Image, Soul, and Body

I finished Christianity in Jewish Terms, and I have three items:

1.  Tikva Frymer-Kensky has an interesting essay on “Religious Anthropology in Judaism and Christianity”, which concerns human beings being made in God’s image.  Frymer-Kensky argues that the rabbis thought that meant that human beings look like God, and this overlaps with the Hebrew Bible, which said that humans were in the image of God in a world where there were statues and likenesses of various deities.  Many Christian thinkers, and later Maimonides, tended to view the image as intellect or as our resemblance to God in a moral or spiritual sense (which was defaced by the Fall).  According to Frymer-Kensky, the view that the image of God was intellect came from “Greek philosophers, notably Plato and Aristotle, whose idea of God was intellect and who believed that the human intellect was the divine element in humans” (page 329).  It’s intriguing that the rabbis believed that humans physically looked like God, when they were insistent that God should not be represented with a graven image or likeness.  Christianity, however, maintained that God became a human being and showed people a likeness, and yet it tended to prefer a spiritual interpretation of the image of God.

I liked what Frymer-Kensky said about John Calvin on page 332: “Even Calvin, who emphasized the depraved and deformed nature of the fallen human being, nevertheless admonished people to look at the image of God in all humans, to look beyond their worthlessness and to see the image of God.”  I think this is good advice, even if I don’t go as far as Calvin in my beliefs regarding human sinfulness.  There are people I do not like.  But I should look beyond what I don’t like about them to see the image of God within them—-their intellect, whatever morality they have, etc.

2.  William Schweiker on page 353 says that the Bible does not have a belief in an immortal soul.  Genesis 2:7 says that the human being “becomes a living soul…when a divine source of life is breathed into dust” (Schweiker’s words).  Schweiker considers the Hebrew Bible’s teaching to be that the soul comes from God and dies at death, and he believes that Jesus also rejected Greek ideas about an eternal soul.  “For Jesus”, Schweiker states, “the ‘soul’ is not immortal; it is not, as it was for Plato and others, trapped in the prison of the body.”  Paul, too, did not have a picture of the soul escaping the shackles of the body, according to Schweiker, for Paul contrasted the whole person (flesh and spirit) with alienation from God.  For Paul, one could be reconciled with God as a full human being, without one’s soul leaving the body.

Some of this overlaps with my Armstrongite and Seventh-Day Adventist background, but not all of it.  Those denominations regarded the soul to be the full human being, both body and spirit.  Schweiker, however, seems to regard the soul as what animates the body.  Schweiker just does not think that the biblical authors regarded the soul exactly the same way that Greek philosophers did, however: as an immortal substance that lives on after death.

What the “truth” is on this, I do not entirely know.  I can see the Armstrongites’ and Seventh-Day Adventists’ point that we are souls rather than having souls, for man was said to become a living soul.  Plus, the soul is said to hunger, which is arguably bodily (i.e., Proverbs 10:3), unless the Hebrews had a different understanding of how hunger worked.  At the same time, the soul does appear to be something that leaves the body after death (Genesis 35:18).  Moreover, if the Hebrew Bible teaches that the soul dies with the body, then why are the dead kings conscious in Sheol in Isaiah 14?

On Jesus, the passage that comes to my mind is when Jesus says we should fear God, who can cast body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28).  In my mind, that calls into question the Armstrongite and Adventist view that the soul is a combination of spirit and body, for why would Jesus say that God can destroy body and spirit+body in hell?  That sounds rather redundant.  Still, Jesus in this passage does not regard the soul as inherently immortal.

Regarding Paul, Paul desires at times to be free from his body of death (Romans 7), and he talks about being absent from the body and present with the Lord after he dies (II Corinthians 5:6-8).  At the same time, Schweiker is right that Paul did not view his bodily state as utter alienation from God.  But there is debate about how Paul conceived of resurrection, as spiritual (I Corinthians 15) or as physical (Romans 8:23).  Perhaps Paul, like elements of first century Judaism (according to Josephus), believed both in the survival of the soul after death and also the resurrection.  Armstrongites and Seventh-Day Adventists often treat these ideas as in competition with one another, as if you can’t believe in both, but some people in the first century did believe in both.  Yet, even if Jews thought that the soul survives death, they did not go as far as Plato and other philosophers in denigrating the body altogether.

3.  On page 390, I read the contrast between Augustine and the Manicheans, by John Cavadini.  Augustine was a Manichean before he became a Christian.  Manicheans “taught that human beings have an intrinsically evil nature as part of their makeup”, and that the “body and all that is associated with it is evil, and the urges that come from it are the source of sin.”  Augustine’s conception of original sin was different, however, for it held that our corruption was the result of free will (perhaps Adam’s, or our own choice to do evil—-Cavadini does not say) rather than an evil nature inside of us, plus it maintained that human nature was weak yet good, that human nature was something that God created good and yet fell.

On the one hand, this looks like a debate in semantics.  We have good and evil within us.  The Manicheans attribute the evil to some evil nature apart from our makeup.  Augustine thought that the evil was actually a corruption of the good.  On the other hand, perhaps where the difference matters is that Augustine would believe in the redemption of the physical, whereas the Manicheans would simply dismiss the body as evil and perhaps beyond help.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Rabbinics, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.