Judaism in Hebrew scriptures does not make a clear distinction between soul and body. There is a description of «breathe» or «wind,» ruach, and nephesh, that which locates the animate as opposed to the dead, or inanimate. Rabbis during the Talmudic period believe God blew breath into Adam, giving him life which would leave the body causing death until the final resurrection.

Philo, and other Jewish philosophers influenced by Platoism in their teachings on immortality, while Kabbalists, taught the soul was the divine entity that evolved downwards to enter the body. Its organ was in the Sephiroth to which it was to return. In Judaism originally the emphasis on the final resurrection was equated with the immortality of the soul; however, currently many Jews prefer the concept of the «immortality of the soul» to the «resurrection of the body.»

In the beginning of early Christianity the position of the soul became confused because of the transfer from Hebrew to Greek. Roughly nephesh became psyche and ruach became pnuema, and both were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. Because of these events the early Christians thought they must totally surrender the psyche to God in order to secure it which led to a belief in an embodiment resurrection.

However the Hellenistic world viewed the soul’s position differently. Although the Greeks, especially the Gnostic Christians, accepted the spirituality of the soul, they accepted the dualism of Plato, that the soul could exist independently from the body, and therefore easily accepted the view of the soul, or spiritual, being trapped in the body which gave rise to the concept of the spiritual entrapped within matter. This concept led to the differences between the Gnostics and orthodox Christians.

The conception of the soul also was changing among orthodox Christian thinking. Aristotle argued against Plato’s dualism by stating that the soul is the form of the body-roughly the soul is the human; being human is a characteristic of the soul.

Aristotle compared the soul within the human being to the lifeless quality of a knife in a draw. While the knife is in the drawer this quality of knife is not actualized, but bring the knife out of the drawer to use it and the quality springs to life. Therefore, the soul roughly compared to the quality of the knife in the drawer is not actualized, but when it is it enable the human to take actions that are characteristic of a human being, namely in the religious sense, the adoration of God.

Problematically speaking Aristotle did not see the possibility of individual immortality, but instead the endurance of a kind of a supra-individual world-soul Aquinas did see the conclusion of individual immortality. Aiding in the adopting of this conclusion was the concept that at some time the soul was infused into the soulless body, the act of God bestowing the soul into the body, during the embryonic period.

This Aristotelian animation and medical morphology remain coherent with each other and Christian anthropology. However, in 1869 the Roman Catholic position was changed to state the soul is conferred at the moment of conception, so thus the embryo is personne a devenir «a person in the process of becoming such.»

This is known to be inaccurate. The embryo can be committed to a non-human development, such as a hydatidiform mole, and not become a personne a devenir at all. But the Church teaching in many places is treated as law. From the previous discussion it can be seen the concept of the soul, except in Judaism, has passed through various developments.

This ideological evolution progressed as various ideas were accepted or rejected. Even though authorities stamp their approval on positions of the present concept this fails to halt the evolution because others view such approval as ideas of men in authority, not a basis for objective opinion.

As previously mentioned Plato believed the soul could exist separate from the body, the soul was still considered divine, part of God. This belief in the divine characteristic of the soul currently exists in many traditions. It is understood as the immortality of the soul after the death of the body. Some traditions believe in the soul’s capability of reincarnation and/or transmigration, passing into other human or animal bodies.

The soul may be regarded as a unified entity or divided into parts. In the Kabbalah, for example, the soul has three divisions: the Neshamah, the Ruach, and the Nephesch. Of these the first, or «higher soul,» shares the spiritual qualities of the trinity (the three Sephirah above the abyss), while the other two divisions are less elevated.

Many shamanic cultures believe the human being possesses more than one soul. What is called the «free soul» is capable of journeying to different realms such as the land of the dead or the spirit world. The loss of the free soul may be associated with disease and malaise and its retrieval may require the work of a shaman. The free soul is distinguished from the «body soul» or «life soul,» which is the force animating the body and keeping it alive. A.G.H.


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Bowker, John. ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York. Oxford University Press. pp. 915-916
Drury, Nevil. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. London. Watkins Publishing. 2005. p. 266
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