Transforming Ashes: Resurrection of the Deteriorated Dead

In an earlier post, I noted how Jewish scholar Alan Segal's new book, Life after Death, advocates the view that Paul believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus and his followers. Steven Carr, with whom I've debated this subject in varied forums, popped in to say that Paul could not have believed in a bodily resurrection because some people's bodies are too far gone to be resurrected:

How could Paul believe that the body would survive death? Paul must have known that some people are burned to ashes during their deaths.

Having refuted this argument before, I was somewhat dismissive, noting that it was silly to propose that "Paul believed in an all-powerful God of the universe who could make humans from dust but could not reconstitute ashes into a new body". I also pointed out that it was silly to claim that Paul could not have believed in a bodily resurrection of the deteriorated dead because millions of other people have believed in just that kind of resurrection for 2,000 years.

In a timely bit of reading, last night I ran across some comments by Rabbi Ishamel (120-140 AD) that were directly on point:

All the bodies crumble into the dust of the earth until nothing remains of the body except a spoonful of earthly matter. In the future life when the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which had become mixed with the dust of the earth, like the yeast which is mixed with dough, improves and increases and it raises up all the body. When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which has become mixed with the dust of the earth improves and increases and raises up all the body without water.

Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Section 34.

So we see that Paul -- no doubt aware that some bodies were more deteriorated than others -- would have no problem believing that God resurrected Jesus bodily and would resurrect Christians bodily. Carr might not place much stock in the resurrection of the dead whose bodies were no more than ashes, but his opinion is irrelevant. The fact remains that it is no objection to the argument that Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead.


BK said…
I have been following your debate through the comments on this point, and note the following from Dr. William Lane Craig:

"Many scholars have stumbled at Luke's 'a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have,' claiming this is a direct contradiction to Paul. In fact, Paul speaks of 'flesh and blood', not 'flesh and bones.' Is the difference significant? It certainly is! 'Flesh and blood,' as we have seen, is a Semitic expression for mortal human nature and has nothing to do with anatomy. Paul agrees with Luke on the physicality of the resurrection body. But furthermore, neither is 'flesh and bones' meant to be an anatomical description. Rather, proceeding from the Jewish idea that it is the bones that are preserved and raised (Gen R 28.3; Lev R 18.1; Eccl R 12.5), the expression connotes the physical reality of Jesus's resurrection.

* * *

T he point of Jesus's utterance is to assure the disciples that this is a real resurrection, in the proper, Jewish sense of that word, not an appearance of a bodiless [pneuma]. Though it stresses corporeality, its primary emphasis is not on the constituents of the body. Thus, neither Paul nor Luke are talking about anatomy, and both agree on the physicality and the supernaturalness of Jesus's resurrection body."

From _The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus_ which can be found at: It is a tough read because it delves into the Greek, but (at least if I understand it properly) it supports what you have been saying.
Layman said…
I was thinking about posting something to this effect, so thanks BK. I would only add that the Jewish focus on bones being integral to the resurrection is further demonstrated by their ossuaries. The ossuary was not meant to preserve the body, but the bones. A dead body was usually placed in a crypt to let it decay. Then about a year later the tomb was reopened, the bones were removed, and then placed in an ossuary to keep them together for the resurrection.

This also had the effect of saving space for family tombs.

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