Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hebrew versus Greek Anthropology

So one of the central questions I will will be researching for my thesis is whether Paul is thinking like a Greek or a Hebrew when he talks about the church as being the 'Body of Christ.' Although Paul was a Hebrew and educated as a Rabbi he also grew up in a Greek city and seems to have been educated in Greek rhetoric, so either is possible. Anthropology is the study and philosophy of what it means to be human. Here are some differences:

  • Greeks opposed form and matter, body and flesh. Hebrews did not, their word for body/flesh, basar, describes the whole life physical life substance of a human.
  • Greeks contrast one and many, whole and parts, a body and its members. Hebrews had no word for the whole body, but almost any part could be used to represent the whole.
  • Greeks had a body and a soul, the soul was the essential ego which would eventually be liberated from the material body. The Hebrews were an animated body. The Hebrew person did nothave a body, they were a body. (So dead Greeks were souls, while dead Hebrews were merely shadows)
  • Greeks describe a body in terms of its boundaries. Being a body is a principle of individuation. Hebrews saw being a body as binding them to their neighbour, kin, and all creation. Individuality only came through being responsible to God, not as a product of a body's boundaries.
  • Greeks could conceive of a human body distinct from creation, family and God. Hebrews simply did not think about the body for its own sake, but only in terms of its relation to something else.
So you are probably thinking that the Hebrew point of view doesn't make much sense. And if it doesn't it's probably because you are a Greek! (everyone raised in the western intellectual tradition is to some extent) But hopefully you can see how much difference it makes whether Paul was thinking in Greek or Hebrew categories. The respective world views and theological/philosophical implications are huge, not least for the way we read these words in the Bible.

(source: John A.T Robinson, The Body: A study in Pauline Theology.)

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