I will address two very different questions in this edition of the Readers’ Mailbag. If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away, and I’ll add it to the list.
I just finished reading scholar Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered. He presents the position that people in the Greco-Roman world had a very different perception about spirits (ghosts) than we do today. Riley states that people living in the first century Roman Empire believed that dead people frequently came back to visit the living, appearing in “bodies” that looked exactly like their former fleshly bodies, and having the same capabilities of their former fleshly bodies: capable of eating food, drinking wine, and even engaging in sex…even sex with the living! The ONLY difference between a spirit body and a fleshly body was that USUALLY a spirit body was impalpable (could not be touched). Riley believes that Paul would have been shocked to hear about an empty tomb as he would have believed that Jesus’ fleshly body would OF COURSE still be in his grave! To Paul, Jesus had been resurrected as a spiritual body. His fleshly body remained in his grave. You seem to believe that Paul believed that the fleshly body of Jesus left the grave entirely and was transformed into an immortal body.
Yes I have just (re)read Riley’s book in connection with my next project on the development of the Christian understanding of the afterlife. Riley provides a simple but very readable discussion of how ancient peoples (both Jewish and pagan/Greek/Roman) understood the nature of the body, the soul, and the spirit, and how they construed the nature of the afterlife. I pretty much agree with his understanding of most of the Greek materials (where he puts his greatest focus). But I think he is completely wrong about Paul. In part that is because he thinks Paul was more influenced by Greeks like Plato than like apocalyptic Jews like his fellow Pharisees.
It is true that Paul thought that the resurrected Jesus had a spiritual body. But …
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