[The following is the introduction to my recently published article in Dialogue. I post it here with three goals in mind: 1) To get any feedback/corrections/accusations on the article, as well as to provide discussion for anyone else who finds the topic as fascinating as I do. 2) To fulfill my guilt and anxiety to post something of substance here, but doing so without much work on my part. 3) To remind everyone what a great resource Dialogue is, and how awesome they are for strengthening their online presence. For those who haven’t done so yet, go to their website right now and subscribe and/or donate!]
In his Socratic dialogue Phaedo, Plato offered a multi-layered argument for the immortality of the soul, claiming that the human spirit belonged with the Forms–that is, the highest and most fundamental kind of reality (as opposed to the ?shadows? that humankind dealt with in the temporal world). Plato implied that the soul existed before entering the body, and that if it properly purified itself from all attachment to bodily things, it would then return to the intelligible world of Forms after death. The body in early Platonism, therefore, served as a temporary prison for the immortal soul, and, according to Phaedrus, came as a result of an undisciplined mistake and corresponding fall in humankind?s previous existence. While Aristotle challenged and nuanced his teacher?s demeaning of the world and human bodies, Western thought largely engaged Plato?s belief for the following two millennia.
More than two thousand years after Socrates?s death, Mormon apostle Parley Parker Pratt used the Greek sage as a straw-man against which he presented a radically material afterlife. In an essay written early in 1844 titled ?The Immortality and Eternal Life of the Material Body,? Pratt invoked the classic philosopher as among those professing a temporary–and therefore, insufficient–view of the physical tabernacle and who therefore epitomized those who held the hope ?of escaping with nothing but their spirits, to some immaterial world.? In Pratt?s theology, the redemption of the spirit is only half of the eternal battle that Mormons believed in: ?One of the principle objects of our blessed Redeemer,? he claimed, ?was the redemption of our material bodies, and the restoration of the whole physical world from the dominion of sin, death, and the curse.? Pratt went on to postulate the future potentialities of human bodies: a physical, supernatural resurrection of their bodily form, accompanied by celestial glory added not only upon the immortal soul, but the immortal tabernacle. ?What kind of salvation then do we need?? he asked. ?I reply, we need salvation from death and the grave, as well as from our sins . . . a salvation not only of our spirits, but of our body and parts, of our flesh and bones, of our hands, and feet and head, with every organ, limb and joint.?
The vast differences between the Platonic approach and Pratt?s are readily apparent. The former viewed the body as a temporary prison while absent from the intelligible world of Forms, the latter as a vehicle to the salvation of a domestic heaven. Indeed, these positions occupy opposite poles of a long-debated spectrum, offering the extremes of how to religiously approach corporality: Pratt?s radical materialism acts as a foil to the more traditional duality of spirit and matter. While positioning Pratt among later Christian writers collapses the contrast, LDS embodiment still stands unique. Placing early Mormon theology of the body within the larger Christian–and more importantly, antebellum Protestant–context provides a unique vantage point from which we can more fully understand its origins and implications. This paper seeks to analyze pre-Utah Mormonism?s views of embodiment, both to better understand the development early LDS thought and also to place Mormon theology within its larger culture.
[The rest of the article can be downloaded here.]
 Plato, Phaedo, 57a?84c.
 Plato, Phaedrus, 244a?257b.
 Parley P. Pratt, ?Immortality and Eternal Life of the Material Body,? in An Appeal to the Inhabitants of the State of New York, Letter to Queen Victoria (Reprinted from the Tenth European Edition,) The Fountain of Knowledge; Immortality of the Body, and Intelligence and Affection (Nauvoo: John Taylor, Printer, 1840), 27?29. Pratt?s later references to Plato and Socrates become more laudatory, especially when praising them for their emphasis on the eternal nature of the soul. See Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology: Designed as an Introduction to the First Principles of Spiritual Philosophy; Religion; Law and Government; As Delivered by the Ancients, and as Restored in This Age, For the Final Development of Universal Peace, Truth and Knowledge (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 61.