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.