Response to Pitts on the Resurrection Body

It’s been a really long time since I’ve bothered with the literature in resurrection apologetics. It mostly just bores me now. Nothing new has ever arisen since my best summary treatment in The Christian Delusion. But there is now something new and interesting, published just this year: Andrew Pitts, “Paul’s Concept of the Resurrection Body in 1 Corinthians 15:35–58,” in Paul and Gnosis (ed. Stanley Porter & David Yoon 2016; pp. 44-58). Pitts directly cites my work on the two-body theory of resurrection and attempts to rebut it. (That’s the theory I fully articulate and defend in my chapter on the resurrection body in The Empty Tomb, still to this day the only thorough treatment; supplemented by my FAQ and a subsequent debate.) However, this is not new and interesting because it’s worth reading. It’s actually dishonest garbage. What makes it new and interesting is that that’s all Pitts has to challenge my work with: dishonest garbage. After more than ten years. That’s all they have. I call victory.

Now, of course, as I discuss in my response to Stephen Davis, though I think the evidence indicates it’s most likely what the original beliefs were, it is not necessary to believe this body-switch theology explains the first Christians’ belief in the resurrection, in order to disbelieve the resurrection altogether. That’s just one of a dozen things that could have happened (and indeed in TET I even defend two more of those alternatives; Price aptly defends a whole other category of alternatives in The End of Christianity), any one of which is more likely than a miraculous intervention against the laws of physics and biology (see my talk on Miracles & Historical Method on that point), and all of them together amount to an even far greater probability—that is, the probability that it is one of those things, is vastly greater than the probability that it was not. Therefore, we have no rational ground for believing the resurrection occurred. The evidence is inadequate; and actually, substantially argues against it. Frankly, it’s silly we are even having to debate it. It’s no more credible than the aliens having built the pyramids.

But the present question I’ll be discussing is not whether the resurrection happened (that really ought to be a dead subject by now), but the historical question of what the first Christians believed about the resurrection of Jesus. Regardless of whether it was true. My contention in the chapter Pitts is responding to is that the original Christians did not believe Jesus rose from the dead in the same body that died, but that he jumped to a new, superior body, and left the old one in its grave, a discarded shell. Such a belief, of course, requires no empty tomb. In fact, it presumes there was no empty tomb. The corpse was still there. But Jesus wasn’t in that body anymore. He was restored to life in a new one. With which he now resides in heaven and communicates to us from there, in dreams and visions. In TET I extensively demonstrate how the evidence actually points to this being what the first Christians did originally believe; and even at worst, it establishes that it’s likely enough that they did, that we can’t be certain they didn’t.

What is Pitts’s case against this conclusion?

Parade of Lies & Non Sequiturs

That this is Christian apologetics and not serious, honest scholarship is indicated right out of the gate with Pitts’s first four pages (pp. 44-47), where he immediately confuses my second body theory with an “immaterial” body theory, even though my chapter he is responding to explicitly says not to do that, and includes many pages on the point (pp. 137-38, 143-46; also n. 169, p. 212: “to call a soul ‘bodiless’ or ‘incorporeal’ usually did not mean immaterial or non-physical”; and n. 211, p. 215: “hence I agree with Robert Gundry” on the second body being material; likewise p. 146, “I agree with Conzelmann” that Paul can’t even conceive of bodiless life). I argue in that chapter that Paul always means a physical body when he refers to a spiritual body replacing our mortal one. So I am not arguing for an incorporeal resurrection.

Pitts also says I “oddly” present my view as novel when in fact many scholars before me had advanced it, when what’s actually odd is that he’d claim this knowing that in the very chapter he is talking about, I mention other scholars as having advanced the theory before me! I even wrote (on p. 137) that “Dale Martin imagines something similar: the flesh ‘drops off’ leaving the ‘spirit’ underneath to rise into life, as a new material body (p. 128-29)” (Martin in turn cites more of the previous scholarship; but I also cite Peter Lampe, Adela Collins, and Gregory Riley; I gave a fuller list of the most recent scholars on the same side, including C.F. Moule, in my FAQ, as well as several publishing after me.) It’s funny to see a Christian apologist try to turn the evidence of many diverse concurring experts as somehow a negative for my thesis. Rather than just admitting it’s actually a plus.

So we’re not off to a good start.

Pitts then essentially lies, claiming my defense of a two-body resurrection doctrine within early Judaism is mostly based on the Talmud, with only a “brief treatment” of Philo and Josephus. Hm. Let’s count pages, shall we? Section 3, “The Two Body Doctrine in Philo and Josephus,” occupies 4 whole pages of dense footnoted text and quotations (pp. 110-13). The Talmud (in “Paul and the Pharisees”) gets only three (pp. 114-16), the rest being a discussion of Paul (pp. 116-18). Later Christians (importantly Origen and apocrypha) get almost nine (pp. 123-25, 137, 143-45). And not only do I have the evidence of 1 Corinthians 15, I also show the conclusion follows with even more clarity and force from 2 Corinthians 5 (pp. 139-43). Which Pitts ignores. Completely!

So much for honesty. And golly what a fallacy! Four pages of first century Jewish authors is too “brief” to count as evidence of first century Jewish views; and on top of that, we shall just arbitrarily assume that the Talmud reflects a radical departure from early Judaism so we can ignore all its evidence (even though it refutes the claim that Jews never thought such things, and there is no evidence they thought differently at any relevant prior time). Anyone arguing this way is in ideology-land, and no longer acting the honest scholar.

Pitts also characterizes me as arguing Paul was arguing with the authors of the Talmud, when in fact I was demonstrating that his thinking is simply contrary to theirs—whether he knew their arguments or not is irrelevant, he still is not arguing as they did, but exactly the opposite as they would. Which carries my conclusion. So even if you pretend to have the magical knowledge that none of those Rabbinical arguments existed in Paul’s day (an assumption that actually undermines Pitts’s need to insist they were; since the notion that Jews were adamant about the resurrection of the flesh largely also comes from the Talmud), my conclusion still follows, and with force. It’s dishonest of Pitts to mischaracterize the actual argument I made and its import, and instead try to claim I was arguing anachronistically. (He also misuses the scholarship on this point; neither Sandmel nor Neusner would agree with Pitts that none of the Talmudic Rabbinical beliefs and arguments about resurrection doctrine existed in Paul’s time.)

Pitts lies again, and even more egregiously, when he says I don’t treat “Greco-Roman sources” but that my “study remains entirely restricted to (for the most part, late) Judaism.” 100% bullshit. I cite and discuss evidence from Lucian, Plutarch, Plato, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, and others. I also, incidentally, discuss early Christian authors, including Tertullian, Athenagoras, Justin, and Origen, a fact of which Pitts makes no mention. Ever. And again, he is dismissing the evidence of Philo, Josephus, and the Wisdom of Solomon. The dirtiest pool being played here, of which Pitts should be ashamed, is that usually apologists attack us for relying on pagan sources, by insisting only Jewish sources count; now, Pitts is somehow reversing tack and insisting pagan sources count, not Jewish ones! Well, it’s a lie. They both count. And I treat both.

I’ve also written more extensively on the pagan resurrection concept in subsequent work (Chapter 3 of Not the Impossible Faith, published in 2009; and Chapter 5, Element 31 in On the Historicity of Jesus, published in 2014).

Building on That Bullshit

In the film The Big Short (which is fantastic, BTW), Mark Baum (played by Steve Carell) describes the “Collateralized Debt Obligation” that tanked the world economy in 2008 as “dogshit wrapped in catshit” (and sold as golden). That’s basically also a description of Pitts’s fabricated rebuttal to my chapter on the spiritual body in TET. Once he sets up the false claim that I was writing about an “immaterial” body, he balks at the notion that Paul or anyone else I cite was talking about an immaterial body. Even though I repeatedly say everyone was talking about a material body.

Ironically, Pitts briefly admits I’m right that Philo, a Jewish contemporary of Paul with considerably similar ideas, believed resurrection involved exchanging bodies (p. 48), and thus meant abandoning, not rising in, the old mortal body of flesh. Thus, Pitts admits that this theory was Jewish and prominent at that very time (so much for my supposedly relying entirely on the “late” Talmud). But he insists Paul thought differently. Even though I show he thought pretty much exactly the same. Pitts gives to evidence to the contrary.

When it comes to Josephus, another near contemporary of Paul’s who actually says the Pharisees (and himself among them) believed in a body exchange theory (so once again, so much for my supposedly relying entirely on the “late” Talmud), Pitts engages in “non sequitorial” gainsaying. He wants Josephus to mean that when we rise we get “other” bodies, that the old body is transformed; but if that’s what Josephus meant, that’s what he would say: that the Pharisees believe their bodies will rise again and be transformed. Because when any Pharisees did eventually say that (in the Talmud), that’s what they said! Likewise early Christians who shared that view: they, too, said exactly the opposite of what Josephus said. Instead, unlike everyone else who believes what Pitts wants Josephus to have believed, Josephus says they get new bodies, which are “other” bodies, not the same ones—“other” being literally the antonym of “same.” A common trope in Christian apologetics is wanting words to mean the exact opposite of what they mean, because the truth of what they actually mean is doctrinally inconvenient. Well, here you go.

Pitts then accuses me of an etymological fallacy when I report what the words Josephus uses actually meant in Greek! Uh, no. That’s called translation. When Josephus adds to that peculiar language choice (saying “other” bodies instead of the “same” bodies) yet another peculiar language choice, going out of his way to choose a Greek word to describe this Pharisaic resurrection belief that peculiarly means relocating (antenoikizô), we should regard him as having done so on purpose. That’s how language works. That’s a fundamental rule of how any author should be interpreted. He chose that word, which is a very odd word to choose, not the word one would ever expect him to choose, because it has a peculiar meaning. So the fallacy would be to assume he didn’t mean to choose that word for that reason. Josephus could have just said what everyone else said in Greek when they meant bodies will rise again and be transformed (as I show with later Christian authors, for example). Josephus peculiarly didn’t, but chose multiple words of exactly the opposite import.

Likewise, that Josephus says the new bodies would be pristine, unsoiled. When added on top of all the rest, he cannot logically mean the old soiled bodies would be purified, because again if that’s what he meant, that’s what he would have said. No. To the contrary, he says these “other” bodies we will be “relocated” into are pristine, unsoiled—meaning brand new, never having been used for foul purposes. That means a new body. Not the same one. It strains against all logic, reason, and linguistic and literary principle to conclude otherwise.

And I notice Pitts can’t even think of a way to bullshit passed the fact that Josephus says the Pharisees believed they would “cross over” into these other bodies (metabainein, TET, p. 112), because there is no way to spin that as transformation. So Pitts just quietly forgets to mention that—hoping, evidently, that no one will actually read my chapter and thus discover the trick he just pulled on them. That’s not just spinning bullshit; that’s dishonesty.

Thus we see: Trying to deny what Josephus obviously meant is typical Christian apologetics. Typical bullshit. Or dogshit wrapped in catshit, if you prefer.

Shoveling That Bullshit

Now, almost halfway through his paper, Pitts finally gets to analyzing what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 (p. 50). (He never gets to analyzing what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5.)

The funniest thing that happens here is that Pitts immediately throws standard Christian apologetic strategies under the bus when he tries to rebut my point that had there been eyewitness stories regarding what nature of body the risen Jesus had, not only would the Corinthians not be confused about it because they’d already know the answer to their own question, but also Paul would cite those testimonies for the evidence and authority they afford for establishing his point. Thus that he didn’t, proves no such stories existed.

Just as when Pitts throws the apologetic argument “pagan sources don’t matter” under the bus by insisting they do, and just as when he throws the apologetic argument “no experts agree with you” under the bus by criticizing me (falsely) for not mentioning that several prominent experts agree with me, so also Pitts insists the Corinthians (and Paul??) can’t have known any useful details about the resurrection appearance testimonies because those testimonies were either never taught to the Corinthians (!) or would have been distorted in transmission already and therefore useless (p. 51; uh…so, how then can we say the Gospel authors had accurate accounts? ”Bueller? Bueller?”).

Well, okay then. Thanks for making our arguments for us!

Pitts then repeats the fallacy of saying he magically knows that the Talmudic arguments for body continuity and transformation in resurrection were never in existence in Paul’s time (even though very similar versions of them were known to and used by the earliest Christian apologists, already in the second century, a fact I detail and which Pitts wholly fails to mention), therefore Paul can’t have used them. This is a triple fallacy. It’s not only a fallacy of magical knowledge. It’s not only a fallacy of ignoring contrary evidence (in Josephus and the second century church fathers, and even several examples in the literature of the period Pitts himself cites! On p. 50; and which I also cited, incidentally, e.g. Ezekiel 37, cf. TET, pp. 117 & 203-04, nn. 61-62, which Pitts helpfully shows was interpreted literally before the Christian Era, in 4Q385; and which was surely known to Paul, yet conspicuously not used). It’s also a straightforward non sequitur. Even if no Pharisee or Jew ever used any of the arguments we find being used to defend continuity resurrection in the Talmud, it still follows that the Talmud shows us how a Jew who wanted to argue for continuity resurrection would argue: because people tend to choose the best and most obvious arguments for their position. Thus, if Paul wanted to argue that, we should expect to see him using many of the same or similar arguments, even if he were inventing them for the purpose.

How do we know that? Because that’s exactly with the church fathers did! You can’t avoid the fact that they used many similar arguments, so either (a) those Rabbinical arguments were known at the time (contrary to Pitts’s insistence on magical knowledge that they weren’t) or (b) that’s exactly how anyone would ever have argued for continuity resurrection even if they were inventing the arguments anew (as the match between the arguments of the Talmud and the church fathers would then prove). So the fact that Paul chose exactly the opposite arguments, and no arguments at all similar, is strong evidence he did not intend, and thus was not arguing for, body continuity, but the opposite: body exchange. The evidence I adduce beyond that is just a clincher (Paul’s exact wording, here and elsewhere, and even his literally telling us our resurrection bodies are already built and waiting for us in heaven! Yep. That’s in 2 Corinthians 5. Which Pitts smartly pretends doesn’t exist.)

Fancy Words Do Not Make You a Grammar Expert

Pitts then makes some amateur errors in grammar while claiming to correct mine. He amusingly says “this” (touto) is a “pronoun, not an adjective,” when in fact it is an adjective (Pitts might want to take some basic level advice and learn how to use Perseus). Like all adjectives, it can be used in the place of a noun (becoming a demonstrative pronoun); but it is not simply a pronoun, nor is it not an adjective. He also mistakenly says an indirect object in the genitive in a previous sentence cannot be the intended subject in the nominative in a following sentence. He also fabricates a distinction that doesn’t exist in my chapter, between the subject noun and noun-adjective “word group.” The adjective modifies the subject. But the subject is still the noun, not the adjective. And so on. This is not a competent grammarian.

So it’s no surprise that Pitts uses paragraphs full of fancy but irrelevant jargon to try and claim that the actual subject of the verbs “sewn” and “raised” in Paul’s poetic parallelism for “body x is sewn, body y is raised” is (drum roll) “resurrection” (p. 53). Holy fuck. As grammar fails go, that’s just magnificent. “The resurrection is sewn, and the resurrection is raised”? Uh, no. That’s nonsense. There is no way in all the chambers of Hades that Paul would mean or any Greek would read “resurrection” as the subject of this sentence.

The only possible subjects are the people he is talking about (the dead, per 1 Cor. 15:35, which 1 Cor. 15:42 is referencing, the genitive nekrôn in the latter directly referencing and thus picking up the nominative nekroi in the former, and the obvious subject for the “answer” to the question about the dead in v. 35, which is answered in vv. 42-44) or the bodies he is talking about (the subjects of Greek sentences often coming at the end of a sentence, which is exactly where they appear here: the actual word “body” is repeated twice, in the nominative, referencing two different bodies as thus two different subjects, in v. 44a, and distinguishing them from each other with different adjectives). Either way, whichever of those two subjects was meant, there is no transformation being described here. What Paul is saying is that a supernatural body rises (vv. 38, 42), after a natural body is sewn and perishes (vv. 36, 42). Thus, the one literally “is not” the other (vv. 37-38). Paul is very clear on this point.

Pitts then repeats the lie that I am talking about an immaterial resurrection body. Which, being false, as I already noted, is a straw man fallacy and thus fails to rebut anything I actually argue in my chapter.

But at least Pitts then admits the peculiar verb Paul uses of the resurrection, alassô, commonly meant exchange rather than transformation (p. 54), and indeed seems only to mean transformation when it refers to transformation by exchange (even in the OT and NT, as I extensively show), which is a problem for Pitts. He needs it to not mean exchange. So he has to dance a verbal jig that will cast a magical spell that will change what words mean, to get the result he desperately wants. He even does a typical Christian apologetic move: cite another apologist making a false statement about a text as evidence the statement is true. He quotes Jung Hoon Kim saying that 2 Enoch 22:8 uses clothing imagery to describe transformation of the body, when in fact that text nowhere says it is talking about transformation. It very explicitly is describing body exchange! Thus, Kim is just introducing his own modern doctrinal assumptions in reading the text; the text itself offers no support whatever for those assumptions. Pitts thus uses Kim’s folly as a defense of his own. Yikes.

This is the kind of garbage that passes for peer reviewed scholarship in Christian apologetics.

An example of Pitts doing the same foolish thing Kim did is when Pitts claims Galatians 4:20 uses alassô in the sense of transform rather than exchange. Uh, no. As I note in TET (a fact he never mentions: p. 211, n. 158), that passage is talking about “exchanging one mood for another.” Moods do not “change into” each other; one goes away, and another arises to replace it. We can colloquialize that as moods changing, but metaphysically, it’s exchange, not change. The only reason Paul can use the word there for “exchange” and not any of the words Greek has for “change” is that he can perfectly well say we should trade one mood for another. That’s what the Greek says. Paul conspicuously did not choose a word that meant “change one mood into another” or even just “change your mood”—he could have, but had he done, the verse would no longer be relevant to the meaning of the word alassô, because that word would then not be there. Pitts is thus reading the English, and importing his own assumptions into its significance, and not realizing that’s not what the Greek says, nor the assumptions Paul was using when he chose to use that peculiar word there.

Notably, Pitts dances a mighty jig over this for two pages, yet never once finds or presents a single instance of alassô ever being used to mean change instead of exchange. In the whole of Greek literature. Much less the NT or OT. Yet he insists it must mean that when Paul uses it here. That’s Christian apologetics for you.

To cap it all off, he tries to argue Paul only means the living will alassô, “undergo an exchange,” not the dead, who will simply “be raised” (p. 58). But in fact Paul says (in 1 Cor. 15:51) that though we will not all be dead at the time (not all of us “will be put to sleep”), we will all undergo the exchange. Thus he clearly means everyone, living and dead.

Pitts then closes with an argument that the passive “exchanged” seems not to fit what Paul means (“we” aren’t “exchanged” for other people, for example), but here Pitts is amateurishly assuming that grammatical peculiarities in English transfer to Greek. Just because we have an idiom “put to sleep” to articulate the otherwise bizarre passive “to be sleeped” (which doesn’t exist in English, but does in Greek, as in this very same verse: koimêthêsometha, first person plural future indicative passive, the exact same conjugation Paul uses for alassô: allagêsometha; indicating he intended the parallel), so also the English passive “to be exchanged” does not correspond exactly to the Greek passive, which includes the connotation “undergo an exchange,” just like sleep in the passive in Greek includes the connotation “be put to sleep” or “be subjected to sleep” or in fact, just as with allassô, “undergo sleep,” whereas the English does not—and thus English has to use a pleonastic construction to get the same meaning, adding the words “put to,” just like adding the word “undergo.” The Greek already has these meanings, and thus requires no such construction. That it is needed in English here is a peculiarity of English. Pitts evidently doesn’t know this.

Conclusion

Pitts is dishonest, resorts to repeated fallacies that are standard apologetic tropes that commonly distinguish apologetics as pseudo-scholarship, and omits evidence (indeed he ignores almost all of my evidence and arguments), and thereby straw man’s my entire chapter—which as already written, already refutes his entire argument. But for anyone who might be confused by his obscure verbal jig dancing, I’ve written this article to point out where, on the paltry few things in my chapter he does address, he is totally wrong; and how nothing he says actually logically applies to the actual arguments and evidence of my chapter supporting the conclusion that the earliest Christians did not believe in a resurrection of the flesh, but that resurrection was achieved by abandoning that body and jumping into a new and better one. The evidence I present for which is far more extensive than Pitts allows you to know. Just see for yourself.

 

2 comments

  1. Giuseppe Ferri October 14, 2016, 12:48 pm

    It mostly just bores me now.

    I agree. But I would like to consider a prima facie similarity between your modern anti-apologetical arguments and Porphyry’s case against Christianity (as expressed in his survived fragments). In short, I see the same logic at work:

    1) if read literally (=that Jesus is really a man), then the Gospel episodes sound false.
    2) It is a pure and simple fact that Jesus is a mere man.
    3) Therefore the Gospels are probably false.

    It is curious that Eusebius (the real author of the Testimonium Flavianum in reaction to Porphyry’s polemical attacks, according to Ken Olson’s “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum”) accepted basically the correct logic of Porphyry, but he denies paradoxically his conclusion, by making a clear logical error :

    1) if read literally (=that the Son of God is really a man), then the Gospel episodes sound false.
    2) It is a pure and simple fact that the Jesus is a man.
    3) Even so, the Gospels are true.

    Remember the incipit of the Testimonium, showing doubt about the presumed humanity of Jesus:

    About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.

    Why was the Pagan Porphyry apparently more historicist than the Christian historicist Eusebius?

    Is not there the concrete possibility that the people didn’t call Christ ”a man”, but only ”a deus” ?

    I think that the ancient anti-Christian polemists, just as you are when you have argued against banal Christian apologists about resurrection et similia, had need of assuming a historical Jesus in order to make their arguments. In other terms, this would prove that the Pagans had clear interest, also them, to euhemerize the mythical Christ, to deny that Jesus is a DEUS (because the only way to ransom the truth of the Gospels is to read them allegorically as allegories of a mythical hidden truth, not true history, something that Porphyry was reluctant to do, because otherwise he would have legitimated the Christ’s cult). Evidently the people called Christ a ”deus” (see Pliny) and not a man, contrary to Eusebius. And if Pliny was skeptical about the real deity of Jesus (as some people want to interpret Pliny’s words ”quasi deo”), was so because already Pliny was going to euhemerize Jesus independently from what he listened about Christ by Christians themselves?

    Curious to know your opinion about.

    Reply
    1. There is still no evidence that they did that, or that it altered Christians’ own beliefs accordingly. Pliny never even says Jesus was a historical person. And the first time pagans mention it, they are responding to the Gospels, which are Christian documents. (Refs. in Josephus and Tacitus being evident Christian forgeries.)

      So, we can’t get anywhere with this. Speculation in, speculation out.

      Meanwhile, Porphyry is arguing a fortiori. He has and claims no special knowledge of what happened in the first century.

      Reply

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