Some Thoughts on Paul Being "Caught Up" Into Heaven
In his book, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, Professor Segal makes interesting points about Paul's reference to "a man in Christ" being "caught up into the third heaven." 2 Cor. 12:1-5.
First, Professor Segal notes that Paul's statement that he did now know whether this person was caught up "in the body or out of the body" effectively preclude the notion -- such as propounded by Doherty -- that Paul viewed such things Platonically:
We should note that Paul did not utilize the concept of a soul (pysche) to effect his heavenly travel. Not being sure of whether the ascent took place in the body or out of the body is the same as saying that one is not taking account of the Platonic concept of the soul. Had Paul been using the Platonic version, he certainly would have known quite well that the only way to get to heaven, to ascend beyond the sublunar sphere, was by leaving his body behind.
Alan Segal, Life after Death, page 411.
I do take issue with Segal's comment that the reason Paul is confused about the nature of the ascension is because he was unable to "distinguish between bodily and spiritual journeys to heaven." Ibid. It would seem that because Paul knew it was an either/or proposition, he well knew that there was a theoretical difference. It was only that as a practical matter he couldn't figure out which one it was. Afterall, the Pharisees believed in both the immortality of the soul and the reconciliation/resurrection of the body. This would seem to be right in line with Paul's allowing for the possibility of either ascension.
Second, Segal offers an explanation about why Paul refers to the event as if it happened to someone else ("I know a man in Christ . . . . ."). Most scholars conclude that Paul was talking about himself here. But why so obliquely? As it turns out, a good Pharisee like Paul would be expected to keep a "respectful silence" about their spiritual experiences. Ibid, page 409.
It is significant that in 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul talked about mystical journeys directly, he too adopted a pseudepigraphical stance. He did not admit to the ascent personally. Apart from the needs of his rhetoric, Rabbinic rules also forbade public discussion of mystic phenomenon. A first-century date for this rule would explain why Paul would not divulge his experience in his own name at that place. It would also suggest why Jewish mystics consistently picked pseudepigrahical literary conventions to discuss their religious experience.
Ibid, pages 415-16.
So, according to Segal, Paul is referring to himself but as a good Pharisee he does so in an oblique manner.
Though I'm finding things I disagree with as well, Segal's new book is very informative.