Sunday, January 17, 2016

Coats of Skins

I posted this on Facebook this afternoon and thought I would share it here:

I’ve been reading a fascinating paper this afternoon by Peter Martens, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, which may provide some insight for things taught in the temple.

According to Peter Martens (see paper below), early church father Origen believed that at least some elements of the opening chapters of Genesis were allegorical in nature and that the coats of skins given to Adam and Eve represented physical or corporeal bodies and that these clothed their naked spirits upon their entrance into the fallen world. In introducing this in his paper Martens begins by discussing how in a few of Origen’s writings he indicates an acceptance of the doctrine of premortality:

“Probably the clearest of these accounts [related to pre-existence] occurs in the second book of the Commentarii in evangelium Ioannis where he [Origen] is discussing the doctrine of pre-existence in connection with the verse, ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John’ (Jn 1:6). Origen wants to know from where John was sent, especially since he was already filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:15). In his proposed solution, he reverts to ‘the general theory concerning the soul,’ namely, ‘that it has not been sown with the body but exists before it … and for various reasons is clothed with flesh and blood.’ He argues, with this general theory, that ‘John must have been sent from some other region when he was placed in a body . . . John’s soul, being older than his body and subsisting prior to it.’”

Martens then points out how Origen connects this idea with Adam:

“Here Origen offers an analogy between John and Adam that provocatively hints at his mystical interpretation of the Edenic paradise. When John’s soul was sent from some other world to be embodied in this one, this event mirrored what had earlier transpired when Adam left paradise to work the earth. The parallel drawn between John and Adam strongly suggests that the Edenic paradise was a residence for rational souls prior to their embodiment in this world.”

Now here’s the part about Origen’s belief that the coats of skins represented physical bodies:

“Origen’s interpretation of the ‘garments of skins’ (Gen 3:21) is notoriously difficult to reconstruct. While he does not refer to these garments in the previous passage about John the Baptist, their presence and significance is implied. If, like John, Adam’s soul became embodied as he was cast out of paradise into this world, a reader could reasonably infer that the bestowal of the garments of skins on Adam immediately preceding his dismissal from paradise symbolized the bestowal of a body that allowed this soul to reside in a corporeal world. Elsewhere in his writings we find passages that confirm this suspicion that Origen allegorized the ‘garments of skins’ as bodies.”

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