In his chapter in The Empty Tomb, Carrier argues that Paul’s letters reflect “Orphic conceptions of the body as a residence, jailhouse, or tomb” from which the soul must escape to recognize its true potential. TET, page 142-43. This is representative of the classic pagan views of the time, which emphasized the evil of the material world and the edification of the spiritual. I plan to engage this issue more fully later, but in this post I focus on a particular Pauline passage that Carrier offers as a supporting evidence:
The idea of the body as a ‘container’ for the soul also matches Orphic theology and is found in pagan and Jewish thought. So Paul also treats the body as a container for the spirit in 2 Corinthians 4:7, where we are described as the ostrakina skeue, the very ‘clay pots’ that, once used, must be destroyed.
As is usually the case, Carrier fails to quote the verse he relies on. Here is the relevant passage:
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
2 Cor. 5-10.
First, Carrier is in error when he states that the body is depicted as merely a container for the spirit. Paul is saying something very different. Paul is not talking about our spirits or any other part of ourselves being imprisoned within the body. Rather, Paul is referring to the “Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” which we can present to the world despite the limitations of our own nature. James Dunn translates the relevant part in this helpful way: “We have this treasure in clay jars, in order that the extraordinary quality of the power might be seen to be of God and not from ourselves.” The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 482. The meaning Carrier claims for his theory simply is not present in the relevant text. The “treasure” is not the human spirit or soul, but is the knowledge of God which shines out from us despite our limitations.
Second, it may be unnecessary to look for any particular literary or theological influence – much less a pagan one – to account for Paul’s analogy of the earthen vessels because “[s]cholars note that Corinth produced many cheap, frail pottery lamps.” Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, page 174. So “[t]his may be a reference to the cheap pottery lamps made in Corinth and used for walking about at night. Precisely because of their thinness, these vessels let out more light.” Ben Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, pages 386-87. Paul, having stayed in Corinth for a while, appears to have drawn on a mundane part of every-day life in Corinth to use as an analogy for his point about God using humans despite their frailty to reveal Himself.
Finally, even if some other explanation is needed, Carrier never explains why a reference to humans as clay pots would demand a pagan literary or religious influence when plenty of pre-existing Jewish ones were readily available to Paul. Paul was a Jew. He says he was a Pharisee. He draws from the Old Testament time and time again, as Carrier himself recognizes. So why, when the Old Testament is full of references to God as a potter and humans the clay with which he works, does Carrier strive for a pagan origin for this analogy? I would think the following verses, which are not exhaustive, would be a good place to start: Isa. 29:16; 41:25; 45:9; 64:8; Jer: 18:2-6. Moreover, later Jewish authors emphasized that Torah resides "only in scholars who are like the humblest vessels (Sipre Deut. 48.2.7), and that God prefers broken vessels because he is nearest the broken (Presiq. R. Kah. 24:5 cf. 66:2)." Keener, op. cit., page 174.