio-cultural plausibility of visions as the origin of Christian belief, beyond the many sources already cited in the book, see my discussion in Section 10.4 of my survey Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

So we know for a fact that visions occur with no supernatural source, and we know for a fact that this was far more common and accepted when and where Christianity began, whereas in contrast we have no comparable evidence confirming the reality of any supernatural appearances or events. Therefore, natural visions are inherently more plausible (group visions make little difference, as I explain on pp. 192-95). In contrast, a real Divine Jesus would have had the means and desire to appear publicly to everyone on earth, rather than in private to just a small number of sectarian believers all in the same place. Yet the latter is what we would expect if these were visions brought about by culture and circumstance, rather than a real Savior of the Universe (see my remarks on p. 195).

My extended analysis of the gospel appearance traditions further supports this conclusion (pp. 188-95). For example, one of the few elements actually shared by all four gospels is the report or implication that the risen Jesus wasn't recognized. In Luke, he is mistaken for a stranger even by those who knew him, until they are placed in a psychological state receptive to "recognizing" the stranger as Jesus (24:13-32), and then they hype up the others into a state of expectation that only then leads to a sudden "appearance" (24:33-37). In John, Mary doesn't recognize Jesus, she even mistakes him for a gardener, and has a conversation with him without suspecting a thing, until he says her name, and then suddenly she "perceives" this stranger as Jesus (20:14-16). In John's second ending, no one recognizes Jesus at all except one or two disciples, and the others simply "go along" with it, simply following the lead of an authority figure (21:4-12). Echoes of these factors remain in the other two Gospels: Matthew reports that some of those who saw Jesus "doubted" it was him (28:17), and in the ending added to Mark, Jesus is said to have appeared "in a different form" (16:12). That this thread would remain in common across all four gospels suggests the truth began with something more mystical than physical.

Likewise, in Luke, John, Matthew and Mark, everything starts with a few women having a vision of one or more angels, which they interpret in various ways as indicating that Jesus was raised, then they report this to the others, and only then does everyone start "seeing" Jesus everywhere. That conforms well to the vision scenario. And apart from all the additional evidence I provide in the book that this sort of thing was very common in early Christianity and throughout all the religions of the day, we can add here a typical example of visions as an accepted and common phenomenon in the Church:

We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favored with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord's day in the church: she converses with angels, and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men's hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies. Whether it be in the reading of Scriptures, or in the chanting of psalms, or in the preaching of sermons, or in the offering up of prayers, in all these religious services matter and opportunity are afforded to her of seeing visions.
It may possibly have happened to us, whilst this sister of ours was rapt in the Spirit, that we had discoursed in some ineffable way about the soul. After the people are dismissed at the conclusion of the sacred services, she is in the regular habit of reporting to us whatever things she may have seen in a vision (for all her communications are examined with the most scrupulous care, in order that their truth may be probed). "Amongst other things," says she, "there has been shown to me a soul in bodily shape, and a spirit has been in the habit of appearing to me; not, however, a void and empty illusion, but such as would offer itself to be even grasped by the hand, soft and transparent and of an ethereal color, and in form resembling that of a human being in every respect." This was her vision, and for her witness there was God; and the apostle most assuredly foretold that there were to be "spiritual gifts" in the church. Now, can you refuse to believe this, even if indubitable evidence on every point is forthcoming for your conviction?

                                                    (Tertullian, Treatise On the Soul 9)

This is a model example of the way things were then. This woman was clearly a functional psychotic, and yet everything she saw was accepted as real. How can we presume it was any different at the origins of the movement? For even more evidence along these lines, see Chapter 13 and Chapter 17 of my survey Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

 

Q: Do you simply assume (e.g. on pp. 151-54) that "visions" can't be of real, external, supernatural beings?

A: No. I argue (e.g. on pp. 184-88) that there is no scientific evidence confirming that any supernaturally-caused visions have ever occurred, whereas we have abundant scientific evidence that visions occur from natural internal causes, therefore the latter is always more plausible in the absence of extraordinary evidence to the contrary (as I've explained in greater detail in A Digression on Method). Hence I acknowledge the possibility that early Christian visions were of a real supernatural Jesus (e.g. on p. 197). I've just seen no good argument for this being probable.

 

Q: A lot of what you argue would apply equally well to transformation, with the old body disappearing, certainly, but by changing into an entirely different substance, like water into wine. Wouldn't that still entail an empty tomb?

A: Yes it would. Hence the question is whether that is how Paul imagined Christ's resurrection, since everything he says about destruction of the old body is stated within the context of the end of the world, which was not the circumstance of Christ's resurrection, even if it will be the circumstance of ours (see p. 138). This leads to three important observations:

First, I do allow for the possibility that Paul imagined transformation (see note 3 on p. 198), which is why I separated the chapter into two parts: Part I on the imagined nature of Christ's resurrection and Part II on the "empty tomb" story being a legend (which it could be even if there was a missing body, since the stories that survive about that could still be entirely fictional). However, I believe the preponderance of evidence is against Paul talking about the "transformation" of Christ's corpse into a spiritual body, and the purpose of Part I is to explain why I believe that.

Second, at the very least, everything Paul says remains compatible with the corpse being left behind, and the Corinthian dispute makes more sense that way, so regardless of what actually was the case, it cannot be maintained with any certainty today that Paul knew of or even imagined a missing corpose, because even if in fact he did, we don't have enough evidence to know that. Therefore, no argument for belief in the resurrection can proceed on the assumption that he did know that. So, even at worst (i.e. even if my reasons for believing otherwise are unconvincing), the evidence that remains is still compatible with both possibilities, leaving us unable to decide between them.

Third, my chapter was written from the prior assumption that there was an actual Jesus buried on earth. In other words, I assumed this as the "more probable hypothesis" for the purpose of the book (see p. 106 and the appended note there for scholarship arguing the contrary), which was to challenge the historicity of the resurrection, not of Jesus. Although I have finally come to believe that Jesus probably did not exist as a historical person (a conclusion I reached after The Empty Tomb went to press, and well after I wrote my review of The Jesus Puzzle), the evidence that has convinced me of this is so vast and complicated that it would be impossible to convince others without writing several books explaining my reasons. Therefore, I do not expect anyone to agree with me who has not seen and studied all the same things I have (and it has taken me years to get through it all myself). However, if we accept the theory that Paul and the earliest Christians believed Jesus was incarnated and resurrected in the heavens, then transformation might fit the evidence better than otherwise, and yet would not entail the existence of a missing body on earth (see my answer to the related question below).

 

Q: Doesn't Philippians 3:21 clearly state that the body will be transformed?

A: Not clearly, no. Philippians 3:21 says Jesus "will change the scheme of the body" of our humble condition "to correspond in form with the body" of his glory (metaschêmatisei to sôma...summorphon tô sômati), which is vague as to details. I discuss this on pp. 118-19 (with corresponding notes, pp. 204-05). As I explain there, the key verb (metaschêmatizô) was also used to refer to changing clothes, which is not a transformation but an exchange, so this verse alone is inconclusive. That means it must be read in the context of Paul's other statements, especially his frequent allusions to resurrection as changing clothes (pp. 120-50). Likewise, Paul's only other use of this verb is in the sense of "disguise" rather than real transformation (three times: 2 Cor. 11:13-15), and that connotation of "disguise" comes from the verb's colloquial use in referring to the changing of clothes (e.g. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 7.257, 8.256-57).

 

Q: Paul said he was a Pharisee trained in Jerusalem, a "Hebrew of Hebrews," who rivaled his fellow Pharisees in his zealous defense of their dogmas (Philippians 3:5-6; Galatians 1:13-14; Acts 22:3, 23:6), so how can you argue that Paul held a view of the resurrection that sounds more like that of the Essenes, which was quite contrary to what Pharisees believed?

A: This argument is already addressed in the book. In the very same passage where Paul says he was a zealous Pharisee, he immediately goes on to say he abandoned that sect entirely and regarded all its teachings as "rubbish" (Philippians 3:7-8), as things he has abandoned, literally "left behind," in exchange for the teachings of Christianity (Philippians 3:9-14), because of a powerful revelation that convinced him he was wrong and that he should take up a new teaching (Galatians 1:11-16; Acts 22:6-16), which involved adopting several beliefs exactly contrary to Pharisaic doctrines (such as that the oral law no longer applies to him and that one can gain resurrection without being circumcised: Galatians 2:1-20), and as a result other Pharisee converts became his opponents in the Church, not his allies (Acts 15:5-32).

Consequently, Paul's past beliefs are completely inapplicable--he says himself that he has converted to a new set of beliefs, Christian beliefs, which were certainly not Pharisaic, but essentially Essene (for example, see Sid Green 's essay From Which Religious Sect Did Jesus Emerge?; for Christianity's opposition to Pharisaism, see the passages I cite in n. 14, p. 199, and corresponding remarks on p. 108, though see my qualification below). I say more against the fallacy of drawing conclusions from the fact that Paul "was a Pharisee" on p. 116, and I show how clearly and blatantly Paul has abandoned Pharisaic reasoning about the resurrection on pp. 114-18. And yet I also show that Josephus, even as a Pharisee, shared Paul's two-body view of resurrection on pp. 112-13. So there is no difficulty there either.

 

Q: Didn't Jewish ideology require the body that dies to be the same one that must rise in the resurrection?

A: No. Though this was the view of one faction among the Pharisees, whose teachings were preserved in later Jewish writings, it was by no means the universal view of all Jews in the first century (see pp. 107-13) and was certainly not Paul's view (as I show by comparing his discourse with those who did adhere to the conservative Pharisaic view: pp. 114-18, 123-26). For more on this point, see my answer to the previous question.

 

Q: Even if Paul was teaching a two-body doctrine of the resurrection, it was still bodily resurrection, and wouldn't that have been an impossible sell to pagans who thought such a thing was impossible?

A: No. Contrary to a popular myth, many pagans believed both kinds of resurrection were possible: a resurrection of a corpse, and a resurrection by assuming a new, celestial body after death and leaving the corpseflesh behind. See my discussion in Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible? (2006), along with The Word Anastasis.

 

Q: Was the pre-Christian Osiris really "resurrected" according to ancient sacred narratives?

A: Yes. See my discussion in Osiris and Pagan Resurrection Myths: Assessing the Till-McFall Exchange (2002) and the distinctions I make in the materials cited above.

 

Q: Do you really think the Osiris myths inspired Mark's narrative?

A: In part, possibly. But when I cite the parallels (and those are not the only ones, e.g. Osiris, like Jesus, was about thirty years old when he died, at least according to Luke 3:23 and Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 13.356c), I state that "I don't know what to make of" them. Though I say they "seem an improbable coincidence," that does not entail they are, as what seems to be the case often is not, especially when trying to estimate probabilities among nebulous data. My only significant reason for mentioning them was in support of my statement that the "third day motif was certainly widespread" in ancient deathlore. In other words, I do not argue that Mark got the third day motif from the Osiris myth, but from the zeitgeist of the time--the same place the Osiris myth got it from (that it is present is determinable from the narrative: Plutarch reports that Osiris dies on "the 17th" of the month, and then his resurrection is celebrated "on the 19th" of that month, thus on the third day, counting inclusively just as for Jesus).

Nor do I argue in The Empty Tomb that Mark got any of the other paralleled ideas from the Osiris myth. Though I may argue that in the future, as I stated quite plainly in The Empty Tomb, "I see no need for such a connection." But I do remark upon them because they are odd. I still do not know what to make of them. Some or all of them could just be a coincidence, though I can't be sure. Hence I do not use them to make any argument in The Empty Tomb. For example:

  • Osiris and Jesus both die during a full moon. For as I note, Jewish Law entailed every Passover would fall on a full moon (Exodus 12, Leviticus 23:5-8, Psalm 81, and Mishnah, Rosh Hashshanah 1.3ff.) and Jesus dies during a Passover (e.g. Mark 14:16ff.). Is there a deliberate symbolism in a murdered-then-revived-and-exalted god dying on a full moon that both stories are emulating, or is it merely accidental that Passovers fall on full moons? Beats me.

  • Plutarch reports that a conspiracy of 72 men brought down Osiris, and Mark says the Sanhedrin conspired with Judas to bring down Jesus (though notably in each case the killing is done not by them but by a greater hostile power: the Egyptian Set, the Roman Pilate), and we know a complete Sanhedrin court at the time was legally required to consist of 71 men (the Great Sanhedrin, the largest court in Jerusalem), and conspiring with Judas makes 72 (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 1.5-6, which I already cited in n. 276 on p. 220). Though in reality the whole court would only sit at certain major cases, one of those was the trial of a false prophet. Of course, Mark might not have known there were lesser courts, or not have cared about such details (he already disregards other legal realities, such as that capital trials must be deliberated for two whole days and never at night: Mishnah, Sanhedrin 5.5 and 4.1j-l). He may have simply assumed (along with his intended readers) that "the whole Sanhedrin" would encompass all the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:55 and 15:1). One could also argue that Mark implies (truthfully or not) that at least one of the crimes Jesus was tried for was false prophecy (see Convicted as a False Prophet?). The full court would also sit if Jesus were a high priest, which could have been a deliberate symbolic implication (given Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:14, etc.). But if Mark thought or meant the full Sanhedrin would sit at Christ's trial (for sound or unsound reasons), are both stories (one overtly, the other covertly) creating a conspiracy of 72 because this has some important symbolic meaning, or is it merely accidental that full Sanhedrins consisted of 71 members and adding Judas just happens to make 72 conspirators? Again, beats me.

  • Being sealed in a chamber at one's burial (whether a tomb or a sarcophagus) is also shared by both tales, but I am already quite certain (as I argue on pp. 360-64) that Matthew added the detail of a seal to emulate (and in fact call attention to) Daniel in the Lion's Den, and thus obviously not Osiris (or any other god or hero who may also have been sealed in death in stories that don't survive). Matthew is also alone in adding that detail (or even the story that generates the pretext for it), just as Luke is alone in mentioning the age of Jesus. But double and triple entendres were popular in mythography, and ancient rhetoric generally, so both connections could easily have been intended. But is that what Matthew was doing? Or is it just an accident that Osiris and Daniel (and thence Jesus) both had seals placed on their places of burial? Once again, beats me.

 

Q: Your theory is that some of the Corinthians were bothered by the fact that the body of Jesus remained in the grave, even though he was resurrected as a spiritual being, because they apparently thought Jesus was, unlike us, already a spiritual being, and therefore if we died we could not be resurrected as he was. But wouldn't Paul have already taught the Corinthians these things when he originally converted them?

A: Had that been so, then Paul would not be teaching them these details again in 1 Corinthians and yet again in 2 Corinthians. Obviously, they did not understand something very fundamental about "how they would be raised" and "with what body they would come," so much so that some of the Corinthians were concluding that the dead would not be raised at all--which they could not possibly have concluded if Paul had "already taught them" all about how they would be raised. Therefore, these letters entail there was a large gap in their education (at least that faction's education--and they may have been evangelized after Paul, while those converted and taught by Paul were having a hard time explaining Paul's views to them). But that Paul himself would leave them in the dark should come as no surprise, since Paul's "introductory course" in Christianity (represented by his letter to the Romans) is a lengthy discourse packed with details about what they were expected to believe, yet it never discusses anything about the mechanics of resurrection--in fact, it's discussion of resurrection is so scanty and ambiguous that it practically ensures confusion (hence see my discussion on pp. 149-50).

I think I have identifed what must have been missing from their education--and to date, I have not seen any plausible alternative that is actually consistent with the text and the facts (e.g. pp. 120-26, 139-41). They had to have been worried about Jesus being so different from themselves that they would not be raised from the dead, and the only such worry that makes sense of the actual text we have is a worry attached to the corpse of Jesus, as I explain in the book. There is only one alternative that makes sense of the same evidence: if everyone in this dispute (Paul and all the Corinthians) believed Jesus was incarnated and raised only in the heavens, and thus he was never on earth in the first place (see my review of The Jesus Puzzle), then their worry would make even more sense, because then Jesus would be a purely cosmic being, very much unlike us, so his resurrection would have been a cosmic act, not the raising of a buried corpse. However, if we conclude this, then it still follows that there was no empty tomb nor any corpse on earth.

 

Q: Since you agree the Corinthian doubters didn't doubt the resurrection of Jesus, why do you expect Paul to have cited testimony pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus?

A: Because Paul was answering the question "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" and Paul said our resurrection will be the same as Christ's. Therefore, the testimonial evidence of the nature of Christ's resurrected body would be directly relevant to Paul's response (pp. 116-18, 120-26, etc.). Moreover, though the Corinthians weren't doubting that Christ rose, Paul still lists all the evidence on which they based their belief in his resurrection, evidently to remind them of it. Thus, he had the same occasion to remind them of the relevant nature and extent of this evidence, especially in an argument about the nature of the resurrection body. All other Christians cited the testimonial evidence regarding the nature of Christ's resurrection body when defending their view, even to other Christians (pp. 123-24), essentially the same situation Paul was in. So why wouldn't Paul appeal to the same evidence and arguments?

 

Q: Many translators render 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 as "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption," etc., yet you translate it as "one is sown in decay, one is sown in indestructibility," etc. Why?

A: I answer this on pp. 127-28 and one must read what I say there carefully. Here I will only elaborate on that. Of course, I always avoid archaic "King James" terms like "corruption" and render the actual nouns literally, but the intended meaning does not differ, and this is not what the question pertains to. Rather, the question is about the "it" and why I use instead "one":

The word "it" does not exist in the Greek of this passage. When a subject is omitted in Greek, a verb typically takes the most recent subject stated. The most recent subject stated is "the dead" (in 15:42) and this is surely the intended subject: "So also is the resurrection of the dead: sown in decay, raised in indestructibility..." It is obvious that the ensuing list of properties is being stated about the dead who will be raised. It is exactly the same as if I said "So also is the ticketing of traffic violators: pulled over on the road, given a citation..." In no way can the subject be "the body" ("it"), since that is not the stated subject--especially given that a very precise construction would be required in the Greek to indicate the body as the subject instead of a body. To translate the sentence with "it" as the subject requires "the body," for "a body" would indicate instead two different bodies, not the same body. Yet in either case the subject remains the same: in both cases it is "the dead" who are dying and rising, whether in the same body or different bodies.

And in fact that is where the sentence ends up: Paul concludes by saying "a biological body is sown, a spiritual body is raised." In Greek, word order is flexible, so it is also legitimate to take as the subject of a string of verbs the subject that the sentence concludes with, and it does appear that Paul concludes this string of verbs with a subject, which is a body, not the body. He actually goes out of his way to say body twice, thus assigning grammatically different bodies to each verb. He did not write "a body is sown and raised" but "a body is sown, and a body is raised," very clearly differentiating two different bodies. So if we take this as the intended subject, the entire sentence reads: "[a body] is sown in decay, [a body] is raised in indestructibility; [a body] is sown in dishonor, [a body] is raised in glory; [a body] is sown in weakness, [a body] is raised in power; a biological body is sown, a spiritual body is raised."

Thus, whether we take as the subject the first subject stated (the dead) or the last subject stated (a body) the sentence translates the same: Paul is not saying the same body is raised that is sown. He could very easily have done so--a change of a single word would have sufficed to make that point. But Paul avoids that (see pp. 126, 128, and pp. 123-25). Instead, Paul began this very discourse by asserting in no uncertain terms that "what you sow you do not sow the body that will come to be." How could he be any clearer? 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 must be interpreted in the context of this very remark at 1 Corinthians 15:37, and when we do that, there is no fair way to "spin" Paul's words as being about the same body. Thus, "it" is an unjustified dogmatic translation that completely ignores the context. And when we view 1 Corinthians 15 in light of the material in 2 Corinthians 5, there can remain no reasonable doubt about this (pp. 139-42).

 

Q: When Paul compares our present bodies with a seed that is planted (1 Corinthians 15:36-37), implying our new bodies are the plant that blooms, doesn't this entail that they are the same thing, since a seed merely transforms into a plant? After all, the seed and the plant aren't separate things, but the same thing!

A: That is not true, as I already explain on pp. 146-47. The "seed" that you see going into the ground is actually the shell--the actual material that becomes the plant is hidden inside that shell. The shell you see (and sow) is thus the "outer man" while the hidden kernel inside it is the invisible "inner man" that rises to new life. The shell itself dies and is cast off. It does not become the new plant, so there was no continuity between them. As accomplished agriculturalists, the ancients knew all about this. And as a gardener myself, I have physically seen it, in some cases picking off the discarded shell of a seed that was still stuck to its kernel's sprout as it rose above the soil (usually that shell remains buried and decomposes). That is the apparent point of Christ's metaphor that in the end God will separate "the wheat from the chaff" (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17) and burn the chaff away while keeping the wheat for himself, hence alluding to the firey apocalypse (see my discussions: p. 136, with n. 160, p. 211; and pp. 143, 150), where the "outer body" (the chaff) will be burned away and the "inner body" (the wheat), a body which only the saved have, will be freed and raised to new life. To make the same point, Origen used the analogy of casting off the placenta (see my discussion on pp. 143-44), just as Paul used the analogies of moving from one house to another and removing one coat and donning another (2 Cor. 5:1-8, with my discussion on pp. 137-40, esp. with nn. 180 and 181, pp. 212-13).

 

Q: Paul repeatedly says it is the dead who rise, and since that makes no sense unless something that is dead is doing the rising, doesn't this suggest he means our dead bodies rise?

A: No. Paul speaks of "the dead in Christ" as those who sleep in the spirit of Christ (pp. 142-47), so they can "awake" and thus "rise" in any body God wants (hence 1 Corinthians 15:36-39 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). And since Paul says "you do not sow the body that will come to be" (1 Corinthians 15:37), Paul clearly imagined God raising the dead in new bodies. He never once says that God will "raise dead bodies to life" or anything clearly like that (e.g. p. 149). Instead, when we examine the total context of everything relevant that Paul and others said (as surveyed throughout Part I of my chapter: pp. 105-55), it is most probable that he did not believe such a thing.

 

Q: In Romans 8:11 Paul says God "will also give life to your mortal bodies" just as he did to Jesus, and then he says in 8:23 that we await "the redemption of our body." Don't these passages clearly indicate the same body that dies is the body that will be raised?

A: Not necessarily. I already challenge this interpretation of both verses in the book (pp. 149-50). I say a lot there that must be read. Here I will only note three of the facts that I discuss further there: the "also" in Romans 8:11 does not grammatically correlate with the resurrection of Jesus (bad translations have falsely given that impression); Paul does not say "our mortal bodies will be raised" (in fact, he never connects our "mortal bodies" with resurrection at all, not even in 8:23, which is a whole twelve verses away from 8:11 and does not speak of a "mortal" body); the context of 8:11 appears to be about our current state of grace, not our future resurrection (as in 2 Cor. 4:10), while Paul only gets to the resurrection in later verses; and 8:23 actually says we expect "the release of our body," without specifying which body he means, or in what way it will be released. Close examination suggests he more likely meant the release of our "inner man," which is our new spiritual body, which we are already growing inside us (pp. 144-45, 150, and related notes; see my answer to a related question below).

 

Q: Did you mistranslate Romans 8:11-13 (p. 149)?

A: No. My translation may be misleading, but not in any respect pertinent to my argument. There are only two actual mistakes, and both are trivial. (1) I miscapitalized one word. Since the argument I develop from this passage makes no use of the word "spirit" here at all, I missed the fact that I had not consistently capitalized the word (both instances should be capitalized the same way), which is simply an error of style that escaped my notice. (2) I accidentally deleted a phrase "by the spirit" in later drafts (and thus this phrase is missing in the printed text of verse 13, i.e. "if [by the spirit] we kill the deeds of the body"). I didn't notice its disappearance because this also had no relevance to the point I was making.

I have since been told that these errors, combined with four otherwise valid translation choices, could combine to give a misleading impression that I was rewriting this passage to lend support to challenging the historicity of Jesus. I was completely unaware of this potential for abuse, and it certainly isn't anything I ever intended, or ever imagined using this passage for. The following should dispel any attempt to misuse my translation that way.

(1) I translated the autou in verse 11 as "the" since it is unclear whether it was intended as a possessive (his spirit) or an intensive (the same spirit), and this made no difference to the point I was to make. Rendering autou as "the" is acceptable practice, especially to retain an ambiguity like this, but since someone could abuse the result, I would prefer to have replaced "the" in this case with "this" (which also preserves the ambiguity) to ensure no one could mistake the meaning.

(2) I specifically rendered the active aorist participle (egeirantos) as "raiser" to emphasize aspect rather than tense. There is nothing wrong with that, as participles in Greek often emphasize aspect over tense, and aorist participles do not have to be rendered as a past tense when the context is otherwise clear. Hence when I wrote "raiser" I was conveying the participle's event-aspect, not intending to emphasize any tense relation, since I took it as obvious that the event occurred in the past. By analogy, "if the attitude of the electors of President Bush persists, then we will continue to have bad administrations" would convey the same meaning, emphasizing the event rather than the tense, even though obviously Bush was only elected in the past and it would be silly to think otherwise. There is no way to render an active past participle in English without using a subordinate clause, which would have departed even further from a literal rendering of the Greek, while also obscuring the very point I was trying to make. Hence my choice here was both deliberate and valid. But no one should take me as implying a present tense construction.

(3) I kept a first-person plural construction throughout verse 13 even though that is not strictly maintained in the Greek. This kind of choice is a common practice in the translation of classical texts (and occasionally even in Bible translations of other verses), but such stylistic choices can annoy Biblical scholars who always fear someone is trying to pull something if their translations aren't strictly literal. Nevertheless, the point of verse 13 certainly did not mean to exclude Paul at any point, and since I saw no need to switch subjects, I kept the first person plural for clarity, since Paul's saying "we x, because you y" would be, strictly speaking, a non sequitur here, and not a distinction Paul intended to make. Though he clearly intends the philosophical 'you' (second person abstract), which would have included himself (as also a current member of the churched), I felt this would not be obvious to someone who read this passage out of context. But no one should take me as implying anything else.

(4) I translated the preposition kata as "in" because "according to" and "after" (in the metaphorical senses intended here) are now in modern English archaic or obscure in their meaning, and I try to avoid them. As Paul equated attachment to the flesh with residence in the flesh (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5) I translated kata as I believe he intended. It should still be obvious that Paul thought we could live "inside" a body of flesh without living "according to" the flesh, since his instruction here is to do just that, so I never imagined anyone thinking I was intending to deny it.

 

Q: Why would Paul emphasize that Jesus was "buried" if he thought the body of Jesus simply remained in the grave to rot?

A: Because it was a scriptural element of the Gospel that emphasized and confirmed his death and established the finality of his essential consecration to the land of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:4; see: pp. 158-63, 183-84, and n. 87, pp. 205-06), and because the idea of his "burial" was essential to the rationale of baptism, in which we are "buried with him" in order to rise with him (Romans 6:4). My chapter shows how this is entirely compatible with rising in a new body and leaving the old body behind. For example, in baptism we metaphorically descend into the "grave" with our corruptible body and thus metaphorically leave it behind, so we can rise from the "grave" with the gift of our spiritual body, the "inner man" who does not decay (2 Corinthians 4:16) because that is now a part of Christ's "spiritual body" (see pp. 139-47, 150, and read the whole of Romans 7 and 8, esp. 7:3-6, 7:14-18, 7:22-24, 8:6-10; see especially the clear parallels between 7:22-24 & 8:23-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4).

 

Q: In Acts 13 Paul speaks of the body of Jesus not decaying. Wouldn't that mean he believed his corpse rose from the dead?

A: First of all, Acts was not written by Paul, but by a later Christian whom I argue held an entirely different view of the resurrection (pp. 134-35, 154, and pp. 190-93), and whom many scholars argue got a lot else wrong about Paul. Thus, we cannot completely trust this as a source for Paul's beliefs (or Peter's: see n. 152, p. 210). Even so, when I wrote that "in every other respect I believe Acts is worthless as a source" (p. 154) some took that to mean that I reject the whole of Acts, even though the context should have made it clear that I only meant regarding the appearance of Jesus to Paul (see the relevant part of my response to Davis). Otherwise, I think there is a lot more historical fact in Acts than most other skeptics, although these facts have been colored and reworked with certain dogmatic needs and assumptions in mind, so we can't trust Acts uncritically. See my discussion of Acts as a source in Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable to Inspection and Disproof? and Evidence from Acts (2006).

But even if we entirely trusted the speech in Acts 13, Paul does not speak of "the body of Jesus" not decaying there. The word "body" simply isn't there. Paul says "God raised him from the dead, who was seen" later by his followers (13:30-31), which is ambiguous as to how he raised him or in what body he was seen. Paul also makes no mention of the evidence of an empty tomb, despite this being an obvious occasion to call up such a powerful proof for his case. But more importantly, Paul says "that he raised him from the dead, destined to return no longer to destruction" (13:34), in other words, Paul only says Jesus was destined never to go back to being dead--he does not say this about his body. So we learn nothing here about what Paul thought happened to the body that was buried or whether Jesus rose in that body or some other. Likewise, Paul says God promised "not to allow his holy one to see destruction" (13:35), again not saying this of his body but of the man himself, and then Paul says David "fell asleep, was added to his fathers, and saw destruction," since he was not raised from the dead (13:56), but "he whom God raised did not see destruction" (13:37), therefore (Paul argues) God must have meant Jesus. But nowhere here is anything about the body specified, either that of David or Jesus.

 

Q: You say "no flesh can enter heaven" because Paul says "flesh and blood cannot receive the kingdom of god" (p. 135), but I've heard that the phrase "flesh and blood" was a common metaphor for a mortal existence, so should we take Paul literally here?

A: The phrase "flesh and blood" can only be a metaphor for a mortal existence if flesh and blood are mortal. If Paul believed flesh and blood could be immortal, then "flesh and blood" would no longer represent mortality to him, any more than "white and black" would. It therefore makes no sense for Paul to say that "flesh and blood cannot inherit" unless he in fact means flesh and blood cannot inherit. If he meant "flesh and blood can inherit the kingdom of God, once they are transformed" or "once they are infused with the Spirit of Christ" or whatever one imagines, then that is what Paul would have said. That he didn't is the very point we observe. And when this fact is placed in the context of all the other clues I collect in my chapter, it all points toward the same conclusion: Paul means flesh and blood cannot inherit immortality, precisely because flesh and blood belong to a mortal existence.

Which of course brings us to the real issue: when interpreting words and phrases, context is everything. And the context Paul clearly establishes is that of different bodies of differing composition (see pp. 126-29, 132-35, 151). This becomes even clearer when we examine everything Paul says about the flesh, which leads us to conclude that Paul believed flesh and blood don't inherit "the kingdom" because only the spirit can fully inherit God's rule (Philippians 3:3, Galatians 5:17, Romans 7-8). That's why Paul says we ought to deliver sinners "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus" (Corinthians 5:5). And with many other hints like that, Paul presents the idea that the flesh must be discarded in exchange for the spirit (e.g. pp. 139-47).

All other uses of the phrase "flesh and blood" in the New Testament confirm this. When "Jesus answered and said to Peter, 'You are blessed, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), this certainly means "mortal beings" didn't reveal it, that instead spiritual beings did (as in Gal. 1:1-16 and Eph. 6:12), but that is the very contrast Paul intends: people of "flesh and blood," whose bodies are mortal, vs. spiritual beings, whose bodies are not. Thus, "as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, [God] also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death--that is, the Devil" (Heb. 2:14). The very idea expressed here is that Jesus was flesh and his flesh died, so he cannot now be flesh--for that wouldn't make much sense, and is never what any epistle says (pp. 147-54). Instead, "flesh and blood" stood for Christ's body on earth, in the bread and wine of communion (6:47-59), not his actual resurrection body, which was "spiritual" and "indestructible" (1 Cor. 15:35-49), unlike the bread and wine that perish in being consumed, just as his previous body of flesh was consumed by the grave.

 

Q: Regarding your note 196 on page 214, is there any other evidence that the Rufinus translation of Origen is untrustworthy?

A: Yes. This is directly confirmed by Jerome, a contemporary of Rufinus himself. Jerome harshly condemns Rufinus for having doctored the text to "align" what Origin said with accepted dogma. This is revealed in Jerome's Apology for Himself against the Books of Rufinus, where he says Origen's teachings "had been changed by the translator so as to give a more orthodox meaning" (1.6), and that Rufinus had "taken away words which existed" and "put in those which did not exist" (1.7). He says to Rufinus that "if you had kept faith as a translator, it would not have been necessary for me to counteract your false translation by my true one" (predictably, Jerome's translation was not preserved by the Church--only that of Rufinus) and "you know in your own conscience what you added, what you subtracted, and what you altered on one side or the other at your discretion, and after this you have the audacity to tell us that what is right or wrong is not to be attributed to you but to the author!" (2.11).

Jerome goes on to quote a letter from Rufinus in which Rufinus admits to having done this and makes excuses for it. Then Jerome declares that one of Origen's "heretical teachings" that Rufinus purged was "that the resurrection of our bodies will be such that we shall not have the same members, since, when the functions of those members cease they will become superfluous; and that our bodies themselves will grow ethereal and spirit-like, and gradually vanish and disperse into thin air and into nothing" and in the end we will see "rational creatures with all their dregs left behind, when will begin a new world from a new origin, and other bodies in which the souls who fall from heaven will be clothed." That decisively confirms that the Rufinus passages that N.T. Wright cites to the contrary are false: as I otherwise demonstrated (pp. 143-45), Origen believed we would leave our current bodies behind like "dregs" and then get entirely new bodies in the resurrection.

 

Q: You argue that Origen believed in your two-body resurrection theory and even credited it to Paul, but I have seen quotes from Origen that deny this. What's up with that?

A: In the book I provided direct quotations from Origen that establish beyond question what he believed (pp. 143-44). Nevertheless, some people have presented alleged examples of Origen asserting the contrary. Most of these "statements" come from the Peri Archôn, better known as the De Principiis, "On the First Principles," which in fact only survives in the Latin translation of Rufinus, who changed everything Origen said that was heretical into what was accepted orthodoxy at the time (see my answer to the previous question). Therefore, those quotes are completely useless. They reflect the views of Rufinus, not Origen.

However, a few other passages have been adduced that deserve comment:

In Contra Celsum 3.41 Origen concludes, "What is wonderful about this, that in regard to the body of Jesus a mortal quality should have been changed into an ethereal and divine quality, if the providence of God has so willed it?" However, the context is the incarnation, not the resurrection (3.41-42). The statement is also too oblique for us to know whether he means transformation anyway, rather than exchange, for when Origen then paints an analogy between Jesus and pagan demigods (Contra Celsum 3.42), who were only regarded as divine after death, he says they swapped mortal for divine qualities by "tossing aside their mortal body," i.e. discarding it altogether (apotithêmi).

After thus attacking the incarnation, Celsus then attacked the idea of an empty tomb, yet Origen responds to this (Contra Celsum 3.43) without actually saying what his own belief about the tomb was--instead he hints at a possible allegorical meaning (Origen often read the Bible allegorically, cf. Origen, Homilies on Genesis 13), makes excuses for even bringing it up ("Celsus made us discuss it"), and then offers in defense of the "resurrection" of Jesus only that it was "foretold by innumerable prophets" and "many proofs were given of his having appeared after death" (emphasis added), avoiding any mention of whether "many proofs were given" of there actually being an empty tomb. Hence when Origen says things like "we believe Jesus rose from the grave," we cannot know whether he means in the same body or in a new one, except by reference to his other statements, which all agree in asserting that he means a new one. In the same way, Origen skirts this issue in Contra Celsum 1.16, suggesting possibilities but never saying whether he believes them.

Some have argued that a remark by Origen in his Commentary on the Song of Songs 3.13 suggests he imagined resurrection as a raising of the buried body, but this passage only survives in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and as noted above, his translations cannot be trusted. Indeed, as R.P. Lawson puts it, "If we compare the recovered Greek fragments of the Commentary with the translation of Rufinus, it is quite obvious that, here as elsewhere, his version is extremely free" and "so much so" that "we can never be quite certain whether or not he is offering a mere paraphrase of the original, or to what extent he may have expanded or abridged or even changed or 'corrected' what Origen had set down" (R.P. Lawson, Origen: The Song of Songs (Commentary and Homilies), 1957 = Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 26: p. 5; see also pp. 28-29).

Other passages that have been adduced against my conclusion actually fail to contradict the two-body view, or even support it. For example, Contra Celsum 5.23 simply describes exactly what I do: that the resurrection body resides as an invisible spirit within us even now, and at death it is this body that rises to new life, shedding the husk of our body of flesh and leaving it behind. Likewise, as I note in the book (n. 378, p. 231), Origen believed the new body of Jesus was so different from the buried body that it was actually invisible to all but the eye of faith (Contra Celsum 2.64-67), appearing thus as a luminous body distinct from the one buried, and this "new" body only presented the "appearance" of being the same body. For example, Origen says the resurrected body of Jesus "was not in fact wounded" as the Gospel of John relates, but only "appeared" to retain the wounds suffered on the cross (Contra Celsum 2.59-61). Origen then says Jesus rose in an "opposite body," using the word "antitype," which is the opposite of a stamp, i.e. when a stamp presses an image into wax, the wax image is the "antitype," not the original (antitupos). In other words, Origen appears to be saying the risen body of Jesus was only a copy of the body that was buried (Contra Celsum 2.61-62).

On the other hand, there is a passage in Origen's Homilies on Jeremiah 18.4.2, which says:

Each person according to his capacity understands the Scriptures. One takes the sense from them more superficially, as if from the surface level of a spring. Another draws up more deeply as from a well...For me this passage [i.e. Jer. 18:5-6] is a preface to the future discussion about the clay receptacle which fell from the hand of the potter and was molded anew. Some have contemplated and understood these passages more simply. I will present for you the doctrine of those and the discussion. After this if we have something deeper, we will discuss this also.
But what they say is that this can illuminate the details concerning the resurrection. For if the clay receptacle has "fallen from the hands of the potter" and from the same material of the same clay he makes it into "another receptacle as it was pleasing in his view" [Jer. 18:4], then God, the "potter" of our bodies, the Creator of our constitution, when this has "fallen" and been crushed for whatever reason, he can take it up and renew it and make it more beautiful and better, "another receptacle as it was pleasing in his view."...This discussion may have our appreciation...But let's realize that this passage concerning the house of the potter does not refer to certain matters concerning one person, but to two nations.

Here Origen is certainly describing an orthodox understanding of the resurrection and expressing some admiration for the cleverness of it, but he never says he agrees with it, and instead concludes that these interpreters completely mistake the meaning of the verse (note my very different discussion of the "clay receptacles" analogy on p. 143, and how different Paul's actual use of this analogy is from its use by conservative Jews and Christians, on pp. 114, 117, 123; note also how Paul says Adam was made of clay: n. 140, p. 209). Though Origen thinks "simplistic" interpretations like theirs "can" be helpful (18.4.1), he does not say they are therefore true, or in what way this particular interpretation is "helpful." So we cannot conclude from this that Origen agreed with them.

And in fact, what Origen has to say elsewhere about these "simple" interpreters reveals that in fact he does not agree with them:

And so God "gives to each thing a body as he pleases," as in the case of [plants] that are sown, so also in the case of those who are, as it were, sown in dying and in due time receive, out of what was sown, the body that is bestowed by God to each according to what he deserves. And we also hear the scripture teaching us at great length the difference between that which is, as it were, "sown," and that which is, as it were, "raised" from it, saying even that one is "sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body." And yet let him who is able grasp what is meant when [Paul] says: "As is the one of clay, so, too, are they who are of clay; and as is the one of heaven, so, too, are they who are of heaven. And as we have born the image of the one of clay, we shall also bear the image of the one of heaven."
Although the Apostle [Paul] wanted to conceal the forbidden meaning of this passage as something not appropriate for simple folk or for the common hearing of those who are led [only] by faith to what is better, nevertheless, so we would not mishear his words, he was then compelled to say after "let us bear the image of the one of heaven" also this: "But I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption." Then, knowing that there was something forbidden and secret in this passage, as was fitting for someone leaving behind, through his writings, words with a certain meaning for those coming after him, he adds and says: "Behold, I tell you a mystery," which is his way of introducing things deeper and more secret which are appropriately kept hidden from the multitude, as is even written in Tobit: "It is good to keep the king's mystery a secret", but respectable and fitting "to honorably reveal the works of God" to the multitude with what is 'conveniently' true. (Contra Celsum 5.19; see also 5.14-16)

By the same token, Origen explains elsewhere:

[Celsus] says some, who don't want to give or receive a reason for what they believe, proclaim "Don't examine closely, just believe!" and "Your faith will save you!" He also says they say "The wisdom in this world is evil, but the foolish is good." One must respond to this that if it were possible for everyone to leave behind the business of life and devote themselves to the study of philosophy, then no one should pursue any other path but that, and that alone. For it will be found in the Christian system no less than any other (not that I am saying anything too pretentious here) that there is a close examination of what we believe and an explanation of the enigmatic sayings in the prophets and of the parables in the gospels and countless other things that have happened or been ordained symbolically. But if this is beyond our means, whether because of the necessities of life or the weakness of men, so that very few turn eagerly to studying the reasons, what better method is to be found for helping out the multitude than what was handed down by Jesus to the Gentiles?
And let us inquire, with respect to the great multitude of believers, who've put away the great flood of wickedness in which they formerly wallowed, whether it were better for them to believe without a reason, and as a result have their moral character placed under restraint by some means and for their benefit, through the belief that they will be punished for their sins and rewarded for their good deeds, or not to have allowed themselves to be converted with mere faith but to give up until they closely examine the reasons? For it is obvious that then everyone, other than the fewest number, will not get what they would have obtained from simply believing, but instead would continue living a wicked life...And since [our critics] keep saying these things about faith, one must respond that we accept this as useful for the multitude, and we agree that we teach them to believe even without reasons, who are unable to leave everything behind and follow a close examination of the reasons. (Contra Celsum 1.9-10)

And later:

In the fiftieth Psalm, David says in his prayer to God: "The unseen and secret things of Your wisdom You have made visible to me." ... And in this respect [God] wants there to be wise men among the believers, so that for the sake of exercising the understanding of those who hear, [he] has uttered some things in enigmatic sayings, and some in what are called "obscure" sayings, and he has uttered some things through parables, and others through riddles. Hence one of the prophets, Hosea, says at the end of his sayings: "Who is wise and will understand these things? Or who is smart and shall know them?"...
Then if you come to the books written after the time of Jesus, you will find that those crowds of believers who heard the parables happened to be, as it were, "outside," and worthy only of the "external" meaning, while the disciples learned in private the [real] explanation. For, "In private, to his personal disciples," Jesus "unraveled everything," placing first above the crowds those who claimed a right to know His wisdom. (Contra Celsum 3.45-46)

Thus, as Paul himself said, there is a gospel for the simpleton, whom he calls "babies" (1 Cor. 3:1, referring to 1 Cor. 2:13-16 and 2:1-5), and a gospel for "grown ups" (1 Cor. 2:6-7). Origen then explains that the latter is concealed from the simpleton because it might turn him away from the faith and thus away from salvation, while only a very few people fully grasp the truth.

Joseph Trigg analyzed Origen's opinions about the merits of this kind of deception in "Divine Deception and the Truthfulness of Scripture," Origen of Alexandria: His World and His Legacy, Charles Kannengiesser and William Peterson, eds. (1988), pp. 147-64. Trigg found Origen arguing that it was better for the simpleton to believe literally in what the Bible says even when the literal meaning isn't true. Ultimately, Trigg concludes (emphasis mine):

When Origen expressly denies that he holds an opinion and never indicates otherwise, we must take him at his word. Nevertheless, we must pay close attention to what Origen actually says, and follow carefully the logic of his arguments and the implications of the analogies he draws and the scriptural texts he cites. He does leave hints of his real position while suggesting another to edify the simple or to avert their suspicions. (pp. 163-64)

Hence, regarding the nature of the resurrection, the "secret" meaning is exactly the one Origen clearly advocates: that we switch bodies. Instead, as he says in his homily on Jeremiah, the "simpleton's" meaning is that he gets his old body back--which is false, but Origen seems to have believed it wouldn't hurt the simpleton to believe it. Origen was not alone. Eusebius, for example, appears to have endorsed similar reasoning (see Note 6 in my summary of The Formation of the New Testament Canon). For further discussion of Origen's "two doctrines" approach, see Gunnar Hällström, Fides Simpliciorum according to Origen of Alexandria (1984).

Finally, there are some passages in the so-called Dialogue with Heraclides (§ 5.10-6.5 & § 6.15-7.15) that put some orthodox views in Origen's mouth. But this text has been heavily doctored by later scribes, with an evident aim to make it appear that Origen defended orthodox opinions. It is probably no accident that this text effectively disappeared until it was "republished" in the 6th century, precisely when a new Origenist heresy arose that the Church had to stamp out. Even in general the surviving manuscript and the text it contains is in very bad shape, edited by someone who didn't understand it, with numerous additions and emendations visible. So we cannot trust this text to represent the actual views of Origen, because its authenticity has been compromised. For example, Origen would never have said "they eliminate the salvation of the human body by saying that the body of the savior is spiritual" (§ 7), for regardless of whether it was by transformation or exchange, Origen certainly believed the body of the risen savior was spiritual.

In contrast, the same scribes neglected to tamper with Origen's subsequent discourse on the "two men" (the inner and outer man), which clearly dovetails with his view that we will rise in spiritual bodies. See § 16-28, esp. § 24, where Origen, exhorting us to endure martyrdom, declares, "Therefore let us take up the battle, therefore let us take up the struggle, groaning at being in the body, not as if, once in the tomb, we will be back in the body, but that we will be set free and will exchange our body for something more spiritual, destined as we are to be dissolved and be with Christ." Even if one interprets this as transformation, it still contradicts what the scribes made Origen say earlier, thus demonstrating that the text has been compromised.

As a final point, I shall add some further texts supporting my conclusion. I already cite and paraphrase in the book what Methodius said was actually in Origen's suppressed treatise on the nature of the resurrection, but we can bring this material out in full here (from the Ante-Nicene Library translation, vol. 14, "The Writings of Methodius," pp. 139-73, esp. pp. 153, 163, 167-68, 171):

According to Methodius, Origen said Adam was given "coats of skins" by the Devil, as a metaphor for the body, so that "all that was evil in him might die in the dissolution of the body" (pp. 154-55); Origen then contrasts earthly with heavenly or "angelic" substances, and of the latter Methodius says "of such a nature, and consisting of such things, Origen has shown that the body of man shall be which shall rise, which he also said would be spiritual" (p. 167); "this human form, as according to him useless, shall wholly disappear" (p. 167); "Origen, therefore, thinks that the same flesh will not be restored to the soul, but that the form of each [person], according to the appearance by which the flesh is now distinguished, shall arise stamped upon another, spiritual body, so that everyone will again appear the same in form" (p. 168); and since the body is fluid even in life and never the same body anyway, "it is necessary that the resurrection should be only that of the form" (p. 168); "Origen," Methodius charges, "you maintain that the resurrection of the body changed into a spiritual body is to be expected only in appearance," i.e. without continuity, hence not as a transformation (p. 168); then Methodius goes on at length to argue against Origen that you cannot separate "form" from its "material" as Origen wants, so our flesh must rise, whereas Origen says "the body in which the form was stamped shall be destroyed" and replaced with a "spiritual body" which is not "the original substance, but a certain resemblance of it, fashioned in an ethereal body" and hence "another in place of the first" (pp. 170-71).

Hence my conclusion is that of the wider consensus of scholarship: as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says, Origenism was characterized by the "denial of the identity between the mortal and the resurrection bodies" (s.v. "Origenism," p. 1195). Hence Jerome writes in Against John of Jerusalem that Origen "most openly denies the resurrection of the flesh and the bodily structure...both in his explanation of the first Psalm, and in many other of his treatises" (1.7; see also 1.25-27). And in his 84th epistle Jerome relates his frustrating debates with Origenists about this very point, revealing his disgust with Origenist women asserting feminist ideas of equality in the afterlife on account of the fact that their current bodies will be destroyed and replaced with sexless ones (p. 167).

The formal charges of heresy against Origen also confirm this. For example, in the fifteen anathemas of the Council of Constantinople of 553 A.D., in particular Anathema 10 and 11, it says (emphasis added):

If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after the others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema.
If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial thusis, and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit or nous: let him be anathema.

Although there are severel misunderstandings of Origen's doctrine here, it is clear that the central thread underlying it all is a belief that we get rid of our buried body and don a new one.

 

Q: On p. 138 you note how Paul speaks of the resurrection as getting into a new garment. You argue this means the old garment is destroyed, but couldn't it mean we'll put on a new substance over our existing bodies?

A: No. As I say on page 139, "Paul has already said 'perishability cannot receive imperishability', so it won't receive it by putting on a cloak of imperishability" (see also my remarks on page 138, especially in n. 175, p. 212). In 1 Corinthians Paul describes this process as "death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54) and in 2 Corinthians he says, "what is mortal shall be swallowed up by life" (2 Cor. 5:4), in both cases using the verb katapinô, from kata- (a prefix here denoting complete thoroughness) and -pinô, "to drink," hence "to gulp down, swallow completely" (as noted in n. 180 on p. 213). This means Paul imagined the thing drunk will disappear--it will be consumed to the last drop, leaving none left.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the poetic metaphor that death itself will vanish this way, only implying from the previous context that he means mortal bodies, while in 2 Corinthians he clearly means "the mortal body" will vanish this way. Thus, Paul equates our present bodies as inexorably bound up with death itself (Rom. 7:24, 1 Cor. 15:22; see also Rom. 7:22-23 in the context of what I say about the "inner" and "outer" man motif throughout Paul: pp. 139-40, 149-50, w. n. 179, p. 212, and n. 292, p. 222). All of this is compatible with the idea of transformation by replacement, which could have been imagined as compatible with the disappearance of a body (hence see n. 3, p. 198), but it does not require this, since Paul's discussions here pertain to the end of the world, when all mortal things will be destroyed, which obviously did not apply to the resurrection of Jesus (see p. 138, and my answer to the related question above).

 

Q: How can you say Paul "clearly says, contrary to Luke, that the risen Christ is a spirit" so "Christ's resurrection-body" could not "have had blemishes like wounds" (p. 135), when neither Luke nor John actually say Christ's resurrection body still had wounds?

A: Luke very definitely says the risen Christ was not a spirit (Luke 24:39 and 24:37) while Paul very definitely says he was (1 Cor. 15:45; see also Rom. 1:3-4 and 1 Pet. 3:18). As to the existence of wounds, that is implied by the context: Luke has Jesus answer the suspicion that he was a spirit by saying "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (Luke 24:39). How would looking at a man's hands and feet confirm it was "he himself" rather than someone else, or some deceiving spirit? Wouldn't looking at his face be required instead? Indeed, the law only accepted identifications made from the face, not from hands or feet (see p. 159). However, when we place what Jesus says in the context of Jews who believed in a resurrection of the flesh, then his reason for emphasizing hands and feet becomes clear: the resurrected must rise with their wounds, lest people say it isn't really them (see pp. 114-18). Thus, Jesus must mean they will know it is actually him because they will see the crucifixion wounds on his hands and feet. No other explanation makes as much sense as this.

And this interpretation is corroborated by John, who may have used Luke as a source (p. 155 with n. 256, p. 218), for that is exactly the interpretation John gives to the same story: Jesus confirms to the disciples it is really him by "showing them his hands and his side" (John 20:20), which is telling because John alone reports a wound to his side (John 19:34). This act would not serve to identify Jesus if his wounds were gone--to the contrary, their absence would be problematic, for it would suggest (as noted above) that it wasn't really him, but an imposter. John makes this implication clear, for Thomas says "unless I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25), so Jesus then appears again and says to Thomas, "bring your finger here and look at my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side: and do not be unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27).

How would Thomas become a believer when he just said he would not believe unless he put his fingers and hands into the wounds? Had Jesus shown up with no wounds, by Thomas's own declaration he would not have believed it was him. Thus, the story does not say Thomas was persuaded to give up his request, but rather by the parallelism employed the story implies that Thomas was persuaded because his request was fulfilled. And the fact that Jesus says "bring your hand and put it into my side" certainly indicates that the wound was there, so a hand could be thrust inside it. That this is clearly how John understood the story means this is probably how Luke meant the story to be understood, too. Either way, John definitely claims the risen Jesus appeared with his wounds.

 

Q: You argue that Paul's discussions of the resurrection differ fundamentally from those of Talmudic Jews, but don't the arguments in the Talmud come from a time much later than Paul's?

A: The arguments presented in the Talmud are credited in the Talmud itself to rabbis and contexts of the 1st and early 2nd century (or possibly earlier), and are identical to arguments found in several Christian sources of the 2nd and 3rd century, so it is implausible to suppose they were only thought up after the time of Paul (pp. 114-16, 123-25). They probably represent thinking that goes a long way back. The resurrection was more disputed than ever in the Second Temple period, before the Rabbis had a lock on the Jewish education system, when they had to frequently contend with Saduccees and other sects who disagreed with them (as we clearly see in Mark 12:18-27 and Acts 23:6-10). It is inconceivable that such obvious scriptural, logical, and scientific arguments as we find in the Talmud were not developed then, but only "thought up" centuries later. But even if someone wanted to remain unreasonably skeptical about this, my argument still has force, because these were obvious lines of argument, and Paul was an intelligent, educated man. It seems very improbable that he would not devise any of these arguments himself, nor anything like them, even if no one else had developed them before. It is even more improbable that the arguments he did devise, employ almost exactly the opposite assumptions and analogies.

 

Q: Immediately before your chapter, Robert Price argued that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 was an interpolation and never written by Paul ("Apocryphal Apparitions," pp. 69-104), but you treat the material as authentic. Why?

A: Price doesn't argue that this passage is definitely inauthentic, only that its authenticity is suspect, and therefore no confident argument can be built on it. My argument is either unaffected or becomes stronger if the passage is rejected, therefore if my argument stands even with that passage, then my theory stands a fortiori. Though I do employ the passage as support for some of my arguments, I do not depend on it (e.g. pp. 151, 156, 159, 176, 192, 193, 195; see also: n. 68, p. 204; n. 87, p. 205; n. 111, p. 207; n. 184, p. 213;n. 214, p. 215; n. 248, p. 217; n. 270, p. 220; n. 277, p. 220; n. 352, p. 229).

However, my personal opinion is that the passage is at least partly authentic. I am very suspicious of the added "appearance" tradition to "James, then to all the apostles" in 15:7 (which is obviously gratuitous, corresponds to no known tradition, serves ecclesial interests Paul did not share, strangely assumes Paul did not consider himself one of the apostles, and makes very little sense coming after verse 15:6), I am slightly suspicious of the addition "then to the twelve" in 15:5 (unless the Gospels lied about Judas, there were not twelve but eleven at the time of the resurrection, while Paul shows no awareness anywhere else of there being a "twelve" and otherwise regards all apostles as equal: 1 Cor. 1:12, 3:22, 4:9, 9:1-5, 12:28-29; Gal. 1:17-2:14; Rom 1:1-5; 2 Cor. 11:5, 12:11), and I strongly suspect that verse 15:6 has been altered or corrupted (see my discussion on pp. 192-93). But the remaining material dovetails so nicely with Pauline language and rhetoric, and my interpretation of Paul's theology, that I doubt it is the product of an interpolator.

 

Q: You find parallels between Mark's empty tomb narrative and Orphic mystery narratives, and between Luke's Emmaus narrative and the epiphany of Romulus, but despite the parallels, aren't there still a lot of differences?

A: Of course. But adapted myths acquire meaning precisely because of what is left out and what is kept in, as well as by what is changed. In other words, Mark deliberately left out of his account everything in the Orphic narrative that he rejected, and kept in everything that still had direct parallels with the gospel message. And then he changed details specifically to convey how his message was different from the Orphics (pp. 161-63). The same goes for Luke's transvaluation of the Romulus narrative (pp. 180-82) and so on (like possible allusions to Osiris: p. 159, though note my remarks above). That is the whole point of including such parallels: certain readers would immediately get the parallel (or be taught it in secret initiations) and then they would understand what it is that Mark is really saying. Mythic elements are in that respect just like words: the words are the same and carry the same meaning, but when you select and rearrange them, you say something different. Readers or initiates would see the elements, the symbols, as words with distinct cultural meanings, and would see their careful selection and rearrangement as what was being said with those symbols. For more on this, see the chapter by Evan Fales, "Taming the Tehom" (pp. 307-48).

 

Q: In note 160 on p. 211 you explain how the early Christians believed "that all mortal creation shall be replaced with an immortal one...for only then can God be 'all in all' as promised." What did you mean by that?

A: In 1 Corinthians Paul says after the resurrection everything (including death) will be subjected to Christ and then Christ will be subjected to God, "so then God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). Similarly, in Ephesians Paul says Jesus is "the one who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23). As I explain in section 5.7 (pp. 142-47), Paul appears to have imagined our resurrection bodies as literally being parts of the currently-resurrected body of Christ (just as our current bodies are literally parts of the created body of Adam, hence 1 Cor. 15:21-22), and since Christ is essentially the spiritual substance of God, that means we will be, too. Since nothing will be left in the end except Christ and those Raised in Him, and since Christ and those Raised in Him will literally be God (in the sense of being distinct parts of his one Spirit), nothing will exist in the end except God. Everything will be God and God will be in everything, hence "God will be all in all." It is hard to imagine what else Paul could mean by saying that God will become everything, and not merely that, but everything in everything. Paul does speak of a new creation, something like the present heaven, that will exist in the end, which I suspect he thought will either be created by God after he becomes all in all, or the new creation will be, like our new bodies, literally of God, such that everything that exists in the future world will be a part of God and inhabited by God.

 

Q: You refer to Paul's "infamously low opinion of women, repeatedly insisting that they shut the hell up" (p. 193), citing 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 (n. 373, p. 231), but I was told that in the first passage Paul was only quoting and rebutting his opponents, while in the second passage he was only saying women cannot dominate men. What about that?

A: This is definitely the weirdest question I have ever gotten about this chapter. Of course, even if correct these claims have nothing to do with my theory. But these claims are absurd. This is what the Greek of 1 Corinthians says:

As in all the churches of the holy, let the women keep quiet in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak, and let them be subdued, as the law also says. But if any want to learn, let them ask their own husband at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in a church. Did the word of God come from you, or to you alone? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual man, let him acknowledge that what I write to you is the commandment of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:33-36)

There is no plausible logical or grammatical basis for thinking 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a quotation, or anything Paul is arguing against. It is not a question. To the contrary, this is plainly and beyond all reasonable doubt what he is asserting as instructions to the Corinthians (see the parallel construction: 1 Cor. 14:13, 14:26, 14:27, 14:28, 14:29, 14:30, 14:34, 14:35, 14:37). In fact, he says these instructions are the commandments of God (14:37), and not just his own opinions (in contrast to 1 Cor. 7:12 & 7:25). He repeatedly uses the imperative (and once uses the indicative of permission, but never the subjunctive or optative), and there is no verb putting any of this in indirect discourse. So this passage can never be understood as a quotation. Nor is any argument against his commandment to be found here.

Many translations render verse 14:36 as "What? Did the Word of God come out from you? Or did it come unto you only?" but the word "What" is not in the Greek. I've also seen some exegetes try to interpret the masculine in 14:36 as a rebuke to men in the church, but the masculine was the inclusive case, and thus could include men and women, and there is no indirect statement here to rebuke anyone for. Instead, with 14:36 Paul is leading into verse 14:37. Paul is saying "Do you claim to be an authority? I'm telling you, these are the commandments of God!" In other words, Paul is being very adamant that verses 14:33-35 are (as with everything that came before them) instructions the Corinthians ought to be following. Though some think there is a contradiction here between this and Paul's insistance that women pray and prophesy under a veil in 1 Corinthians 11:5, he does not say there that this was allowed in church. Here, he is adamant: in church, this was not to be tolerated at all.

So, too, 1 Timothy, which says, "Let a woman learn in silence, in total submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:11-12), because Eve led Adam to sin (2:13-15), the implication being that women will lead men to sin if they are allowed to teach or give orders to men, therefore they should shut the hell up and obey their husbands (Col. 3:18, Eph. 5:22-24 & 5:33; echoed by Titus 2:3-5 & 1 Pet. 3:1-6). So while this clearly does say women must not dominate men, it also says they are to sit in silence and never presume to teach anyone anything. In other words, he is saying they should shut up--unless what they have to say is totally submissive to the will of male authorities. Nevertheless, it should be granted that few scholars believe Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy (and a few even suspect 1 Cor. 14:33-36 is an interpolation).

 

Q: Were the Scribes really a distinct religious sect?

A: The notion that the "Scribes" of the Gospels were indeed a distinct sect is not mine. I simply repeat (and cite) the claims of ancient sources who said so (Epiphanius and Pseudo-Clement; Matthew 5:20 seems to suggest the same). If someone disputes that conclusion, their dispute is not with me, but with them (and perhaps modern sources like the Jewish Encyclopedia, which represent the Scribes as having a distinctive set of opinions regarding the interpretation of the law and the Bible). Though I present evidence of at least thirty-six possible Jewish sects in the early first century (pp. 108-09), I nevertheless conclude that "there may be overlap, some groups sharing multiple names" and therefore "at the most conservative we can identify no less than ten clearly distinct sects" (p. 109). Hence I already conceded that many of the sects I list might not have existed as distinct sects. The Scribes may be included in that number, overlapping with some other sect (like the Pharisees), just as the same word can also refer on occasion to a profession rather than a sect. This does not affect any argument I make.

 

Q: Do you really argue that the Assumption of Moses refers to a two-body resurrection?

A: No. I don't use the Assumption of Moses as evidence for the argument I later make (pp. 110-13) but only against the view that a Jew could not conceive of a life separate from their earthly body (p. 107). And though the text does not specifically identify what Joshua saw as two "bodies," as I put it, that is not relevant to my use of this passage (since the point I make stands even if the heavenly Moses was imagined to be somehow bodiless). But no other interpretation is more likely anyway. It was uncommon for anyone in antiquity to imagine a bodiless existence (even souls were more commonly imagined as bodies), so it would be rare for any author or reader to assume a bodiless person was meant in any text unless such a thing were explicitly stated or otherwise made obvious, and here it is not (see my discussion of this point on pp. 111 and 137-38, with 212, n. 169). It was also unusual in antiquity (though not impossible) to imagine that any bodiless thing could be "seen," since seeing requires location and form, and physical interaction between that form and the perceiver, attributes that when combined were usually understood to entail a body (which is required to "have" the form that is seen), especially since the most commonly assumed theory of vision in antiquity held that sight was an invisible ray passing from the eye of the perceiver and striking the object seen (thus causing the object to be seen, just as touching it with a hand causes it to be felt). Popular superstitions, among both Jews and pagans, of the "evil eye" (an ability to infect people just by looking at them) were a related consequence of this common assumption (cf. Rivka Ulmer, The Evil Eye in the Bible and in Rabbinic Literature 1994).

 

Q: Why would Christians have invented the story that women discovered the empty tomb?

A: I already discussed this on pp. 163-65, 190-93, and 221-22 n. 287. But I now address this question more extensively in Did No One Trust Women? (2006).

 

Q: Do you really believe "the Pharisees were the one sect against which the Christian sect was most opposed, and least like" (p. 108)?

A: No. I am guilty of hyperbole here. Christians were even less like Sadducees in certain metaphysical doctrines, for example, though this has no bearing on the point in context (since no one claims Christians adopted Sadduceean metaphysics). The Christians were, however, less like Pharisees than Sadducees in moral and legal doctrines, and were definitely opposed to most Pharisaic laws and morals and the metaphysical details that underpinned them (e.g. an attachment to matters of the flesh, as Paul says in Philippians 3). I would now rephrase the quoted sentence by removing the superlatives, since nothing I argue requires them.

 

Q: Doesn't the repeated use of the word "this" (touto) in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 mean "this body" and therefore the same body?

A: Only if you assume a priori that this is what Paul is saying. But the context suggests otherwise, as does the ease with which Paul could have actually said "this body" (touto sôma) or even "the same body" (auto sôma) and yet strangely chose not to. In fact, the word "body" is nowhere to be found here, nor anywhere in the previous nine verses. I already discussed this point in the original chapter (cf. pp. 138-39, with p. 212 n. 175). Of course touto does not mean "same" (that would be auto, and only in the attributive position) but it is a pointer ("this"). The question is what it points to.

 

Q: Why do you think Paul's Corinthian opponents believed there was no life after death?

A: I already discuss this on p. 125. But to elaborate: if the Corinthian faction believed in the survival of the soul, then they would obviously have believed in salvation (not damnation) of that soul through faith in Jesus Christ, just as they would believe that baptism for the dead serves to save the souls of the dead, yet Paul expressly assumes they could not and did not believe either. In other words, there is no genuinely logical sense in which their "faith" would be in "vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14) if they believed their faith could save their souls, nor any way Paul would think his arguments about baptising the dead (15:29) or enduring trials (15:30) would have any rhetorical force against their position if they believed baptising the dead could save their souls and their trials could be rewarded in a bodiless afterlife. Nor could Paul say they have only "hoped in Christ in this life" (15:19) since he would know they believed there was hope in the next life (as disembodied souls), nor would Paul say against them that "If the dead are not raised" then "tomorrow we die" (15:32) since he would know they don't believe that tomorrow they die (because their souls live on).

Paul clearly knows his opponents believe Christ was raised, and only deny that they themselves will be, and despite the fallacious argument Paul attempts to make to the contrary, denying their own resurrection does not logically entail denial of Christ's (a false premise Paul uses twice: 1 Corinthians 15:13 and 15:16, which is an argument Paul introduces against them, not anything they themselves concluded). So if the Corinthians believed in survival of their souls, when Paul asks why anyone would baptise for the dead, their answer would be "to save their souls," and Paul would know that, and therefore would have no reason to raise a question he knew they already had a good answer for. That would make him look profoundly stupid and out of touch.

Likewise for Paul's own conclusion that if Christ was not raised then "those who have fallen asleep have perished": apollumi means to be completely destroyed, which would never be true if "those who have fallen asleep" still have souls, whether those souls are damned or not. Despite dogmatic claims to the contrary, apollumi does not mean "go to hell" or "be damned," those are interpretations imposed on the text long after the time of Paul (who I now think most likely believed the damned were annihilated, cf. p. 209, n. 138). One must also distinguish (as implied by 1 Corinthians 5:5, cf. p. 150) between saying "the dead" will be destroyed and saying "their corpses," i.e. the flesh of their earthly bodies, will be destroyed: the former entails total obliteration (no participation in the pneuma of Christ), while the latter only entails obliteration of a part of a person (i.e. "the parts on earth" of Colossians 3:5, cf. p. 207 n. 118, the loss of which only those participating in the pneuma of Christ could survive, pp. 144-47).

In short, none of Paul's arguments make any sense, nor would he ever have made them, against a group that believed they would enjoy a bodiless afterlife. Therefore his Corinthian opponents cannot have believed that.

 

Q: How can you claim "Paul does not believe in anything like a soul--only the spirit, which only those in Christ have" (p. 133) when in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 Paul says men have their own spirits distinct from God's?

A: I never said there were no other spirits in Paul's worldview. To the contrary, I immediately followed the above quote with the qualification "or else, only those in Christ have a spirit that is a part of God and hence immortal" (referring ahead to pp. 142-47). Hence I acknowledge that there are other pneumata for Paul, but they were not imperishable. For example, the "spirit of the world" (1 Corinthians 2:12) or "the spirit of bondage" (Romans 8:14) or "the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), but also the spirits of individual men or other beings (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:10-11). But all of these will dissolve along with the world, and thus attaching yourself to these spirits ensured you would dissolve along with them. In Paul's view, only God's spirit is immortal, and therefore there is no other spirit that can survive the death of the body. Hence for Paul there is nothing "like a soul" in the sense of a vessel of identity separable from the body. No such thing figures in any of his letters. Instead, he consistently imagines only two possibilities: life in Christ or death. And death in Paul is always equated with complete destruction (except, of course, for those who survive in Christ).

Thus, since everything perishes with the body, including our individual pneumata, there is no "soul" (in the relevant sense) in Paul's worldview. This can be more readily understood against the background of Paul's time (summarized, for example, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, s.v. "pneuma"). In antiquity the word for spirit, pneuma, was originally and in primary use a material element (from wind and breath to air and gas), employed most broadly as a term for all airs and gases, but often for a specific element more refined than air. In common medical understanding of the day the pneuma was the material that when assembled properly comprises the nervous system and its activity (and which our lungs must inhale from the atmosphere to keep our nervous systems functioning). This pneuma was often expected to dissolve at death just like the rest of a body's parts. In which case even if the material itself was thought to be imperishable, it still could not preserve any form, hence any identity, upon dissolution. Only God's Spirit never dissolves and therefore only that is capable of preserving a person's existence beyond death.

Even the Stoics reasoned this way, and thus by equating man's pneuma with the universal pneuma (the body with which God senses and governs the world, their analog to the Holy Spirit), many could imagine their immortality was already assured. Paul disagreed and insisted you had to take steps (e.g. baptism into a life with Christ) to infuse yourself with the only true divine spirit. Therefore (as Paul repeatedly says throughout his letters) one must join oneself to God's Spirit to survive death (e.g. Romans 8:9-14). Having your own spirit won't do. Because that's just a part of your earthly body, which will all dissolve eventually. Whether Paul was influenced by commonly employed philosophical and medical senses of the word (which would be well known to all educated readers of Greek, even well before the formation of an actual Pneumatist medical sect probably during Paul's lifetime, cf. The Oxford Classical Dictionary, s.v. "Pneumatists"), his discourse throughout his letters leaves little doubt that as far as he understood it, there was no pneuma that could survive death, except the pneuma of Christ.

 

Q: You say "there can be no doubt that the earliest Christians believed the present world would be annihilated" (p. 211 n. 160) but since 2 Peter 3 compares the future conflagration with the great flood, which didn't annihilate the world, might he be using the image of burning only figuratively?

A: The evidence is far lengthier and clearer than that single passage (the cited note lists over fifteen New Testament verses corroborating my conclusion, which should all be read), which only describes more clearly what is said in Hebrews 1:1-10 (as I show on page 136, which should also be read, given that this is what note 160 refers to). In fact, the author of 2 Peter does not compare the final conflagration with the flood, but rather compares the flood with the waters of creation (3:4-6). He then uses this comparison to draw a contrast with the destruction to come (3:7-13), which will be by fire (the opposing element to water) and thus absolute (3:10-12), hence uniquely followed by a "new heavens and a new earth" (3:13).

There is also no plausible way one can maintain that 2 Peter is speaking figuratively, since his language is specific and emphatic: while in the past "the cosmos," i.e. the order of the world, "perished by being drowned with water" (3:6), in the future "the heavens," the actual heavens themselves, "will go away with a whizzing sound, and the elements," the elements themselves, of which everything in the universe is made, "will be dissolved with intense heat" and "the earth and the works in it will be burned up" (3:10), as in consumed by heat (katakaiô, though the manuscripts differ, this is the most credible reading, and the others all mean essentially the same thing), and therefore "all these things will be dissolved" (3:11), and to be sure we get his point, he specifically repeats that "the heavens will be dissolved by burning and the elements will melt from intense heat" (3:12), so it is fortunate (his argument goes) that a new heavens and a new earth will follow (3:13).

I doubt anyone imagined the elements would be melted and dissolved into pure nothingness. Some primordial "stuff" (into which the elements will be melted and dissolved) was probably expected to remain with which to build the new world (as was commonly assumed in Stoic and Platonic eschatology, as shown by David Sedley in Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity 2008), but there can be no doubt the author of 2 Peter expected the world itself (not just the earth but all the heavens as well) to be annihilated by being thoroughly melted and dissolved into its primordial stuff, with all organization and structure (the world as we know it) vanishing at once.

 

Q: Do you really say the vision Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 is the same vision that converted him described in Galatians 1 and Acts 9?

A: No. Not only do I never propose any such thing (in fact I call it "another" vision, not the "same" vision, on pp. 152-53), I actually express doubt (in n. 246 on p. 217) that the vision of 2 Corinthians 12 was even Paul's, since I am skeptical of scholarly assumptions that he is speaking of himself here, when he could just as well be taken at his word when he says he is relating a vision someone else had.

 

Q: Doesn't all the evidence for a Zoroastrian belief in a mass resurrection post-date Christianity?

A: No. Nor would post-Christian evidence of a pre-Christian belief entail such a belief post-dated Christianity. Besides the evidence (from the 4th century B.C.) that I already cite (see pp. 217-18 n. 252), see my more detailed discussion of Zoroastrian Resurrection, as well as my more general argument regarding pagan resurrection beliefs in Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?

 

Q: You say "John claims to derive from an unnamed eyewitness, but only in a section of his Gospel that looks like it was added by a different author" (p. 156), but isn't this eyewitness also identified in John 1:14 and 19:35?

A: Although those passages may derive from the same hand that added chapter 21 (they appear in each case as if out-of-place afterthoughts that oddly interrupt the narrative), and verse 19:35 might imply the same man is meant, neither actually claims any particular witness as a source for the whole Gospel, as John 21:24 does. John 21:24 alone says that a particular witness (whom they name as the "beloved" in 21:20, whom they identify as Lazarus in 11:3-5, who may originally have been the fictional character described in Luke 16:20-31) wrote down all the things he saw, which the authors (yes, plural) of this Gospel then imply they used as their source. The other passages do not say this. To wit:

  • (1) Though John 19:35 says "the one seeing this," i.e. the uniquely reported event of Christ being struck by a spear (which I think is dubious: see What Are the Odds That Jesus Was Speared?) "gave testimony, and his testimony is true, and that man knows that he speaks the truth in order that you may believe" him, it does not say this man wrote anything (not even this sentence) or that he was a source for the rest of the Gospel (since his "testimony" is here reported only for this one peculiar detail) or indeed even a source at all (since the authors do not say how they know he testified or when or where or even who he was), nor is this man identified with the "beloved" of verse 21:24 (even though the "beloved" was supposedly there according to 19:26, yet the witness in 19:35 isn't identified with him). Similarly, a vague reference to an unnamed bunch of people who "bore witness" (John 12:17) hardly counts as a source, either. In any case, one can link 19:35 with 21:24 only by presuming that both refer to the same person (and thus were written by the same author).

  • (2) John 1:14 does not mention a source at all. All it says is that Jesus "dwelled among us and we looked upon his glory," without saying who "we" are, not even that this is the "we" who wrote the Gospel according to John 21:24 (rather than the philosophical "we," i.e. the human race or the historical Christian community), nor mentioning the guy whom they actually claim as their witness in 21:24 (and 19:35, if we assume the same guy is meant, and was again their actual source, neither assumption being provable). So there is no clear reference to any source here, least of all the source identified in John 21:24.

 

Q: Why do you conclude that Mark crafted the empty tomb story to refute Paul's conception of the resurrection?

A: I don't. To the contrary, I argue that Mark may have crafted the empty tomb story to symbolize (and thus support) Paul's conception of the resurrection, and that even if he didn't, he did not craft the story to "prove" a resurrection of the flesh, but merely to represent it (pp. 156-58). Only the Gospels of Luke and John show an interest in "proving" a resurrection of the flesh (by greatly embellishing the story in Mark). Though I believe the use of an "empty tomb" motif probably originated with Mark, this does not mean there were no pre-Markan narratives (symbolic or factual) of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We simply don't know what those early stories were (they were almost certainly oral and probably communicated in secrecy). And though it's possible the "empty tomb" motif originated earlier than Mark's version of it, my arguments for its symbolic function would still then apply.

 

Q: Isn't it contradictory to suggest (as you do throughout pp. 158-65) that Mark developed his empty tomb narrative from both Psalmic and Orphic symbolism?

A: No. Both influences were contemporary for Mark, and combining the most potent Jewish and Pagan ideology and authority is part of his point: he is thus arguing that the Gospel is better than both. He would be appealing to themes familiar to both audiences, and using the combination to produce what is (for Mark) a superior point of view. It was also common to weave several purposes and allusions into a single story (thus the overall function of the theme of "reversal of expectation" is simultaneously served in Mark as well), as I also argue Matthew may have done (pp. 360-64), and as all the greatest myths do.

 

Q: You compare Mark's empty tomb narrative to the salvation instructions on an Orphic burial plate (on pp. 162-63), noting that in both there is a white marker on the right, but don't other such plates say the white marker is on the left?

A: No. Of over a dozen recovered tablets, only one places the wrong spring (marked by the "white cypress") on the left. All the others place it on the right. The archetype (the lost original text from which all extant tablets derive) has been reconstructed by Dr. Janko in "Forgetfulness in the Golden Tablets of Memory," Classical Quarterly 34.1 (1984): 89-100, and he finds that the one variant of a "left-hand" spring is an aberration in the textual tradition, which is otherwise entirely consistent in placing that spring on the right.

And yet even that one aberrant text does not say what direction the seeker is supposed to turn from there to find the correct spring, so that information must have been supplied orally. We have several tablets that specifically imply one looks toward the tree on the right to find the correct spring, and all tablets that mention the choice of springs say the incorrect one is beside the cypress, while the correct one is beyond the cypress. Hence the oral instruction likely given to the deceased (to be consistent with the entire tradition) would have been to go beyond the white cypress to the right. So in the lone case where the wrong spring is found on the left, the white cypress was probably understood to lie to the right of that spring.

As Radcliffe Edmonds writes in his Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the 'Orphic' Gold Plates (2004), here quoting pp. 49-50:

The [white] cypress [which marks the way for the deceased] does not always mark the correct spring in the tablets. The cypress marks the correct spring only in the shorter versions of the B tablets, where there is no choice of springs. In the longer versions, by contrast, the cypress marks the wrong spring, the spring which the deceased will first encounter but which she must carefully avoid.

This is misleadingly stated, as the shorter texts are obvious abbreviations of the longer, and yet do not say the correct spring is beside the white cypress--they only say the cypress is on the right (and they all say that), not where any spring is, or what to do with the information about the tree (as shown by Janko, op. cit.). What initiates were told to do with this information is revealed by the longer texts: go beyond that tree, skipping the nearer pool of water and continuing on to the farther one in the direction of the tree.

So as Edmonds continues:

In the long versions, the deceased has an explicit choice between two springs at which she may quench her thirst. The location of these springs, however, varies from tablet to tablet. In B1, the first [wrong] spring is on the left...while the second...is presumably on the right.

His conclusion thus supports mine above that in the aberrant text the cypress was probably understood as being to the right of the wrong spring and thus marking the path to the correct spring. Which is why all the abbreviated texts explicitly say the cypress is to the right, not the first spring, whose location didn't really matter. An editor could move it to the left if he wanted to, as long as the initiate was told in person where to go from there. Hence as Edmonds points out, though in B1 the first spring can be moved over to the left, "in B2, however, the first spring is...on the right, and the second spring is farther along the road, prossô. The same seems to be true for B10, in which the first spring is [on the right] and the second is prosthen." Edmonds may have made a slight mistake here, as prosthen means "before," not "beyond," so the text must be understood as saying the first is before the second, not the other way around. And I'm sure that's what Edmonds meant, as he agrees both texts say the same thing.

Edmonds thus concludes, "In all cases, however, the first spring is by the [white] cypress and should be avoided, and the second spring is the correct one." He then observes that "many scholars have been bothered by the fact that in B2," etc., "the bad spring is on the right and the good apparently on the left, since the right side is generally associated with the good and the left with the bad," but in none of the tablets is the good spring ever said to be on the left (the only time anything is said to be "on the left," it is the wrong spring, not the correct one). Edmonds goes on to point this out himself (pp. 50-52), arguing (correctly) that the emphasis is on the order of the springs and the direction one must turn to reach the correct one, hence "the deceased should not stop and turn aside to quench her thirst at the first possible opportunity" but "by persevering and waiting until the second spring, the deceased will earn the reward," whereas the uninformed or intemperate will drink right away from the pool next to the white cypress and thus perish (p. 51). But in every case there is an implied crossroads, and everyone was probably told to take the right fork to find salvation, as this is clearly implied by all but one of the surviving texts, and still compatible with that one exception.

Mark's narrative carries the same implication. The boy in white stands beside the wrong spring, i.e. the grave, hence the symbol of death (as the white cypress does in all Orphic tablets, even the one that places the wrong spring itself on the left). Therefore in Mark the tomb (and all it symbolizes, such as that Christ is dead) is the "wrong spring," which one must not drink of. But as in all the Orphic tablets, the message of the white herald (the boy, the tree) standing "to the right" is that one must go beyond that to find the correct spring to drink from (in this case that of Jesus himself, whom one must find by continuing on to Galilee and the realization that he is not dead). Thus, rather than drink from the waters of the grave, one must continue on to drink from the water of life, i.e. Jesus. This exactly parallels all the Orphic tablets in their soteriological meaning.

 

Q: Why do you claim (on p. 163) that the women at the tomb "are told to remember something Jesus said"?

A: In Mark 14:28 Jesus says, "After I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee." Then in Mark 16:7 the white-robed boy tells the women at the empty tomb, "Go tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you into Galilee: there you will see him, as he said to you'." Thus, the women are reminded of something Jesus said (that despite his death, he shall live). Not only explicitly, as Mark 16:7 adds "as he said to you" (an overt act of reminding), and the women are told to recall this to the disciples, but also implicitly, as Mark actually has Jesus say in verse 14:28 what the women (as proxies for the men) are asked to recall. There is also a verbal marker emphasizing the role of memory, as I already explain (i.e. the particular word Mark chose to use for "tomb" in chapter 16, verses 2, 3, 5, and 8, is a word for remembering).

 

Q: Why do you imply (on p. 162) that when "the women enter the tomb" they are entering "the land of the dead" and then say (on p. 163) that "the women are searching for something in the land of the dead: Jesus, the water of life," when a tomb is not synonymous with the land of the dead?

A: Symbols are not synonyms. Tombs and graves always symbolized the land of the dead in ancient metaphor and ideology. Mark is speaking in symbols. Hence if Jesus were dead, he would (in ancient understanding) literally be in the land of the dead--as well as, at the same time, in his grave. Thus the absence of Jesus from his grave symbolizes the absence of Jesus from the land of the dead. Likewise, stepping into a tomb symbolizes stepping into the land of the dead. In the Orphic salvation narrative one had to make a journey to a special well in the land of the dead and drink from it a water that would save you, by helping you remember what you must to be saved. Mark uses symbols and allusions to construct his own version of the same narrative, with his visitants symbolically making a journey to (Jacob's) well in the land of the dead (Jesus' tomb) to drink a special water (Jesus, the water of life) that would save them, if they remember what they must to be saved (that Jesus lives: see previous question). Mark thus also constructs his own version of the Orphic motif of a white marker (in his case a boy robed in white) on the right-hand side within the tomb (hence, symbolically, within the land of the dead), instructing the visitants to go beyond that point (both physically and cognitively) to their salvation (all as I explain on pp. 162-63).

Any one of these elements could be a coincidence, but all of them together, in another salvation narrative, is very unlikely unless this is a deliberate emulation (and transvaluation) of the Orphic salvation narrative. Alternative explanations are far weaker. For example:

  • Though the color white was a typical motif of divine beings, Mark nowhere says this is a divine being. Only later authors change the boy into such. To the contrary, Mark clearly implies this is the same youth (neaniskos) also anonymously and mysteriously mentioned in relation to another garment, as Jesus was being lead to his death (the word neaniskos is used only twice in Mark: in the tomb at 16:5 and here at the arrest in 14:51). As I suggest (on p. 157) this could well symbolize the exchange of bodies (represented by an exchange of garments), and thus represent resurrection, but that reinforces the very point Mark wanted to make by transvaluing the Orphic salvation story: it presents the salvation that Mark's Gospel is offering as superior to the Orphic.

  • Likewise, the mention of the boy being "on the right" is peculiar enough to indicate a symbolic intent. There is no particular reason why the boy in the tomb should be on the right or the left, or in the middle or the back, or for any such detail to be mentioned at all. Yet it can't be explained, for example, as an allusion to Jesus sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 12:36, 14:62, then, though added by a later author, 16:19), since this boy is not Jesus (Mark implies no such connection, and even implies the contrary if he is alluding to a passage in Ecclesiastes), and he would not be sitting at the right hand of God if he was to the right of the women as they entered the tomb (unless God was understood as facing away from the women, which would be so odd a thing to assume it would have to be stated). Nor can this be any allusion to other uses of dexioi by Mark (10:37, 10:40, 15:27), which all involve mention of both right and left (with nothing in particular said about the right) and have no connection with the occasion in the tomb (not even grammatically: in all his other uses of dexioi Mark employs the construction ek dexiôn but only here, in the tomb, he employs the very different construction en tois dexiois). In contrast, in context (i.e. with all the other details considered together, as re-summarized above and elaborated on pp. 162-63) we have a much more evident connection with the Orphic use of a marker "to the right" in the land of the dead (see earlier question).

 

Q: Why do you think Mark 16 is alluding to Ecclesiastes 4:15?

A: This is only a minor possibility among many I suggest (on p. 161 and p. 221 n. 186). The function of such minor allusions is to evoke the original passage so that the reader (or instructed initiate) who recognizes how the passages are linked will derive from that connection a deeper (or even hidden) meaning from both texts. In Mark 16:1-8 the women journey beneath the sun (16:2) to anoint their king (16:1), but find a young man in his place (16:5), and as a result they fail to rejoice (16:8). In Ecclesiastes 4:15, all who live walk under the sun with a young man who stands in place of the king, a king who was born poor and entered into his kingdom from a dwelling that was a prison (oikou tôn desmiôn: 4:14), but the last (and also least) people in the story (the eschatoi) failed to rejoice (4:16).

The point is not that the passages are in every respect identical (texts Christians took as presaging Jesus rarely were), but that a secret meaning can be extracted from those respects in which they are relevantly the same. And here the reader who is informed of the connection will see that Ecclesiastes 4:14 is a bizarre and puzzling text in its context (e.g. 4:1-12), but if one "sees" that it secretly presages the Gospel, then it becomes clear what the message is (perhaps one of the messages hidden there by God, per Romans 16:25-26): those who follow the words of the youth who stands in place of the king (a king born into poverty, thus distinguishing this king as Jesus) shall have life (by being included among "the living"), while those who fail to recognize this fact will have no cause to rejoice. The key is the reference to those walking under the sun (the people, the women; hence the reader, hence us) seeing a youth (neaniskos) in the place where we expect a king (a king born poor), who (following Ecclesiastes 4:13) imparts wisdom (the wisdom of eternal life) rather than the foolishness imparted by earthly kings who cling instead to a mortal life in this world (by growing old). Indeed, in both texts the king has ascended to his kingdom from a dwelling that is a prison, confirming the deeper message intended by Mark that Jesus has left the prison of his body (or tomb) to enter his kingdom (pp. 161-63), in which all who follow shall live.

This is the least certain of the allusions I cite as intentional, and yet its pertinence and remarkably convenient interpretability seems a bit too improbable to be accidental. But even if you fail to be convinced, nothing I argue depends upon it.

 

Q: Isn't it contradictory to argue for your theory when you believe Jesus didn't really exist after all?

A: Not really. I already note that my "spiritual body" theory can be formulated consistently with the theory that Jesus never existed on earth (p. 106). Certain minor changes are needed that don't affect my argument--or that even make it stronger. For example, instead of the corpse of Jesus being the "problem" for the Corinthian faction (pp. 120-26), his completely celestial existence would pose an even greater problem for understanding how we would be "raised" like him, since we aren't heavenly beings like he is. Paul's response then makes even more sense.

It's also more likely that visions would launch a belief that a Savior underwent incarnation, death, and resurrection all in heaven, since there would then be no disjoint at all between this revelation and any human man the first believers were acquainted with, while the notion of such heavenly intermediaries was already popular among many Jews. Though the context of grief-induced hallucination would then not apply, I discuss several other possible causes and contexts besides that, so those would take center stage (pp. 186-87). In fact, the most fundamental difference for my theory, if Jesus didn't exist, is that inspiration from scripture would have preceded and inspired the initial "revelation" to Peter, and Peter's experience and charisma would then have been the primary instigator for subsequent visions by others.

This is because the only plausible theory for the non-historicity of Jesus holds that the entire Gospel can be read out of scripture (as indeed I believe it can), and someone who fanatically fasted and prayed and meditated and searched the scriptures for some solution to the major social evils of their day would be in a prime position to have such a revelation. As to the innate genius of Christian theology as a social solution to the major ills of that time and place, see Richard Carrier, "Whence Christianity? A Meta-Theory for the Origins of Christianity," Journal of Higher Criticism 11.1 (Spring 2005), which I already cite on page 186 (n. 346, p. 228).

Of course, when I wrote my chapters for The Empty Tomb I was not yet convinced of the theory that Jesus was originally a mythical being. Though by then I thought this was somewhat more probable than not, I considered the evidence insufficient to warrant a conclusion, as I explain in Richard Carrier, Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002). Only late in 2005 did my continued research lead me to conclude that it was very probable Jesus never actually existed as a historical person, which has changed my perspective considerably. See my further remarks on this above. I am also currently writing a book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ that will outline (among other things) the reasons for my present belief.