Plato and the Pentateuch

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
John2
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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Russell Gmirkin wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 5:38 pm
Very briefly, in Plato’s Laws he explicitly and extensively lays out a system of theocratic government with two layers, esoteric and exoteric. The ruling class elites would do extensive research in international law codes to create a new system of laws. These laws would be promoted among the citizenry as ancient and divine, given by the gods to an inspired lawgiver to the founding generation. To maintain the illusion, Plato said the ruling class elites foreign contacts and research into the cultures, practices and literatures of other nations must be kept secret from the general population, who would believe that their constitution, laws and sacred national literature were a product of divine revelation to their distant ancestors. Cultural isolation of the general population was also strictly mandated to prevent them from exposure to information sources incompatible with this national mythology. A dual national life was thus envisioned in which the esoteric cosmopolitan connections of the ruling class would be systematically obscured in the exoteric official literature and traditions of the masses.

Thank you for the response, Russell. I can't say if this was the case right now but I'm keeping an open mind. And as I do, this program strikes me as a tall order. Not impossible, but tall.

I have a vague recollection of reading something in one of your books or about one of your books, that if your idea is correct, then Jewish/Israelite history (in the OT) would be the only example we have of this Greek-inspired "illusion" being put into practice. Is this correct? And if so, why do you think that is? Is it reflective of the program being a "tall order"? (But if I'm recalling incorrectly, then never mind.)
Russell Gmirkin
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

John2 wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 6:17 pm
Russell Gmirkin wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 5:38 pm
Very briefly, in Plato’s Laws he explicitly and extensively lays out a system of theocratic government with two layers, esoteric and exoteric. The ruling class elites would do extensive research in international law codes to create a new system of laws. These laws would be promoted among the citizenry as ancient and divine, given by the gods to an inspired lawgiver to the founding generation. To maintain the illusion, Plato said the ruling class elites foreign contacts and research into the cultures, practices and literatures of other nations must be kept secret from the general population, who would believe that their constitution, laws and sacred national literature were a product of divine revelation to their distant ancestors. Cultural isolation of the general population was also strictly mandated to prevent them from exposure to information sources incompatible with this national mythology. A dual national life was thus envisioned in which the esoteric cosmopolitan connections of the ruling class would be systematically obscured in the exoteric official literature and traditions of the masses.

Thank you for the response, Russell. I can't say if this was the case right now but I'm keeping an open mind. And as I do, this program strikes me as a tall order. Not impossible, but tall.

I have a vague recollection of reading something in one of your books or about one of your books, that if your idea is correct, then Jewish/Israelite history (in the OT) would be the only example we have of this Greek-inspired "illusion" being put into practice. Is this correct? And if so, why do you think that is? Is it reflective of the program being a "tall order"? (But if I'm recalling incorrectly, then never mind.)
Yes, Judea appears to have been the only nation in antiquity to have implemented Plato's agenda for creating a theocracy, national literature and so forth. The Samaritans were jointly involved in the creation of a set of ancient divine Mosaic laws in the Pentateuch, but did not join the Jews in subsequently adopting a sacred national literature. There does not exist surviving historical traditions regarding the Samaritan form of government--whether it was theocratic in form, with rule by a body of priests, theologians, and legal experts (like the Jewish gerousia), so it is impossible to state that they fully recreated their national life along Platonic lines, as can be verified, in large part, for the Jews.

I would not care to speculate why there were not other attempts to create a theocratic government (a "kingdom of God") in the ancient world along the lines Plato laid out. Plato's Laws did say complete success in such an enterprise would be difficult, a "throw of the dice." I discuss the degree to which it was successful in ancient Judea in the final chapters of both Gmirkin 2017 and 2022.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 6:11 am I'm adding this to the new thread Neil has started.

One point of difference between Plato's Laws and the Pentateuch is that the study of Astronomy and reverence towards the stars is prominent in the Laws. (It becomes overwhelming in the Epinomis which is a posthumous sequel to the Laws probably written by Plato's secretary.)

Genesis seems to deliberately avoid this, see the throwaway line in Genesis 1 He [God] also made the stars.

Andrew Criddle
Indeed. And there are many other differences, too. The Pentateuch is not a carbon copy or even an adaptation of Plato. It is a fresh work, like Virgil's Aeneid is a fresh re-write of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, and as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar drew from Plutarch's Life of Caesar, and so forth. Itemizing points of difference and similarities and measuring the longest column is of only limited use in helping us to understand how one author made use of another. A speech containing a single quote matching a biblical verse or a saying from Shakespeare will be enough to tell us that the speaker is drawing from the Bible or Shakespeare.

The biblical author clearly rejected Plato's idea that the heavenly bodies were living gods. But where Plato differed from other philosophers of his day was in proclaiming that the stars and other heavenly bodies were especially designed for the benefit of humanity, for beauty, for seasons, time measurements. That was an innovation of Plato, if I recall correctly. Others said that the planets and sun and stars were tossed up into the upper sphere by rotational forces of the initial chaos and by "accident" and friction they happened to ignite into various types of fire and lights. Plato said, No, they were especially designed and designed for man's benefit.

And that's where the Genesis author does agree with Plato.

At the same time the author or Genesis removed any possibility of enticing readers to worship of the heavenly bodies as gods.

----
Added later ......

In Timaeus Plato has the Demiurge make the heavenly bodies first but in Genesis their appearance is delayed to the fourth day. They are this further reduced in importance from the primary position Plato gave them when he also made them gods. But I'm speaking here of another work by Plato, his Timaeus.
Last edited by neilgodfrey on Sun Jan 08, 2023 4:06 am, edited 2 times in total.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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John2 wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 5:47 pm And while I don't have access to Gmirkin's books beyond what's viewable on Google books, I'm taking a closer look at Jewish/Israelite archaeology and came across something I was unaware of (the Arad ostraca) and am curious if Gmirkin has addressed it. It doesn't prove any OT writings existed then, but it is thought to indicate that the Kingdom of Judah had a high literacy rate in the 600's BCE.

In 2020, an algorithmic handwriting study revealed that the Arad ostraca must have had at least twelve different authors, of which 4-7 were stationed at Arad. Since Arad's garrison is estimated to only about 20-30 soldiers, the result supports a high literacy rate for the Judahite kingdom. The author of the study suggested that the high literacy rate could mean that some Bible books were written before the Babylonian conquest of Judah.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arad_ostraca
It looks like RG missed this question but if I may humbly posit a thought.....

The kingdom of Judea did become a more significant political-economic entity after the fall of the northern kingdom. Assyria helped to build it up as a buffer state against Egypt.

But the grounds for RG's assigning the biblical literature to the Hellenistic era is grounded in their content and genres. It was the content of the biblical literature and its formats that place it squarely in the Hellenistic era. It is Hellenistic literature, a kind in content and style that did not exist in the Levantine-Mesopotamian-Egyptian-Hittite regions until the Greeks entered those places.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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John2 wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 6:17 pm
I have a vague recollection of reading something in one of your books or about one of your books, that if your idea is correct, then Jewish/Israelite history (in the OT) would be the only example we have of this Greek-inspired "illusion" being put into practice. Is this correct? And if so, why do you think that is? Is it reflective of the program being a "tall order"? (But if I'm recalling incorrectly, then never mind.)
It's an interesting question so I hope you don't mind my chiming in with my two bits.

Traditions are likely to be invented in certain conditions: the main one being when a new culture is dominating and unsettling the comfort-zones of a particular population. (That's not my idea but is taken from Whitelam and Hobsbawm -- especially Hobsbawm's collection of essays in The Invention of Tradition.) Plato imagined such a program being undertaken only with a brand new colony of settlers -- not an established city-state. It looks to me possible to argue that the Judeans-Samaritans did what other victims of colonialism have done, and that is take the dominant culture's tropes, re-write them in line with local traditions, and throw them back at their "oppressors" and so establish their own independence of mind and identity.

RG does point out that the Plato's program that was being portrayed with the myths in Genesis was immediately rejected by the authors of the Exodus-Joshua. The polytheism and tolerance of other gods evident in Genesis was denounced by the later books.

One thing is clear: by the time of the Maccabees and subsequent Hasmoneans there was a violent backlash against Hellenism among many sectors of Judean society at least.

I don't know if RG has focussed on this particular point (he may have and it may have slipped my mind for now) but I believe we see evidence of that backlash in the redactions of the original Hebrew text. The Dead Sea Scrolls appear to preserve some of the original text that was later removed or rewritten: e.g. in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 we have the nations being divided according to the "sons of Israel". That doesn't make much sense by itself, but we see in the DSS that an earlier edition read the "nations were divided according to the sons of god/s-elohim". There were 70 nations as there were 70 gods in the Canaanite/Ugaritic pantheon of El. Later scribes couldn't let that stand so changed it to "sons of Israel". That meant that other edits had to be made in the narrative to ensure that those sons who went to Egypt etc totalled 70. (That effort got a bit muddled along the way and there are now variants of 70, 71 and 75 sons of Israel.) The point is that the original text was more "polytheistic" than our Masoretic-based translations would have it.

Another example is Genesis 6 where the "sons of the gods" mated with human women. That text was not changed but the interpretation of it was established in tradition as referring to fallen angels. So we read it through that traditional interpretation. But that's not what the passage actually says.
Russell Gmirkin
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Jan 08, 2023 12:22 am Traditions are likely to be invented in certain conditions: the main one being when a new culture is dominating and unsettling the comfort-zones of a particular population... Plato imagined such a program being undertaken only with a brand new colony of settlers -- not an established city-state.
Although in Plato's Republic he envisioned new laws and a new form of government under philosopher-kings for Attica (Athens) with a new foundation myth (the original creation of gold-, silver-, brass- and iron-souled classes of Athenians by the gods). This foundation myth was expanded upon in Timaeus and Critias. But the setting of Laws was at the creation of a new colony, which also entailed a new foundation myth.
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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iMHO the passages such as Laws book 8 835-842 may be being given too much significance in the work as a whole. In this passage, while discussing the need for changes in the communities sexual behavior and the difficulties in bringing about such changes, it is suggested that the changes would require persuading people that they have divine sanction. The argument then moves to the question of how to bring up young people so that they will be open to persuasion on these matters. There is continual reference to the difference between the ideal society and the practicable society.

The whole section has a feel of thinking outside the box or brainstorming. i do not regard it as a serious proposal to invent a new religion to encourage people to behave as it is held they ought to. (Although it is formally possible that later Platonists could have taken it that way.)

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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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andrewcriddle wrote: Sun Jan 08, 2023 9:59 am iMHO the passages such as Laws book 8 835-842 may be being given too much significance in the work as a whole.
What struck me about that section was Plato's prohibition of homsexuality. How UN-Greek and how fitting for the culture behind the Pentateuch.
. . . nor sow any unholy and bastard seed in fornication, nor any unnatural and barren seed in sodomy,—or else we should entirely abolish love for males, and in regard to that for women, if we enact a law that any man who has intercourse with any women save those who have been brought to his house under the sanction of Heaven and holy marriage
And anyone who knows of the law concerning the stranger on the roadside plucking food from a farmer's field will take notice of this passage in the same section in book 8 of Plato's Laws:
If a resident alien buys a choice crop, he shall harvest it if he wishes. If a foreigner sojourning in the country desires to eat of the crop as he passes along the road, he, with one attendant, [845b] shall, if he wishes, take some of the choice fruit with-out price, as a gift of hospitality;
Such a command is not found in any ancient law of the Levant-Mesopotamian region as far as I am aware.
andrewcriddle
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Jan 08, 2023 3:43 pm
andrewcriddle wrote: Sun Jan 08, 2023 9:59 am iMHO the passages such as Laws book 8 835-842 may be being given too much significance in the work as a whole.
What struck me about that section was Plato's prohibition of homsexuality. How UN-Greek and how fitting for the culture behind the Pentateuch.
. . . nor sow any unholy and bastard seed in fornication, nor any unnatural and barren seed in sodomy,—or else we should entirely abolish love for males, and in regard to that for women, if we enact a law that any man who has intercourse with any women save those who have been brought to his house under the sanction of Heaven and holy marriage
Attitudes to homosexuality in ancient Greece probably varied widely.
There appears to be a prohibition of homosexuality in Assyrian Law. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/pwh/meso-law.asp
If a man has lain with his male friend and a charge is brought and proved against him, the same thing shall be done to him and he shall be made a eunuch.
neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Jan 08, 2023 3:43 pm And anyone who knows of the law concerning the stranger on the roadside plucking food from a farmer's field will take notice of this passage in the same section in book 8 of Plato's Laws:
If a resident alien buys a choice crop, he shall harvest it if he wishes. If a foreigner sojourning in the country desires to eat of the crop as he passes along the road, he, with one attendant, [845b] shall, if he wishes, take some of the choice fruit with-out price, as a gift of hospitality;
Such a command is not found in any ancient law of the Levant-Mesopotamian region as far as I am aware.
The rulings do seem similar and I agree unusual in the Ancient Near East.
However the Pentateuch seems to be granting a right of trespass on Land for the purpose of gleaning, which is stronger than the idea in Plato's Laws.

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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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Not specifically related to homosexuality but I am reading Plutarch and I notice the ancients had a consistent notion of "natural" which meant that even showing affection for a dog. Plutarch thinks its strange to care for animals "like a child" because somehow the dog is depriving the "natural" love for children. Of course women were deemed to be inferior so maybe it wasn't as much a concern. But there is this "natural order" thing. That nature arranges things in a certain way that is naturally "right" and good.
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