I wrote in my previous post that the head was not the bodily organ responsible for intellect and control in Greek physiology. What, then, is the function of the head with regard to the body? The head was the life-giving source that animated the rest of the body. The body grew out of the head. If you think about the fact that food and water enter the mouth, air enters the nose, sight enters the eyes, and sound enters the ears, then this actually makes a lot of sense.
To give some historical examples of this notion of head I will quote at length an article by Katherine Kroeger published last year, Toward an Understanding of Ancient Conceptions of “Head” (Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, no. 3, Summer 2006). Leading up to this passage she has pointed out that head can refer to the beginning point of something like the "headwaters" of a river.
Not only with respect to flowing water was the head considered the place of beginning. [headwaters] Aristotle himself declared that the head was the source of beginning of life, with human sperm being created in the head, traveling down the spinal cord, flowing into the genitals, and so procreating the human race. Thus, the ancient writers sometimes referred to sexual intercourse as “diminishing one’s head.” Artemidorus of Ephesus maintained that the head was the source of light and life for the whole body, so a father was the source of life for his son. “The head [kephale] is like one’s parents because it is the source or cause of one’s having life.” Shortly after the New Testament period, Plutarch told of those who thought the brain “to be the source of generation.” Philo, a Jewish contemporary of Jesus and Paul wrote, “As though he were the head of a living being. Esau is the progenitor of all those members who have been mentioned.”
Among other values, the head as the source of paternity was understood by the early Christian fathers. Irenaeus equates “head” with “source” when he writes of the head “head and source of his own being.” Hippolytus emphasized the productivity of this bodily member when he designated the head as the characteristic substance from which all people were made. He noted, “In the head is said to be the brain, formulating the being from which all fatherhood is produced.” Cosmas Indicopleustes (sixth century A.D.) called Adam the “head” of all people in this world because he was their source and father.
Photius, a ninth century Byzantine scholar, was renowned for his vast knowledge of classical authors and his preservation of numerous quotations from works that are now lost to us. He drew upon earlier scholars passionately committed to preserving classical Greek and promoting a continued knowledge of its words and forms. These works Photius edited and incorporated into a formidable lexicon intended as a reference book to aid later writers in understanding the vocabulary of classical and sacred authors. He quite specifically stated that “head” (kephale) was considered to be a synonym for procreator or progenitor. (p. 5)
Kroeger also presents this interesting quote from Augustine’s commentary on Galatians 5:22-23:
The Apostle Paul, when he wishes to commend the fruit of the spirit against the works of the flesh, puts them at the head: “The fruit of the spirit is love,” he said; and then the rest, as springing up from the head, are twined together. There are joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, perseverance, self-control and charity. (Translated from the Latin text in Ralph McInerny, Let’s Read Latin: Introduction to the Language of the Church (South Bend, Ind.: Dumb Ox Books), 99.)
She also writes:
The myth of Athena springing from the head of Zeus is known in story form, mosaics, frescoes, and vase paintings. Ancient Orphic burials sometimes contained figurines of the soul reemerging into the world after remaining nine years under the bosom of Persephone, Queen of the dead. From the head of the goddess sprout up new little heads, some surrounded by leaf buds as they grow to full reincarnation status. The theme of the head as the starting point for growth is unmistakable. (5)
Two of the eleven New Testament instances of fictive head appear to be exemplifying this metaphor for head.
15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
It seems likely that the Ephesians passage has this idea of head in mind. The idea of "growing up into the head" is very similar to our notion of "sinking our roots down." The Colossians passage seems to be a very close match. So at least in some cases, New Testament fictive references to head appear to be related to the Greek anthropology of head as "life-giving source." But this metaphor does not seem to apply in other New Testament passages. We need to dig a little deeper.