The Language of “Man”
Behold Israel according to the flesh [1 Corinthians 10:18]. This we know to be the carnal Israel; but the Jews do not grasp this meaning and as a result they prove themselves indisputably carnal.
When Augustine condemns the Jews to eternal carnality, he draws a direct connection between anthropology and hermeneutics. Because the Jews reject reading “in the spirit,” therefore they are condemned to remain “Israel in the flesh.” Allegory is thus, in his theory, a mode of relating to the body. In another part of the Christian world, Orignen also attributed the failure of the Jews to a literalist hermeneutic, one which is unwilling to go beyond or behind the material language and discover it immaterial spirit (Crouzel 1989, 107–12). This way of thinking about language had been initially stimulated in the Fathers by Paul's usage of in the flesh and in the spirit to mean, respectively, literal and figurative. Romans 7:5–6 is a powerful example of this hermeneutic structure: “For when we were still in the flesh, our sinful passions, stirred up by the law, were at work on our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are fully freed from the law, dead to that in which we lay captive. We can thus serve in the new being of the Spirit and not the old one of the letter.”  In fact, the same metaphor is used independently of Paul by Philo, who writes that his interest is in “the hidden meaning which appeals to the few who study soul characteristics, rather than bodily forms” (Abr. 147). For both Paul and Philo, hermeneutics becomes anthropology.
Pauline religion should itself be understood as a religio-cultural formation contiguous with other Hellenistic Judaisms. Among the major supports for such a construction are the similarities between Paul and Philo—similarities which cannot be accounted for by influence, since both were active at the same time in widely separated places (Borgen 1980). The affinities between Philo and such texts as the fourth gospel or the Letter to the Hebrews are only slightly less compelling evidence, because of the possibility that these texts already know Philo (Borgen 1965; Williamson 1970). I take these affinities as prima facie evidence for a Hellenistic Jewish cultural koine, undoubtedly varied in many respects but having some common elements throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
Moreover, as Meeks and others have pointed out, in the first century it is, in fact, impossible to draw hard and fast lines between Hellenistic and rabbinic Jews (Meeks 1983, 33). On the one hand, the rabbinic movement per se does not yet exist, and on the other, Greek-speaking Jews such as Paul and Josephus refer to themselves as Pharisees. I am going to suggest, however, that there were tendencies which, while not sharply defined, already in the first century distinguished Greek-speakers, who were relatively more acculturated to Hellenism, and Hebrew- and Aramaic-speakers, who were less acculturated. These tendencies, on my hypothesis, became polarized as time went on, leading in the end to a sharp division between Hellenizers, who became absorbed into Christian groups, and anti-Hellenizers, who formed the nascent rabbinic movement. The adoption of Philo exclusively in the Church and the fact thathe was ignored by the Rabbis is a sort of allegory of this relationship, by which the Christian movement became widely characterized by its connection with middle- and neo-platonism. In fact, this connection (between philonic Judaism and Christianity) was realized in antiquity as well, for popular Christian legend had Philo convert to Christianity, and even some fairly recent scholarship attributed some of his works to Christians (Bruns 1973; Williamson 1981, 313–14).
The congruence of Paul and Philo suggests a common background to their thought in the thought-world of the eclectic middle-platonism of Greek-speaking Judaism in the first century. Their allegorical reading practice and that of their intellectual descendants is founded on a binary opposition in which the meaning as a disembodied substance exists prior to its incarnation in language—that is, in a dualistic system in which spirit precedes and is primary over body. Midrash, as a hermeneutic system, seems precisely to refuse that dualism, eschewing the inner-outer, visible-invisible, body-soul dichotomies of allegorical reading (Boyarin 1990b). Midrash and platonic allegory are alternate techniques of the body.
In the hermeneutics of a culture which operates in the platonic mode of external and internal realities, language itself is understood as an outer, physical shell, and meaning is construed as the invisible, ideal, and spiri-tual reality that lies behind or is trapped within the body of the language. When this philosophy is combined with certain modes of interpretation current in the ancient East, such as dream-reading in which one thing is taken for another similar thing, then allegory is born—allegory in the most strict sense of the interpretation of the concrete elements of a narrative as signs of a changeless, wholly immaterial ontological being. Although there had been related techniques of Homeric interpretation, such as those of the Stoics who interpreted the gods as natural forces, it is really only with Philo's “allegory of the soul” that the specific western tradition of allegorical interpretation comes into being (Tobin 1983, 34–35). The drive toward allegoresis is the platonic valorization of unity and immovability over difference and change. In this tradition, language is a repre-sentation in two senses; in its “content” it represents the higher world, while in its form it represents the structure of world as outer form and inner actuality. As Sallust wrote, “The universe itself can be called a myth, revealing material things and keeping concealed souls and intellects,” (Wedderburn 1987, 127). Origen expressed himself similarly, explicitly comparing the structure of the Bible as outer form and inner meaning to the ontological structure of the world (Boyarin 1990b). The human being is also a representation of world in exactly the same way; in her dual structure of outer body and inner spirit is reproduced the very dual structure of being.
My thesis in this book is that Paul also belongs, at least in part, to this tradition. It is for this reason that the “literal” can be referred to by Paul as the interpretation which is “according to the flesh” (κατὰ σάρκα), while the figurative is referred to by him as “according to the spirit” (κατὰ πνεῦμα). Literal interpretation and its consequences, observances in the flesh such as circumcision, commitment to the history of Israel, and insistence on procreation are all linked together in Paul's thinking, as are their corresponding binaries: allegorical interpretation, per se, and specifically of circumcision as baptism, of Israel as a signifier of the faithful Christians, and of procreation as spiritual propagation.
In order to keep a focus on Paul's dualism, which does not radically devalue the body but nevertheless presupposes a hierarchy of spirit and body, we do best by considering that the dual nature of Christ was so central in Paul's thought. Whether his christology is to be understood ontologically or temporally, it involves in either case the positing of a Christ according to the flesh and a Christ according to the spirit. It both inscribes a dualismof spirit and body and valorizes the body, at least insofar as God became flesh. For Paul, certainly, just as the historical Jesus, while subordinate to the risen Christ, is not thereby deprived of value, so also the individual human body is not deprived of value vis-à-vis the soul, and as Romans 11 shows, neither is the historical Israel—Israel according to the flesh—vis-à-vis “Israel according to the promise,” the Christian believers.