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JSNT30A (2008) 417-436 Copyright 2008 SAGE Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore http://JSNT.sagepub.

.com DOI: 10.1177/0142064X08091442

Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians Dag 0istein Endsj0
University of Bergen, NO-5007 Bergen, Norway

Abstract The disbelief demonstrated in 1 Corinthians towards the idea of the resurrection of the body is really not about the resurrection of Christ, but only about the general resurrection of the dead. This dilemma cannot be explained by referring either to Platonic beliefs, where all forms of bodily resurrection were considered equally absurd, or to Jewish tradition, which did not know of any resurrection and subsequent immortalization of a single individual before the end of the world. Turning, however, to more traditional Greek material, onefindsthat the idea of bodily resurrection was not at all unknown. But there was always a question of absolute bodily continuity. No body or body part that had been annihilated could be recreated. As such, this may explain why Paul's opponents in 1 Corinthians did not consider the resurrection of Christ controversial, but did reject the idea of a general resurrection of the dead. Key Words 1 Corinthians, Greek religion, physical immortality, resurrection

Writing to his Christian followers in Corinth, Paul complains about the disbelief of some of them: 'But if it is being preached that Christ has been raisedfromthe dead, how come that some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead' (1 Cor. 15.12). As has been pointed out by several scholars, this Hellenistic congregation had no problem with accepting the idea of the resurrected Jesus, but was seriously in doubt about the promise of a general resurrection of the dead.1 Why the Corinthians should exhibit such disbelief is often connected with the intrinsic opposition between Pagan and Jewish ideas
1. Robertson and Plummer 1914: 346; Conzelmann 1975 [1969]: 265; Perkins 1984: 224; Martin 1995: 121; Engberg-Pedersen 2001: 70.


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on the body. Reflecting this widely held opinion, Jan Bremmer argues that Christian apologists and theologians 'would spend an enormous amount of energy in explaining and defending' the doctrine ofthe resurrection of the body because this to the Greeks and Romans 'was an unthinkable idea' (2002: 41). As N.T. Wright maintains, the Corinthians 'were denying a future bodily resurrection' probably 'on the standard pagan grounds...that everybody knew dead people didn't and couldn't come back to bodily life' (2003: 316). Making a presumption that is not supported by the text, Birger A. Pearson simply claims that 'the opponents of Paul in Corinth believed in the immortality of the soul, and not the resurrection of the body', which they regarded 'as superfluous, if not altogether repugnant' (1973: 16-17). According to M.E. Dahl, the disbelief of the Corinthians 'was almost certainly a reaction against the "materialism" of the Jewish idea' (1962: 11 n. 1). Although the Christian belief in the resurrection originated in Jewish ideas, one cannot explain the disbelief of the Corinthians simply by contrasting Jewish materialism with a Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. Although the belief in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of time was familiar within Judaism during this period, it was not universally accepted. Many Jews tended to be just as sceptical in relation to the body as any Greek philosopher. As George W.E. Nickelsburg points out, according to some Jewish prophecies only 'the spirits, not the bodies, of therighteouswill rise' (1972: 172). This is seen, for example, in Jub. 23.31 and 1 En. 103.4. The idea of the immortal soul and even reincarnation was not unfamiliar in Jewish thought in antiquity.2 Indeed, as is made clear by Hans Clemens Caesarius Cavallin, in this period '[t]here is no single Jewish doctrine about life after death' but several (1974: 199; see also Nickelsburg 1972: 180). The idea that the body should become immortal has rightly been considered an absurdity in the context of Greek philosophical tradition. The resurrection of the physical body is a belief in absolute opposition to Platonic dualism and the notion of an immortal soul. As the prison of the soul (cf. Plato, Crat. 400c; Plato, Phaed. 81d-e, 82d-83d), the body was not anything one would want to keep for eternity. It is, however, impossible to see the philosophical ideas of the body as the only Greek beliefs in this matter. Indeed, the philosophical tradition never had any monopoly over Greek minds. Both Plutarch and Origen
2. See, e.g., Wis. 2.23-3.4; 4 Mace. 7.19; Philo, Opif. 135; Philo, Gig. 61; Philo, Leg. 1.107-8; Philo, Somn. 1.13 8-3 9; Philo, Spec. 4.188; Josephus,J. 2.8.11,2.8.14, 3.8.5; Mt. 16.13-14; Jewish grave inscriptions quoted in Cavallin 1974: 167-68.

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point out that Plato was not widely read (Plutarch, Mor. 328e; Origen, Cels. 6.2). As Henry Chadwick observes, 'Platonic metaphysics were the peculiar study of the few, of an intellectual aristocracy' (1980: xi). No matter how Platonically inclined the sceptical Corinthians might have been, they would all be familiar with the mythical stories connected to traditional Greek religion and re-enacted in rituals and theatre, and depicted in art and literature. The profound influence of these more traditional beliefs makes the disbelief of the Corinthians seem even odder, as these most essential parts of the mythical corpus provide several examples of people who died and were resurrected. The incidents were, moreover, not limited to that most ancient time we would consider the Greeks' mythical past.3 Various sources even refer to this happening to historical persons. I am not questioning the reaction Paul gotfromhis Corinthian congregation. But why did this reaction come about? If the Corinthians had been brought up with stories of various persons who had died and been resurrected, and seem even to have accepted the resurrection of Christ, why did they refuse to believe in the general resurrection of the dead? Resuscitation to a Normal Life As a Greek phenomenon the resurrection of the dead can be further classified in several subcategories. Thefirstand most familiar way was a belief in a pretty instant resuscitation of people who had died recently, most often achieved through medical means. When still mortal, the later god of healing, Asclepius, was said to have brought the dead back to life. Thefifth-centuryBCE poet Pindar tells how Zeus killed Asclepius for his challenging the mortal fate of humans (Pindar, Pyth. 3.47-57). Heracles similarly brought Alcestis, 'a woman recently dead', back to life (Euripides, Ale. 840). This was nevertheless not the result of a medical wonder treatment like that of Asclepius. Heracles had simply defeated Death personified in a physical combat by

3. It is important to notice that the Greeks themselves did not make a clear-cut distinction between a mythical and a historical past. As Paul Veyne observes, the Greek scholars would mostly reject the more fantastic achievements of Heracles and Theseus but not deny the historicity of the protagonists: 'From Herodotus to Pausanias and Eusebius.. .the Greeks continued to believe in and grapple with myth... During half a millennium there were many...who did not believe in the gods, but no one questioned Heracles and Aeolus, even at the cost of rationalization' (Veyne 1988 [1983]: 111-12).


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the grave {Ale. 1139-42). In the third century CE the philosophically inclined Philostratus would typically question whether Alcestis was dead at all, drawing a parallel to a similar resuscitation performed by Apollonius of Tyana (Philostratus, Vit. Apoll 4.45). Dale Martin may be correct in pointing out that the Corinthians, when they heard ' that they would be raisedfromthe dead by the power of Christ ', may have thought about the feats of Asclepius and the fate of Alcestis (1995: 111). But none of these stories can explain why they should believe in what allegedly had happened to Christ. These resuscitated persons only returned to their normal lives and did not gain immortality as did the resurrected Jesus and as was promised to all those who believed in him. These men and women apparently resumed their lives as if their experience with death really had no further consequence. The medical achievements as well as Heracles' successful fight with Death were, indeed, only various ways of postponing the time of death as it had originally been decided by fate. Turning to the New Testament, the parallels seem closer to the fate of Jairus's daughter and Lazarus than to that of Jesus. Both Lazarus and the young girl returned only to a normal mortal existence (Mt. 9.18-26; Mk 5.22-43; Lk. 8.41-56; Jn 11.17-44, 12.2). Dismemberment and Rejuvenation According to another, more dramatic, belief about people being resurrected, the keywords were dismemberment, the black cauldron and rejuvenation. When the Lydian king Tantalus wanted to test the omniscience of the gods, he slaughtered his own son Pelops, cut him up limb by limb and served him to the gods as a tantalizing dish. The gods nevertheless saw through the deception and refused to partake of the anthropophagie feast. At this moment, when one would consider that all hope was gone for the dismembered Pelops, the gods put the severed body parts back into the cauldron. Thereupon they retrieved him, not only once again complete, but even younger, stronger and more beautiful than ever (Pindar, Ol. 1.26; Ps.-Apollodorus, Ep. 2.3). Pelops's odd fate could probably be ascribed to the gods' wondrous power had it not been for the fact that this incident was farfromunique. Both Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, and his hoary father, Aeson, were said to have gone through a similar process as Pelops, rejuvenated by means of dismemberment and a cauldron (Lycophron, Alex. 1315; Euripides, Med. 482). Here it was Medea who was the rejuvenator. In a

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lost tragedy of Aeschylus she similarly made the old nurses of Dionysus young again {Scholiast to Euripedes, Med. Arg.; Scholiast to Euripedes, Eq. 1321). The most interesting part of this macabre practice is not, however, that we have here another form of resuscitation in the ancient Greek texts, but that the bringing back to life is completely pushed into the background by the way that killing and dismemberment appeared only as a systematic way of rejuvenation. Even though few probably tried this recipe at home to make their own decrepit friends and relatives young again, the idea was apparently well known to ordinary Greeks in antiquity. Aristophanes even referred to it humorously in his comedy The Knights. Here he had an expert butcher, the sausage maker, make the ancient Demos younger and prettier by first making a hotchpotch of him: 'The good boiling did me a great thing', the resurrected Demos said to his butcher (Aristophanes, Eq. 1321,1336). Whether anyone in historic times actually believed that it was possible to rejuvenate someone by means of dismemberment is, of course, another question. It is, moreover, also difficult to draw any direct parallel between these cases and what the Christian believed about the resurrection. Although those who were resuscitated after having been dismembered and stewed in the cauldron became both younger and, apparently for some time, physically perfect, there is nothing in the sources indicating that these persons became immortal. Hated old age and death always came in the end, though apparently a bit later than would originally have been the case. In this way, the dramatic treatment in the cauldron becomes just another way to trick the Fatesthough just for a while. Resurrection and Immortal Life These examples of resuscitation do not represent all the cases of bodily resurrection in the Greek tradition. Before I again turn to searching in the ancient source material, it is important to look at what aspects a Greek audience would probably find essential in the story of Jesus. As I see it, there are three main points in the early Christian presentation of Jesus' resurrection that would strike the average Greek: (1) He was the son of a god, (2) but originally not immortal. His original mortality was clearly demonstrated by the fact that Jesus died on the cross. This brings us to the final point: (3) Christ's immortality was first achieved as he was resurrected from the dead. Mortal children of gods represented no novelty in Greek religion. Mortality was the rule for the countless offspring resultingfromthe gods'


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many trysts with various men and women. As Euripides observed, 'even the children of the gods perish in death's darkness' (Euripides, Ale. 98990). From this point of view, Jesus was just a recent scion in a long line of mortalfigureswith a divine parent. The greatest number of these semidivine offspring were found in the most ancient past, including such heroic figures as Heracles, Asclepius, Minos, Perseus, Bellerophon, Theseus, Aeneas and Achilles. But the actual possibility of the gods still producing children with mortals was not denied even in antiquity. According to the claim of his mother, Alexander the Great was really the son of Zeus (Arrian, Anab. 151), while the earlyfifth-centuryBCE Olympic victor Euthymus of Locri was said to have had theriver-godCaecinus as his father (Pausanias, Descr. 6.6.4) and the third-century BCE Sicyonian general Aratus was considered a son of Asclepius {Descr. 2.10.3). A Pontic woman, who in the fourth century BCE claimed that Apollo had made her pregnant, was believed by many ofher contemporaries (Plutarch, Lys. 26.1). All of these children of various deities were originally also completely mortal; their half-way divine ancestry made no difference in that matter. Any Greek with the most basic knowledge of his own tradition would notice that Jesus became immortal only after his death, when he was resurrected. As Jesus was originally mortal,froma Greek point of view he would probably not have been considered a god who died and was resurrected. This was definitely not the case with anyone else who was resurrected in the Greek tradition. Contrary to the claim of Sir James Frazer, bodily resurrection, as found in the beliefs of the Greeks, was never expressed in the notion of a dying andrisinggod. Everybody who died and was resurrected was originally mortal, not immortal. As Jonathan Z. Smith observes:
All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In thefirstcase, the deities return but have not died; in the second case, the gods die but do not return (Smith 1995 [1993]: 522).

Jens Braarvig rightly points out that the Orphic Dionysus does not fit Smith's explanation well. In fact, Smith ignores the case of the Orphic Dionysus (1996: 18-34). It is nevertheless not possible to see the Orphic Dionysus as a dying andrisingdeity either. When we look more closely at how the Orphic Dionysus 'was believed to have died a violent death, but to have been brought back to life again' (Frazer 1955 [1912]: 12), we find that this was a case of reincarnation of his soulit was not a case of

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bodily resurrection as with Jesus. As the first-century BCE historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote, there were some who proclaimed 'that there were three persons () at different periods, and to each of these they ascribe separate deeds' (Diodorus Siculus 3.63.2). Each time he died, the Orphic Dionysus was not resurrected but born again. The fifth-century CE mythographer Nonnus only operated with two Dionysuses, but there was still no question of bodily continuity (Nonnus, Dion. 6.204-7; 7.319-68; 9.1-24), he was the twice born, {Dion. 1.4). As a mortal son of a deity, Jesus died, was resurrected and had his body made immortal. It was the Christian understanding of an immor talized and deified body that represented such a complete opposition to Platonic philosophy. However, if we look beyond this 'peculiar study of the few', we find quite a different landscape. Even though, as Jonathan Z. Smith maintains, there is no support in the Greek tradition for Frazer's concept of dying and rising gods, the notion of the immortalized body was not unknown to the Greeks. That Jesus died, was resurrected and became immortal, after which he disappeared from the ordinary world, was in complete agreement with a pattern we repeatedly find in the more general Greek tradition. It can be seen as a direct parallel to the fate of Achilles and numerous other celebrated figures. The prototypical warrior Achilles was the result ofthe marriage between the goddess Thetis and the mortal man Peleus. Killed by an arrow piercing his proverbial tendon, Achilles was placed on the funeral pyre. There, as the flames were about to consume his body, his divine mother intervened, snatched the corpse away and took it to either the white island of Leuce, the Isles of the Blessed or to the Elysian Fieldsall places by the ends of the earth. Here, at the uttermost edge of the world, Achilles was not only brought back to life, but achieved immortal life in the body. The oldest version of this story was found in the Aethiopis, the lost work of the eighth-century BCE epic poet Arctinus, of which today we only have a late antique summary (Proclus, Chrest. 2). One must be aware that this version does not harmonize with Homer, where Odysseus met the dead and disembodied soul of Achilles in Hades {Od. 11.465-540). There were, however, few who followed Homer's version of Achilles' eternal fate, in spite of his usually absolute authority (Edwards 1985:221 n. 15). Important classical authors like Simonides, Pindar and Euripides all repeated Arctinus's tale of how Achilles was translated to the end of the earth to live an eternal life there (Simonides according to Scholiast to Apollonius of Rhodes, Argon. 4.811-14; Pindar, OL 2.68-80; Pindar, Nem. 4.49-50; Euripides, Iph. Taur. 421-38; Euripides, Andr. 1259-62).


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Achilles is not the only one in Greek tradition who was born mortal, died, was resurrected, and gained immortality in some distant location. Memnon, the son of the goddess of dawn, represents probably the closest parallel to the fate of Achilles. Just like Achilles, Memnon got killed fighting outside of the walls of Troy, after which he was brought to the ends of the earth and resurrected for an immortal life there {Aethiopis according to Proclus, Chrest. 2). Asclepius, one of the most important Greek gods, had once been a mortal too. As a mortal he had been killed by Zeus's thunderbolt, before he was resurrected as an immortal deity. There are also other instances where resurrection is followed by physical immortalization. Thefirst-or second-century CE mythographer PseudoApollodorus explicitly tells how the young Melicertes was resurrected and made physically immortal after his mother Ino had killed him by throwing him into a boiling cauldron. Transformed into the minor deity Palaemon, Melicertes would live forever in the ocean (Ps.-Apollodorus, Lib. 3.4.3). Pindar relates how Castor, one of the Dioscuri, was killed before he was raised and given immortality by Zeus (Pindar, Nem. 10.7588). According to Euripides, the then deified Dioscuri prophesied how their still mortal sister Helen, 'when she has made the last turn and ended her life will be invoked as a goddess.. .and like us receive offerings from men, for such is the will of Zeus' (Euripides, Hel. 1666-69). Again, there is the clear notion that immortalization only happens after the person's death. In addition to these clear examples of people being resurrected as they were deified, there are examples of immortalization where death plays a less prominent part. Even Homer, who denied Achilles his immortality, gave both Menelaus and Ino, the mother of Melicertes, an immortal existence in the Elysian Fields and Oceanus, respectively {Od. 4.561-64, 5.333-35). Ino and Menelaus seem to have been translated the moment they would otherwise have died, Ino by drowning, Menelaus by old age. This also seems to be the case of Cadmus, Peleus and Iphigenia as their immortalization is presented in the tragedies of Euripides {Bacch. 1355, 1330-39; Andr. 717,1081,1222,1263-66; Iph. Aul. 1607,1622).Hesiod simply stated that a large portion of the whole generation who fought around Troy and Thebes was given an eternal and blissful existence at the Isles of the Blessed by the brim of Oceanus (Hesiod, Op. 166-73). Disregarding the convoluted Orphic stories about Dionysus, one can nevertheless see his fate as another example of a mortal man who was made physically immortal. Bornfromthe union of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele, Dionysus was himself originally mortal. In the early second century CE, Plutarch accordingly numbered Dionysus among

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'those deities who were born mortal and later changed into an immortal state.. .who through their virtues were enabled to cast off mortality and suffering' (Plutarch, Pel. 16.5). The same notion was reflected by Celsus in the second century CE, who included Dionysus among those 'men who were believed by the Greeks to have become gods' (Celsus according to Origen, Cels. 3.22). At some point Dionysus had thus been transformed from mortal to immortal. This transformation might have taken place as his mother was killed and the unborn foetus was rescued by Zeus (Ps.Apollodorus, Libr. 3.4.3). Persons in historical times were also immortalized in a dramatic manner. Paralleling the various figures from the more mythical past, the sixth-century BCE Lydian king Croesus was, together with his daughters, brought by Apollo to an eternal existence in the distant land of the Hyperboreans as he was about to be burned alive on his own pyre (Bacchylides 31.48-67). The seventh-century BCE sage Aristeas of Proconnesus was most clearly resurrected and deified. After having died in a fuller's shop, his body vanished miraculously from the locked store. After this he appeared once again alive to several people, first outside of Cyzicus, then in his native Proconnesus and finally two centuries later in Metapontium in Italy, thus indicating that he had really become physically immortal (Herodotus, Hist. 4.14-15). For some reason, most scholars ignore these many mythical and historical examples of people who were resurrected from the dead and made physically immortal. N.T. Wright is in this case typical, taking the apotheoses of the souls of the Roman emperors as prototypical ancient deification beliefs (Wright 2003: 56-57). But this official imperial cult represented something quite different from traditional Greek beliefs. Indeed, even Wright admits that in 'one or two isolated cases, when a mortal was taken to be with the immortals.. .his or her body was supposed to be taken away along with the soul' (Wright 2003: 57). But the point is that the examples were not at all ' isolated cases ', but typical ofhow mortals entered the immortal sphere. Hearing about the resurrection of Jesus, an ancient Greek audience had really good reason tofindthe scene strangely familiar. A Body Vanishes Since deification always meant that the body remained intact forever in some distant place, the bodily disappearance of anyone could suggest that this person had become an immortal god. When there was no body to be found, one could never know whether the person in question had simply


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fallen into some pit or had been transferred to some distant place and made immortal. Immortalization was, for example, indeed the case with the two beautiful youths Ganymede and Hylas. Ganymede disappeared without a trace and his father was inconsolable until Hermes explained that his son had been snatched away and made immortal by an enamoured Zeus {Horn. Hymn. Ven. 202-14; cf. //. 20.232-35, Pindar, Ol. 1.42-44). Hylas was made immortal in a similar manner by a nymph, while a despairing Heracles searched for his young lover in vain (Theocritus, Id. 13.48-52, 13.73; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argon. 1.1324-25, 1221-42, 1261-72). The rationalisticfirst-centuryCE mythographer Diodorus of Sicily similarly referred to the way no bones were found of Heracles after his funeral pyre had burned down. According to Diodorus, this complete absence of any physical remains was the very reason the Greeks considered Heracles to have been turned into a god. As no part of the body was to be found, he must have been translated, body and soul, to heaven (Diodorus Siculus 4.3 8.439.1 ). Thefirst-centuryCE historiographer and philosopher Plutarch also wrote how the body of Alcmene, Heracles' mother, was considered to have disappeared from her bier and how this was seen by many as proof of her physical apotheosis (Plutarch, Rom. 28.6). A number of persons in antiquity who disappeared without a trace were also considered to have been deified in this way. When the Olympian victor Cleomedes vanished after having hidden himself in a chest in 484 BCE, the oracle in Delphi declared that he was 'no longer a mortal' ( , Plutarch, Rom. 28.4-5; Pausanias, Descr. 6.9.7-8). In the second century CE Celsus mentioned the deification of Hadrian's young lover, Antinous, along with Cleomedes and Aristeas of Proconnesus. In this way he indicated that some believed that the body of the young boy had never been found either, that the emperor's great love must have been deified, body and soul, as he drowned in the water of the Nile (Celsus according to Origen, Cels. 3.36). According to Plutarch, many held that thefirstRoman king Romulus had also disappeared mysteriously, been deified, and shown himself to one of the Alban colonists, 'more beautiful and of greater stature than ever before' (Plutarch, Rom. 28.1-3; cf. Livy, 1.16.5-8). Thefirst-centuryCE philosopher Apollonius of Tyana represents an interesting case, as he himself preached the idea of the immortal soul and how it was entrapped in the body (Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 5.42, 8.31). Two different stories nevertheless tell how Apollonius himself disap peared, either in Rhodes or in Crete. He entered a temple and was never seen again {Vit. Apoll. 8.30). When Apollonius's third-century biographer Philostratus maintained that 'no one dared to say that he [Apollonius]

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was not immortal' {Vit. Apoll. 8.31), this cannot be seen as unrelated to the fact that his body was never foundjust as the bodies ofthe immortalized men and women of yore. The parallel between the resurrection and immortalization of Christ and the many Greeks who were made immortal was even explicitly recognized by some early Christians. In hisfictitiousdialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin Martyr argued how much the fate of the resurrected Christ was reflected in the stories of Dionysus, Heracles and Asclepius due to the machinations of the devil. The similarities were in no way accidental, as the devil himself'imitated the prophecies about Christ' when creating these 'false' stories about men who were turned into gods (Justin, Dial. 69). Indeed, Justin claimed that 'when we say also that the Word, who is thefirst-birthof God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Zeus' (Justin, 1 Apol 21). Theophilus of Antioch similarly countered the philosophical denial of all forms of resurrection with the more traditional Greek beliefs.
Then, as to your denying that the dead are raised - for you say, ' Show me even one who has been raisedfromthe dead, that seeing I may believe', first, what great thing is it if you believe when you have seen the thing done? Then, again, you believe that Heracles, who burned himself, lives, and that Asclepius, who was struck with lightning, was raised; and you disbelieve the things that are told you by God? (Theophilus, Autol. 1.13).

Origen, too, did not refute the apparent parallels between the fate of the resurrected Christ and those of the historicalfiguresof Aristeas ofProconnesus, Cleomedes of Astypalaea and Antinous, but argued that the latter could not have been truly immortalized because of their lack of virtuous lives (Origen, Cels. 3.26-38, 33). Immortal Bodies, Mortal Souls All these examples of immortalization imply a bodily resurrection and an eternal life including both body and soul. This certainly un-Platonic idea of an incorruptible body that one keeps forever was in no way oddfroma more traditional Greek point of view. What we are looking at here is an apparently older tradition where immortality always seems to have been inseparably tied to an incorruptible body. According to Homer, nearly all souls of the dead ended up in Hades for an everlasting existence there. This eternal bodiless existence of the soul


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must, however, not be confused with immortality. Immortality was origi nally never used to describe this everlasting fate of the soul. With their eternal bodiless existence the Homeric souls in Hades were always defined as dead. They were the spirits of the dead, {Od. 11.541), or the powerless head of the dead, {Od. 10.521, 536; 11.29, 49). Without one's body, nobody was any longer really a person; the disembodied soul was only one's shadow, . As Erwin Rohde observes, 'AH power of will, sensation, and thought have vanished with the disintegration of the individual man into his component parts', that is, body and soul. 'To speak of an "immortal life" of these souls, as scholars both ancient and modern have done, is incorrect' (1966 [1921]: 5,9). That this existence would continue forever represented no consolation to the Greeks, who equated immortality only with a continuous physical existence. This was in no way synonymous with the blissful state of immortality. Being among the few who did not make Achilles immortal, Homer really made it clear that the fate as a dead soul in Hades was nothing positive. 'Do not speak lightly of death to me', the dead soul of Achilles complained, arguing that he would rather be a living slave than the lord over all the dead {Od. 11.488-91). The eternal existence of the bodiless soul was not the same as immortality nor did it mean an eternal life of the soul. It equalled an everlasting existence as a dead soul. Originally, immortality and eternal life always meant an endless existence of both body and soul. As immortality originally implied a continued physical existence, the 'immortal gods', as they were generally called by Homer, were also considered to have physical bodies. They were not at all just spiritual beings. The pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes accordingly scoffed at his Greek contemporaries for believing 'that, like themselves, the gods have clothing, language and a body' (Xenophanes according to Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.109.2). Even Plato explained that these traditional ideas of the gods remained strong, complaining how 'our fancy pictures the god whom we have never seen, nor fully conceived, as an immortal living being, possessed of a soul and a body united for all time' (Plato, Phdr. 246c-d). Jean-Pierre Vernant argues that the divine bodies were considered the perfect model for the human body (1991 [1986]: 35-36). The difference between the human and divine body was humanity's 'limitation, deficiency, and incompleteness' (Vernant 1991 [1986]: 31) compared to the divine perfection, imperishability and subsequent immor tality.

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An astonishing example of how physical the body of a god was really considered to be is found in the Homeric description of the Greek warrior Diomedes wounding Aphrodite so that 'the spear pierced the flesh (xpos).. .of the wrist above the palm, and outflowedthe immortal blood of the goddess, the , such asflowsin the blessed gods' (//. 5.33740). Driving away in the chariot of Ares, the wounded Aphrodite left the melee of the battlefield for steep Olympus where her mother, Dione, soothed her with a whole number of stories about gods who had suffered physically at the hands of mortal men: Ares by the sons of Aloeus, Hera by the son of Amphitryon, and Hades by Heracles (//. 5.381-402). Later the same day Diomedes wounded Ares as well, 'tearing the fair ' with his spear (//. 5.858). To become immortal was the same as becoming divine. And, just as in Christianity, the movefrommortality to immortality involved a physical transformation of the body. When the various men and women became immortal, this meant that their bodies received the same incorruptible nature as that of the divine bodies. The metamorphosis the body went through could be described quite accurately. Euripides let the goddess Thetis promise her mortal husband, Peleus, a fate like this: will release you from the ills of mortals and make you a god, immortal and incor ruptible' (Euripides, Andr. 1255-56). That immortality was originally considered impossible without a con tinuous bodily existence is also demonstrated in Hesiod, where we read of the fate of the people of the Golden and Silver Age. After having died, these continued as $ either above or below the earth, where they would act as guardians of the living and be an object of cult. However, as these --^ were merely souls without any physical bodies, they were not immortal either (Hesiod, Op. 121-42). 'Blessed mortals, ? ' were what Hesiod called them {Op. 141). As Rohde writes, 'their nature was still mortal, and hence their bodies had to die, and this constituted their difference from the everlasting gods' (1966 [1921]: 74). The fate of these blessed mortals was also contrasted by Hesiod himself to the next human generation, of which a considerable number were translated to an existence of physical immortality at the ends of the earth (Hesiod, Op. 166-73). The idea that the soul was immortal independently of the body appears to be originally unknown to the Greeks. As Werner Jaeger observes, 'belief in the immortality of the soul is a later product of the Greek mind' (1965 [1958]: 98). This was a philosophical theory that, according to Cicero, was first launched by the pre-Socratic Pherecydes in the fifth century BCE (Cicero, Tuse. 1.38). This beliefwas also found in Orphicism,


Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30.4 (2008)

but we do not know how far back this goes.4 After Pherecydes, his pupil Pythagoras and later Plato advocated the notion of an immortal soul. Even though the idea of the immortal soul came to play an important part in Greek thinking, it was still considered a foreign phenomenon by many Hellenes. In thefifthcentury BCE, Herodotus held the idea of the soul's immortality to be intrinsically un-Greek, and claimed that it had comefromthe Egyptians (Herodotus, Hist. 2.123), while Plato himself had Glaucon express outright surprise when countered by Socrates' ideas of an immortal soul (Plato, Resp. 608d). As late as the second century CE, Pausanias still held this belief to be essentially un-Greek, claiming that 'the Chaldeans and the Indian sages were thefirstto say that the soul of man is immortal', and, moreover, that this belief has been followed by only 'some of the Greeks, and not least by Plato, the son of Aristn' (Pausanias, Descr. 4.32.4). The philosophical idea of an immortal soul was usually seen in connection with reincarnation.5 That the belief in an immortal soul could have originatedfromthe notion of metempsychosis concurs also with the more original Greek beliefs, where immortality was always tied to the body. The soul only began to be seen as immortal when it was believed to return repeatedly for a continuous existence in various physical bodies. The idea of the immortal soul never supplanted the older notion of immortality as always involving the body. Even though already in the fifth century BCE Pindar had argued that in some cases only the dead souls, and not the bodies, went to the Isles of the Blessed (Pindar, Ol.

4. The Orphic anthropogony referred to how humans consisted of both a divine soul and a body that had been formed out of the ashes of the incinerated titans, who again had devoured the infant Dionysus. The human soul was consequently considered immortal and would be reincarnated again and again. Whether this religious understanding preceded the philosophical speculations on the soul is uncertain. The Orphic anthropogonic myth, as we know it, has only reached us through Christian and postChristian authors (cf. Braarvig 1996: 20). A bone plate found in a sixth- or fifthcentury BCE grave in the Greek Black Sea colony of Olbia reads 'life death life or truth', , and 'Dio Orphica', (for a drawing of the plate, see Braarvig 1996: 33). Whether, as argued by Jens Braarvig, this must be seen as indicating a belief in an existence defined as 'life' after death (p. 27) can, of course, not be ruled out. This would harmonize with how Plato referred to Orphic poets who considered the body a prison where the soul is kept 'until penalty is paid' (Plato, Cra. 400c). 5. As is the case in, e.g., Plato, Leg. 870e; Phaed. 76c-e, 80b, 113a; Phaedr. 248c-49c; Resp. 619c-21b; Tim. 90a-92c.

ENDSJ0 Immortal Bodies, before Christ


2.67-80),6 the notion of a literal translation of'thephysical body remained not only a powerful, but an attractive notion. In the first century CE, an exasperated Plutarch still found it necessary to refute the popular idea that bodies that had vanished indicated people becoming physically immortal, referring to the reputed disappearances of the historical figures of Romulus, Aristeas of Proconnesus and Cleomedes (Plutarch, Rom. 27.3-28.8). When the philosopher criticized the masses for believing that the body could be resurrected and made immortal, this belief really seems to have included the flesh, contrary to the 'fleshless, ' state that Plutarch held that the soul should strive for (Plutarch, Rom. 28.7). Celsus accordingly made a point of how 'a great multitude of people, both Greeks and barbarians, confess that they have often seen and still do not just see' the resurrected and deified Asclepius as 'a phantom, but Asclepius himself healing people and doing good and predicting the future' (Celsus accord ing to Origen, Cels. 3.24). Greek texts all through antiquity and far into the Christian era would continue to reflect the notion of the resurrected and immortalized body. The Christian dogma that Christ had gained bodily incorruptibility and immortality could therefore be seen by the Greek contemporaries not only as a repetition of what many mythical and historical men and women had already gone through, but also as a fate that was definitely preferable to a future existence only involving the soul. Adela Yarbro Collins is therefore right to claim that 'the narrative pattern according to which Jesus died, was buried, and then translated to heaven was a culturally defined way for an author living in the first century to narrate the resurrection of Jesus' (1993: 130). How the Resurrection of Jesus Differed from the Promised Resurrection of All Dead The story of Jesus' resurrection could appear as a recycling of familiar concepts, and apparently this was how the Corinthians reacted to this idea when they readily accepted it. Why then was Paul met by such disbelief when he preached about the general resurrection of the dead? We find an indication of the same basic difference in attitude towards the resurrection of Jesus and the general resurrection of the dead in Luke's presentation of Paul's appearance at the Areopagus in Athens. Paul preached about Jesus 'having been resurrected/rom the dead' (^
6. More radically, Plato seems to have made the Isles of the Blessed an area exclusive to the soul (cf. Plato, Gorg. 523a-24a; Plato, Phaed. 108c).


Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30.4 (2008)

... ), as well as referring to the general resurrection of the dead, 'a day when God shall judge the world with justice', a forthcoming event of which the resurrection of Jesus was proof (Acts 17.31). Apparently it was not the resurrection of Jesus that caused such mirth on the Areopagus. The disbelief only came after the resurrection of Jesus had been presented as proof of how everyone may be resurrected at the end of time: 'Having heard about the resurrection of the dead (in the plural, ), some laughed' (Acts 17.32). As James Dunn argues, 'the anastases nekrn almost certainly refers to the eschatological resurrection ofthe dead ("the general resurrection") rather than to Jesus' own resurrection/rom the dead.. .anastases eknekrn' (Dunn 1980:34). Here we see the same sceptical reaction to the general resurrection of the dead as in 1 Corinthians, while the notion of Jesus ' resurrection seems equally unproblematic. The difficulty these Greek audiences had with the belief in the general resurrection makes it obvious that their doubt was not founded on Jewish ideas. For the Jewish believer the dilemma would be just the opposite. Paul preached about the general resurrection of the dead to the Jews (Acts 24.15), but when Porcius Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, summed up the complaints of the Jewish elders and chief priests, he only mentioned that this was a matter of dispute about religion in general and about 'a certain Jesus who had died but whom Paul asserted was alive' (Acts 25.19). Such an incident is also described by Luke as he presented Peter and the apostles preaching to the Sanhdrin. Only when the disciples claimed that God had raised and exalted Jesus did the Jews get enraged and want to kill them (Acts 5.30-33). For the Jews the idea of a general resurrection of the dead was at least familiar, while the thought that any single person should be resurrected and made immortal before the end of the world would seem absurd. It was the resurrection of Jesus, not the general resurrection of the dead, which the Jews considered 'a controversial matter', as Hans Conzelmann argues (1987 [1972]: 199). As pointed out by Krister Stendahl, that any single person would be resurrected to eternal life before the end of time was unheard of in Judaism (1965: 6; see also Jeremas 1970: 194). But why would the Greeks make the exact opposite distinction between the resurrection of Jesus and the general resurrection of the dead, as Paul promised all believers in his own letters and, according to Luke, also in Acts? If the resurrection of Jesus represented nothing new, what was it about the general resurrection ofthe dead that would make the Corinthians sceptical and the Athenians laugh? What was the difference between these two notions of resurrection? To answer these questions, it is necessary to

ENDSJ0 Immortal Bodies, before Christ


look more closely at both the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, their belief in a general resurrection, as well as the ancient Greek stories of resurrected men and women. What makes the fate of Jesus different from the general resurrection of the dead? As I see it, there is one fundamental difference between the general resurrection of the dead and Jesus' resurrection. Moreover, it is this difference that made the notion of a general resurrection of the dead absurd according to the traditional Greek understanding of how anyone would be resurrected from the deadwhile the resurrection of Christ would represent no serious dilemma. The point is this: the body of Jesus was resurrected as it was. Here there was a bodily continuity. By contrast, the general resurrection implied a recreation of bodies long gone. Whenever someone in the Greek tradition was physically resurrected from the dead, we always find absolute bodily continuity. No matter whether it was a return to a normal life or a matter of immortalization, a resurrection invariably involved the same physical body. The immortalized men and women would disappear, as their original bodies were made incorruptible and transferred to the ends of the earth. To recreate the flesh in order to bestow immortality upon it was, however, impossible. When the body had been annihilated, either through digestion or putrefaction, it was lost forever. When Pelops had been served as a dish to the Gods, Demeter unfortunately ate his shoulder. Though able to reassemble the body parts of the poor boy, none of the gods could recreate even a single limb. The lost shoulder therefore had to be replaced by a prosthesis, a gleaming piece of ivory where his shoulder should have been (Pindar, Ol. 1.25-27; Pausanias, Descr. 5.13.4-6). If this mighty assembly of Olympian gods could not recreate even the shoulder of Pelops, how, then, should anyone be able to recreate a whole body? Again we see how the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus wouldfitwell within the Greek tradition. He died before his executioners got the chance to crush his bones, which was the practice for anyone crucified if one did not die fast enough. The Gospel of John even made a particular note of this: 'The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of thefirst,and of the other that was crucified with him; when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs' (Jn 19.32-33). In this way Jesus,froma Greek point of view, was saved from resurrecting with a broken body, as there was nothing anyone could have done to reconstitute his body to its original form. Physical continuity was absolutely necessary for any sort ofresurrection. This to the Greeks would also explain why the resurrected Jesus had to keep his wound and stigmata forever (cf. Jn 20.27-29).


Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30.4 (2008)

According to Matthew even the Roman authorities may be seen to have taken the logical consequences from this understanding and to have put guards infrontof the tomb in case the supporters of Jesus would want to steal the body away and thus spread rumours that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead (Mt. 27.62-66). One cannot, however, expect that the Roman authorities had any plans of guarding Jesus' tomb for all eternity. After some time nature would have taken its course, and there would remain no body to guard. That the disciples should have been able to convince anyone that a pile of bones had been resurrected was simply impossible according to the logic of the Greek worldview that dominated the Eastern Mediterranean at this time. That Paul himself was more unclear on the substance of the resurrected body in no way contradicts the fact that his ideas could also very easily have been understood by his Hellenistic audience as referring to physical continuity when he spoke of the resurrected Christ. Even though the resurrection of Jesus closely resembled the way someone would be resurrected according to a traditional Greek understanding, this was not the case with the idea of the general resurrection of the dead. In all Greek stories of resurrection, there is an absolute bodily continuity. Eternal life was originally always tied to the body, meaning the same body made incorruptible. The countless bodies which had turned into dust, been devoured or been burned were eternally lost. It was not even possible to recreate Pelops's single shoulder as this had been annihilated. Then Paul arrives and proclaims that his God will resurrect everybody who only believes in Christ. No wonder the Corinthians did not believe in Paul's claim about the general resurrection of the dead.7 References
Braarvig, Jens 1996 'Dionysos som doende og gjenoppstende guddom', Chaos 25: 18-34. Bremmer, Jan N. 2002 The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife (London: Routledge). Cavallin, Hans Clemens Caesarius. 1974 Life after Death: Paul's Argumentfor the Resurrection ofthe Dead in I Cor

7. I would like to thank Knut Olav ms, Peder Anker, Pal Bj0rby, Torkel Brekke, Penelope Boehm, Walter Burkert, Matthew Dickie, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Tomas Hgg, Liv Ingeborg Lied, Hugo Lundhaug, John Anthony McGuckin, Jorunn 0kland, Robert Parker, and my parents for their kind assistance and suggestions. I am particularly grateful to Ingvild Saelid Gilhus for her many years of support and inspiration.

ENDSJ0 Immortal Bodies, before Christ


75: Parti: An Enquiry into the Jewish Background'(Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup). Chadwick, Henry 1980 'Introduction', in Origen, Contra Celsum: Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): ix-xxxiii. Collins, Adela Yarbro 1993 ' The Empty Tomb in the Gospel According to Mark', in Eleonore Stump and Thomas P. Flint (eds.), Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press): 10740, 151-55. Conzelmann, Hans 1987 [1972] Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press). 1975 [1969] 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Fortress Press). Dahl, M.E. 1962 The Resurrection of the Body: A Study ofl Corinthians 15 (London: SCM Press). Dunn, James D.G. 1980 Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins (Philadelphia: Westminster Press). Edwards, Anthony T. 1985 'Achilles in the Underworld: Iliad, Odyssey, mdAethiopis\ GRBS 26:21527. Engberg-Pedersen, Troels 2001 'Krop og opstandelse hos Paulus', in Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Ingvild Saelid Gilhus (eds.), Kropp og oppstandelse (Oslo: Pax): 63-79. Frazer, Sir James George 1955 [1912] Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, I (London: Macmillan & Co.). Jaeger, Werner 1965 [ 1958] 'The Greek Ideas of Immortality', in Krister Stendahl (ed.), Immortality and Resurrection (New York: The Macmillan Company): 54-96. Jeremas, Joachim 1970 'Die lteste Schicht der Osterberlieferungen', in Edouard Dhanis (ed.), Resurrexit: Actes du Symposium international sur la resurrection de Jesus (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana): 185-206. Martin, Dale . 1995 The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press). Nickelsburg, George W.E., Jr 1972 Resurrection, Immortality and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism ! (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Pearson, Birger A. 1973 The Pneumatikos-Psychikos Terminology in 1 Corinthians: A Study in the Theology of the Corinthian Opponents of Paul and its Relation to Gnosticism (Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical Literature). Perkins, Phem 1984 \ Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection , (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).


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Robertson, Archibald, and Alfred Plummer 1914 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians: Second Edition (Edinburgh: T&T Clark). Rohde, Erwin 1966 [1921] Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the GreeL, I [Translated from the eighth edition] (New York: Harper & Row). Smith, Jonathan Z. 1995 [1993] 'Dying and Rising Gods', in Mircea Eliade (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Religion, III (New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan): 521-27. Stendahl, Krister 1965 'Introduction', in Krister Stendahl (ed.), Immortality and Resurrection (New York: The Macmillan Company): 1-8. Vernant, Jean-Pierre 1991 [ 1986] ' Mortals and Immortals : The Body of the Divine', in Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press): 27-49. Veyne, Paul 1988 [1983] Did the GreeL Believe in their Myths? An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Wright, N.T. 2003 The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK).

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