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HTR 103:4 (2010) 387-406

The Soul`s Comeback: Immortality and


Resurrection in Early Christianity
Franois Bovon
Harvard Divinity School
In the middle of the twentieth century biblical scholars claimed the unity of
the human person as the core of biblical anthropology.
1
The Hebrew term vp,n<,
'life, 'person, was no longer to be translated as 'soul, and the best English
equivalent for the Greek yuchv was 'person. In the seventies and eighties, on both
sides of the Atlantic, the pendulum swung even further, to the point of favoring
the body. In Paris, in the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes, Pierre Geoltrain
offered a lecture course on the 'body in several texts of the New Testament,
while in the United States Dale Martin worked on his book published under the
title The Corinthian Body

.
2
In Geneva, where expression corporelle had become
a form of instruction in dance and eurhythmic practice at the Institut Jaques-
Dalcroze, some New Testament scholars incorporated bodily experience into
their understanding of biblical passages.
3
It was also this time that saw-in the
1
I would like to express my gratitude to Harvard Divinity School for the invitation to deliver the
Ingersoll Lecture 2009, to Dean William A. Graham for his kind introduction, and to my colleague
Professor Karen L. King, who in her presentation expressed much understanding for my work and
for me. I would like also to thank Hctor G. Amaya and Eunyung Lim, who both helped me as
research assistants, one in the beginning and the other at the end. I convey also my thanks to Linda
Grant who improved the English of this lecture and contributed to its fnal edition. I express also
my gratitude to Profs. Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, the new editors, who invited me to
publish this lecture in HTR, to Margaret Studier, managing editor of HTR, and to the staff of HTR.
2
See Pierre Geoltrain, 'Origines du christianisme, Annuaire de l'cole Pratique des Hautes
tudes 92 (1983-1984) 355-56 and 93 (1984-1985) 365-67; Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995).
3
I still feel in my body the meaning of 'following, 'waiting, or 'being transformed as a
hermeneutical approach to encountering Jesus or the experience of Pentecost. See Franois Bovon,
'Le dpassement de l`esprit historique, in Le christianisme est-il une religion du livre? Actes du
388 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
secular realm-the creation of 'body shops and the continuous care of one`s
own body. With Merleau-Ponty we can say that this recent period witnesses a
rediscovery of the body.
4
I hope my many colleagues who have classes or publications that include
the word 'body in their titles will forgive me today if I respond on behalf of
the soul against what I consider to be an infation of the body. My reaction is
not meant to imply that we must neglect the study of the body as the locus of
social practices and the expression of power relations. It is, however, meant to
imply that an obsession with the body, that is, with what is visible, may refect
an absence of the divine-of the invisible-in an outrageously secular society.
My approach is to work backwards in time, that is, to deal frst with several
church writers of late antiquity and then in Part Two move to Origen, Tertullian,
Irenaeus, and other Christian authors of the third and second centuries &( I shall
then concentrate in a third part on the promise of eternal life in the Gospel of John
and Paul`s epistles, including one of Jesus` sayings. My last part will suggest a
path for spiritual experience for today.
QLate Antiquity
Eustratios
Eustratios, a priest of Hagia Sophia and disciple of Eutychios, patriarch of
Constanti-nople, at the end of the sixth century, wrote a polemical essay entitled
On the condition of souls after they have departed from the body.
5
Eustratios
does not have to prove the existence of the soul or its survival after death, for
this was commonly accepted in his day. Instead, he attacks the opinion of those
who claim that the souls of the departed sleep until the resurrection. He himself
is convinced that the soul lives actively in the after world, and his defense has
a biblical foundation, beginning with Abel`s blood crying out to the Lord from
the ground (Gen 4:9).
6
The soul can intercede for the living even as the living
in their liturgical prayers can alleviate the suffering of the dead. Eustratios`s
position represents a defense of the cult of saints, and it may be considered
quitedifferent from the apostle Paul`s terminology of the sleep of the departed.
Still, as late as the sixth century there were those who continued to think in the
Colloque organis par la Facult de thologie protestante de l'Universit des Sciences humaines
de Strasbourg du 20 au 23 mai1981 (tudes et travaux 5; Strasbourg: Association des publications
de la Facult de thologie protestante et Association pour l`tude de la civilisation romaine, 1984)
111-24, esp. 120-22.
4
The full quotation is: 'Avant de poser cette question, voyons bien tout ce qui est impliqu
dans la redcouverte du corps propre. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phnomnologie de la perception
(Bibliothque des ides; Paris: Gallimard, 1945) 232.
5
Eustratios, De statu animarum post mortem (CPG 7522) (ed. Peter Van Deun; CCSG 60;
Turnhout: Brepols, 2006).
6
Ibid., 138-41.
FRANOIS BOVON 389
archaic terms of Paul`s epistles: that the dead should be compared to people
who are asleep, being neither dead nor really alive.
7
We know that Christian
authors of Syria preserved this archaic perspective on the dead.
8
I am pleased
to mention that Louis Demos, a doctor of theology here, has recently defended
a dissertation on that church author.
9
Augustine
Turning to the end of the fourth and beginning of the ffth century &(, we note
that in Book 22 of his City of God Augustine is concerned with eternal beatitude
in the divine city: 'But in that city all the citizens shall be immortal, human
beings now for the frst time enjoying what the holy angels have never lost.
10

This will be, he emphasizes, the fruit of God`s gracious will,
11
as referred to in
Isa 26:19; Isa 65:17-19; and Dan 12:1-2.
12
He then proposes both a rational and
an affective argument to support his own view of survival of the person. His
rational argument: if God at each human birth can join a soul to a body, he will
be powerful enough at the end of time to add a body to a soul.
13
His affective
argument: the resurrection, it is true, is diffcult to believe, but through faith
and love we believe two events have already occurred, namely Christ`s own
resurrection and the success of the Christian mission. Jesus` resurrection is not
only a spiritual event: Christians believe and know that Jesus was raised from
the dead in his physical person. The resurrection of the dead is the consequence
of Jesus Christ`s resurrection.
14
Jerome
While Augustine`s argument represents a synthesis on the resurrection, Jerome`s
witnesses to the variety, the tensions and the controversies of four centuries of
Christian inquiry. Jerome, as a biblical scholar, in his Epistula CXIX ad Mineruium
et Alexandrum, bases his discussion of the resurrection on 1 Cor 15, particularly
7
These opponents, according to Eustratios, do not doubt that souls can manifest themselves
from time to time, but in such cases they are not active selves but are moved by God`s power.
8
See Frank Gavin, 'The Sleep of the Soul in the Early Syriac Church, JAOS 40 (1920)
103-20.
9
See Louis Demos, 'The Cult of the Saints and Its Christological Foundations in Eustratios of
Consantinople`s De statu animarum post mortem (Th.D. diss., Harvard University, 2010).
10
Augustine, City of God 22.1; English translation slighty changed from Saint Augustine, The
City of God (trans. Marcus Dods; intro. Thomas Merton; New York: The Modern Library, 1993) 810.
11
Ibid., 22.2.
12
Ibid., 22.3.
13
Ibid., 22.4.
14
Ibid., 22.6-7. Augustine confrms his point with a double reference to the witness of faith and
the witness of blood. Rejecting the contemporary cosmological argument that at the resurrection
the body will not be allowed to reach the peak of creation, he asserts that resurrected people will
have their residence above earth, water, air and heaven, and this because their bodies will not be
of fesh but of spirit (22.11). See also 22.21.
390 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
verse 51, where the apostle Paul reveals the 'mystery of the resurrection. The
mystery is particularly complex to understand (Jerome knows), for the text of
First Corinthians is not certain at this point. Some Greek manuscripts render the
verse: 'All of us will die, but not all of us will be changed. But others state:
'All of us will not die, but all of us will be changed.
15
This texual difference
refects the hesitation of theologians and scribes over several centuries.
In his long letter,
16
Jerome presents frst an eloquent status quaestionis.
Diodorus of Tarsus, probably reading the frst variant, claims that as for universal
death incorruptibility will follow for all, but transformation (probably into a
glorious body) will be reserved for the just or elect. Didymus of Alexandria and
Acacius of Caesarea insist on the mystery, but ultimately their interpretation is
close to Diodorus`s.
The second form of the text, Jerome explains, was championed by, among
others, Theodorus of Heraclia and Apollinaris of Laodicea, but following two
diverginginterpretations. Those who 'will not die can be those who are still alive
on the day of the parousia or-more interestingly-they may be the believers
referred to in John 11:25-26, where it is stated that to believe now is to cross
the boundary of death and go from mortality to immortality.
17

After this long review, Jerome chooses a solution close to Augustine`s position,
claiming that the death of the body is not the end of the human person. But the
variety of patristic interpretations as well as the instability of the biblical text
make it clear that the problem of immortality, the destiny of the soul, and the hope
for a bodily resurrection were still burning issues, well into Christian centuries.
18
Gregory of Nyssa
Let us consider now a Greek theologian of fourth-century Christianity. Gregory
of Nyssa`s On the Soul and the Resurrection was written within days of the
death of his brother Basil the Great, andas his sister Macrina lay mortally ill.
19

15
See Nestle-Aland, Novum Testament Graece (27th ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
2006), apparatus criticus ad loc.
16
Jerome, Lettres (ed. Jrme Labourt; 8 vols.; Collection des Universtits de France; Paris:
Belles Lettres, 1958) 6:97-120.
17
Those who believe have a living soul and imitate the destiny of the apostles, while those who
do not believe have a soul that is already dead even if they are still physically alive. Jerome mentions
that this is the opinion of Origen, who, according to Jerome, understands the eternal life of believers
as the bodily life of asceticism (a bodily life hic et nunc according not to the fesh but to the spirit).
18
At the end of his letter Jerome mentions even a third textual variant of 1 Cor 15:51, preserved,
according to him, only in the Latin version of First Corinthians: 'Omnes quidem resurgemus, non
omnes autem inmutabimur ('All of us will rise; not all, however, will be transformed). (The third
edition of the Vulgate by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1983, has 'sed [but] before 'non
omnes autem inmutabimur). Actually the variant reading is found in the codex Claromontanus, a
bilingual manuscript in Greek and Latin (D=06). It is therefore attested in at least one Greek manuscript.
19
Gregory of Nyssa, Dialogus de anima et resurrectione (PG 46, 11-160); see idem, On the Soul
and the Resurrection (ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace; NPNF
2
; 14 vols.; repr., Peabody, Mass.:
FRANOIS BOVON 391
Sometimes called the Christian equivalent to Plato`s Phaedo, because of its
dialogical genre and topic, Gregory deferentially attributes to his sister the role
of Socrates, the wise teacher, and modestly takes for himself the role of pupil.
Platonic in its defense of the immortality of the soul and its spiritual nature,
the work is Aristotelian in asserting the simultaneous birth of both the soul
and the body and in denying any migration of the soul. What interests me here
is Gregory`s frst concern: the search for a defnition of the soul, establishing
a parallel between the invisible God and the spiritual soul. Gregory`s second
concern is to harmonize the dissolution of the body after death with belief in the
resurrection of the fesh. Thus sins such as anger and desire, even if connected
to the soul, are not part of the human person.
Nordoes Gregory see the continuity of the person after death in the physical
presence of relics or in the almighty care of God but in the memory that the
soul preserves of all the details of her brother the body. The parable of the Rich
Man and Poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) does not confront resurrected bodies in
Hell and Paradise but souls who remembertheir bodilycounterparts. Gregory
considers life after death-strangely more presupposed than described-not as
a static period of reward and punishment but, under the infuence of Origen,
20

as a long process of training and education in a sort of moral rehabilitation.This
optimistic perspective confrms Gregory`s main goal: to fnd consolation in the
face of death-not an easy consolation, such as the billige Gnade ('cheap grace)
chastised by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but a real consolation.
QThird and Second Centuries
Origen
Turning to the third century&(, in the De principiis of Origen we fnd the skill
of a biblical scholar and the sophistication of a theologian.
21
Even though he will
be condemned by some as early as the fourth century for his eschatology and
spiritualization, his interpretation of immortality and resurrection will become
highly infuential. All spiritual life seeks to become similar to God. If God has
created human beings in his image (imago) at the creation, thenat the resurrection
the saved will be reestablished in a status even closer to God (similitudo).
22
While
Hendrickson, 1994) 5:428-68; idem, On the Soul and the Resurrection (trans. and intro. Catharine P.
Roth; Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir`s Seminary Press, 2002); idem, L'me et la rsurrection (trans.
Christian Bouchet; intro. Bernard Pottier; notes Marie-Hlne Congourdeau; Paris: Migne, 1998).
20
See Walther Vlker, Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Origenes. Eine Untersuchung zur
Geschichte der Frmmigkeit und zu den Anfngen christlicher Mystik (BHT 7; Tbingen: Mohr
Siebeck, 1931) 36-38, 215-22.
21
Origen, Princ. 3.6.
22
Behind the Latin translation imago there must be the Greek eijkwvn, and behind similitudo,
oJmoivwsi~. Irenaeus had already made use of this distinction, based on an exegesis of Genesis 1;
see Irenaeus of Lyon, Haer. 4.38.3-4; 5.6.1; 5.16.1; 5.28.4; 5.36.3. Clement of Alexandria, Strom.
2.8.38 and 2.22.131, also used the distinction in a way that is similar to Irenaeus.
392 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the fnal transformation will be the matter of an instant in Jerome`s thinking, it
is a long process, a process of spiritual education, in the mind of Origen.
In another passage of De principiis, Origen meditates on punishment and
reward.
23
In his effort to explain who will face the fnal judgment, he eagerly
reacts against what he calls the heretics who limit survival to the soul, insisting
that it will be our souls and our bodies both that will inherit eternal life. This
continuity is important to Origen: it will be in our own bodies that the resurrection
will take place. On the other hand, he criticizes the simple believers who expect
only a revival of their present feshly body. Our risen bodies will be, he insists,
spiritual in nature, for as the apostle Paul says, 'fesh and blood cannot inherit
the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50). We will inhabit our spiritual body and
abandon our animal body. As Caroline Bynum has opposed the two metaphors,
one-dangerous-is the reconstruction of the body as a house and the other-
more useful-is the transformation of the seed into a plant.
24
Origen, like Paul,
prefers the metaphor of the seed. The glorifed body will be both continuous
and discontinuous with the natural body. It will be similar and different, just
as a plant is continuous with the seed even though it looks quite different. The
change will be the work of the grace of God, but through the spiritual exercise
of their souls over their bodies believers cooperate in this divine effort.
Tertullian
Tertullian wrote his De anima in 210 or early in 211.
25
The diffculty of
interpreting this very complex work begins with the question: why does Tertullian
write on the soul? Two things are clear: Tertullian does not write for the sake of
clarifying his own thought, and he does not face one major opponent but many. He
opposes Pythagoras and his view of the migration of souls, which he, Tertullian,
describes as unstable souls going and coming without a rest ( 28). He opposes
Plato, reproaching him for the spiritual nature of his soul ( 4, 9, and 24). He
opposes what he calls the solution of the magicians, who claim victory over death
through magical formulae and tricks ( 57). For Tertullian, the soul is bodily.
Philosophically speaking, he is the closest to the Stoic thinkers, except that for
him the soul is the fruit of a creation by the transcendent, true, and unique God.
The long list of Tertullian`s Christian opponents witnesses to the melting pot
of Christian views in the second century. He is shocked by Saturninus`s view
that at death the soul will simply fy home directly to heaven ( 23). He dislikes
particularly metempsychosis and metensomatosis, two Greek terms he uses for
23
Origen, Princ. 2.10.
24
Carolyn Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336
(Lectures on the History of Religion 15; New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) 1-43.
25
See Tertullian, De anima, mit Einleitung, bersetzung und Kommentar (ed. Jan H. Waszink;
Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1933) 9. More recently, see by the same editor the edition in Tertullian,
Opera (2 vols.; CCSL 1-2; Turnhout: Brepols, 1954) 2:779-869.
FRANOIS BOVON 393
reincarnation, thus refuting Carpocrates and, before him Simon Magus. He
cannot agree with Apelles, Marcion`s disciple, who separates male and female
souls. He disagrees fnally with Menander, who had preserved an archaic
formulation of the Gospels and believed that the afterlife can be called a life
and not death. Endowed with a good dose of mauvaise foi, Tertullian ridicules
Menander, saying that he was refusing to die.
Against all these adversaries, Tertullian builds an intellectual defense: he
trusts the Christian religious tradition and not philosophical wisdom. He believes
from Scripture that the soul is created by the Spirit of God ( 1). The soul has a
beginning ( 4), and her birthday coincides with the body`s birthday. The parable
of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) proves that the soul after
death is bodily ( 7) and possesses a certain form (an effgies animae; 9).
26

Death constitutes the separation of body and soul, the temporary suspension of
what Tertullian calls societatem carnis atque animae ('company of body and
soul, 37).The soul after death does not climb triumphantly to heaven, as we
have seen, but goes to the realm of the dead (apud inferos). Tertullian visualizes
this space very concretely while Gregory of Nyssa refuses to interpret Hades as
a place. For the Cappadocian it is a quality of survival. But for Tertullian apud
inferos is a liminal space, the place of a transition between life and resurrection.
One therefore does not have to wait for the Middle Ages to celebrate the birth of
purgatory.
27
The reality, without the term, is present in the works of Tertullian
and the writings of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. All these theologians of late
antiquity expect the period between death and the resurrection to be a time of
reeducation, temporary punishment, and frst rewards.
28
26
As we have seen, Gregory of Nyssa offers a different interpretation. See above, 391. For
Tertullian, De anima 11-12, the soul is one and simple. Her strength and power is the animus, the
equivalent of the mind (mens, nou``~). Her 'leading part, the hJgemonikovn (a Stoic formulation), is
the equivalent of what Scripture calls 'heart (ibid., 15.1 and 4).
27
Jacques Le Goff distinguishes between the formation of the belief in purgatory already in
antiquity and the birth of purgatory itself in the Middle Ages: 'Je me propose de suivre la formation
sculaire de ce troisime lieu depuis le judo-christianisme antique, d`en montrer la naissance au
moment de l`panouissement de l`Occident mdival dans la seconde moiti du XIIe sicle, et le
rapide succs au cours du sicle suivant ('I propose to trace the secular formation of this third
place since the Jewish Christianity of antiquity in order to demonstrate its birth at the time of the
blossoming of the medieval West in the second half of the twelfth century &(. and its rapid success
in the course of the next century). La naissance du Purgatoire (Collection Folio; Histoire 31;
Paris: Gallimard, 1991) 9.
28
The success of the Christian message of eschatological hope through the expression of immortal
life was widespread in the third century, as in the centuries that followed. In Acts Phil. 12.8, even
animals convert and express their gratitude in the following prayer: 'We glorify you, Lord, the only
begotten Son, on account of the undying life into which we have been born, having received in
place of an animal body a human one. In the History of Joseph the Carpenter 24.4, preserved in
Coptic, death is understood as an exodus out of the body. And considering this death, Jesus, who
is presumed to speak, observes: 'Yes, he [Joseph] died, but this death of my father Joseph is not
a death, this is eternal life. Everyone must die, even the most holy ones such as Joseph, Enoch,
and Elijah (even if taken alive to heaven Enoch and Elijah will have also to die before the fnal
394 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Irenaeus
Besides presenting his own position, Irenaeus mentions the position of his adver-
saries.
29
In this way he bears witness to the existence of a spiritual interpretation
that we fnd in several authors of the second century. There are 'heretics (from
Irenaeus`s point of view), who neglect the fesh and claim that, released from the
burden of the body, the elect at their death obtain direct access to God. Irenaeus
adds here an interesting comment: all his adversaries, he says, rely on Paul`s
statement in 1 Cor 15, that 'fesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God
(v. 50), to support their position. But in book 5 of Adversus haereses, where
Irenaeus defends his own position, we fnd that he uses the very same authority
and source, 1 Cor 15, to support the opposite doctrinal position (particularly v.
44). The battle for interpretations, a topic dear to Paul Ricour,
30
is well engaged
in the second century.
But we must be fair to Irenaeus: the bishop of Lyon is not just the champion of
the resurrection of the fesh. He qualifes his position with the following contrast:
just as Adam was marked by natural breathing (pnohv), Christ was connected
with the divine Spirit (pneu`ma). Similarly, after their natural life, human beings
will rise from the dead in a body, but it will be a transformed, spiritual body.
31

Other Second-Century Christian Authors
The second century was for Christians a period of uncertainty and conficted
opinions. Compared to writers of the Second Sophistic, Christians appear nave
and amateurish in their writings. Compared to the Stoics and other philosophers,
Christians present inconsistent anthropological views. Their usage of terms
such as 'soul, 'mind, and 'spirit is often loose. Above all, there is hesitation
concerning the afterlife. Some underscore the involvement of the fesh in the
resurrection process, while others are satisfed with the spiritual aspect of the
resurrection. This diversity of opinion refects the ambiguities of the early
Christian documents that will become the stock of authoritative writings,
particularly 1 Cor 15, and the lack of intellectual training among many Christians.
But even more it refects the early Christian preoccupation with the message of
resurrection). In the Armenian Martyrdom of Thaddeus 22, the apostle, who is praised for having
converted Sandoukht, the king`s daughter, is considered to be 'a way of life and a medicine of
immortality. That means that he is able to bring his converts on the way to eternal life.Book eight
of the Sibylline Oracles (8.310-17)presents Christ`s passion in a poetic way: through his agony the
Son has put death to death and has become a source of immortality. See crits apocryphes chrtiens
ed. Franois Bovon, Pierre Geoltrain, and Jean-Daniel Kaestli; 2 vols.; La Pliade 442 and 516;
Paris: Gallimard, 1997-2005) 1:1285; 2:53, 688, and 1077.
29
Irenaeus, Haer. 5.1-14. Irenaeus, Contre les hrsies. Livre V (ed. Adelin Rousseau, Louis
Doutreleau, and Charles Mercier; SC 152-53; Paris: Cerf, 1969).
30
Paul Ricour, Le conit des interprtations. Essais d'hermneutique (L`ordre philosophique;
Paris: Seuil, 1969).
31
Irenaeus, Haer. 5.12.1-4.
FRANOIS BOVON 395
salvation: what really mattered for the Christians of that time is not a defnition
of the soul or a philosophical distinction of the parts of the self but the hope of
an afterlife and a relationship of hope and love with the deity. The clearer the
promise of eternal life, the more vague the defnition of the self.
Such is the evidence in early Christian poetry, particularly the Odes of
Solomon, where anthropology appears simply in the form of the frst person
pronoun 'I, and soteriologyshines in a wide variety of poetic expressions: The
Son has loved me and I love him. I shall become 'son or 'daughter myself:
'For he who is joined to him who does not die will also be immortal (Odes
Sol. 3.8).
32
Such is the teaching of the Spirit of the Lord (Odes Sol. 3.10).
33
The
Lord opened my heart to his light and'caused his immortal life to dwell in me
(Odes Sol. 10.2).
34
'I drank-and became drunk-immortal water (Odes Sol.
11,7 [Greek]).
35
'I put on imperishability by his name and took off perishability
by his grace. Death was annihilated before my face and the realm of the dead
[Sheol] destroyed by my word (Odes Sol. 15.8-9).
36
The apologists Athenagoras, Pseudo-Justin, and the author of the so-called
Third Epistle to the Corinthians defend a doctrine of the resurrection of the
fesh, but for them the soul remains important.
37
The fesh helps bridge the gulf
between death and the resurrection, but the soul is even better than a bridge.
38

32
Michael Lattke, Odes of Solomon: A Commentary (trans. Marianne Ehrhardt; Hermeneia;
Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2009) 35.
33
Ibid.
34
Ibid., 140.
35
Ibid., 149.
36
Ibid., 206.
37
See Athenagoras, Supplique au sujet des chrtiens et Sur la rsurrection des morts (ed. Bernard
Pouderon; SC 379; Paris: Cerf, 1992); idem, Embassy for the Christians: The Resurrection of the
Dead (trans. and annotated by Joseph Hugh Crehan; ACW 23; Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1956);
Pseudo-Justin, Sulla resurrezione. Discorso cristiano del II secolo (ed. Alberto D`Anna; Letteratura
Cristiana Antica; Brescia: Morcelliana, 2001); idem, ber die Auferstehung. Text und Studie (ed.
Martin Heimgartner; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2001); Terza Lettera ai Corinzi, Pseudo-Giustino, La
Risurrezione (ed. Alberto D`Anna; Letture Cristiane del Primo Milennio 44; Milan: Paoline, 2009);
Vahan Hovhanessian, Third Corinthians: Reclaiming Paul for Christian Orthodoxy (New York: Lang,
2000). Recently two Harvard doctoral students submitted their dissertations on the topics treated
here: Taylor Petrey, 'Carnal Resurrection: Sexuality and Sexual Difference in Early Christianity
(Th.D. diss., Harvard University, 2010); Glenn E. Snyder, 'Remembering the Acts of Paul (Ph.D.
diss., Harvard University, 2010).
38
In the Vision of Ezra (recension B), Ezra is taken by seven angels to visit Hell and by four
archangels to visit the seventh heaven. Then he must die, and like many strong believers, he is
afraid of dying. The Lord consoles him by telling him that his body will go back to the earth while
his soul will go back to God. The document may be dated from the second century &(., but the
Latin recensions must be later (4th-9th century &(). See Flavio G. Nuvolone, 'Vision d`Esdras,
in crits apocryphes chrtiens 1:593-632, esp. 631. Then, in so-called 5 Ezra, when the seer
observes the Son in the company of a crowd of believers and asks who the people are, he receives
the answer: 'These are they who have put off mortal clothing and put on the immortal, and they
have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms (5 Ezra 2.45).
See Pierre Geoltrain, 'Cinquime livre d`Esdras, in crits apocryphes chrtiens, 1:633-51. Probable
396 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
This becomes evident when reading the newly discovered Prayer and Apocalypse
of Paul, which I was fortunate to edit with Bertrand Bouvier for the frst time.
39

This apocalypse depicts the opposite destinies of the sinner and the elect at the
moment of death and during the long stay in the realm of death while awaiting
the fnal resurrection. Typically for early Christian and Byzantine scenarios,
we hear two dialogues between the soul and body, one in the sinner and one in
the just. In the case of the just, the soul thanks and congratulates the body for
their harmonious life together, like two affectionate siblings. The noble ethical
attitude of both in this life has secured the unity of their person on the day of
resurrection. Therefore they can separate at the hour of death with the hope of
being reunited at the end of time.
The question arises: in their efforts to give life to the soul after death, what
function did Christians attribute to the body? As with the soul, various-often
contradictory-opinions are offered. A very common response was to praise
the future fate of the soul as an escape from the body, which was considered a
prison (here of course the infuence of the Platonic tradition is tangible). Even
if careful distinctions must be made, this is the solution of several so-called
gnostic texts,
40
particularly The Exegesis of the Soul (NHC II.6) and the Letter
to Rheginus or Treatise on the Resurrection (NHC I.4).
41
To be sure, we also fnd
anthropological refections in texts such as the Gospel of Mary.
42
In this document
the author connects matter with the passions and the vision of the Lord with the
mind, which is a part of the self distinct from the soul and the human spirit. But
here also soteriology is the core of the refection and among the two mentioned
tendencies-spiritual and corporal salvation-it clearly chooses the spiritual.
Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mary describes the ascent of the soul.
date of 5 Ezra, second half of the second century or beginning of the third century C.E.
39
See Bertrand Bouvier and Franois Bovon, 'Prire et Apocalypse de Paul. Un fragment
grec indit conserv au Sina. Introduction, texte, traduction et notes, Apocrypha 15 (2004) 9-20.
Even if the text islater than the second century, it defends the same position as the Apocapypse of
Peter andthe Apocalypse of Paul. On these two early Christian apocalypses, see below, n. 43. See
Louise Dudley, The Egyptian Elements in the Legend of the Body and the Soul (Baltimore, Md.:
Furst, 1911); eadem, 'An Early Homily on the Body and Soul` Theme, Journal of English and
German Philology 8 (1909) 225-53.
40
I hesitate to mention here the Gospel of Truth. See Gospel of Truth 20.32-34; 15.12-14 and
35-36; Harold Attridge and George W. MacRae, 'The Gospel of Truth (I,3 and XII, 2), in The
Nag Hammadi Library in English (ed. James M. Robinson; 3d ed.; New York: HarperSanFrancisco,
1990) 38-39. Regarding this document, Hurtado writes: 'In the Gospel of Truth, however, Jesus`
death does not provide a ransom for sins. Instead, it vividly portrays the futility and unimportance
of the fesh, and the secret of the transcendent destiny to which the elect can now aspire in
consequence of Jesus` own pathfnding action. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to
Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003) 545.
41
See Malcolm L. Peel, 'The Treatise on the Resurrection (I, 4), in The Nag Hammadi Library
in English, 52-54.
42
See Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
(Santa Rosa, Calif.: Polebridge, 2003).
FRANOIS BOVON 397
A second solution underscores the unity of the person in the knowledge of
different fates reserved for his or her parts. Although the dying body is distinct
from the living soul, the destiny of the soul in the afterlife depends on the ethical
commitment of the body in this life, and a reunion of both, soul and body, is
expected on the day of resurrection. This is the orthodox vision that we fnd in
Origen`s treatise on Martyrdom and in several Apocalypses.
43

There is a particular version of this respect for the human person, visible in
the body, as the image of God. This positive evaluation of the body irradiates
the whole person, the soul in particular. Indeed, the body becomes a metaphor
for the soul. This is the option selected by early Christian artists and their
commanditaires or patrons. In art, whose preserved witnesses are most often
funerary, the representation of the body may become the image of the soul
or-put differently-the image of the post mortem existence of the self. The
43
On Origen, see above, 391-92, and below, 399-400. On the Apocalypse of Peter and the
Apocalypse of Paul, see Richard Bauckham and Paolo Marrassini, 'Apocalypse de Pierre, in crits
apocryphes chrtiens, 1:745-74; and Claude-Claire Kappler and Ren Kappler, 'Apocalyse de Paul,
in crits apocryphes chrtiens, 1:775-826; Claude Carozzi, Eschatologie et au-del. Recherches sur
l'Apocalypse de Paul (Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l`Universit de Provence, 1994).
Fig. 1. Praying woman, orant. Rome, Catacombs of
Santa Priscilla, Cubiculum of the 'veiling.
398 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
picture of the orant, the praying woman with arms outstretched, is perhaps the
metaphor of the departed soul. To paint this fgure or to sculpt it, quoting mile
Mle, is to express faith in immortality: 'Les peintures les plus anciennes des
catacombes respirent cette douceur et traduisent cette foi dans l`immortalit et
il est peu de chefs d`ouvre qui nous touchent autant que ces pauvres fresques
moiti effaces.
44

QJohn`s Gospel, Paul, and Jesus
Why have I entitled this lecture 'The Soul`s Comeback? In any case I do not
mean the immortality of the soul, Plato`s idea, in opposition to the resurrection
of the body, the Christian tradition. No, I mean the Christian hope of an afterlife
for the self as opposed to today`s obsession with the body in a framework of life
limited by death as the fnal perspective. Two quotations help me convey my
emphasis. The frst is from John Calvinin his commentson Matt 10:28: 'Do not
44
'The most ancient paintings of the catacombs breathe of this sweetness and express this faith
in immortality, and few masterpieces move us more than these poor, half-erased frescoes. mile
Mle, Rome et ses vieilles glises (Paris: Flammarion, 1942) 18.
Fig. 2. The patriarchs Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob hold the souls of the blessed.
Fresco by Theophnes the Cretan, 1512. Mount Athos, Great Lavra, Trpeza.
FRANOIS BOVON 399
fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can
destroy both soul and body in hell. Calvin writes, 'For how comes it that the
dread of men prevails, in the struggle, but because the body is preferred to the
soul, and immortality is less valued than a perishing life?
45
I found the second
quotation reading with students the Greek text of Origen`s treatise on Martyrdom:
'For, created inthe image of God, it [the soul] is worthier than all bodies.
46

This is what we fnd in nuce in frst-century Christianity, in the Gospel of John


and in the Pauline epistles, to which we now turn.
The Gospel of John
The Gospel of John, written around the end of the frst century &(, is the best
witness to mythesis that priority was given to soteriology over anthropology
in the early Christian communities.
47
At no layer in the slow process of this
Gospel`s composition is special attention given to anthropological terminology.
What counts to the authors and to the Johannine community is not a defnition
of the human being but the salvation offered ('eternal life) and the Son of God
as the source of that salvation. John 3:14-16 compares the Son to the bronze
serpent who, lifted up in the wilderness, brought healing to the sick Israelites
(Num 21:6-9). When humans look up to the Son, as the Israelites did toward
the serpent, they will receive eternal healing.
48

Explaining at the end of The City of God what 'eternal blessedness means,
Augustine claims that the adjective 'eternal does not simply describe an
everlasting period.
49
On the contrary, it implies an extraordinary quality. This is
especially true in the Gospel of John: eternal life is not just an indefnite period
of time that begins at the death of believers. It is the quality of relationship with
45
John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (trans.
William Pringle; Calvin`s Commentaries; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845-1846;repr.;
Calvin`s Commentaries 16; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2003) 1:462. 'Car qui est cause qu`au
combat la crainte des hommes l`emporte, sinon pour ce qu`on prfre le corps l`me, et que
l`immortalit est moins estime que ceste vie caduque? Idem, Sur la Concordance ou Harmonie
compose de trois vanglistes, ascavoir S. Matthieu, S. Marc, et S. Luc (vol. 1 of Commentaires
de Jehan Calvin sur le Nouveau Testament; 4 vols.; Paris: Meyrueis, 1854) 263.
46
hJ ga;r 'kat jeijkovna qeou` dedhmiourghmevnh timiwtevra ejsti; pavntwn swmavtwn. Origen, Mart.
12 (GCS 2; Berlin: Hinrichs,1899) 13. See also 4 Macc. 7.16-19.
47
On the Gospel of John, see Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the Gospel of John (ed.
Francis J. Moloney; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 2003); Jean Zumstein, L'vangile selon saint
Jean (13-21) (CNT 2d series 4b; Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2007).
48
On another occasion, changing the metaphor, the Gospel of John describes the Son as the
origin of special healing water: 'The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water
gushing up to eternal life (John 4:14).
49
Augustine, City of God, 22.1. Augustine actually shares an opinion already defended by
Origen; see Panagits Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology (Supplements
to Vigiliae Christianae 85; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 230, who writes: 'Reference to eternal in the frst
place alludes not to a quantity of time, but to the quality of a certain existential state [emphasis
in original].
400 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Christ, the depth of love between God and God`s children, and an existence that
begins at the moment of redemption (according to a christological and not an
anthropological chronology). It is independent of natural life, so that we will
live even if we shall die (see John 5:24-29 and 6:68).
50
Paul
Writing four or fve decades before John, Paul uses the anthropological terms
found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
51
He
uses terms such as 'heart, 'fesh, 'soul, and 'spirit in a loose way, except
when contrasting the 'fesh and the 'spirit.
52
As sinful existence begins with
wrong desire (ejpiqumiva), develops into sin (aJmartiva), and ends with death
(qavnato~) (Rom 7:7-25), redeemed existence, described as 'righteousness, is
life in the Spirit, not meaning an especially spiritual or mystical existence but a
life guided by the Spirit of God, active in concrete love for one`s neighbor and
intense love for the deity.
Active in the old life, the new life can be described by Paul as a sacrifce of
our bodies and the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:1-2). The source of hope for
the self comes from divine grace; and the ethical dimension of body and soul
can only result from the decision of faith, the human response to the divine
affrmation of love.
53
There is a clear harmony between the Epistle to the Romans and the First
Epistle to the Corinthians. Eternal life begins already in the here and now, but
50
It is not surprising that the Son himself declares: 'I am the resurrection and the life (John
11:25). The words 'resurrection and 'life constitute a hendiadys, a way of expressing by two
terms one and the same reality. The term 'life is qualifed by the term 'resurrection. It is new
life, different from the natural life. It is at the same time a 'resurrection of the person, but with
the presence of the word 'life it is not just a future hope for the body. It is a present reality for the
self as well. Through the gift of this special type of life the self ceases to be 'fesh: 'But to all who
received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born,
not of blood or of the will of the fesh or of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).
51
Just as there were several distinct synagogues in Jerusalem, as well as in Rome, a plurality that
was not felt as a threat against Jewish identity and unity, there were different Christian communities
in Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria, and Ephesus. The Johannine community in Ephesus, to whom one
of the seven letters of the book of Revelation was addressed (Rev 2:1-7), was probably different
from the community established by Paul in the same city (see 1 Cor 15 and Acts 19). Despite this
difference, the same fundamental structure of faith was accepted by the two groups. What we have
seen for the Johannine group can be found also in the Pauline churches.
52
On Paul`s anthropological terminology, see Robert Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms: A
Study of Their Use in Conict Settings (AGJU 1; Leiden: Brill, 1971); George H. van Kooten, Paul's
Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God and Tripartite Man in Ancient
Judaism, Ancient Philosophy and Early Christianity (WUNT 232; Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).
53
Although 1 Thess 4:23 seems to display a complete and frm anthropology ('May the God
of peace himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and
blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ), this verse is an exception, and Paul-different
from Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, the two stoic thinkers-is not interested in the practice of the
body as a source of sanctifcation.
FRANOIS BOVON 401
the present participation in this eternal life happens in our mortal bodies and
conforms itself to the cross of Christ.
54
Future participation-in continuity
with the present-will coincide with Jesus` resurrection. It is therefore of vital
importance to affrm that there is a resurrection (1 Cor 15:12).
As a Jew, but also as a native Greek speaker, Paul cannot imagine a self
outside the body, an existence without a body. But what will the fnal body
be? Certainly it will be in continuity with the present life (to be sure that this
is the same person), but there will also be discontinuity, since the quality of
the resurrection will be completely different from natural existence. Therefore
Paul creates the expression sw`ma pneumatikovn, 'spiritual body, using sw`ma
('body) for the continuity and pneumatikovn ('spiritual) for the discontinuity,
for the newness (1 Cor 15:44). Wielding this metaphor, understandable to both
Jews and Greeks, he compares our present suffering and our future glorious
self to the destiny of a seed, sown physically but reborn spiritually, according
to ancient standards and beliefs.
55
We not only look like the risen Christ but also
participate in Christ`s existence: 'Just as we have borne the image of the man
of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor 15:49). 'For
this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put
on immortality (1 Cor 15:53).
56
Jesus
If we search for Jesus` view on this matter using a Greek concordance and the
term yuchv ('soul, 'life, or 'person),
57
we fnd in particular a reference to
the most important saying regarding our topic, for it presumes the survival of
the person in one way or another after death; it underscores the importance of
the 'soul along with the reality of the 'body; it gives strength and hope to all
54
On Jesus` death and resurrection as a saving event received by faith, see Rudolf Bultmann,
Theologie des Neuen Testaments (ed. Otto Merk; 8th ed.; Uni-Taschenbcher 630; Tbingen: Mohr,
1980) 33, pp. 292-306. On the parallels between Jesus` resurrection and the believers` resurrection,
see Rom 6:3-11; Brendan Byrne, Romans (SP 6; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996) 189-93.
55
Here in nuce we fnd already the future distinction between imago and similitudo, for today
human beings look like Adam and Eve, born from earth, natural and mortal (in the image of God,
imago), but as Christians they shall be assimilated to Christ, the last Adam, who came not from earth
but from heaven (in similarity with God, similitudo; see 1 Cor 15:4249). See Franois Altermath,
Du corps psychique au corps spirituel. Interprtation de 1 Cor 15, 35-49 par les auteurs chrtiens
des quatre premiers sicles (BGBE 18; Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1977).
56
On 1 Cor 15, see Wolfgang Schrage, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (1Kor 15,1-16,24)
(EKKNT 7.4; Dsseldorf: Benziger; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2001).
57
When Jesus, according to Mark 10:45, says that the Son of man has come not to be served
but to serve, and to give his yuchv as a ransom for many, there is little doubt that he means here
'his life. But when at Gethsemane he sighs, saying 'my yuchv is deeply grieved, he means
his soul and his spirit, his mental and affective parts (Matt 26:38). Compared with Luke 22:37,
Mark 10:45-as it is formulated with the soteriological allusion to a ransom-is more likely the
expression of the frst community than words spoken by the historical Jesus. See also Luke 21:19,
Acts 20:10, and Heb 4:12.
402 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Christians in times of persecution or distress, and it is the saying explained by
John Calvin mentioned earlier in this lecture. Knowing that fear can overwhelm
anyone in many different circumstances, Jesus says: 'Do not fear those who kill
the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and
body in hell (Matt 10:28).
58
Here we fnd that Jesus believes and presupposes
that human life does not stop at the moment of death, and what he calls 'soul
can survive after departure from the body. This saying confrms also the serious
ethical dimension of eternal life: Christian redemption is not just a sweet promise
of eternal delight, but the gift-not without requirements-of resurrection and
immortality in the framework of faith and perseverance.
59
58
On Matt 10:28 see Ulrich Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthus (Mt 8-17) (EKKNT 1.2;
Zurich: Benziger; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1990) 126-28. One should remember
the parallel to the saying in 4 Macc. 13.13b-15: 'With all our hearts let us consecrate ourselves
unto God, who gave us our souls, and let us expend our bodies for the custodianship of the Law.
Let us have no fear of him who thinks he kills. Great is the ordeal and peril of the soul that lies
in wait in eternal torment for those who transgress the commandment of God. H. Anderson, '4
Maccabees: A New Translation and Introduction, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. James
H. Charlesworth; 2 vols.; London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1983-1985) 2:558.
59
In subsequent centuries Christian leaders emphasized and contrasted the destiny of the elect
and the punishment of others. The separation of the two groups began in early apocalyptic literature:
'Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some for everlasting life, and some
Fig. 3. An angel wresting the soul of a monk from his corpse.
From a Psalter, Dionysiou 65. Mount Athos, Dionysiou.
FRANOIS BOVON 403
QSpiritual Experience Today
This voyage backwards from late antiquity to the time of Jesus compels me to
plead in favor of the soul as the most precious gift given to humankind. But I
do not wish to defne the soul, as Aristotle
60
or Tertullian did. I do not wish to
speculate, as Descartes
61
did. I do not dare to explain the relationship between the
body and the soul or embodiment, as Merleau-Ponty
62
does. My only purpose is
to avoid attributing a disappointing limitation to the body and to draw attention
to the danger of academic skepticism with respect to the afterlife. It sounds like
a sermon, and in some measure it is. Some may refuse to accept this religious
tradition, but intellectually they cannot deny the existence of the voice of hope
and faith as it is echoed in Origen`s opinion that the soul is worthier than all
bodies.
63

Now that we have seen the relevance that Christians of the frst centuries
attributed to the soul, what do we do with the recent refections on the body by
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Pierre Hadot, and
Peter Brown?
64
I would like to use this impressive amount of research frst as
an invitation to underscore human responsibility in this life and in this world. In
doing so, I introduce an expression that theologians have created: 'eschatological
reservation. To understand this notion, it is necessary to look at Paul`s epistle
to the Romans. While Paul says in Romans 6 that we have been crucifed with
Jesus Christ, he does not dare say that we have been raised again with him.
65

to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2). This eschatological perspective is present as well in
the Synoptic Gospels (remember the great picture of the sheep and the goats; Matt 25:31-46) just as
it is in the Gospel of John ('Do not be astonished at this, for the hour is coming when all who are
in the graves will hear his voice and will come out-those who have done good to the resurrection
of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation; John 5:28-29).
60
See Aristotle, On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath (ed. Walter S. Hett; Aristotle 8; LCL
288; rev. ed.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
61
Ren Descartes, Mditations touchant la premire philosophie, mainly the second and the
sixth meditations; see also the fourth part of Descartes`s Discours de la mthode; see Martin, The
Corinthian Body, 4-6.
62
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phnomnologie de la perception; idem, L'union de l'me et du corps
chez Malebranche, Biran et Bergson. Notes prises au cours de Maurice Merleau-Ponty (ed. Jean
Deprun; rev. ed.; Bibliothque d`histoire de la philosophie 98; Paris: Vrin, 1978).
63
See also Gregory J. Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy
(Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1995) 31: 'Socrates felt it his divine mission to persuade his fellow
Athenians to concentrate their efforts on the cultivation of the good of the soul over against that
of the body.
64
Michel Foucault, Le souci de soi (vol. 3 of Histoire de la sexualit; Bibliothque des histoires;
Paris: Gallimard, 1976); Hannah Arendt, Vita activa oder Vom ttigen Leben (2d ed.; Munich: Piper,
1981); Pierre Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique, prface d`Arnold I. Davidson
(Bibliothque de l`volution de l`humanit; 2d ed.; Paris: Albin Michel, 2002); Peter Brown,
The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Twentieth
anniversary edition with a new introduction; New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).
65
Beside the reference to Byrne`s commentary (see above, n. 54), see also Ulrich Wilckens,
Der Brief an die Rmer (Rm 6-11) (3d ed.; EKKNT 6.2; Zurich: Benziger; Neukirchener-Vluyn:
404 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Sensitive to the eschatological reservation, he says that from now on we can live
in newness of life, but not yet in full resurrection. In conformity with the apostle,
early Christians did not fee from their bodies but accepted their insertion into
this life. They strove to respect their ethical duty.
66
The recent emphasis on the body urges us not to return to the type of
spirituality proclaimed by the publisher Henri-Louis Mermod (who was trying
to educate the young student that I was at that time) by shouting: 'We are all of
us Platonists, aren`t we?
67
This attitude is no longer appropriate, for our soul
is intimately dependent on our body and our body on our soul. This is a second
positive result of the current interest in the body. In my view, however, there is
in the human person an element of mystery, of irreducible subjectivity that the
term 'soul preserves. This portion is as light as the ancient defnition of the soul
as a butterfy recalls. And it is exceedingly thin, as a recent Ph.D. graduate from
Harvard University (Department of History), Gregory Smith, underscores in the
title of his dissertation: Very Thin Things: Toward a Cultural History of the Soul
in Roman Antiquity.
68
The soul escapes from one`s hand like a thin sheet, as it
does in the death of the partriarch recorded in the Testament of Abraham.
69
But
being so thin, it is a part of us that refuses all laws of contingency and mortality.
RecentlyI enjoyed reading Drew Leder`s The Absent Body, which Michael
Jackson had mentioned to me.
70
Both Merleau-Ponty and Leder refuse to consider
the body as an object of study. Both also participate in the philosophical reaction
against the all-too-easy tendency since Plato to prefer disembodiment.
71
While
Merleau-Ponty, in his Phnomnologie de la perception, examined the external
body, Leder has been attentive to the internal body, to the visceral part of our
being. Leder`s main thesis, that Merleau-Ponty still ignores, is exciting: when we
use it, when everything is fne, we forget our body. The body is absent. Engaged
in a sports competition, I concentrate exclusively on the game. And Leder
remarks correctly that we remember our body only at the moment something
Neukirchener Verlag, 1993) 5-33.
66
On the 'eschatological reservation, see Ernst Ksemann, An die Rmer (HNT 8a; Tbingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 1973) 214 and 336; idem, Paulinische Perspektiven (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck,
1969) 215.
67
Henri-Louis Mermod was an infuential editor in the middle of the twentieth century in
French-speaking Switzerland. The conversation I recall took place at Vidy, along the Lake of
Geneva, during a preparation of the Chemin du Chteau Vidy, an early morning walk honoring
Major Davel and following, on 24 April 1959, the path that he took 24 April 1723 going from his
prison to his execution. See Juste Olivier, Le Major Davel followed by Hommage au Major by
Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (Lausanne: Mermod, 1959).
68
Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2005.
69
Long recension of the Greek Testament of Abraham 20.9-10; see Francis Schmidt, Le Testament
grec d'Abraham. Introduction, dition critique des deux recensions grecques, traduction (Texte und
Studien zum Antiken Judentum 11; Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986) 166-67.
70
Drew Leder, The Absent Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).
71
Ibid., 3.
FRANOIS BOVON 405
is going wrong, which he calls 'dysfunction. Therefore a third positive result
of the recent passion for the body is a reminder of the self, a reminder of our
fragile-and not heroic-constitution.
72
QConclusion
I read in the early Christian witnesses a special interest in the soul and its
immortality, strongly related to their faith in the resurrection itself. Immortality
was not for them an anthropological given but a christological gift. It was for
them the fruit of redemption and not the result of an immanent process. Different
from many observations today, their concern for the body, even for the fesh
(in the framework of the resurrection of the dead), went hand in hand with the
continuity of the person in a way that we can call the soul. They were interested
in the body as it related to their hope in the resurrection and to their refection
on the incarnation of the Son. They preferred the frst person singular 'I to
72
Among the books and articles that I have not yet mentioned, I have selected in chronological
order: Erwin Rohde, Psyche. Seelencult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube der Griechen (5th and 6th ed.;
Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1910); Franz Cumont, Lux perpetua (Paris: Geuthner, 1949; a reprinted
version, edited by Bruno Rochette and Andr Motte, was published by Nino Aragno in Turin
[Italy] and distributed by Brepols in Turnhout [Belgium] in 2009); Oscar Cullmann, Immortalit de
l'me ou rsurrection des morts? (2d ed.; Neuchtel: Delachaux & Niestl, 1959); Karel Hanhart,
The Intermediate State in the New Testament (Groningen: Druk. V. R. B. Kleine, 1966); Walter F.
Otto, Die Manen oder von den Urformen des Totenglaubens. Eine Untersuchung zur Religion der
Griechen, Rmer und Semiten und zum Volksglauben berhaupt (3d ed.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
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406 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the impersonal third person 'she or 'he. Using the German distinction, they
preferred Leib rather than Krper. They claimed a holistic view of the person,
with ethical embodiment now and the risen person tomorrow, and suggested the
preservation of the person (between the two) through the existence of the soul
and the care and memory of their God.
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