Is Richard Carrier Wrong About What Philo Believed?

In his chapter in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Richard Carrier argues that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body that had died, but in a so-called “resurrection” that involved a brand new body. Thus, Paul believed that Jesus’ body remained in the grave and his soul or spirit was encased in a brand new body provided by God. One problem with this theory is that there is no evidence that anyone – let alone Christians or Jews – held such a belief.

Undaunted, Mr. Carrier argues that a few ancient Jewish writings lend support for his two-body resurrection doctrine. As has been demonstrated in a prior post, his claim that the second-century Assumption of Moses supports his case is erroneous. His section – reviewed here – arguing that the Jewish writer Philo held "just such a view" as his proposed two-body resurrection doctrine is similarly erroneous. As we will see, Philo believed in the opposite of what Mr. Carrier claims. Philo affirmed that the soul of the good escaped the body and existed in a bodiless state, not a second embodied state. Alan Segal, Life After Death, page 370 (“Philo discussed the immortality of the soul without ever broaching the resurrection of the body.”).

First, Philo lends no support to a two-body resurrection doctrine because he has no concept of a resurrection. Hidden away in a footnote is Mr. Carrier’s contention that "Philo does on occasion refer to his theory of salvation as 'resurrection.'" The Empty Tomb, page 202 n. 34. As I demonstrated in a previous post, Mr. Carrier’s argument is contrived and unsupported. As helpfully noted by Alan Segal in a book recommended by Mr. Carrier:

Philo did not use the word anastasis or its derived verb forms which signify ‘resurrection’ in the Septuagint and the New Testament. He did not use any form derived from egeiro to signify postmortem existence, as Paul like to do. He would not have liked the notion of flesh rising from the dead. Instead, he almost exclusively used the Greek term athanasia, immortality, to describe the afterlife.

Alan Segal, Life After Death, page 370.

Second, Philo never mentions the soul entering a second body (soma) upon death. The soul is released from the body and exists separately from it. Segal, op. cit., page 374 (“In most passages … Philo explicitly regarded death as the soul’s liberation from the prison of the body.”); Fred W. Burnett, “Philo on Immortality: A Thematic Study of Philo’s Concept of Paliggenesia,” CBQ 46.2 (Jul 1984), pages 451, 459 (In Philo’s belief, the soul “will ultimately be freed from the body and its influence.”); (“Philo clearly says in Cher. 113-15 that the soul survives the dissolution of the body/soul mixture and proceeds to an incorporeal existence.”).

In Philo’s own words:

  • "What of the soul after death? But then we who are joined to the body, creatures of composition and quality, shall be no more, but shall go forward to our rebirth, to be with the unbodied, without composition and without quality." (Cher. 113).

  • “But the virtuous man in both his lives – in that with the body and in that without the body – enjoys peace, and alone is very good while no one of the foolish is so.” (Qu. Gen. 3.11).

  • “The death of worthy men is the beginning of another life. For life is twofold; one is with corruptible body and the other is without body and incorruptible.” (Qu. Gen. 1.16).

  • “Those who have given themselves to genuine philosophy, who from the first to last study to die to the live in the body, that a higher existence immortal and incorporeal, in the presence of Him who is Himself immortal and uncreated, may be their portion. (Gig. 13-14).

Indeed, the very term that Philo uses to refer to the nature of existence after the rebirth is asomatou, which Liddels’ translates, “unembodied, incorporeal.” It breaks down a = not, somatos = physical. This is literally the opposite of the term Paul repeatedly uses to refer to the resurrection of the soma, the body.

Third, Mr. Carrier’s only real attempt at proving that Philo affirms his two-body resurrection theory is his argument that Philo at one point compares the afterlife existence of human beings to angels – who he claims lead an embodied existence.

At one point Philo does compare angels to soul-reborn humans. But Mr. Carrier is mistaken when he argues that the comparison implies that Philo therefore believes that human souls had a second, embodied state. Indeed, Philo is clear that angels have no bodies, although on exceptional occasions they can assume a bodily form. Here is the relevant text:

[F]or 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; as they did on this occasion, when forming connexions with women for the production of giants.

(Qu. Gen. 1.92).

Obviously, the natural state of angels is bodiless. They can transform themselves from their spiritual state into a bodily form so as to interact with the material world when urgent need arises, but that hardly helps Mr. Carrier. When Philo compares humans to angels he does not mean angels in their rare, atypical, “emergency” transformed state. Rather, Philo compares the righteous departed to the perfect, purely spiritual, bodiless form of angels. Later in this passage, Philo reiterates that angels “are incorporeal, as being spirits destitute of any body.” Ibid. Additionally, elsewhere Philo compares surviving human souls to angels by highlighting their incorporeal nature: “When Abraham left his immortal life, he is added to the people of God, in that he inherited incorruption and became equal to the angels, for angels – those unbodied and blessed souls – are the host and people of God.” (Sacr. 5).

Fourth, Philo emphasized that the afterlife state of humans is incorporeal is his description of the abode of the righteous dead. The destination of the soul is God himself, who is "a house, the incorporeal dwelling-place of incorporeal ideas." Ch. 49. As stated by Burnett:

Philo’s first point is that rebirth consists of the soul becoming ‘unbodied’, being ‘without composition,’ and ‘without quality.’ … Philo seems to mean that the soul, which was incorporeal before mixing with the body, will be able to return to the place of incorporeal ideas. Philo defines God as ‘a house, the incorporeal dwelling-place of incorporeal ideas.’ This incorporeal ‘house’ is the ultimate dwelling-place of the incorporeal soul…. Rebirth of the soul is to become pure mind.

Burnett, op. cit., pages 453-54.

There are additional indications in Philo's writings that his belief in the human state after death affirmed an incorporeal, bodiless existence. But the evidence discussed here, as well as the secondary literature, clearly shows that Philo lends no support for Mr. Carrier’s proposed two-body resurrection doctrine.

Previous responses to Mr. Carrier's chapter in The Empty Tomb are available here, here, here, here, and here.


Steven Carr said…
'Rather, Philo compares the righteous departed to the perfect, purely spiritual, bodiless form of angels.'

Gosh who would have thought it was so easy to refute Christian apologetic that Jews could not conceive of an afterlife except in bodily, flesh and blood form.

So some Jews believed in a disembodied, spiritual existence after death did they? Carrier is wholly upfront about Philo believing in a purely spiritual salvation (just as Wright also claimed that that is what some Jews in the first century believed)

Carrier writes 'Philo regards angels as mental souls, pure minds, which are wholly incoporeal'. It is disgraceful that you imply Carrier tries to hide this, when he states it up front as what Philo believed. Carrier simply points out that Philo says angels have 'substance'. They are composed of the 'most pure substance of Heaven'.

How strange that you cannot bring yourself to quote Carrier's quotes of Philo...

Perhaps because what Philo says about the substance of Heaven is so close to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that it would be obvious to your readers that Paul is also talking about us being composed of this spiritual , Heavenly substance. And equally obvious that the Gospels do not.

What does 'anastasis' mean in Hebrews 11:35 'Women received their dead raised to life (anastasis) again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection' (ansastasis)'

Exactly the same word is used in both cases. Once for a resurrection, and once for what Christians insist was an entirely different concept , resuscitation.

'Anastasis' is not some magic word which means resurrection, when other words do not....
Layman said…

Carrier is misleading throughout his discussion of Philo, though he does speak out of both sides of his mouth on occasion. Philo never speaks of "resurrection" as I have clearly shown and as the source Carrier purported to rely on demonstrates. Carrier argues that because angels could mate with human women that they were in a form of embodied state, but Philo is clear that that only occurred in "emergencies" and then only after the angels transformed themselves from their bodiless state.

So no, Carrier is not "wholly upfront about Philo believing in a purely spiritual salvation." He argues that Paul -- who affirmed that the resurrected have a body ("soma") -- belived the same thing as did Philo -- who affirmed that the resurrected are without a body ("asomatou").

And it is no surprise that some Jews believed in a purely spiritual existence after death. Philo is a well-known example of such a Jew that adopted Greek concepts of the soul and body and adapted his Judaism to fit them. When have I denied that?

Regarding Philo and 1 Corinthians 15, you miss at least one crucial diffirence which is actually the crux of Carrier's error. Paul speaks of the resurrected "soma" -- body -- of the believers. Here is the river Carrier is trying to bridge. Carrier, purportedly, has abandoned the simplistic notion you cling to about Paul not believeing that the resurrected Jesus (and believer) had a "soma" -- body. Instead, he's tried to show that Paul denied continuity between the dead body and the new body granted by God. It is this theory that about which Mr. Carrier claims Philo holds "just such a view." Obviously, Philo does not. Paul believes that resurrected believers have a "soma" Philo is adamant that they do not. They are not affirming the same post-life doctrine, they are atriculating two very differnt concetps.

You also miss the point about the use of anastasis. I have never argued that it cannot mean both what is called resuscitation and "the" resurrection at the end of time. It can be used to mean both. And the reason it can be used to mean both is because both involve the raising of the dead body back to life. How does this help your point when Philo never uses this word?
Layman said…
One more thing.

Sometimes I fear I give the impression of taking ideas too seriously by seriously responding to them. I do not want to let pass how silly I believe it is to claim that Philo believed that the resurrected have a body when he never mentions "resurrection" and he again and again and again says that the righteous dead are incorporeal, have no body, are without body, are without composition, are without quality, and that their spirit is freed from their body and goes to live in the "incorporeal dwelling-place of incorporeal ideas."

Even if Mr. Carrier's two-body resurrection doctrine idea had merit -- which as far as I can see is has none -- Philo lends no support to it.

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