Friday, October 13, 2006

Pharisees and the Resurrection

"It is the Pharisees who present us with a paradox. The Sadducees needed no notion of the afterlife. The millenialists needed a strong notion of resurrection, which gives justice to those who suffer and heavenly transformation to some of those who fall as martyrs. The Pharisees had religious beliefs which are harder to understand if set parallel to their social position." (Alan Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, p 379)
In a previous post we saw that Sadducees had paradise on earth, millenials just the opposite, while intellectual elites just wanted their ideas to live forever. These beliefs arose naturally out of a respective social class. But the Pharisees, at first glance, are a puzzle. Why did legal experts who sometimes shared the reins of government believe in something that was characteristic of revolutionary sectarians? Segal's answer is that they actually didn't, or at least not to the extent we've been led to believe:
"The Pharisees do not tie themselves down to the specificity of the millenarian position. They pick a term [resurrection] and a pastoral vision of the end [kingdom of God] that is deliberately ambiguous. Like Paul, resurrection of the body might not mean the fleshy body, at least in its corpselike form, but the metamorphosis of the corporeal body into a heavenly and spiritual body -- like the angels, a sexually resolved and completed body." (p 608)
As an ex-Pharisee Paul is one of our best sources on this point, and in Segal's view he bridged Jewish apocalypticism with pagan spirituality -- unlike the gospel writers who were apocalyptic to the core (p 439). This is what Segal says about I Cor 15:44, "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body":
"The physical body is the ordinary body (flesh and soul); the spiritual body -- soma pneumatikon -- is the ordinary body subsumed and transformed by the spirit... Instead of leaving the body entirely behind as in the case of the Greek soul, the body of glory or pneumatic body is the natural body augmented. It becomes properly androgynous, an added spiritual nature, as it was when God created it in Genesis. It regains its divine likeness, its angelic completeness, the primal combination of maleness and femaleness that is lost at the beginning." (pp 430-431)
Segal wisely eschews the two-body hypothesis advocated by Richard Carrier, as if the resurrected body is to be completely distinguished from the old, as if the biological body and the spiritual body are wholly antithetical. That's just wrong, as I explained in my review of Robert Price’s The Empty Tomb. Paul's metaphor of a seed sprouting (I Cor 15:38ff) obviously supports the idea of an old body transforming into a new one. And if Paul said that "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 15:50), he also went on to say that the very same flesh and blood must "put on imperishability" (I Cor 15:53) so that it finally can.

But Segal also insists that for Paul the old body is so transformed that there's not much physical and fleshy about it anymore:
"The [gospel] notion of resurrection is deeply affected by contrasts with Paul. Even the plain description of the events in Jesus' life came out altered from Paul's description. What Paul described in visionary terms, the evangelists describe literally. It is as if Paul represents the mystical dimension of Christian experience while the gospels represent the apocalyptic dimension. In flat contradiction to Paul, the gospels (when they discuss the process of resurrection at all) strongly assert a physical, fleshy notion of Jesus' bodily resurrection." (p 442)
Segal overplays this contrast a bit (Paul, after all, was apocalyptic as much as he was mystical), but I think his essential point is valid. The apostle is uncomfortable with fleshy aspects of the resurrection, even while insisting on continuity between the old body and the new. He minimizes the role of flesh and blood in the new body, underscoring the heavenly transformation it has undergone.

It turns out that the rabbis -- our post-70 Pharisees -- take the same view as Paul. The rabbinic view of the resurrection is based on Isaiah: "Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise" (Isa 26:19). Segal notes the favoring of the first half over the second:
"The rabbis ignore the term 'corpses' and instead use the first clause, which contains much less definite terms. They are not actually interested in defining the afterlife with the notion of the resurrection of the fleshy body. They would rather describe something a bit more ambiguously, not specifying exactly how God plans to bring the final consummation.

"This observation helps resolve the paradox... If the Pharisees are best able to govern the remaining state of Judah after the war and share power before the war, then why should they believe in resurrection of the flesh, which is characteristic of the sectarian life of Judea? The answer to that vexing question is that they do not necessarily believe in resurrection of the dead corpses, and certainly do not believe in anything like the gospels' view of the matter. On the other hand, they cannot risk overtly contradicting Isaiah either, instead exegeting Isaiah in such a way that Isaiah seems to say what they have in mind. They build a paradise based on the land of Israel, which the living and dead share. They are content with the ambiguity whose resolution dominates Christian thinking." (p 607)
This ambiguity, of course, is exactly what characterizes Paul's view in I Cor 15, and perhaps accounts for why orthodox critics like Wright and infidels like Carrier continue talking past each other. The Pharisees and Paul were deliberately ambiguous. They believed in the resurrection of the old body but weren't wild about "clinging to the flesh". They grounded the resurrection in terms of Jewish apocalyptic, but not to the extent that angry millenarians did. They didn't seem to care how much role the flesh would play in the new body, no doubt because they already had a happier fleshy existence than revolutionaries and martyrs.

So the answer to our original question is clear:
"The Pharisees' belief in life after death was entirely congruent with their Roman client status. The rabbis, the Pharisees' intellectual descendants, believed in an afterlife that could be figured flexibly in either Greek or more native apocalyptic terms, or even other terms, depending on the circumstances. This hypothesis preserves the symmetry between the Pharisees’ middle social position and their afterlife beliefs." (pp 381-382)
That makes sense to me, and it makes complete sense of the Pauline and rabbinic texts. I used to think that Paul just expressed himself badly in I Cor 15:50 -- saying that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" -- but Segal has persuaded me that he was speaking like any Pharisee, registering discomfort with hard-core millenarian ideas that would associate him with sedition.

11 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

Any thoughts on the Maccabean statements on resurrection?

10/13/2006  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'Paul's metaphor of a seed sprouting (I Cor 15:38ff) obviously supports the idea of an old body transforming into a new one.'

It obviously doesn't, as Paul carefully tells the Corinthians that the seed dies. It is dead, and the Corinthians are idiots for thinking that somehow the seed is alive.


' And if Paul said that "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 15:50), he also went on to say that the very same flesh and blood must "put on imperishability" (I Cor 15:53...')

Of course, the words 'flesh and blood' do not appear in 1 Corinthians 15:53.

And Paul uses a clothing analogy in 1 Corinthians 15:53.

You do not transform anything by clothing it in something. Nobody has ever said, for example, that the disciples were 'clothed' in the Holy Spirit, when they were transformed.

Clothing is on the outside of something.

When we lose our natural bodies, we will be naked, and will need to be clothed in something to keep us alive. This is what Paul means, and he explicates further on the topic in 2 Corinthians 5.

But there is no way that the resurrection of Jesus as in the Gospels can be described in terms of the corpse of Jesus being 'clothed' in something, or something sprouting from the corpse of Jesus.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Segal on rabbis - 'They are not actually interested in defining the afterlife with the notion of the resurrection of the fleshy body. They would rather describe something a bit more ambiguously, not specifying exactly how God plans to bring the final consummation.'

How exactly can somebody describe a process that exists only in his imagination? What did Segal expect people to write?

'The Pharisees and Paul were deliberately ambiguous. They believed in the resurrection of the old body but weren't wild about "clinging to the flesh''

Which documents by Pharisees contain writings about the resurrection?

Let us look at what some rabbis wrote and see just how close they are to Paul in terms of concepts and style.

See how Sanhedrin 90b handles the question of bodily resurrection.

See how 'ambiguous' it is.

An emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: 'Ye maintain that the dead will revive; but they turn to dust, and can dust come to life?'

Thereupon his the emperor's daughter said to him the Rabbi: 'Let me answer him: In our town there are two potters; one fashions his products from water, and the other from clay: who is the more praiseworthy?' 'He who fashions them from water, he replied.1 'If he can fashion man from water, surely he can do so from clay!'

The School of R. Ishmael taught: It can be deduced from glassware: if glassware, which, though made by the breath of human beings, can yet be repaired when broken; then how much more so man, created by the breath of the Holy One, blessed be He.

A sectarian said to R. Ammi: 'Ye maintain that the dead will revive; but they turn to dust, and can dust come to life?' — He replied: I will tell thee a parable. This may be compared to a human king who commanded his servants to build him a great palace in a place where there was no water or earth for making bricks. So they went and built it. But after some time it collapsed, so he commanded them to rebuild it in a place where water and earth was to be found; but they replied, 'We cannot'. Thereupon he became angry with them and said, 'If ye could build in a place containing no water or earth, surely ye can where there is!' 'Yet,' continued R. Ammi, 'If thou dost not believe, go forth in to the field and see a mouse, which to-day is but part flesh and part dust, and yet by to-morrow has developed and become all flesh.

These Jews believed in the resurrection of corpses and so 'proved' that dust will turn into flesh.

And the way they do it is just so utterly different to Paul's thought that it is obvious he is not thinking anything remotely like a process of making dust alive again.

Perhaps the above meets Segal's undefined criterion of an 'exact' description of how God would restore dust, but it is certainly a lot less 'ambiguous' than Paul's description of how God would restore dust (if we assume that Paul thought dissolved corpses would be restored)

10/14/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

[Steven]
These Jews believed in the resurrection of corpses and so 'proved' that dust will turn into flesh. And the way they do it is just so utterly different to Paul's thought that it is obvious he is not thinking anything remotely like a process of making dust alive again.

"Vivification of the dead" (tehiat hametim) is what the rabbis are getting at -- as you note -- and this carries more ambiguity than the "raising of corpses" (tequmat hanevelot). The point, as Segal emphasizes, is that the rabbis favor the first clause in Isa 26:19 ("the dead shall live") over the second clause ("their corpses shall rise"). As Segal puts it: "We can translate tehiat hametim as 'vivification of the dead', even 'resurrection of the dead', but not 'resurrection of the flesh'." (p 608)

Remember too that the rabbis weren't wild about martyrdom, and the more "flesh" is emphasized, the more it looks like a doctrine tailored for millenarians and martyrs. That's another reason why they need the ambiguity.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

LOREN
'Paul's metaphor of a seed sprouting...'

LOREN - 'Of course the seed is dead, you "idiot". The seed has to be dead for the analogy to hold. '

CARR
I thought a seed that was sprouting was clearly *not* dead.

Isn't the point of a 'sprouting seed' analogy that the seed is alive and active?

Perhaps then, Paul did *not* have in mind a sprouting seed analogy.

Of course, Paul never mentions anything about a seed sprouting.


But when has the fact that Paul does not say something ever stopped people?

The Corinthians also had this idiotic notion that somehow the seed would be made alive.

But, as your comment shows, the idea of a seed being alive and sprouting something makes no sense in terms of Paul's words where he insists on the death of a seed.

The Corinthians can be likened to people who scoff at the idea of an omellete, because you can see the broken egg shells.

Paul is telling them that of course the egg shells are broken. What else did the Corinthians expect to see, except broken egg shells.

He is not insisting on continiuty between the broken egg shells and the omelette. They are two different things.


LORON
'A perishable body is a flesh and blood body.'

And 1 Corinthians 15:53 never uses the words 'perishable body'.


Paul never says that the perishable body puts on anything.


But when has the fact that Paul does not say something ever stopped people?

The perishable body is the discarded set of clothes.

What did the corpse of Jesus put on?

And what was it put on to?

A clothing analogy makes no sense in the context of a transformation.

I do not change my body by wearing new clothes.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

I should point out that comparing the corpse to a broken egg-shell is my analogy, not Paul's.

It is just my way of trying to convey the exasperation of Paul when faced with people who rejected the resurrection because they didn't realise that the natural body was dead. It was history.


If Segal is finding parallels between Paul's language and Judaic views, does he find parallels between Paul's use of a 'clothing' analogy and Rabbinical/Pharasaical use of a 'clothing' analogy.

Segal , on page 471, uses a clothing analogy for the removal of a body.

And Segal, on page 498, also uses clothing analogy for the way Enoch was put 'in' the body of an angel, after he has been 'extracted' from his earthly clothing.

Change of clothing equals change of body in Segal's book.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

[Steven]
I thought a seed that was sprouting was clearly *not* dead. Isn't the point of a 'sprouting seed' analogy that the seed is alive and active? Perhaps then, Paul did *not* have in mind a sprouting seed analogy.

Paul's analogy is clear: the seed which is sown dies, then comes to life, just like the resurrected body (I Cor 15:36). One doesn't sow the transformed body -- "the body that is to be" -- anymore than one sows a plant (I Cor 15:37). He presumes a sprouting seed, even he must insist that the seed first dies; it couldn't be clearer.

[Steven]
The Corinthians can be likened to people who scoff at the idea of an omellete, because you can see the broken egg shells.

It's intruiging how you insist on being so obtuse when Paul doesn't spell things out for you -- such as the obvious fact that a perishable body is a flesh-and-blood body; or that a seed sprouts -- yet are content to put things into Paul's mouth, or change his analogy altogether.

You have a blind spot on the subject of Paul's view of the resurrection, and I'm not sure why.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Paul asked:

Any thoughts on the Maccabean statements on resurrection?

Hi Paul. I'm not sure what you're asking. II Maccabees implies a resurrection of the flesh, though for martyrs specifically, rather than a general resurrection for all the pious. It's millenarian, of course, addressing the fate of those who might suffer and die in vain.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Paul said...

I just meant it as an open ended question. Wondered if you thought that Paul's (or Jesus') feelings on resurrection were informed to some extent by older views like that in II Maccabees.

Also, is there some sense in which "millenarian" is not anachonistic here? Or is that just a mistake? Haven't heard of pre-johannine millenarianism before.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Layman said...

Loren,

I believe there is additional evidence from the Rabbinical writings which demonstrate that the Rabbis, or at least some of them, believed in a transformed resurrected body--not just the reanimation of a corpse:

Not like this world is the World to Come. In the World to Come there is neither eating nor drinking; nor procreation of children or business transactions; no envy or hatred or rivalry; but the righteous sit enthroned, their crowns on their heads, and enjoy the lustre of the Schechninah.

Ber 17a.

As I said in this post critiquing Carrier, "Obviously a body that needs neither food nor drink, and apparently experiences no sexual desire, is not the same old same old. As noted by a leading Jewish scholar, 'Life will be conducted on an entirely different plane.' Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, page 366. The resurrected body is different than the old one."

Additionally, there is evidence that the Rabbis used the seed analogy to emphasize contiuity and transformation, as Paul did:

"in the Talmud a Gentile asks whether the dead are raised naked. In response, the Rabbi answered, 'If a kernel of wheat is buried naked and will sprout forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous.' (b. Sanh. 90b). There is good reason to believe, as W.D. Davies suggests, that the Rabbi is referring to a transformed glorious body rather than simply a nice set of clothes. 'When R. Meier used the analogy of the seed he was thinking most certainly of the glorious new body....' Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, page 310. The point is not just that the resurrected will avoid embarrassment, but that the question itself misses the point. For example, in Enoch 62:15-16 and 98:2, the resurrected are also said to wear 'garments of glory' when they are resurrected. The reference to 'garments of glory' is not to their clothes, but to their transformed, glorified state. So, there is good reason to view this as a direct reference to a glorified resurrected body rather than one that has all the human failings as the pre-resurrection body."

Tertullian, Origen, and 1 Clement all use the seed analogy in the context of bodily resurrection as well.

10/15/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Chris/"Layman" --

Thanks for linking to your fine post. That's a good response to Carrier (and Carr, for that matter). And you're right, of course: the rabbis and Paul share many commonalities here.

10/15/2006  

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