I am currently rewriting the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. The letter is filled with many references to the Old and New Testament and a few other ancient writings. The story of the Phoenix is a part of a larger section on the resurrection that stands out today, because we know that this isn’t something that happened. However, to Clement the story of the Phoenix was true, and was a beautiful way to explain God’s power to other Christians.
The Phoenix (Chapters 25 – 26)
25. Let’s look at the wonderful sign that takes place in the east of Arabia. There is a bird called the Phoenix. It is the only one of its kind and it lives for 500 years. When the time of its death is near, it builds a nest of frankincense, myrrh, and other spices, then it enters the nest and dies. As the body decays, a worm is produced that is nourished by the decaying body of the bird. Once it has become strong and grown wings, it picks up the nest with the bones of the parent bird and carries it from Arabia to the Egyptian city of Heliopolis. It puts the nest on the altar of the Sun in the middle of the day in front of everyone present, then leaves for its former home. The priests examine the records and find that this has happened after 500 years.
26. Considering this, why do we think it is a great or remarkable thing that the Creator of the universe will resurrect those who humbly served him with the promise brought through honest faith, when he has shown us his power to do this, through a bird? The scriptures say, “You will raise me up and I will confess to you.” and, “I laid down and slept, but awakened because you are with me.” Job said, “You will raise up my body that has suffered all these things.”