When Jesus came into the coast of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do the people say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Matthew 16: 13-14 KJV
A near exact account can be found at Mark 8:27-28; and the larger context of what is being related is that Peter declares Jesus the Christ (Messiah). Why I stopped where I did is that I have always been fascinated that Jesus and the disciples have this conversation. The matter of fact way in which Jesus is looked upon as someone who had previously lived. The confusion about John the Baptist I can understand...a simple case of misidentification. But Elias, Jeremiah or some other prophet? Why were the "people" so quick to answer Jesus was somebody who had lived before? Was the idea of reincarnation so prevalent in those times?
I was a boy of happy disposition, I had received a good soul as my lot, or rather, being good, I had entered an undefiled body. ~Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20 Jerusalem Bible
They (the Pharisees) say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only pass into other bodies, but the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. ~Josephus, Jewish War II:163 (8.14); cf. JCW p.478, III pp.385-387
The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place. Accordingly, it at one time puts off one body which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and exchanges it for a second.
~Origen, Against Celsus VII:XXXII, WOII p.454
Again, from Origen: The soul has neither beginning or end...Every soul...comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life. Its place in the world, as a vessel appointed to honor or dishonor, is determined by its previous merits or demerits. Its work (actions) in this world determines its place in the world which is to follow. ~Origen, On First Principles, REWA p.36
The hypothesis of Basilades says that the soul, having sinned before in another life, endures punishment in this. ~Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies IV:XII, WCAII, p.176
Say, Lord to me...say, did my infancy succeed another age of mine that died before it? Was it that I spent within my mother's womb?...And what before that life again, O God my joy, was I anywhere or in any body? For this I have none to tell me, neither father nor mother, nor experience of others, nor mine own memory. ~Augustine, Confessions I:VII.9, CSA p.7
I believe reincarnation has been pigeon-holed in the United States. Too many believe it to be "New Age" or "unchristian." Nothing could be further from the truth. At the very least, it was a lively topic of debate 2000 years ago. I am not here telling you that "it is so." What I am saying is reincarnation certainly explains a lot to me. Divine mercy and justice make so much more sense in the framework of reincarnation than eternal punishment or reward based on a single lifetime. Unlike Augustine, though, perhaps we have the "experience of others" that we can draw on to better come to an understanding;