Those who argue that Christ was certainly a historical figure on the basis that the NT epistles speak of him as having been “in the flesh” are often overlooking the contexts and real meaning of that descriptor.
Curiously, while we read in the epistles of Christ being “flesh” at some point, we never read of him living and dying on earth. His flesh form is sometimes set in juxtaposition, even if implicitly, to his spirit form. (This point I owe to Doherty in his most recent book, as I do some other points in this post.) God himself throughout the OT is well known to have taken many different forms. In these cases, we see “flesh” used as an expression of a doctrinal and mystical meaning, not primarily as a reference to some fleshly life-cycle.
That is not to say that there are other reasons for arguing that Jesus was historical, but it can be misguided to bring the “flesh” descriptor into the fray.
Firstly, note the difference between “flesh” and “body” in relation to Christ — or to any spirit being in the ancient Mediterranean world. A “corporeal body” can be attributed to Jew and gentile alike to spirit beings. The evidence for this is laid out (largely through Riley’s work, Resurrection Reconsidered) in earlier posts:
So leaving bodies behind, we focus on the mystical flesh alone. Continue reading “The mystical (not historical) “Christ in the flesh””