Winner: No one
Average Score: 0
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to my brothers, Jake Harris O’Connell and Richard Carrier, grace to you and peace. I give thanks that you invited me to evaluate your controversy about my “theory of resurrection,” for it is clear that you both are intelligent, articulate, and attentive to detail. I am writing to you in English thanks to Dennis MacDonald.
I was astonished at how quickly both of you departed from some of the recognized standards for the study of my letters. For example, I don’t know who wrote the letter to the Colossians to which you both appeal; it was not I. I surely could not have agreed with Colossians 2:11-15 and the statement that believers in Jesus “were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands in the putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ” (2:11). But I can see why Carrier would like the idea of “putting off the body of flesh,” and why O’Connell would like the notion of the continuity of the body before and after baptism.
I found even more astonishing that both of you appealed to the Acts of the Apostles, which I had not read until MacDonald showed me a copy. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely nothing in Acts 1-3 that is historical, and I find the entire idea of an ascension of Jesus’ body, together with “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:40), quite ludicrous. After all, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Carrier’s arguments from Acts fall far short of the mark, but so do the responses of O’Connell.
I also found it remarkable that O’Connell approached to Gospels—more books that I now have read thanks to MacDonald—about what happened to Jesus’ tomb. I read these accounts with baffled amusement. In my day, no one had heard of Jesus’ empty tomb. I surely never did. Don’t you think that if I had I would have mentioned it in my second letter to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians] to oppose those who denied that Jesus’ body had been raised? The best I could do was to appeal to reports of visions of the risen Christ, including my own, but as any reader of Homeric epic would recognize, one can see even disembodied souls. My challenge was to interpret these visions as visions of transformed bodies. I was pleased to read in these Gospels about Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene; I wonder why I had never heard about them before.
As an aside, I should say that I have heard of some followers of Jesus in Palestine who denied that the risen Jesus appeared to anyone; indeed, they preferred to speak of Jesus’ disappearance—like Enoch, Moses, or Elijah—and eventual return as the Son of Man [i.e., Q]. I prefer the tradition related to Peter and James that Jesus appeared to the Twelve and hundreds of others.
Now let me get to the crux—pun intended—of the nature of resurrection body. Here, it seems to me, that again, Carrier and O’Connell would have been benefited by another tenet of good scholarship on my letters: the reconstruction of the thinking of my opponents. The Corinthians really had me painted into a corner. They and I agreed that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” but they, influenced as they were by Philo via Apollos, took this to mean that God raised only the soul, not the body; therefore; any appearance of Jesus to his followers was one of his risen soul.
How I wish I had thought of the idea of an empty tomb! I could have appealed to it as evidence of his risen body. Instead, I had to argue from the Jewish apocalyptic idea of the general resurrection of the dead. So my challenge was this: how to make sense of a resurrection body that did not consist of “flesh and blood.” (I assume that Jesus’ fleshly body rotted in a Palestine tomb.)
In order to make this case I fished about for metaphors that would speak of bodily transformation. Some of these metaphors emphasized discontinuity—say, different types of heavenly bodies, leaving one house to inhabit another, removing one garment and donning another. Other transformative metaphors, however, emphasized organic continuity—such as a seed becoming a plant or putting one garment on top of another. So I can see why Carrier thought that I spoke of two different bodies, and why O’Connell thought that I spoke of the metamorphosis of a single body. In my day, the debate was not about one body or two, but whether it made any sense to say that the soul after death was somatic in any way at all.
After I wrote 1 Corinthians, the dispute did not subside, so I addressed it again in 2 Corinthians, where one still sees the unresolved tensions in my metaphors. The same ambiguity appears in Romans 8:9-13, which we need not discuss any further. I just wish that both of you had dealt more with theories about metaphor and less about enthymemes.
Finally, brethren, I declare the debate a tie (scored = 0), though my sympathies generally favor Carrier. I found disappointing his arguments from Acts and his meat cleaver treatment of messy metaphors. But more objectionable was O’Connell’s use of both Acts and the Gospels as historical records, and his general lack of attention to ancient anthropological dualism (e.g., Platonism). In the end, I found both of their contributions to be brilliant, energetic, and often enlightening, but neither overwhelmingly compelling. I greet you, as does my scribe, Dennis. Grace and peace.