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Can Victims of Cannibals be Raised from the Dead?


Last summer I had the pleasure of writing my first article for Strange Notions, on the topic of bodily resurrection. Some time later, I came across a discussion group on another blog that happened to be focused on my article! Naturally intrigued, I took a few minutes to look around and read what the readers there had to say. It was nothing good. Among the snarky remarks was this gem: "I had fish for lunch. I wonder which of us is going to get resurrected from our (now shared) atoms."

Today I'd like to address that topic. I mentioned it vaguely in my original article, when I noted that the bodies of the dry bones Ezekiel saw in his dream had been picked clean by the carrion birds, and that a human body's atoms might be dispersed by earthquakes, dynamite, or a hungry bears. But the question is a really intriguing one, and I think trying to answer it presents a rather daunting challenge. What follows is my attempt.

Recycle, Reuse, Reduce?

The problem here basically involves recycling. Dead bodies not only decompose but "spring to life" again in other forms. They are not raised up in their former forms, but their components are inevitably integrated into new living systems. Compost in the garden. A dead antelope feeding a lion (a lion whose body is composed, in part, of antelope meat). Imagine first century Romans feeding Christians to wild boars, and then feasting on the pigs themselves in a post-persecution barbecue. Thanks to the miracle of digestion, we could imagine someone's body becoming part of a pig's body, and then in turn becoming part of another person's body. As the particles composing the former pass on to nourish the latter, resurrection suddenly becomes a very messy business indeed.

My last article, again, suggested that quantum entanglement might (possibly) allow a continuity of experience to be preserved, maintaining one's identity beyond death and decomposition. But "recycling" makes things trickier; if the experiences of one body's parts were to become integrated into the experiences of some other body's parts, whose identity will be preserved when the day of resurrection comes?

Canadian Cannibals

In the eighteenth century Voltaire, cheeky as always, gleefully described such a problem when he proposed the following situation. He asked that we imagine a French soldier who has traveled to Quebec and finds himself lost in the woods far away from his station. Starving, he does the unthinkable: he kills and eats a native Iroquois whom he meets in the forest. One man has eaten another, but the problem is even greater than we realize. For Voltaire goes on to tell us, “The Iroquois had fed on Jesuits for two or three months, and a great part of his body [i.e., the Iroquois's body] had become Jesuit” (qtd. in Morley, 1901/2012, 5.2).

Because the Iroquois in Voltaire's example had been eating missionaries for such a long time, we can imagine our French soldier to have a body composed (in part) of the body of an Iroquois, whose own body had been composed (much more substantially) of Jesuit bodies (several of them!). Even if entanglement somehow preserves the subjective experiences of the dead Iroquois within the body of the French soldier (might we imagine two souls in one body?), what about the experiences and identities of those Jesuits whom the Iroquois had been eating? Are we to say that all these men live on in the French soldier’s body?

What a confusing mess!

An Old Question

But it turns out Voltaire’s question, as well as the one asked by the blog commentator whom I mentioned at the beginning, is nothing new. About 1,300 years before Voltaire wrote about his starving soldier, the question of "which is who?" had already been asked by St. Augustine in The City of God. Augustine suggested that if human flesh were ever eaten (directly via cannibalism or indirectly by an animal eaten by another human being), then that flesh would on the Day of Resurrection, “be restored to the man in whom it became human flesh” (Bk. XXII, Ch. 20). That is, whoever had it first will have it restored to him or herself when all the dead are raised up.

Not simply dismissing the question there, Augustine then goes on. He supposes that any recycled flesh “must be looked upon as borrowed by the other person, and, like a pecuniary loan, must be restored to the lender” (Ibid.). It is "owed" to him or her, in that case, and must be given back on the last day.

If this is correct, then even someone who was eaten, rather than buried, remains the true “owner” of the particles which had once composed his or her body!

A Closer Look

A second response to Voltaire comes from the seventeenth century, just twenty years before Voltaire’s birth.  In 1674, when the English scholar Humphrey Hody considered this recycling problem himself, he had another question to ask. How much of a living body actually becomes the body of the thing that eats it? According to Hody, the percentage of a body actually capable of nourishing the body of a cannibal (or other carnivore like a lion or bear) is negligible. Most of the structure comprising a human body is either inedible, or else not very nourishing. One cannot digest bones or tendons, for example, and these would not be part of the cannibal's meal even if he (or she!) were especially hungry. And if indeed none of these parts were eaten, even if by cannibals, then there is very little chance that one could ever have a body comprised entirely of someone else's body.

The dead may rest in peace, wherever their bits might be scattered.

Hody goes on to point out that there are a lot of examples of “indirect” cannibalism:  “from the bodies," he says, "of the dead springs up grass, this when eaten by the ox, is turned into flesh; this we eat, and the flesh of the ox becomes ours” (qtd. Kaufman, 2008, p. 202). Yet even when this happens, a very tiny bit of what was once "cow" (or "ox" ... only about 2% of the flesh that is actually eaten) makes it into the body of the person who eats it. Even if we were to imagine a carnivorous cow who was feeding directly on human bodies, this would make little difference. And especially since I have never heard of a carnivorous cow to begin with, I rest assured that little of such a cow would be formerly human, thus giving me little reason to worry about “second hand cannibalism” as preventing the bodies of the dead from being raised up.

Bringing the scattered parts back together is one thing (and a tall order for the skeptical!), but at least as far as the recycling problem is concerned, it would appear that Voltaire was exaggerating. When it comes to eternal life, we have nothing to fear from cannibals.




Augustine, The City of God from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Philip Schaff, ed., M. Dods, trans. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight., First edition published in 1887.

Kaufman, D. 2008 “The Resurrection of the Same Body and the Ontological Status of Organisms: What Locke Should Have (and Could Have) Told Stillingfleet” in Contemporary Perspectives on Early Modern Philosophy., P. Hoffman, et al., ed. Peterborough: Broadview Press.

Morley, J. 2014. The Works of Voltaire, a Contemporary Version. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide Library. First published 1901.
(Image credit: Genealogy Religion)

Matthew Allen Newland

Written by

Matthew Allen Newland, PhD (c) studies at the Dominican University College of Ottawa, Ontario. He lives in Montreal, Quebec with his lovely wife, Olesia, and their two young children. He recently published his first book, Waiting in Joyful Hope: Reflections on Humanity’s Desire for Immortality and Its Possibility, which considers the possibility of bodily resurrection in greater detail.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Bob

    Then what is Paul on about in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44?

    • Raymond

      I don't see how that verse contradicts anything the article says.

      • Bob

        42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

        If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

        • Matthew Newland

          But that's not resurrection because it wouldn't be the same body. If anything it would be a kind of reincarnation.

          Thanks for reading, by the way. :)

          • Bob

            What was the prevailing Jewish belief regarding death, at the time?

          • Matthew Newland

            There were two views. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection or afterlife. Only GOD lives forever, they thought.

            The Pharisees, on the other hand (of which St. Paul was a member) did believe in a bodily resurrection and an afterlife, but only for the Jewish people. (The Church universalized this for everyone as Paul began preaching to the Gentiles)

          • Bob

            Can you point me to some texts from other Pharisees, from this time period, detailing these beliefs? Thanks.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            I don't know about 1st century writings specifically, but there are a number of Jewish writings contained in the Septuagint - like Isaiah, the book of Daniel, and Maccabees, which show a belief in the resurrection of the dead. Maccabees is dated from 2nd century BC, whereas Daniel and Isaiah are usually dated from before that.

            Modern-day rabbinical Judaism is descended from the Pharisaical tradition, and there is a continuation in the belief in the resurrection of the dead in that tradition. For instance, the very influential 12th century Jewish theologian/philosopher Maimonides lists a belief in the "resurrection of the dead" alongside belief in the coming of the Messiah in his list of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith. (See Wikipedia article on Maimonides for more info).

        • David Nickol

          "Spiritual body" would seem to be an oxymoron.

          • Bob

            One should avoid anachronisms when dealing with ancient texts, if one wishes to better understand the intent of the author. To that end, what do you suppose Paul actually thought of when he uses the phrase 'spiritual body'?

          • David Nickol

            I have no idea. Bringing to bear almost 2000 years of Christian speculation and elaboration, we would no doubt say Paul was speaking of "glorified bodies," but if you are worried about anachronisms, it might well be that reading such a concept into Paul's thought would be what is anachronistic.

            It seems to me that the idea of "glorified bodies"presents yet another problem to the idea of the resurrection of the dead. The matter we are made of now is not "glorified." Can there be continuity going from a "physical" body to a "glorified" one? In what sense is a "glorified body" even physical? Traveling at the speed of thought and passing through walls would seem to require a new physics, or perhaps no physics at all.

          • Bob

            Indeed. One has to wonder what Paul meant. He claims to have seen the resurrected Christ, but the prevailing idea is that he did not see the physically resurrected Christ, but that he witnessed Christ in spirit...which just adds to the confusion of exactly what Paul thought he was talking about, or so it seems to me.

          • James M

            He says he saw Christ, and is referring to a time after the Resurrection & Ascension - where's the problem ?

          • Lucretius

            I think Paul might be referring to bodies that are like Jesus's: immortal, lack concupience, can't die, and have superpowers! ;-)

            You also must remember that the New Heavens and New Earth might operate on a completely different metaphysical rule then what we currently know.

            Christi pax,

          • James M

            While reading your post, I was put in mind of the Assumption, which is interesting as ant even that involves the body of someone purely human, though greatly graced, who is said to be in Heaven body & soul: like Christ, yet also unlike. And St Paul says "I declare to you, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (1 Cor 15.50).


            Maybe the continuity is metaphysical. As for the last question and the last sentence, I like C. S. Lewis's idea that the Blessed are more solid, heavier, than we in this life are. Maybe they occupy more dimensions than we do, or are bigger than we are. The phenomena recorded of some of the Saints - being in two places at once, levitation, reading of consciences, raising of the dead, healing the sick - can all be read as the signs of the presence of the Reign of God. The miracles & Resurrection of Christ, His Ascension in Heaven, the Assumption of His Mother, the Virginal Conception of Christ, can all be read as such signs.

            IMHO the Coming of Christ into His own creation involves a vast game with physical reality - as though He were revising it, and doing things that are beyond it. In being conceived in the womb of Mary, He "Whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain" is contained in her, and she is contained in Him, for "in Him all things consist". Since the work of Christ is called the "renewal of all things", such a "game" would make sense - and that, perhaps, is the setting for the mystical phenomena mentioned.

            The sacraments (if one is of certain beliefs) are further examples of re-creation. Familiar physics is not so much denied, as left behind, because not applicable to the new order of reality that Jesus Personifies & brings in. Yet again, all these phenomena are eschatological, because they are related to Christ & His Reign. They are not "conjuring tricks" - which is why the former Bishop of Durham was right to deny that the Resurrection of Christ was a "conjuring trick with bones".

          • David Nickol

            Bringing the Assumption into the discussion adds one more wrinkle, since it is my understanding that the dogma, as defined, leaves open the question as to whether Mary actually died. One problem of all of these discussions is that we do not believe the "mythology" assumed in the New Testament. Hell is not below, and heaven is not above. How can Mary be "assumed" into heaven if heaven is not "up," and, in fact, heaven is not even a place, but a state? Taking such things into account, it seems to me there is immense room to interpret the dogma of the Assumption.

            Here's a question. When the Apostles allegedly witnessed the ascension of Jesus, did they really see Jesus rise up into the clouds? We know, today, that you can rise up into the clouds, and even above the clouds, and even above the atmosphere, and that doesn't get you to heaven. It seems to me that if Jesus really did ascend into the clouds, it was a show, of sorts, for the benefit of the Apostles. Jesus (being God) would have known that rising up into the clouds was not the way to heaven. So would Jesus have created an illusion of rising to "heaven" just so he would be working within the (incorrect) cosmology of the times?

        • William Davis

          Let's look at the whole passage:

          35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

          42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

          Does anyone have a clue what Paul is talking about? He talks about heavenly bodies...are we going to be stars? He thinks there is a different flesh for each kind of animal...that's way off. He's mad enough at someone in Corinth for not only believing that Christ isn't raised from the dead, but that there is no resurrection of the dead, mad enough to call them fools. Not only does this sound like rambling, it's obvious that there were Christians contemporary to Paul that didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead or of Jesus, just like me.
          I don't think Paul had a clue how the afterlife was supposed to work nor does anyone else. I could give some ideas from science fiction, but I don't see how that's related to Christianity.

  • David Nickol

    Suppose 10,000 years from now we have the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead. Suppose also that a person died and was cremated yesterday, and his atoms are recycled again and again over the next 10,000 years. It seems to me that even if atoms that once were a part of his body are cobbled together to make a body for his resurrection, it is still a new body, not the body that was cremated yesterday.

    At the end of an average lifetime, the atoms that made up a person's body would far exceed the mass of that person at any given time in his life, since the body is constantly renewing itself. Interestingly, brain cells are an exception, since you basically die with the brain cells you were born with. It seems to me that if cannibals eat your brains, there is a real problem with getting resurrected!

    • Matthew Newland

      Though we may have the same brain cells, even the particles composing those brain cells change over time. There is a continuity of matter in the human body no matter how you look at it. I am interested in the same body continuing after death, which requires direct continuity.

  • Andre V.

    I personally find this type of topic quite unhelpful and unproductive. From the non-believer's point of view it leads to some very creative speculation (as we can see some wonderful examples of on this thread), and from the Catholic point of view it can (and probably should) simply be dismissed as being a mystery that should not influence our faith, something beyond our current understanding.

    In all fairness to St. Paul and other early witnesses, how do we expect them to have explained these alleged events in writing in any event? If you have a Damascus experience, how will you fare in recording that in writing?

    • Doug Shaver

      and from the Catholic point of view it can (and probably should) simply be dismissed as being a mystery that should not influence our faith, something beyond our current understanding.

      If I were a believer, that would be my position: God can make it happen, and he says he will make it happen. My inability to figure out how it could happen would seem pretty irrelevant.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Why is it necessary for our resurrected bodies to have any matter from our time on earth? No particular matter makes us who we are now. Any of the right kind of matter will do.

    • David Nickol

      Why is it necessary for our resurrected bodies to have any matter from our time on earth?

      Because if they don't, they are not "resurrected" bodies. They are new ones. If Jesus got a new body when he rose from the dead, then what is the point of the empty tomb?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        His body was intact. Ours will not be. Anyway, Jesus continually was getting a new body while on earth, since that is part of having an animal body.

        • David Nickol

          His body was intact. Ours will not be.

          And you know this how?

          Anyway, Jesus continually was getting a new body while on earth, since that is part of having an animal body.

          This was touched on recently in another thread. I would not say that a living person is "continually . . . getting a new body." The question of identity over time goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Far be it from me to attempt to solve the problem, but it does seem to me there is a clear-cut difference between a body that grows and also continually renews itself and a body that is totally and completely reduced to its constituent atoms and re-created, even by rounding up and reassembling those atoms. The former has continuity over time, whereas the latter at some point completely ceases to exist. So in the latter case, the simply is no body to reanimate or resurrect.

          Jesus seems to be the model for the resurrection. His attributes after the resurrection seem to be the basis for conjectures about "glorified bodies." I don't think there is a basis for saying the resurrection of Jesus was one kind of resurrection, whereas the general resurrection will have other kinds.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Jesus was dead only 40 or so hours so not that much decomposition could have occurred.

            The soul has no parts, whereas the body has trillions of trillions. They are not comparable.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me you are restating the problem, not offering a solution. Jesus is basically the sole model we have for the resurrection of the dead, and yet according to you, he is highly atypical. So how can we use his resurrection as an example of what the general resurrection will be like?

            Your theory seems to be that when it comes time for a person to be resurrected, if there is a sufficiently intact corpse, it will be reanimated, otherwise a new body will be created. Matthew Newland is at least recognizing the problem that it would seem necessary for a person's body to exist, and with some kind of continuity, for that person to be resurrected.

            Why is such a great deal of emphasis put on the empty tomb? How long does a body have to be dead before a new one is created rather than the old one reanimated?

            I have not made an exhaustive study of the New Testament, but it seems to me the idea of the resurrection of the body—that is, the reanimation of the person's physical remains. It seems to me that if resurrection is not reanimation of a person's physical remains, then it does not matter at all whether the tomb of Jesus was empty after his resurrection.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's all just speculation, David.

          • David Nickol

            It's all just speculation, David.

            That might be my position, but I would think that your position would be that the Church has been pondering these questions for two thousand years under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and when someone recites the Apostles' Creed and says he or she believes in "the resurrection of the body and life everlasting," it's not just "all speculation."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The speculation is not *if* there is a resurrection.

          • David Nickol

            The speculation is not *if* there is a resurrection.

            The speculation seems to me to be that if there is something like what is being predicted by Paul, will it be a "resurrection" or something else similar to a resurrection?

            In my opinion we are near, or perhaps in, "can God make a square circle?" territory. If one believes in an omnipotent Creator, then it seems to me there is no problem in believing that at the end of the universe, or the end of time, everyone who ever lived (and died) can come back into existence in some way or another. But the dogma of the Resurrection of the Dead seems to me much more specific than that. And seen together with teachings about the soul as the "form of the body," begins to raise questions as to whether it is logically possible, or at least logically coherent.

          • William Davis

            I agree, just because what Paul said doesn't make much sense, doesn't mean he didn't have reason to believe there was some kind of afterlife. The way I read 1 Corinthians 15, Paul was frustrated by people who asked to many questions about the resurrection...apparently Christians in Corinth didn't get it either, so Paul calls them "fools" (reminds me of Kreeft a bit)

            35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool!

            Can't you imagine the kind of arguments Paul got into during his ministry? I'm sure many were quite spirited ;)

        • James M

          That deepens the mystery of transubstantiation, which is all to the good :)

      • But which version of my body will my resurrected body be? The atoms in my body are constantly being recycled. Maybe it's the form and not the atoms themselves that matter. Otherwise, my resurrected body will weigh many times more than I weigh now.

        Also, if the individual atoms matter, how will God be sure he got the right ones?

        • Matthew Newland

          The last question is easy, Paul. GOD knows all. :) But the earlier question is more interesting.

          I see my body not as an object so much as a process. There is a continuity of that process as one state bleeds (so to speak) into the next. So what's important to me is the continuity of the process; my body as it was at the moment of death must directly give rise to my body in its resurrected state. It's possible that additional growth and change will follow resurrection, though I have no idea what or how I will be when the time comes.

          • Or maybe just the form of the body, and not the body itself (otherwise, the cannibal problem arises)? God remembers more or less what you looked like when you died, and reassembles you with some of the affects of that death (like, presumably, surgical scars or nail holes).

          • These process conceptions remind me of some panentheist thoughts in the Indian spiritual tradition, where the no-self conception refers --- not to a denial of personhood, but --- to a a rejection of static, essentialistic, substantialist notions of self and an affirmation of self as more dynamical and processive. Below is a summary where I re-articulated what I thought my Eastern dialogue partner was saying. She said that she resonated with it.

            Aurobindo refers to a divine fractured self which perdures eternally, which might suggest that, even while affirming an Immutable Self, he affirms individual streams of consciousness or karmic bundles, which even in the afterlife we would recognize as each other, as the individuals we knew, so to speak, on this side (notwithstanding reincarnations and so on).

             The divine fractured "S"elf expressed in our individual "s"elves are individual peepholes on reality, seen by individual streams of consciousness, experienced as distinct karmic bundles, complementing and supplementing the singular, all seeing Self as discrete psychic perspectives, enriching the Immutable One's experience of Self precisely via this fracture into mutable souls. Such wholeness and fracture both perdure eternally in dialogue, the mutable and Immutable mutually enriching.

            This pan-entheism conceives the divine as a mereological whole, greater than the sum of its parts. The orthodox parsing, panen-theism, maintains more ontological discontinuity between creatures and Creator. A possible bridge between these conceptions might affirm an intra-objective identity of unitary being (process) with an intersubjective intimacy of our unitive strivings.

            In summary, I see deep analogies between some process metaphysics and various Eastern approaches that I've engaged.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thanks JohnBoy. A busy weekend prevented me from replying till now. As a budding process-philosopher (once I finish my doctorate!) this is really the very idea I have in mind. It's my hope to "baptize" Whitehead as a Catholic thinker; we'll see how it goes. This discussion you have prompted actually bleeds into my thesis, thought here I am not concerning myself with GOD and the cosmos so much as human existence in the cosmos ... though I could easily talk about GOD by applying the same arguments on a larger scale. But I see I am trying to compress too many ideas into too little space :/

    • Matthew Newland

      Kevin, it's important to realize that I am trying to imagine actual resurrection. IF there is a continuity between my body now and my risen body later, then we can say that it is the same body being raised.

      I wanted to narrow my questions within those limits.

      • James M

        Maybe the incorruption recorded of the bodies of several Saints is a distant reflection of the state of the Body of Christ before His Resurrection. It seems to have been held that His Body did not "see corruption".

        I can't believe the Holy Spirit is not relevant to all this. STM the work of the Holy Spirit is essential to the Resurrection, both of Christ and of His members, His Church. If the Holy Spirit could make fruitful the virginal womb of Mary, then the Holy Spirit can surely see to it that the dead in Christ will rise again with bodies renewed according to the pattern of Christ's Body. Since they are totally His in every way, maybe they will have His Body, each according to the measure of the grace given Him. Maybe we should start with God & Christ, rather than with these familiar but corruptible bodies.

        The Resurrection of Christ is a Trinitarian Work - so presumably that of His People - from whom He cannot divided - will also be Trinitarian. After all, the life of the Church & of the Christian is Trinitarian even in this life.

  • Well I think Voltaire was making fun of ideas about bodily resurrection and I have to say I'm rather surprised that this issue is felt to be of any import to Catholics. I mean people don't need to reserrect do they, they can just ascend? If this is not beyond god I don't see why the obvious fact that the atoms in our bodies change enormously over time and will have formed part of innumerable other animal and human bodies in the past, would present any challenge. Our bodies are mostly water and this moves in and out of us rather quickly. This deity can literally bring about material existence from literally nothing. Resurection need not be consistent with natural laws.

    Obviously it is not an issue for atheists.

    • Matthew Newland

      Of course Voltaire was making fun, Brian (I described him as "cheeky").
      But I wanted to seriously respond by running *with* his satirical
      situation and see if I could salvage it in spite of his poking fun.

      of course the issue is of import to Catholics; Easter's kind of a big
      deal for us :P (And as a materialist, I see bodily resurrection as the
      only possible kind of afterlife for us.)

  • Doug Shaver

    Bringing the scattered parts back together is one thing (and a tall order for the skeptical!)

    For me, no taller than any other such order. If there will be a resurrection, it will be a miracle. As far as I can tell, one miracle is just as improbable as any other. If one is possible, all the others are just as possible. Skeptics who pick on one or another as being particularly unbelievable are being silly, in my judgment.

  • VicqRuiz

    It's already been explained to me here, by several different Catholics at different times, that just cos' you read it in the BIble, 'taint necessarily so.

    Six day x 24 hour creation?
    God commanding the slaughter of the Canaanites?
    That snake talking in the garden of Eden?

    Catholics are apparently allowed to see these as allegories or educational illustrations, not literally true.

    But here I see many hoops being jumped through in an attempt to save the "literalness" of that one (somewhat vague) passage in Corinthians, the notion that the same body the person inhabited in life will be the body resurrected.

    How much of a problem would it be to just put this passage on the same shelf as the talking snake??

    • David Nickol

      How much of a problem would it be to just put this passage on the same shelf as the talking snake??

      I think it would be a very serious problem indeed, because the resurrection of the body is dogma. It is my understanding that what Aquinas had to say on the matter is official Church teaching. I am including a rather long quote, but only (a) The Identity of the Bodies of the Risen is directly relevant, and the remainder can be skipped:

      There is a fourfold condition of all those who shall take part in the resurrection:

      (a) The Identity of the Bodies of the Risen.—It will be the same body as it is now, both as regards its flesh and its bones. Some, indeed, have said that it will not be this same body which is corrupted that shall be raised up; but such view is contrary to the Apostle: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption” [1 Cor 15:53]. And likewise the Sacred Scripture says that by the power of God this same body shall rise to life: “And I shall be clothed again with my skin; and in my flesh I shall see my God” [Job 19:26].

      (b) The Incorruptibility of the Risen Bodies.—The bodies of the risen shall be of a different quality from that of the mortal body, because they shall be incorruptible, both of the blessed, who shall be ever in glory, and of the damned, who shall be ever in punishments: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality” [1 Cor 15:53]. And since the body will be incorruptible and immortal, there will no longer be the use of food or of the marriage relations: “For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the Angels of God in heaven” [Mt 22:30]. This is directly against the Jews and Muslims: “Nor shall he return any more into his house” [Job 7:10].

      (c) The Integrity of the Risen Bodies.—Both the good and the wicked shall rise with all soundness of body which is natural to man. He will not be blind or deaf or bear any kind of physical defect: “The dead shall rise again incorruptible” [1 Cor 15:52], this is to mean, wholly free from the defects of the present life.

      (d) The Age of the Risen Bodies.—All will rise in the condition of perfect age, which is of thirty-two or thirty-three years. This is because all who were not yet arrived at this age, did not possess this perfect age, and the old had already lost it. Hence, youths and children will be given what they lack, and what the aged once had will be restored to them: “Until we all attain the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” [Eph 4:13].

    • James M

      Passages 1 & 3 are part of the Primeval History AKA Genesis 1-11. Passages 2 are part of the Conquest Narrative, which is either historical, or historiographic.

      1 Cor.15 is like the Primeval History in not being historical; unlike it in being essentially apocalyptic, & eschatological. The whole NT is apocalyptic in some sense, because it centers on the "unveiling" of Who God is, Who the Messiah is, & what God's purpose is. The resurrection of the dead in Christ is necessary for the further exaltation & glory of Christ; and it is a result of His own Resurrection. It can't be thwarted - no purpose of God can be - so it is certain to happen.

      Without it, we would not be able to see how great the God is in Whom we believe, for it is by His actions as well as His words that we see what He is like. The Resurrection of Christ's People is important for the action of Christ as Judge of all the earth; and His action is Judge is an aspect of His Work as Messiah & King. It is also the fulfilment of the questions in the OT as to whether the dead would live again. And it may be necessary for the fulfilment of the natural world and the processes in it.

    • Doug Shaver

      It's already been explained to me here, by several different Catholics at different times, that just cos' you read it in the BIble, 'taint necessarily so.

      I don't think that's what they're actually trying to tell you. I think they're telling you is that if it's in the Bible, then it is so, but the words don't mean what people ordinarily think they mean.

  • Jonathan Augustine Stute

    I would say yes, the victim of a cannibal can be resurrected. This is because the soul of a person is nothing more than the form of their individual body. Our bodies change their matter all the time, this makes cannibalism no more a problem than the daily changing of atoms in out body.

    What counts is not that the particular matter which now makes up our bodies is conjoined with our soul in the resurrection, but rather that the *proper* matter is conjoined. Whatever it takes to constitute our own individual bodies plus the animating principle of the soul is a living human. So, it wouldn't matter how many cannibalistic acts occurred, the victim(s) of a cannibal would still be able to be raised from the dead in their own individual existence so long as the proper matter is involved.

    • Matthew Newland

      But you've just described reincarnation, Jonathan. The soul forming this bit of matter could later form that bit of matter ... just as reincarnation posits the soul dwelling in one body and then later another.

      I want continuity of bodily experience in order to posit resurrection; otherwise it wouldn't matter if the body put into Jesus' tomb was the same body that rose up on Easter Sunday. Would we say "He is risen" if GOD just made Jesus a new body?

      • Jonathan Augustine Stute

        I see what you are saying but I would say that Christ's crucified body is the one that was raised. It contained the same matter before and after. I believe the difference between his, and say that of Peter's, has two basic reasons:

        1. His body had not decayed and returned to the elements and it was thus not necessary to conjoin his soul to new matter.
        2. It was fitting to prove the claims of Christ to resurrect the same body of matter that had died on the cross. This was done to encourage the faith of the apostles and to give witness to his life, mission, and message.

        Also, I would dispute that what I am talking about is reincarnation in the common sense.

        The soul cannot transmigrate into a different body. The soul returns to the same body which is simply composed of different matter. If the soul instantiating new matter constitutes reincarnation then I have been reincarnated several times since birth! Which is absurd.

        • David Nickol

          The soul returns to the same body which is simply composed of different matter.

          This seems to me a logical contradiction. It makes some
          sense to say a body (or a building) that is in continuous and unbroken existence over time but in which all the atoms (or bricks) are gradually replaced over time is the same body (or building). But it does not make sense to say that a body (or building) that is completely destroyed, ceases to exist, and then is "re-created" out of different matter is the same body (or building). What is the definition of "same" in your scenario?

          • Jonathan Augustine Stute

            The difference between the form of a building and the form of a human is that the form of the building is not subsitent. The manner of operation in a thing is its form and since a building is entirely dependent on material things for its operation then when that matter disappears then the form disappears as well.

            Humans on the other hand also have an intellectual and immaterial operation. This means that the human soul is not entirely dependent on matter for its work which means that it is immaterial and subsistent. When the body dies, the form lives on.

            When that soul (form) is re-united with the body, it is the same form that unifies the matter that it inheres in. So in the pre-resurrected body and the post-resurrected body the same soul (form) inheres in both instances of matter. The reason for this is that the form/soul is the unifying cause in the matter, it is what makes that thing that particular thing. Hence if the same immaterial form/soul inheres in a different bit of matter (provided it is the proper matter) then it is the same thing.

            To provide a simple definition of "same" in this context, I would say that it means "possessing identical individual existence."

      • Miguel Adolfo.

        But then, what about those who died in the sea? Bodies decay fast in the sea, even the bones.

        I think we must take into account the fact that dogmas, without being denied, tend to evolve through time: it happened with revelation, and somehow ti was announced when Jesus claimed the Spirit would come and explain everything couldn'd be understood at once. I don't think that we really need to defend too much the "form" of dogmas. It was even said that "spiritual bodies" was sort of a contradiction. I can see the logic there, but I -with all due respect- consider ti too much attached to specific words. And, "every day words" applied to extraordinary notions (yes, is a twinkle to the site. No hard feelings).

        Also, I think we must consider that Christianism is much more a religion of PERSONS than of BODIES. Human persons have material bodies, no question there; but matter, without being bad, is not fully required for persons, like the divine persons in the Trinity, or the angels.

        And, talking about angels, didn't Jesus said that the resurrected would be like angels in heaven? Sure, he was talking about marriage, but couldn't us think more about it?

        I know it is too long, but, have we consider that, before christian speculation about the Trinity, the very notion of "person" was underdeveloped at best? Couldn't Saint Paul be using the term "body" to refer to the concept of "person", without having clarified this last term? As I said before, no one here is a person without a body.


    • David Nickol

      Does this imply that after a soul is separated from its physical body, if it gets a supply of matter, it will make the "same" body out of it? This seems problematic, because it is claimed that the second (glorified) body can be very different from the first. For example, a male embryo that dies will not be resurrected as an embryo, but rather as 33-year-old (or thereabouts) perfect specimen of a human male. So is a soul the "form" of both an ordinary body and a "glorified" body?

      • Jonathan Augustine Stute

        The glorified body is glorified because it will participate in the supernatural life of the trinity as well as having the preternatural gifts which our first parents were traced with. These are things we will be adorned with, not things that come from our nature. But nevertheless those gifts presuppose and build on our nature and thus presuppose our souls.

        I think that it would make sense for the resurrection body to be raised as one in their early 30s or so. This is because the resurrection body will be perfect. There is imperfection of development in the child's age and imperfection of decay in the elderly. Hence a body of a young adult is most fitting for all those who are raised.

      • Michael Murray

        For example, a male embryo that dies will not be resurrected as an embryo, but rather as 33-year-old (or thereabouts) perfect specimen of a human male.

        Circumcised ?

        • David Nickol

          Definitely uncircumcised. But the greatest minds of the Church have come to no agreement as to whether or not the navel is an imperfection that will be absent from glorified bodies.

          Will clothes be worn after the general resurrection? If so, who will design them? Who will manufacture them? Will styles change, or remain the same for all eternity?

          • Michael Murray

            It will be interesting to see my foreskin. I don't remember it. I wonder also about hair and finger nails ? Will I have my beard or be clean shaven ? Some regrowth on the scalp wouldn't go amiss either and a diminishing of ear and nose hair. Presumably I will get my gall bladder back hopefully without the stones.

            The modern trend for tattoos and piercings raises questions as well.

        • William Davis

          I listened to to some audio lectures on Egypt by Bob Brier a while back, and he described a military problem in ancient Egypt.

          The Egyptians typically would bring back cartloads severed hands to demonstrate how many enemies they had killed, the Egyptians loved to keep this kinds of records (though they never recorded a loss of a battle, even if "victories" kept moving closer and closer to Cairo). I forget which dynasty it was, but someone got suspicious that they were either bringing back both hands from each kill, or the hands of women too. To fix the problem, they started recovering uncircumcised penises to prove the validity of their numbers (only one penis of course) and to show they couldn't have come from women. I suspect this may have had something to do with the spread of circumcision to neighboring civilizations, it game some immunity to being counted as a war trophy...

          Here is the closest online reference I can find:


      • William Davis

        I'm 34, so i vote for 27-28. I think that's the perfect age since I'm beginning to notice minor signs of aging already :(

        • David Nickol

          I think it was Aquinas who speculated that the (apparent) age of glorified bodies would be 32 or 33, and considering that he lived in the 13th century (and died at the age of 49), his idea of the perfect age is not necessarily what we would pick today.

          One of the things that I find interesting about these speculations about glorified bodies in the eternal afterlife is that there can be no children. How pleasurable will eternity be with a population entirely made up of 30-somethings and a total absence of children. Imagine never seeing an adorable little baby again.

          In Catholic thought, women are basically created by God to be mothers and men to be fathers. Women can't even be priests because they are "mother types" and priests must be "father types." And yet, aside from our brief stint on earth (and for a huge number of persons, no stint on earth), motherhood and fatherhood will mean nothing for all eternity. And we'll all have perfect bodies and look like the sexy young men and women in Soap Operas, but there will be no sex!

  • William Davis

    I think the Egyptians had it right with mummification. If there is a bodily resurrection, you need to protect the body. It is clear that the Egyptians invented the resurrection of the dead, but let's look at something else similar to Paul's thinking, 1 Cor 15

    35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

    It seems to me like he is implying we will be like the stars or other heavenly bodies when we are raised. This is consistent with beliefs in ancient Egypt:

    "Originally, however, the Egyptians believed that only the pharaoh had a ba,[37] and only he could become one with the gods; dead commoners passed into a dark, bleak realm that represented the opposite of life.[38] The nobles received tombs and the resources for their upkeep as gifts from the king, and their ability to enter the afterlife was believed to be dependent on these royal favors.[39] In early times the deceased pharaoh was believed to ascend to the sky and dwell among the stars"


    As I said to Newland, at least the Egyptians realized the dead needed to be preserved for the bodily resurrection. They invented the entire concept (the Jews probably got circumcision from the Egyptians, not to mention many of the stories in Exodus, plus many proverbs)

    Major similarity to poverbs

    Parting of the sea

    If you combine Sumerian and Egyptian religion and mythology, there isn't much original in Judaism.

  • It's also enough to say that the particles that make up the body don't necessarily matter if each person has a soul that is the "form" of the body. The soul would ensure the continuity of personal identity no matter what particles made up the body.

    • Matthew Newland

      But that's reincarnation, Backward Medievalist.

      • No, it's not plain and simple. Nothing in that claim has to entail reincarnation, it simply indicates how the resurrection of the body can happen even if a person doesn't get back all their same particles.

  • Kraker Jak
  • Breezeyguy

    This question was raised by St Thomas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Ch 80: "[5] There is more. It happens, occasionally, that some men feed on human flesh, and they are nourished on this nutriment only, and those so nourished generate sons. Therefore, the same flesh is found in many men. But it is not possible that it should rise in many. And the resurrection does not seem otherwise to be universal and entire if there is not restored to every man what he has had here."

    And he answered it Ch 81: "[13] From this it is clear, also, that there is no obstacle to faith in the resurrection—even in the fact that some men eat human flesh, as the fifth objection was maintaining. For it is not necessary, as has just been shown, that whatever has been in man materially rise in him; further, if something is lacking, it can be supplied by the power of God. Therefore, the flesh consumed will rise in him in whom it was first perfected by the rational soul. But in the second man, if he ate not only human flesh, but other food as well, only that will rise in him which came to him materially from the other food, and which will be necessary to restore the quantity due his body. But if he ate human flesh only, what rises in him will be that which he drew from those who generated him, and what is wanting will be supplied by the Creator’s omnipotence. But let it be that the parents, too, have eaten only human flesh, and that as a result their seed—which is the superfluity of nourishment—has been generated from the flesh of others; the seed, indeed, will rise in him who was generated from the seed, and in its place there will be supplied in him whose flesh was eaten something from another source. For in the resurrection this situation will obtain: If something was materially present in many men, it will rise in him to whose perfection it belonged more intimately. Accordingly, if something was in one man as the radical seed from which he was generated, and in another as the superfluity of nourishment, it will rise in him who was generated therefrom as from seed. If something was in one as pertinent to the perfection of the individual, but in another as assigned to the perfection of the species, it will rise in him to whom it belonged as perfection of the individual. Accordingly, seed will arise in the begotten, not in his generator; the rib of Adam will arise in Eve, not in Adam in whom it was present as in a principle of nature. But, if something was in both in the same degree of perfection, it will rise in him in whom it was the first time."

    • David Nickol

      How did St. Thomas know all of that?

      • Breezeyguy

        The question in my mind is how Voltaire was so ignorant.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I think you are missing the point of Voltaire.

  • Martin Gisser

    I just found this delicious page by pure chance. Here's an interesting book: Catalin Avramescu, An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, Princeton Univ. Press 2009

    • Matthew Newland

      Delicious, eh? ;) Thank you for reading my article, and for the book recommendation.

  • Jack

    Yes, a magnificent thought and observation. Does a bear shit in the woods, and if it did does Esham eat Ham. Yes molecular regeneration. Our surroundings are God ,are us, we love our lives. Each time we are brutally cannibalized we gain astral strength by adding to the ends we felt were so important.