Is Richard Carrier Wrong about The Assumption of Moses?

In ch. 5 of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Richard Carrier seeks to argue that Paul’s conception of the resurrection body of Jesus was a newly created body, not continuous with his earthly body. In the beginning of a section on the diversity of Jewish beliefs, he tells us that “at least one Jewish text imagines two bodies for Moses, one in a grave and one in heaven". (p. 107) He cites book VI of the Stromata by Clement of Alexandria:

When Moses was taken up to heaven, Joshua saw him twice: one Moses with the angels, and one on the mountains, honored with burial in the ravines.(Stromata
Clement of course wrote in the late second century. In a footnote, Carrier tells us that this passage about Moses is believed to trace back to the first century pseudepigraphon The Assumption of Moses. Aside from brief mentions in Clement, a quotation in Jude 9, and Gelasius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, the original text of The Assumption is now lost to us.

The extent to which Carrier seeks to use this passage is not clear to me. This quotation of Clement comes immediately after an argument to the effect that Jews believed in a postmortem existence of some sort outside the primary body, which is something I would not disagree with. But this entire chapter is an argument for his “two body” theory of Pauline resurrection. Perhaps Carrier seeks confirmation here for his view on the resurrection, in the sense that he supposes Moses was actually resurrected in a newly created body in this text. Perhaps he merely feels that it shows bodily survival outside the primary earthly body. If the latter is the case, the ambiguity here could be construed as misleading. Regardless, the reference in Stromata does not support either of these views.

The full text of book VI of the Stromata is available here. We will quote a larger portion of the section than Carrier did:

Rightly, therefore, Jesus the son of Nave saw Moses, when taken up [to heaven], double, -- one Moses with the angels, and one on the mountains, honoured with burial in their ravines. And Jesus saw this spectacle below, being elevated by the Spirit, along also with Caleb. But both do not see similarly but the one descended with greater speed, as if the weight he carried was great; while the other, on descending after him, subsequently related the glory which he beheld, being able to perceive more than the other as having grown purer; the narrative, in my opinion, showing that knowledge is not the privilege of all. Since some look at the body of the Scriptures, the expressions and the names as to the body of Moses; while others see through to the thoughts and what it is signified by the names, seeking the Moses that is with the angels.
Right from the start we have an interpretive problem as the text of The Asssumption is no longer available for us to check the context of this obscure reference in Clement. But in Clement’s writings, this incident from The Assumption is quoted within the wider context of a section about hidden or sacred meaning in scripture, that is perceived only by some. The assumption of Moses before Joshua in which Joshua sees two of Moses - one with angels, one being buried - is read as an allegory of those who perceive the true or hidden meanings and those who do not. Joshua sees these things in some state where he and Caleb are "elevated by the spirit". It was a special revelatory privilege of the spirit realm granted to him, but not granted to Caleb who accompanies him and who merely saw Moses' earthly burial.

The main problem with Carrier’s use of this passage to support his “two body” theory, is that the text clearly does not say Moses had two bodies and it is entirely compatible with Moses going on to an intermediate spiritual state prior to the resurrection. The Moses "with the angels" that Caleb could not see, but that Joshua saw while they were "elevated by the spirit", is just as easily read as the spirit of Moses awaiting the resurrection of his body that has been buried, or, if the writer prefers immortality of the soul, just the mere ascending soul or spirit of Moses. It is not another “body” in the sense of Carrier's newly created resurrection body, or in any other sense. The last sentence of the above paragraph contrasts the "body of Moses" seen buried with "the Moses that is with the angels", neglecting to mention that the latter is a bodily state. So this passage offers no support for Carrier’s theory, does not imply a bodily existence outside the earthly body, and is very easily reconciled with the common scholarly notion of two-stage Jewish resurrection belief that Carrier is arguing against.


Layman said…
Excellent post.

Carrier's use of this passage is, at best, ambiguously misleading. On one hand, he refers to the Assumption of Moses in the section entitled, "The Heady Days of Jewish Diversity" and on the other hand he explicitly (and erroneously) claims that the text refers to "two bodies for Moses" when, as you say, only one body is mentioned.

Moreover, if all that the Assumption of Moses is depicting is the survival of the spirit after death, then this is hardly news and not much in the way of evidence for Jewish diversity. We know that the Pharisees, Paul included, believed that the spirit survived death.

As evidence of the "two body" theory it fails.

As evidence of Jewish belief that something apart from the body survives death, it is not news and fits into line with what William L. Craig and N.T. Wright would say about Jewish belief about the after-life.
Steven Carr said…
Moses only had one body. Even at the Transfiguration, there is no claim made that the Moses seen by the disciples was a *bodily* Moses. It was a spiritual Moses that was seen at the Transfuguration , and his *body* was awaiting resurrection.

The idea that after death, people became a disembodied spirit was well known in Judaism.
Steven Carr said…
On page 107, Carrier writes 'Already in the Old Testament the idea of a disembodied life separate from one's body is well established'.

Clearly the passage supports Carrier's view that some Jews believed that after death, some people had a disembodied life separate from their body.

Does Wright claim that Jews believed some people had a disembodied life , separate from their body? I thought Wright claimed people were 'sleeping'. I could be wrong though.
Steven Carr said…
Doesn't the word 'assumption' imply a bodily translation to Heaven?
Layman said…

You act like Carrier discovered the idea that many Jews believed the spirit survived the body to await the resurrection of the body. That's absurd. Carrier's supposed innovation is his two body theory. He even claims that the Assumption of Moses refers to two bodies. There appears to be no evidence for this and good reason to believe that the AoM is simply referring to what scholars already knew -- many Jews believed the spirit survived death and awaited the resurrection of the body.

As for Wright, you still have not bought Wright's book on the subject? And have you forgotten the post we just discussed where I quoted Wright as arguing that the Sadducees denied the Pharisees' belief in the intermediate state. I will repeat:

"The most likely interpretation – and a very revealing one it is – is that those who held to belief in resurrection in this period, that is, the Pharisees, had also developed regular ways of describing an intermediate state. In that world, nobody supposed the dead were already raised; resurrection , as we have seen, describes new bodily life after a present mode of ‘life after death’. So: where and what are the dead now? To this, we may surmise, the Pharisees gave the answer: they are at present like angels, or spirits. They are presently disembodies; in the future, they will receive their new embodiment. What the Sadducees denied, then, was on the one hand the resurrection, and on the other hand the two current accounts of the intermediate state. They did not deny the existence of angels or spirits, but they denied that the dead were in a state that could be so described."

Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pages 132-34.
Layman said…

Where does Clement refer to "assumption"?
Layman said…

Can you give me the linguistic evidence that would necessarily suggest that the terms, wherever used, mean an assumption of the physical body?

Seriously, I would be interested in chasing this thread.
Steven Carr said…
Carrier writes 'Already in the Old Testament the idea of a disembodied life separate from one's body is well established', and quotes the Assumption of Moses to back him up.

You seem to agree. Moses had a disembodied body.

But 'assumption' *means* an assumption of the body. When people die and go to Heaven, they are not *assumed* as in the Assumption of Mary.

If Moses was believed to be a *disembodied* spirit, how did he appear at the Transfiguration?

A question that Wright really does not want to answer in his book....

Was Moses 'resurrected' at the Transfuguration, or did the early Christians believe Moses had a spiritual *body*?

Wright, of course, argues elsewhere that Paul believed the dead were 'sleeping', and did not have a disembodied *life*.

As Carrier points out, Wright has no consistent thesis on the subject.

Wright also seems to toy with the idea that Moses never died....
Steven Carr said…
Just for some data for my comment, on page 216 of 'Resurrection', Wright has '...but in all probability Paul is using the language of sleeping and waking simply as a way of contrasting a stage of temporary inactivity, not necessarily unconsciousness, with a subsequent one of renewed activity..'

Carrier was pointing out that some Jews did not believe it was a period of 'inactivity'

It would be interesting to see Wright's sources for his claim that some Jews began to believe that Moses had never died.
Layman said…

Wright is clear that the body is inactive but the spirit is conscious (and thus not 'inactive').

And, again, in the section I quoted Wright is clear that during the intermediate state, the dead's spirits are like the angels/spirits. Hardly inactive, though the bodies are.

I can only speculate as to the nature of Moses' appearance at the transfiguration, but clearly if he was as an angel/spirit during the intermediate state then he could have appeared in that form. Or, their future selves may have been revealed in some way.

And I again ask, where does Clement use the phrase "assumption" when discussing Moses in this passage?

He seems to conspicuously avoid referring to two bodies, as he mentions the one body below but not one going into heaven.
Layman said…
And despite the lack of a reference to the term, "assumption," here in Clement, what do you think the original terminilogy was? From what I have been able to read, there is confusion between the Assumption of Moses and the Testament of Moses, what do you see as their relationship if any? And what language ws the AoM originally written in?
Layman said…
And how could an "assumption" leave the body behind? In the Assumption of Mary the body is indeed assumed into heaven. it is not exchanged for another body with the old body being left behind. So your own reference to the supposed techincal meaning of the term "assumption", which term is not used by Clement and which term remains unspecified regarding its purported use in "The Assumption of the Moses," hardly explains the matter.
Steven Carr said…
Layman prefers to dwell on minutaie, and like Wright, spectacular ducks the question of whether the disciples saw a disembodied spirit when they saw Moses at the transfiguration.

Did they see something that looked like a body or did they see a disembodied spirit, when they saw Moses (I wonder how anybody recognised Moses in disembodied spirit form)

Likewise Layman ducks the question of what Wright's source was for his claim that some Jews came to believe that Moses had never died.

The difficulty of tracking down Wright's sources compares with the clarity of Carrier's notes.

Wright is so unclear that, after he had written an article in the Times, a Christian wrote a letter to the London Times, wondering what Wright thought *did* wait for a resurrection, if it was not a soul, body or spirit. It is hard to read Wright's book and find a place where he says that a person's X goes to Heaven when they die, where X is either spirit, body , soul or something else. is an excellent example of Wright's deliberate refusal to say what Paul thought went to Heaven when we die. He is very clever at disguising it though.

While Layman often castigates sceptics for not understanding these things, the plain fact is that I have not seen a statement by Wright saying 'The spirit of a person goes to Heaven when he dies, and awaits reunification with the body.'

I would honestly appreciate a passage from Wright saying that (or one saying what he does believe goes to Heaven when you die). I know that there is at least one Christian reader of the Times, who would also love to know if your spirit or your soul goes to Heaven when you die.

The idea that angels are 'disembodied' is a new one to me.

An assumption does not normally leave the body behind, which is why Carrier flags up the Assumption of Moses, with its 2 Moses as indicative of the breadth of beliefs of Jews.

The Assumption of Moses is indeed lost, and may not have been called that. Clement confirms that , if not titled 'Assumption of Moses', it was about the Assumption of Moses, when he wrote '"When Michael, the archangel, disputing with the devil, debated about the body of Moses." Here he confirms the assumption of Moses. He is here called Michael, who through an angel near to us debated with the devil.
Steven Carr said…
The opening post is about page 107, where Carrier quotes Anthony Harvey 'There is no evidence that the Greek conception of surivaval in the form of a disembodied soul ever penetrated the Jewis mentality'.

Carrier describes this as ridiculous and quotes Clement to disprove it. But it is intriguing to know how Moses could be recognised when he was a disembodied spirit.
Steven Carr said…
It is also helpful to note that many Jews thought angels had bodies of spirit. (in modern language)

For example, '..., from angels and mortal women; for the substance of angels is spiritual; but it occurs every now and then that on emergencies occurring they have imitated the appearance of men, and transformed themselves so as to assume the human shape....' Philo denied that angels had *bodies*, but they had *substance* - a spiritual substance.

Ethereal , if you will.

If Paul thought people died, went to Heaven and became like angels, he could well have thought that they had a substance, something that could be transformed.

This ties in with Carrier's claim that when Paul said the last Adam became a life-giving spirit, Paul was not denying that Jesus still had *substance*.
Layman said…
"Layman prefers to dwell on minutaie, and like Wright, spectacular ducks the question of whether the disciples saw a disembodied spirit when they saw Moses at the transfiguration."


The question before us is whether Carrier is right to claim that Clement/Assumption of Moses refers to Moses having "two bodies." It clearly does not.

And it is not "ducking" a question to acknowledge that I do not have a definitive answer. I think it likely they were in their spirit form, which like angels could appear and be seen by human beings. But I am not certain.

"Likewise Layman ducks the question of what Wright's source was for his claim that ome Jews came to believe that Moses had never died.

Please give me a reference to Wright's statement. I am not inclined to got cite hunting by your vague descriptions of Wright's writing.

I am not a Wright-apologist, by the way. So I've little desire to go hunting down supposed inconsistencies if you are not willing to cite to them directly. From my understanding, Wright believes that Paul affirms the intermediate state whereby the spirit goes to heaven while the body lays wasting away until resurrection. Then the two are reunited. But for Jews like Paul, this intermediate state was not optimal because they did not have their physical body.

This seems to be what Wright is saying here:

"But conservative Christian readers often scrunch together two very different things. One is going to heaven after you die, and the other is the resurrection of the body as the final destination. Many conservatives are puzzled when I tell them that there's not very much in the New Testament about going to heaven when you die, and that where you do find material in the New Testament about going to heaven when you die, this is a temporary thing. What really matters is resurrection—Life After Life After Death."

Wright does not say the NT does not mention going to heaven when you die, he says its there is not much said about it because that is not the focus.

Wright again:

"So, though Paul does refer to the interim state as sleep, it seems to me that is clearly a metaphor taken from Daniel 12 or Isaiah 26, where "Those who sleep in the dust of the earth" clearly means those who are at present dead and not yet raised.

There is consciousness even though it will not be anything like the final, glorious, newly embodied human life that we look forward to in the resurrection."

The spirit goes to be with Jesus until the resurrection of the body that is asleep.

So where is the ambiguity? Perhaps you think it is silly for Jews to be concerned about their body being resurrected when they are alive in a sense in spirit form, but that is irrelevant because it is clear that many Jews believed just that. They did care about the bodily resurrection and the New Testament's focus is on that resurrection, though the intermedite state is mentioned.

"While Layman often castigates sceptics for not understanding these things, the plain fact is that I have not seen a statement by Wright saying 'The spirit of a person goes to Heaven when he dies, and awaits reunification with the body.'"

As I just excerpted, Wright clearly believes that though the Christian's body is dead awaiting resurrection, the person goes to be with Jesus in a consious, interactive state.

In any event, I think that is clearly what Paul believes. A part of us goes to be with Jesus after our death and the body stays awaiting the resurrection, which at that time the part that went to be with Jesus is conjoined with the transformed body.

"The idea that angels are 'disembodied' is a new one to me."

I did not say that angels cannot have substance. I said that angels was a way that some Jews appear to have described people in the intermediate state -- people who did not have their bodies. It is this that I suspect is what is depicted as the Transfiguration, but again, I'm open on the issue.

"An assumption does not normally leave the body behind, which is why Carrier flags up the Assumption of Moses, with its 2 Moses as indicative of the breadth of beliefs of Jews."

Which assumptions are you referring to? The portion excerpted by Carrier does not say "two Moses," he says "two bodies," which Clement does not. There are comparable OT based embelishments that have the body of a renowned OT figure being buried and his soul taken up into heaven. It is obvious that the AOF and the Testament of Moses have Moses dead and his body on earth. There is no indication whatsoever that the body was taken up into heaven.

"Carrier describes this as ridiculous and quotes Clement to disprove it. But it is intriguing to know how Moses could be recognised when he was a disembodied spirit."

If that is the limit of Carrier's objective then why does he falsely say that Clement refers to the two bodies of Moses? And you are selectively parsing again as that is not the only person Carrier quotes. If Carrier wanted to simply prove that there was a belief in some sort of intermediate date in Judaism then he had actual Jewish writings to which he could have referred, including Paul in Philippians.

"This ties in with Carrier's claim that when Paul said the last Adam became a life-giving spirit, Paul was not denying that Jesus still had *substance*."

So now you are advocating the two body theory as well? I agree, the reference to Jesus as a life-giving spirit does not deny that Jesus had substance after his resurrection. Or a body, for that matter. It is just a body of a different nature than the fleshly body.
Theologician said…

In your first post, you basically agree with what I’m saying when you state that “Moses only had one body” (why you tie this into the transfiguration I’m not sure, as if the disparate tales in the Gospels and apocryphal stories of Moses must be one seamless coherent narrative). You tell us that Clement’s words support a disembodied life separate from their body. I agree and that wasn’t at issue in this post.

You ask if an assumption implies a bodily translation to Heaven. Later you boldly insist that it does: “But 'assumption' *means* an assumption of the body,” you say. What research between your initial humble inquiry and the latter confident declaration led you to this view, I’m not sure. Parallels with the assumption of Mary are really irrelevant for a multitude of reasons, one of which is that even on Carrier’s view of two bodies in this passage, we don’t have what you think an assumption ought to refer to. If Carrier is right, we’ve got a dead body and a newly created body seen in a vision with angels -- that’s all. If “assumption” is the strict category you suppose, a sighting of body doubles does not get us there. Know of any other "assumptions" with body doubles? Calling a newly created body seen with angels an "assumption" is a stretch. If this is a new body, where exactly is it "assumed" from? Did God create it down on earth just so he could "assume" it up to heaven? Perhaps, in crafting the new body, he needed to be close to Moses' earthly body for reference - to get all the details right. All silliness aside, in The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition With Commentary (Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha, Vol 10), widely regarded as one of the best English commentaries on The Assumption, Johannes Tromp argues that analepsis can refer to the "taking up" of Moses' soul into heaven, so there really isn’t any issue there. Further, Bauckham, who interprets Clement here exactly as Layman and I do, gives an extremely detailed analysis of all of the citations relevant to reconstructing The Assumption of Moses in his WBC volume on Jude. Other than Clement, Origen is the only other writer that he sees as giving us actual insight into *assumption* portion of The Assumption of Moses (almost all of the citations stop after the dispute over Moses' body/burial). And as Layman said, Origen refers to this event as the Ascension. Not to say the better attested title isn’t The Assumption of Moses, but just that the words here are not in opposition. In another passage in Clement’s Stromata 1.23.1, that Carrier does not cite, this same assumption/ascension of Moses is referred to when speaking of different names given to Moses, and the on-line translation Kirby provides translates it “ascension” : “And he had a third name in heaven, after his ascension, as the mystics say -- Melchi.”

You say a lot of other stuff that is neither here nor there. The issue I’m addressing in my post is whether or not the passage of Stromata implies “two bodies” for Moses. It doesn’t speak of “two bodies” and it doesn’t imply two bodies. So I’m going to go with your initial instincts on this Steve, and conclude here by reiterating and agreeing with the very first comment you posted in this series. Against Carrier, “Moses only had one body.”
Steven Carr said…
'It is obvious that the AOF and the Testament of Moses have Moses dead and his body on earth. There is no indication whatsoever that the body was taken up into heaven.'

Obvious? The Jewish Encylopedia thinks not.

'Later on, the belief became current that Moses did not die, but was taken up to heaven like Elijah. This seems to have been the chief content of the
apocryphon entitled "Assumptio Moysis," preserved only in fragmentary form (comp. Charles, "The Assumption of Moses," 1897'

Layman really struggles to reconcile his claims that Jews believed in a disembodied spirit of Moses with the view that Moses could be seen at the Transfiguration.

What sort of hair-splitting is it to say that a disembodied spirit can be seen in bodily form, yet is never embodied until the resurrection?

The same sort of hair-splitting that claims dead people are conscious, but sleeping?

Or the claim that Paul says a spirit goes to Heaven when you die, yet claims that when Paul said Jesus 'became a life-giving spirit', he meant a flesh-and-bones Jesus in bodily form, and was denying Jesus became a spirit?

The idea that Moses went bodily to Heaven was widespread in 1st century Judaism, as even Wright claims on page 95 of 'Resurrection'.

Is 'Theologian' right that analepis means that the 'soul' can be taken up into Heaven, as in standard Judaism? Does Paul teach that the 'soul' can be taken up into Heaven? What word does Paul use for 'soul'?

Clearly, if Theologian is right that some Jews believed the *soul* was taken into Heaven, and Layman is right that some Jews believed the *spirit* was taken into Heaven, and Wright is right that some Jews believed the flesh-and-blood of living people can be taken into Heaven, then there seems little reason to criticise Carrier for claiming there was widespread divergence of Jewish beliefs.
Theologician said…
Hey Steve,

At a later date, I'll be sure to post on how relevant I think Carrier's general case for diversity in 2nd Temple Judaism is (something I don't deny - nor does anyone else I know) to his argument for the "two body" theory of resurrection. But here I'm looking at the accuracy of *his* case based on a specific example he gives. We'll also be looking further into accuracy. And on that "Assumptio Moysis" - not sure that they're referring to the same text that Carrier, Layman, Clement and I are speaking of. That one is not extant - not even in a "fragment" -, but is a reconstruction based on the citations we're discussing. And the webpage you gave goes on to say it mentions Moses' pre-existence - and that is not the case with any of the citations of The Assumption/Ascension we're discussing, and which speak of Moses' burial. Maybe you can go beyond a Google search and get us more info. on it.
Layman said…

When faced with commentaries by leading scholars directly on point, and with primary sources of similar Jewish writings of the era showing remarkable similarities, and despite the fact that the primary evidence from The Assumption of Moses available to us through the writings of others which clearly refers to Moses' death and burial, Carr plays his card. An online Jewish encyclopedia which may or may not be referring to the writing at issue.

I checked my handy-dandy Jewish Encyclopedia's description of The Assumption of Moses as well:

Apocryphal work extant in Greek, dating from the 1st cent. CE. It relates the revelation of Moses to
Joshua including a history of Israel down to the time of Herod, forecasting the messianc era shortly thereafter. An additional section, describing the death of Moses and the war between Satan and the archangel Michael over the his body, has been lost. The book seems to have originated with an Essenic group.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, page 676.

These Jewish scholars write about a dead Moses, not an assumed Moses. No mention of the bodily being taken up into heaven.

So, do you have any actual evidence, Steve, or must we be satisfied with an online secondary source of dubious relevance?

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