Reifying Desire in the Old Testament

The topic of desire is a prominent feature of Second Temple Judaism. Currently, there is much discussion concerning the various ways in which the relationship between the self and desire is constructed in different Second Temple literature. So, in some texts, one’s desire is influenced by two opposing spirits residing within a person, while in other texts, external demonic entities seem to become internalized within a person, commonly, within the heart. Still, in other texts, evil desire does not represent an external force but something that is inherent to a person; namely, body parts related to desire are reified and attributed metaphorically as the cause for evil while still constituting the self. Certainly, Paul is no stranger to such a discussion as he, himself, reifies sin in Romans 6–7. Thus, sin can be seen to take control (Romans 6:12), take advantage, and deceive (Romans 7:11). Moreover, in Paul’s famous struggle with sin in Romans 7:14–25, sin takes on its own agency causing its owner to act contrary to what he desires.

In this paper, I am interested in the theology that may have engendered, contributed to, or, at least, provided the language for such understandings of desire in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament. I argue that Old Testament anthropology which viewed a person as a psychosomatic unity, at times, reified certain body parts associated with desire—particularly, the heart—creating a unique anthropology that later authors would pick up on and develop. By reifying the heart—as a concept and not as the organ—the heart is differentiated from its owner while still constituting the self. Such a distinction allowed later interpreters to reimagine and reconstrue the relationship between the self and desire in the various ways that can be found in Second Temple literature and the New Testament.

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