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My Long Favorite Pauline Letter: Philippians

There is one other book in the New Testament that may be a cut-and-paste job, and as it turns out, it is another one of Paul’s letters, Philippians.  Philippians was for a long time my favorite Pauline letter, back in my late teens when I was first starting to read the Bible.  It contains the first verse I ever memorized: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21); and it is the first book that, a couple of years later, I committed completely to memory, word for word.  Little did I know, back then, that some scholars think it is in fact two different letters of Paul’s that have been spliced together.

The evidence of there being two letters in Philippians is not as clear and compelling as in the case of 2 Corinthians, and I suspect, but do not know for a fact, that the *majority* of scholars hold to the “integrity” of the letter.  In this case, the word integrity has nothing to do with “honesty.”  It is the word used to indicate that a book is *ONE* writing and not two or more put together.  If one argues for the integrity of Philippians, then, one is saying that it is a single work, written by a single author more or less finished at one time.

Long ago, however – back, I suppose, early in my academic career — I became convinced by those scholars who maintained that Philippians was made up of two separate letters.  (Some scholars think it is made up of *three* letters, but I’ve never gone there.  Hey, I don’t want to be extreme.  J )

Before introducing the argument that Philippians is two letters instead of one (with the end of one and the beginning of the other lopped off by the editor who pasted them together), I should give a bit of background to the letter Itself.   Here is what I say about the book in general terms in my Introduction to the New Testament.

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To read what I have to say about this intriguing letter, you need to belong to the blog.  If you don’t belong, now’s your chance to join.  Don’t blow it!   It won’t cost much and every penny goes to those in need.  So why not?

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Philippians

We do not know very much about the Christian community in Philippi because Paul does not provide as many explicit reminders of their past relationship as he does, for example, for the Thessalonians and Corinthians. There is some information provided in Acts 16; unfortunately, little of it can be corroborated from Paul’s letter itself. Paul never mentions, for example, the principal characters of Luke’s account, Lydia and the Philippian jailer.

The city of Philippi was in eastern Macedonia, northeast of Thessalonica, along one of the major trade routes through the region. Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians of being shamefully treated in Philippi prior to taking his mission to Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:1–2). We should probably assume that he is referring to his initial visit to the city when he founded the church there. In view of their rough treatment, Paul and his companions may not have spent much time there, perhaps only enough to make some converts, instruct them in the rudiments of the faith, and get out of town while the getting was good.

We have little information about the converts themselves. We can probably assume that the Philippian church, like the other congregations Paul established, consisted chiefly of converted pagans who had been taught to worship the one true God of Israel and to expect the return of his Son, Jesus. References to these teachings can be found throughout the epistle (e.g., 1:6, 10–11; 2:5–11; 3:20–21). Why, then, did Paul write it? The answer to this question is somewhat complicated, more complicated, for example, than in the case of Galatians, for it appears to many scholars that different parts of this letter presuppose different occasions. As was the case with 2 Corinthians, Philippians may represent a combination of two or more pieces of correspondence.

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In my next post I will show why many (but not most?) scholars have thought this, that Philippians was two letters instead of one.[/private]

 


Can Historians Be Neutral?
January Dinner Full!

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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  January 5, 2018

    My big question about this: I understand from your recent blogs that Bible authors may have pasted two or more letters together without much editing and that other authors (such as the authors of the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John or the authors of the first five books of the Old Testament) may have edited and pasted together several sources. Do we have any evidence that either or both of these kinds of cut and paste jobs and/or editing from multiple sources were common practices during ancient times or is there something about this that was more prominent in Biblical texts? In other words, was this a standard way of writing books in ancient times? Either way, I think all of this cutting and pasting and editing make the books seem less God inspired than the idea of a single author being directed by God in writing a book.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      Ah, I’ll be answering this in a post this week — or at least let a blog-resident-expert answer it for us.




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    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 7, 2018

      Not only was it common, but it was probably more the rule than the exception. The Torah itself, as anyone familiar with the Document Hypothesis knows, is pretty much a cut-n-paste job — possibly even by Ezra the Scribe himself (read Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?”). And there are entire sections of the Hebrew Bible that are obvious cut-n-paste jobs — e.g. Chapters 36-39 of Isaiah is practically a verbatim copy of 2 Kings 18:13 to 20:19; chapter 52 of Jeremiah is essentially a copy of 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30; and much of the Book of Kings and Chronicles are verbatim. There’s no telling how many lost documents have been preserved in the Bible via cut-n-paste.

      And this is certainly not only found in the Bible but many, many ancient works. As I’ve mentioned in a previous comment, probably the grandest cut-n-paste job in literature is that of the Suttapitaka of the Buddhist Pali Canon. The Suttapitaka is a multi-volume work (in some modern translations up to 6,000 pages) of the collected (purported) dialogues of The Buddha. From my reading of the work — and I must stress that this is just a rough estimate on my part — about 20% of it consists of purely verbatim cut-n-paste. In fact, there is so much repetition in the work that most modern translations don’t bother printing it all. They simply add ellipses and refer back to already printed sections. If you read enough ancient works you’ll start to see that his is very common. It’s very much the rule, not the exception.




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  2. fishician  January 5, 2018

    In Galatians Paul’s opponents were teaching the Law but in Phil. 1:15-18 it seems these foes were in fact “preaching Christ.” What was the beef? Was Paul a little on the paranoid side, perhaps?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      He seems to have had as many enemies (more?) within the church than outside of it!




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  3. toejam  January 5, 2018

    In Philippians 1:6, who is the “one who began a good work among you” that Paul refers to? A self reference or someone else?




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  4. Tony  January 5, 2018

    Where in Philippians, or anywhere in Paul’s letters, does it state that Jesus was expected to “return”? The word return implies “having been there before”. Nowhere do we find evidence of an earlier earthly residence, nor do we read anything in this, or other letters, about someone resembling the Gospel Jesus.

    Phil 2:5–11 describes the mythical Jesus perfectly. A pre-existing heavenly entity, being made (genomai) in the likeness of man, killed, and hanged from a tree (stauros).

    Nowhere is there any indication that any of this took place on earth. In the absence of the later Gospels, none of Paul’s contemporary readers would have assumed this was about an earthly Jesus.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      PHil. 3:20




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      • Tony  January 7, 2018

        Phil 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
        ——————————————————————————————
        Could you please explain how you arrive at a RETURNING Jesus Christ, who has been previously on earth, from this verse?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 8, 2018

          Tony, I think we both know where we both stand on this question, as we have gone around and around on it, and you are not persuadable. As you know full well, I and 99.99% of the world thinks that Paul thought Jesus came the first time as a human, so when he says he expects Jesus to come from heaven, it means he is coming back to earth. One of the clearest expressions of this in Paul is in his first letter, 1 Thess 4:13-18, where he indicates that Christ died, was raised, and is coming back. I don’t think there’s much point in my stating the obvious reading of the text, your objecting to it, my reaffirming it, you denying it, and so on ad infinitum. Are there any other things you’re interested in?




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          • Tony  January 8, 2018

            Bart, I find your comment that you, and 99.99% of the world(!) who think there was an historical Jesus completely unconvincing. I certainly understand that, if the very foundation of Christianity is in error, the consequence for the above ground structures such as much of NT scholarship pretty well falls apart. No minor issue!

            What stuns me is that your “obvious” reading of the text completely contradicts my obvious reading of the same text. You even double down with 1 Thess 4:13-18, where there (obviously) is nothing about coming back to earth at all.

            I consider the historicity of Jesus not a minor “thing”. The condescension, and ducking and weaving, that this subject generates tells me that a rational, evidence based discussion is not possible. So be it.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 9, 2018

            Yes, I know you do. That’s my point. Maybe we could talk about other things.




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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 7, 2018

      I haven’t found a place in Paul’s letters where he uses the word “return” for any reason whether it’s for Jesus or even himself. He says things like “I will come (again),” meaning, he will return. He uses the word “come” for Jesus but actually means, return.

      1 Corinthians 16:11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace that he may *return* to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

      1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord *comes.* He will bring to light what his hidden…

      In both of these instances, the word, elthē (to come, go), is used. Paul’s writing style is very unique–and confusing!




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      • Tony  January 8, 2018

        In Phil 1:26 Paul uses the phrase “come again” describing his own return. The Greek word used by Paul is “palin”, which means: again, back, once more. That would have been an ideal word for Paul to use in reference to Jesus’ “second” coming. Obviously, Paul does not – because Paul means a first arrival.




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    • toejam  January 7, 2018

      Don’t let Richard Carrier fool you. Just from the authentic Pauline epistles, one can derive this information about what Paul believed about Jesus:

      * That he was born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
      * That he was a descendant of King David and Jesse and an Israelite (Rom 1:3, 9:5, 15:12)
      * That he was found in the likeness of men, in human form (Philippian hymn)
      * That he had brothers (one of whom, James, Paul personally met) (Gal 1:19, 1 Cor 9:5). The context of both these passages suggests Paul is not using “brothers” in the “Christian brethren” sense.
      * That one night he took bread and a cup and imbued them with new ritual significance (1 Cor 11:23-26)
      * That he was handed over on that night and later crucified (a standard Roman punishment)
      * That he was buried (1 Cor 15)
      * The events happened in “Zion” (i.e. Jerusalem) (Rom 9:33)
      * Paul also blames Judean Jews for killing Jesus (1 Thes 2:14)

      Paul had some crazy beliefs about Jesus. But one of them was not that all this stuff happened in outer-space / the heavenly realm, as some mythicists would have you believe. Paul clearly believed Jesus had been here on Earth. Don’t let carrier fool you!




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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 9, 2018

      I do believe Paul used the word “returned” once in Galatians 1:17. (The searchable NRSV app is a great help with this sort of thing!)

      The focus has always been on the word “return,” but now it’s on “again.” That’s moving goal posts, but it still doesn’t matter. 1 Corinthians 16:11 and Romans 9:9 (Paul quoted the Hebrew Scriptures which literally uses the word, return) are examples of Paul using the word “come” which actually means return. Even though a return is insinuated through the parables, Paul as well as the other NT writers don’t specifically call it a Return or an Again or even a Second. They describe it as the Lord’s Coming.

      Paul also said in 1 Corinthians that Jesus died according to the Scriptures. There are no scriptures that describe a messiah dying in heaven. (Ascension wasn’t scripture.)

      Ginomai—That doesn’t seem to be much different from Paul’s similar description in 1 Corinthians 11:12 when he used the word “dia.” If a man is made of a woman or by a woman, it’s assumed he’s born through a woman.




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  5. anthonygale  January 5, 2018

    What are some of the alternative explanations for these shifts causing reason to suspect the splicing of letters? I’m not doubting that this sort of thing occurred, but am guessing there are plausible alternatives (in some cases at least).

    Some people can be a bit scatter brain at times. People with mental illness can have outright disorganized thoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the prophets had mental illness. Hearing the voice of God and believing oneself to be the chosen one could represent hallucinations and delusions (although a belief should not be classified as a delusion if the beliefs fit into a person’s culture). Tangential thinking is common in people with severe mental illness as well, and can be apparent in writing.

    Since people didn’t have computers back then, if a person’s mind simply wandered or if they didn’t write the letter in one go, I could see the letter flowing a bit clumsily. Modern folks can just edit their word document, but back then if you wanted to edit you had to rewrite the whole thing. Might folks have been inclined to send unedited drafts even if they had errors or didn’t flow well? Who edits a letter anyway? Surely Paul had no clue that one day he would be writing a chapter in the best seller of all time. If he did, perhaps he would have been more careful.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      Yes, there are other options. But it was a practice to cut and paste: I’ll be posting on this in a couple of days.




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  6. James Chalmers  January 5, 2018

    So of Paul we have not seven but eleven letters. Five we can be reasonably sure are complete.
    The two in Philippians aren’t quite complete but are nearly so?
    And the angry letter and the conciliatory one in II Corinthians are also pretty near complete but not quite? And the other two in II Corinthians, Chapters 8 and 9, are solicitation/thank you notes, fairly complete but not hugely consequential?
    Anyway, of the dozens (hundreds??) of letters we can guess Paul wrote, we have most of eleven of them, not seven?
    And of the eleven, nine are optimistically the cream of the crop? Survived (copied often) because they were, for good reason, especially loved and revered?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      One of the big issues is that we don’t know how much was *cut* when th ecurrent letters were cut and pasted in. And we don’t know if they really juicy bits made the cut or not!




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  7. joncopeland  January 5, 2018

    An idea for the blog to raise money for charities:

    Make a video of you reciting Philippians from memory (no peeking!). Set a fundraising goal, and when it’s reached, post it to your YouTube channel.

    I bet it would raise some decent cash. And wouldn’t take terribly long to make.




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  8. SidDhartha1953  January 6, 2018

    Some questions about Exodus and NT portrayals of Jesus:
    In his introductory essay to Exodus, David Alter mentions Moses’ designation as “the man Moses,” presumably to forestall any tendency to deify him. 1 Tim. 2:5 refers to “the man Christ Jesus.” Do you think this was a deliberate repurposing of the phrase in Exodus?
    Alter mentions the tripartite structure of the tabernacle as a means of distancing God from the people, in opposition to his immediacy in Genesis. Might that have influenced the development of the doctrine of the Trinity?
    Alter’s description of Moses’ character and personality: impulsive, easily angered, prone to self-doubt; strikes me as much like Mark’s portrayal of Jesus. Do you think that was a conscious decision by Mark, rather than a portrayal of Jesus as he was remembered by Mark’s sources?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      These all seem like a stretch to me, but I haven’t read his essay.




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  9. RonaldTaska  January 6, 2018

    P.S. Add to the list the book of “Isaiah” as you have discussed before. I am not sure whether “Isaiah” falls under just the “paste together” type or the “edit and paste together” type. Having grown up with it stuck in my mind that each Bible book was written by a single inspired author, it now seems more likely that much editing, pasting, and cutting were done making it all seem, at least to me, less likely for such a process to have been 100% inspired. I am still puzzled about whether such processes were common with other books in antiquity, say the works of Plato.




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  10. Rthompsonmdog  January 6, 2018

    Appears to be a problem with your [/private] tags.




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  11. anthonygale  January 6, 2018

    All this talk about splicing reminds me of another splice job I read about. From what I understand, splicing of stories is believed to have happened with the Torah. I read Richard Elliott Friedman’s “Who Wrote The Bible” and in it he does something very interesting. He writes out the flood story putting what he believes to be the P source in bold and the J source in regular type. In doing that, you can read each individual story and see that they are both complete and flow better than the full story in the Bible. I don’t know whether there are any flaws in this claim, but I find it quite convincing. I’ve read something similar (perhaps in one of your books?) in regards to Josephus attesting to Jesus. It is believed to be corrupted, but if you remove the suspect text the passage is complete and flows better.

    I make this comment for two reasons. For one, it supports a determination that this sort of thing had a long precedent. It also suggests that the editing could be quite complicated, at least with the Torah (if you believe the Documentary Hypothesis or similar theories).




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  12. Seeker1952  January 7, 2018

    I recently read a rather old book (1963) called the “The Faith of a Heretic” by the philosopher Walter Kaufman. I’m probably oversimplifying and maybe even distorting his ideas a little but he seems to see Jesus as teaching, in large part, a very self-interested ethic of individual salvation (as in loving others in order to attain eternal life) and contrasts it with what he sees as a quite strong ethic of social justice in the Old Testament.

    I’m not unfamiliar with this kind of contrast and Kaufman points out other strengths and weaknesses in the ethic of both Old and New Testament. But I’ve never seen the contrast drawn so strongly and so much in favor of the OT. And it should be noted that though Kaufman started out life as a Christian in pre-Hitler Germany, and then as an adolescent converted his whole family back to their former Judaism, he eventually wound up in the U.S. and became an agnostic/atheist.

    I guess my question is whether his view, ie, this contrast, is common among biblical scholars. Offhand I might want to say that Jesus linked the OT social justice ethic with being qualified for inclusion in the imminent kingdom of God. And that the OT ethic focused much more on justice in the present world rather than on the future kingdom.




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  13. bmay  January 8, 2018

    I’ve been looking into it and it seems that Paul hit dozens of cities around the Eastern Mediterranean, probably traveling by ship quit a bit. How many of these cities had Jewish populations vs. mostly or all pagans or do we even know?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2018

      So far as we can tell all of them probably had some kind of Jewish presence.




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  14. Apocryphile  January 8, 2018

    I could never be a movie critic, for the simple reason that there is too much garbage on film these days, and I wouldn’t want to waste my time reviewing it. By the same token, I could never be a Pauline scholar, for the simple reason that I think he was a first-class, card-carrying nut job. Sure, he was a man of his times (as we all are), but I would opine that he would have been considered a nut-job even back in his own day. To me, he is interesting only to the extent that he can tell us something about the early Jesus movement in Jerusalem and its reaction to him, and for what he can tell us about the early Christian communities to whom he wrote his letters. Sure, he was arguably the biggest influence on how Christianity developed in the gentile world, but what does this say about Christianity in general? (Garbage in – garbage out?) Ok, I concede, he was a very important – perhaps *the* most important dude in the formation of the Christian faith…. but he was still a class-A nut job, IMO. 🙂




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    • llamensdor  January 20, 2018

      I don’t think he was a nut job — I think he was a charlatan. I’m aware that most scholars (including Bart Ehrman) think he was sincere. Maybe he was a sincere charlatan.




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  15. Jon1  January 16, 2018

    Bart,

    Off topic question: Does your hallucination hypothesis work if Jesus’ followers believed in a spiritual afterlife of some sort? I am thinking no because Jesus’ followers would have just concluded that Jesus’ soul paid them a brief visit and then went back to heaven/the place of the dead.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2018

      No it doesn’t. That’s more or less my point: since these followers of Jesus can be shown *not* to have had some kind of spiritual aftelrife in mind, when they saw Jesus they interpreted him as being physically resurrected. They didn’t have a category for a spiritual resurrection. Later Christians did have, though.




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      • Jon1  January 17, 2018

        Bart,

        Did Paul believe in a spiritual afterlife of some sort? I note that in Philippians 1:23-24 he says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you” and in 2 Cor 5:6-8 he says, “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 18, 2018

          I’ll be getting to that on the blog: Paul’s views are very complicated. But it will be a big part of the book I’m writing on the Afterlife.




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      • Jon1  January 18, 2018

        Bart,

        You said, “followers of Jesus can be shown *not* to have had some kind of spiritual aftelrife in mind.” What evidence are you speaking of here that *shows* Jesus’ followers did not believe in a spiritual afterlife of some kind?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 20, 2018

          The fact that they, like him, were firmly committed Jewish apocalypticists. One of the things we know about apocalyptic Judaism (from the surviving apocalyptic writings) is that it subscribed firmly to the future resurrection of the body (not a future bodiless existence).




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          • Jon1  January 20, 2018

            Bart,

            Yes, I agree, apocalypticists subscribed firmly to the future resurrection of the body (not a future bodiless existence). But didn’t a lot of Jews who subscribed firmly to the future resurrection of the body *also* believe that a person’s soul went somewhere when they died to await the future resurrection of the body? How do you know Jesus’ disciples were not in this group?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 21, 2018

            Some Jews certainly thought that the person went to Sheol. Apocalypticists believed in a resurrection of the *body* — not of the soul/spirit. If someone reappeared on earth, it was in the body.




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          • Jon1  January 21, 2018

            Bart,

            Yes, apocalypticists believed in a resurrection of the *body*, but Paul was an apocalypticists too and he *also* believed that a dead person’s *soul* goes to heaven until it is resurrected into the body (Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:6-8)…right?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 22, 2018

            Yup, apparently. But if the person appeared on earth, it was in the *body*.




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          • Jon1  January 22, 2018

            Bart,

            If some apocalyptic Jews thought the *soul* of deceased loved ones went to heaven until it would be resurrected into the body later (like Paul in Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:6-8), wouldn’t these Jews interpret bereavement hallucinations of loved ones as the loved one’s *spirit* (not body) visiting briefly from heaven, and so wouldn’t Jesus’ initial followers do the same if they had a hallucination of Jesus? A bodily resurrection belief by Jesus’ initial followers would only seem to make sense if they did *not* believe the soul could live separately from the body. What am I missing?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 23, 2018

            That’s my point. Apocalyptic Jews would not have thought that. They didn’t believe in that. Paul specifies — makes it quite explicit — that what he saw was not Jesus’ spirit but his *body*. That’s his entire point in 1 Corinthians 15.




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          • Jon1  January 23, 2018

            Bart,

            I think you are misunderstanding my question. Let me try it this way. Let’s say in year 25 CE, before Jesus was known to anyone, there was an apocalyptic Jew who believed that when a good Jew died, their soul went to heaven to await the future general resurrection (same as Paul 30 years later). Now let’s say that Jew had a brief bereavement hallucination of a deceased loved on that then disappeared into thin air. Wouldn’t that apocalyptic Jew conclude that the deceased’s *soul* just visited them from heaven (i.e., not his body)?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 24, 2018

            I don’t think apocalyptic Jews in the year 25 CE thought that a person’s soul died and went to heaven. THey didn’t differentiate between the body and the soul.




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          • Jon1  January 24, 2018

            Bart,

            You said, “I don’t think apocalyptic Jews in the year 25 CE thought that a person’s soul died and went to heaven. THey didn’t differentiate between the body and the soul.” But in the 50s CE we do see this belief in the apocalypticist Paul (Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:6-8). So do you think there was a change of beliefs about the body and soul among apocalypticists between 25 CE and 50 CE?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 26, 2018

            Yes, I think Paul developed his views in a completely distinctive direction because of his Christian experiences.




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          • Jon1  January 26, 2018

            Bart,

            Thanks for the clarification. So if no apocalyptic Jews in the time of Jesus (or before) believed that the soul could live separately from the body, what do you think these Jews concluded when they had a bereavement hallucination of a lost loved one?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 28, 2018

            I wish I knew.




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  16. Apocryphile  January 23, 2018

    I’m wondering what light archaeology might be able to throw on this discussion. Ever since reading William Dever’s excellent book “Did God have a Wife?”, I’m more and more convinced that to get at what people of a certain time period actually believed, one has to look at the actual physical evidence that survives, and not rely simply on what the written sources might tell us. His field of study is the time period long before Jesus, but his study of the artifacts that have come out of the ground from this period point to the everyday practices of the ancient Israelites – what he calls “folk religion” – as opposed to the written sources (i.e. the Bible), which he terms “book religion”. From what he had discovered from a lifetime of digging in the Holy Land, the two are vastly different. Short story – the biblical texts were composed centuries after the times of which they speaks (Kings, Prophets, etc.) and the authors had their own monotheistic agenda which utterly distorted the historical reality “on the ground”.

    To the topic at hand, it’s hard for me to conceive of a culture that doesn’t have some view or version of an afterlife. As far as (archaeology) can tell us, this has been the case at least as far back as the Neanderthals. Regarding what Jesus’ followers, and Jewish apocalypticists in general, believed (beyond the eventual resurrection of the body) is, I think, far from definitively determined. It’s hard for me to imagine that they had no thoughts or speculations about what happened to the “person” between death and physical resurrection. I think that oftentimes in our modern world we tend to want to separate ideas into neat categories – either people believed *This* OR they believed *That*. Why not some degree of both, or why not different thoughts or beliefs from one day to the next? I don’t know what archaeology might be able to tell us here, but it’s important to keep an open mind.




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