In a section of his Chapter in The Empty Tomb entitled, “Paul and the Pharisees,” Carrier reviews the Rabbinic writings in an attempt to separate Paul from the Pharisees so as to drive a wedge between their firm belief in bodily resurrection and Paul’s resurrection views. As with previous sections of his chapter (about the Sadducees , the Herodians, Qumran, Paliggenesia , the Assumption of Moses, the Scribes, Philo, and the Pharisees) there are several problems with his analysis.
The Rabbinic Writings as Questionable Sources of Pharisaic Belief
Carrier mistakenly assumes that the Rabbinic writings reflect the Pharisaic views of Paul’s time. This assumption is inexplicable because Carrier contradicts himself by his speculation that at least one sect of Pharisees taught a two body resurrection belief that left no trace in the Rabbinic writings. In any event, the Rabbinic writings were composed 200 to 400 years after Paul’s letters. Those hundreds of years were not without significance. Indeed, the very fabric of Jewish society was rent by the crushed rebellion and destruction of the Temple -- until then the focus of Jewish religious life -- in 70 AD. Following another failed rebellion – the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD – the Jewish people were driven from Judea and banned from Jerusalem, which was reestablished as a pagan city. Jewish messianic beliefs were crushed and the Jewish faith was forced to undergo radical transformation.
For these reasons and others, scholars are skeptical about how much the Rabbis really knew about the Pharisees. “The Rabbis, though they claim pedigree from their connection to the Pharisees, do not seem to know much about them. The earliest rabbinic literature is redacted at least 130 years after the Pharisees cease to exist as a visible group.” Claudia Setzer, Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, page 22. As noted by leading Jewish scholar Neil Gillman, “it would be historically questionable to view the Judaism of the rabbis as flowing directly from Pharisaism.” The Death of Death, page 121. Thus, even if Carrier succeeded in showing complete incompatibility between Rabbinic and Pauline views on resurrection, he would have failed to distinguish Paul from the Pharisees.
The Rabbis and Paul Believed in Transformation of the Body and the Universe
Carrier’s reconstruction of Rabbinic views on resurrection is flawed. Carrier argues that the Rabbis were so committed to the continuity between the old body and the resurrected body that they believed that God accomplished eternal life for believers not by changing their bodies, but by changing the laws of nature. According to Carrier, the Rabbis believed that God changes the universe to accommodate our bodies but Paul believes that God gives us new bodies to accommodate the transformed universe. TET, page 118. This raises the question – unanswered by Carrier – as to just how God could change everything, even the laws of nature, without affecting the resurrected body? An entire universe and the natural order changes but our bodies do not? This is not an either/or situation. Paul too believed the universe would change, but he believed the body would change with it. A transformed universe and body makes much more sense of Rabbinic views than the notion that the entire universe would be transformed but the body no different than before.
Furthermore, a Rabbinic passage unmentioned by Carrier demonstrates that in fact the Rabbis did believe that the universe and the resurrected body were transformed into improved states of being:
Not like this world is the World to Come. In the World to Come there is neither eating nor drinking; nor procreation of children or business transactions; no envy or hatred or rivalry; but the righteous sit enthroned, their crowns on their heads, and enjoy the lustre of the Schechninah.
Obviously a body that needs neither food nor drink, and apparently experiences no sexual desire, is not the same old same old. As noted by a leading Jewish scholar, "Life will be conducted on an entirely different plane." Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, page 366. The resurrected body is different than the old one.
Furthermore, in the Talmud a Gentile asks whether the dead are raised naked. In response, the Rabbi answered, “If a kernel of wheat is buried naked and will sprout forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous." (b. Sanh. 90b). There is good reason to believe, as W.D. Davies suggests, that the Rabbi is referring to a transformed glorious body rather than simply a nice set of clothes. “When R. Meier used the analogy of the seed he was thinking most certainly of the glorious new body....” Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, page 310. The point is not just that the resurrected will avoid embarrassment, but that the question itself misses the point. For example, in Enoch 62:15-16 and 98:2, the resurrected are also said to wear “garments of glory” when they are resurrected. The reference to "garments of glory" is not to their clothes, but to their transformed, glorified state. So, there is good reason to view this as a direct reference to a glorified resurrected body rather than one that has all the human failings as the pre-resurrection body.
Different Audiences, Questions, and Agendas
Carrier contends that Paul does not use the same kinds of arguments or scriptures as the Rabbis do when discussing resurrection. I will discuss further below the erroneous nature of this contention, but there is a more fundamental flaw here. Carrier gives no consideration to the vast difference in time or the differing audiences and genre of Paul’s letters and the Rabbinic writings. Paul’s letters are highly occasional letters to largely non-Jewish audiences. The Rabbinical writings are extended discussions of Jewish law by Jewish scholars, edited over hundreds of years, sometimes presenting debates between the scholars.
Most of the Rabbinic discussions of resurrection involve responses to questions and challenges by Sadducees or Samaritans, not by Greeks. The primary focus of Rabbinic resurrection discussions was whether the resurrection was attested by scripture. This is not the challenge Paul faced. Another important focus of the Rabbis was the identity of the old with the new. This is why the Rabbis focus on the appearance of the resurrected body being the same, going so far as to explain a resurrection of the dead who bore their wounds and infirmities only to be thereafter healed by God. Nothing about this sequence, however, foreclosed a transformation of the old body into a more glorified one. In 2 Baruch 49:1-51:1 (written in the Second Temple Period), the dead are raised in the exact form in which they died so that “they may be recognized and recognize each other as the same people who died.” Richard Bauckham, “Life, Death, and the Afterlife in Second Temple Judaism,” in Life in the Face of Death, page 92. Once identity is established, their bodies are transformed into glorious new ones. Thus, Carrier is too quick to draw conclusions about the Rabbinic stress on the identity of the resurrected body with the previous one.
More to the point, Paul faced a different question posed by a different audience. He had to answer the question, “with what kind of body” do the dead rise? This is a question of mechanics. But “[i]n fact, relatively little material in Jewish texts deals with” the “mechanics of resurrection.” Gillman, op. cit., page 131. The Sadducees and Samaritans would not have had the same aversion to the physical as Paul’s Hellenized opponents did. So, for example, while it is true that Paul does not refer to Ezek. 37 in 1 Cor. 15 and the Rabbinic writings sometimes do, the implication is not that Paul could not have been a Pharisee, but that he was smart enough to realize to whom he was writing. It would have been counterproductive for Paul to refer to scriptures like Ezekiel's valley of the bones with its graphic relayering of skin and sinew as an example of resurrection. Paul was trying to defeat distaste for a resurrected body, not prove that the resurrection was gleaned from scripture or that it was possible with God's power. Paul had to walk a fine line, not abandoning the continuity between old and new while stressing that it is not a distasteful old body being resuscitated. He threads the needle well, emphasizing a transformative process that renders the old body less objectionable to even Greek tastes.
As a result, Carrier should be more wary than to assume that Paul and the Rabbis had the same reasons to write the same things, even if they shared some beliefs. Context, genre, audience, and socio-political realities matter.
Paul Uses Some of the Same Material as the Rabbis
Carrier is simply wrong that Paul does not use any of the metaphors or scriptures used by the Rabbis. In fact, as recognized by Jewish scholar Alan Segal in a book recommended to me by Carrier, “Paul uses two traditional Jewish metaphors at once in saying that the dead have only fallen asleep (Isa. 26:19; Dan 12:2).” Isa. 26:19 refers to those lying in the dust “awakening” and Daniel 12 states that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” Paul three times in 1 Cor. 15 refers to the dead who will be raised as being “asleep.” He also uses the metaphor in the same way often in 1 Thess. 4 and 5. Furthermore, Paul’s references to glorious celestial bodies in verse 41 draws on imagery from Daniel 12, which refers to the resurrected who “will shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Dan. 12:2-3. As noted by Richard B. Hays, “In Daniel, as in Paul’s teaching, there is no thought that the risen righteous ones actually become stars; rather, the metaphor is used to suggest something about the glorious state they will enjoy when they rise from the dead.” Interpretation, First Corinthians, page 271. See also Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body, pages 118-20. Thus, two of the three scriptures Carrier complains are absent are in fact used by Paul.
Furthermore, in addition to citing two of the three scriptures denied by Carrier, and using the analogy of sleeping in reference to the resurrection, Paul and the Rabbinic materials both use the seed analogy to describe resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:37, b. Sanh. 90b, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Section 33). Carrier’s rejection of this fact is unconvincing (and will be addressed more fully at another time). For now it is enough to note that it is not just Paul and the Rabbis who used the seed analogy to describe the resurrection of the body, but other early Christian writings such as the Gospel of John (12:23-24), 1 Clement (Clement 24) and Tertullian (Apology 48).
What Did the Resurrection-Believing Jews of Paul's Time Believe?
Carrier admittedly but inexplicably ignores Jewish texts from the Second Temple Period that deal with the resurrected body. To the extent that the Pharisees were the party of resurrection belief, how can we ignore the most important texts of the Second Temple Period that discuss resurrection? Many of these believed, like Paul, in a resurrection that saw the old body transformed into a new glorious body. “Two common and closely related images show the righteous raised into heavenly glory. According to one, which has biblical precedent in Dan 12:3, they will shine like the stars (1 Enoch 104:2; 4 Ezra 7:78, 125; 2 Baruch 51;10; Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 33:5; 4 Maccabees 17:4-6)… [The second states that] they are said to be like the angels (1 Enoch 104:4; 2 Baruch 51:5, 10, 12).” Bauckham, op. cit., page 92. Thus, the majority view of Paul’s resurrection belief – that he believed in resurrection of the old and transformation into the new – fits neatly into Second Temple Jewish belief.
Carrier's analysis of Paul's relationship with the Pharisees by way of Rabbinic Judaism is fundamentaly flawed in its premises, fails to account for significant differences of genre, audience, and context, between the writings of Paul and the Rabbis, and makes substantive factual errors.