St. Paul's error: The semantic changes of body and soul in the western world


Abstract
Historically Christianity owes much to Judaism. St. Paul’s Christianity, however, changed the way of thinking of many of the first Jews because of a new way of reasoning about selfhood, the human body, and human cognition. Without wanting to treat certain theological concepts, I want to underline how modern science’s view of the person is closer to traditional Judaism than it is to Christianity, and how Paul’s “error” was diffused throughout the Western world, by analyzing the semantics of linguistic references to the body, the soul, and emotions. What was St. Paul’s error? The question means to be both allusive and provocative. He was born by the name Saul in the city of Tarsus, in modern Turkey, during the height of its splendour as a Roman-Greek city. Paul grew up as a “free man”, that is, as a Roman citizen in a cosmopolitan environment. He is considered to be the most influential and productive of the testimonies of the Christian thought throughout Asia Minor and Western Europe. His epistles circulated throughout his time and continue to influence millions of followers, who often interpret his thoughts in contrasting manner, but nonetheless attest to his authority. An erudite Greek-Roman, persecutor of the first Christians, Paul battled to spread the story of Jesus of Nazareth. His ideology, indeed, is a blend of Greek-Roman thought and of what he learned from the first Christians. The Hellenic characteristics of his faith created a divergence from traditional Judaic thought within what was to become the Christian creed though his influence. As a matter of fact, Christianity came to have a more coherent structure because of Paul, and Christian belief in a way is more Paul’s thought than it is Jesus’. Jewish teaching circa selfhood was quite holistic. The Hebrew word nephesh is often translated as “soul” but also means “body”, whereas Paul clearly distinguishes the two, talking about a co-existence, “concupiscence” and the necessity of dominating the body to exalt the spirit. I will examine the semantic changes in words dealing with body and soul, and how Paul’s authority eventually influenced the Western world’s way of reasoning about such concepts.
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