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the assumption of human form by a god, an idea common in religion. In early times the idea was expressed in the belief that certain living men, often kings or priests, were divine incarnations. India and Egypt were especially rich in forms of incarnation in men as well as in beasts. Incarnation is found in various phases of Greek religion, in which the human body of a god was a disguise or a temporary means of communication. Among western cultures the most widely accepted belief in incarnation is in that of JesusJesus
or Jesus Christ
, 1st-century Jewish teacher and prophet in whom Christians have traditionally seen the Messiah [Heb.,=annointed one, whence Christ from the Greek] and whom they have characterized as Son of God and as Word or Wisdom of God incarnate.
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, held by Christians to be God in the flesh, partaking wholly both of divinity and of humanity, except in so far as human beings have a propensity to sin. This is the accepted understanding of the biblical "The Word was made flesh." See avataraavatara
[Skt.,=descent], incarnations of Hindu gods, especially Vishnu. The doctrine of avatara first occurs in the Bhagavad-Gita, where Krishna declares: "For the preservation of the righteous, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of dharma [virtue], I come into
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

This doctrine, although it doesn't appear by name in the Bible, is the central tenet of Christianity. It states that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity (see Arius), "took on" flesh (in carne, "in flesh"), or became a man. In other words, God became human, was born as a baby, and was later killed by humankind in order to become the substitute sacrifice for the propitiation of sin (see Christianity). This does not mean that God ceased to exist other than within the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. It means that the eternal "Word" of God became the "Son" of God, present now in time. This concept is called the hypostatic union—perfect God and perfect man in one body. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1). Whenever the "other" steps across the line separating material from spiritual and becomes human, or "takes on" humanity, the divine is said to be "incarnate," or "in the flesh."

The term is used in a slightly different form outside of Christianity. Hindu belief, for instance, sees the human spirit (Atman) existing, over the course of many lifetimes, in many different bodies. When the spirit or soul incarnate in flesh takes on a new form, a new body, it is said to be reincarnate, or incarnated again. This is the doctrine of reincarnation.


1. Christian theol the assuming of a human body by the Son of God
2. Christianity the presence of God on Earth in the person of Jesus
References in classic literature ?
It was this: "Jarndyce, in common with most other men I have known, is the incarnation of selfishness.
Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas.
I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)--solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness.
Sometimes, when he took off his hat, shaking his head backward, and showing his delicate throat as he sang, he looked like an incarnation of the spring whose spirit filled the air--a bright creature, abundant in uncertain promises.
Sometimes the incarnation of jealousy and revenge and sometimes a sobbing maiden, generous and forgiving; at once a virgin and a wanton; but always--a woman.
When Tarzan reached the trench and emerged into it there was no one in sight in that particular bay, nor in the next, nor the next as he hurried forward in the direction of the German center; but in the fourth bay he saw a dozen men jammed in the angle of the traverse at the end while leaping upon them and rending with talons and fangs was Numa, a terrific incarnation of ferocity and ravenous hunger.
Tara of Helium fought to defend herself, but pitifully weak were her muscles against this brainless incarnation of brute power.
Coulson sat there, the absolute incarnation of the genial man of affairs, interested in his business, interested in the great subject of dollar-getting, content with himself and his position,--a person apparently of little imagination, for the shock of this matter concerning which they had been talking had already passed away.
Prometheus Unbound' partly follows AEschylus in treating the torture of the Titan who is the champion or personification of Mankind, by Zeus, whom Shelley makes the incarnation of tyranny and on whose overthrow the Golden Age of Shelleyan anarchy succeeds.
Enthroned upon his monstrous steed, and solemnly proceeding up and down the wide, steep field, he looked the very incarnation of quiet, gleeful satisfaction and delight.
Of the universal mind each individual man is one more incarnation.
And so, during the next two years, in which it was more than doubtful whether he would get good or evil from the School, and before any steady purpose or principle grew up in him, whatever his week's sins and shortcomings might have been, he hardly ever left the chapel on Sunday evenings without a serious resolve to stand by and follow the Doctor, and a feeling that it was only cowardice (the incarnation of all other sins in such a boy's mind) which hindered him from doing so with all his heart.