Plato and the Pentateuch

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neilgodfrey
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Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by neilgodfrey »

Andrew Criddle and I have had some exchanges in the Yonatan Adler thread about the question of the influence of Plato on the Pentateuch. Rather than leave those comments lost in that burrow I am posting the relevant sections here.
andrewcriddle wrote: Sun Jan 01, 2023 6:34 am . . . .
I've just been reading Plato's Laws and it may be worth noting that the passage in Hecataeus is IMO more obviously influenced by the Laws than is the Pentateuch.

Andrew Criddle
I asked for a list of the comparisons between Laws and Hecataeus and Andrew responded with:
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Jan 03, 2023 7:37 am . . . .

a/ The idea of the land as previously uninhabited.
b/ The numerological/calendar basis for the 12 tribes.
c/ The priests etc appointed by merit not heredity.
d/ The emphasis on training young people for proficiency in war.

Andrew Criddle
To which I responded with:
neilgodfrey wrote: Tue Jan 03, 2023 4:42 pm
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Jan 03, 2023 7:37 am
neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Jan 01, 2023 2:00 pm
andrewcriddle wrote: Sun Jan 01, 2023 6:34 am
If the Pentateuch as we have it is later than this we would expect this to be explicit in the text.
Not sure I am quite with you, sorry. Do you mean we would expect Jerusalem to be mentioned in the Pentateuch?
i would expect some basis in the Pentateuch for preferring Jerusalem to mount Gerizim. Not necessarily mentioning Jerusalem by name, maybe a sanctuary in the lands allotted to Judah.
neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Jan 01, 2023 2:00 pm
andrewcriddle wrote: Sun Jan 01, 2023 6:34 amI've just been reading Plato's Laws and it may be worth noting that the passage in Hecataeus is IMO more obviously influenced by the Laws than is the Pentateuch.
I'd be interested in some sort of table or list of what you see as the influences.
a/ The idea of the land as previously uninhabited.
b/ The numerological/calendar basis for the 12 tribes.
c/ The priests etc appointed by merit not heredity.
d/ The emphasis on training young people for proficiency in war.

Andrew Criddle

Yes, those are valid points of comparison.

Before I read Gmirkin, though, I came up with the following list of overlaps between Plato's Laws and the Pentateuch:

1. The purposes of the law were said to make people
  • --"holy / of good character like god",
  • -- to make them happy,
  • -- to give them blessings,
  • -- to give them wisdom,
  • -- victory in war
2. The law was to be written down and introduced with a Preface that narrated the divine origin of the laws and how they were passed on through one man. The laws were to inspire awe of god for their origins.

3. The first law was to honour god

4. High on the list was to honour parents

5. laws against covetousness

6. laws re homosexuality

7. laws re witchcraft

8. laws re treatment of slaves

9. against interest bearing loans

10. regarding wine and drunkenness

11. the importance that the written laws should not be mere commands and threats but that they should be couched in messages of exhortation promising rewards for obedience (see 1)

12. 12 tribes division -- and military leaders chosen from each

13. the important role of lots to avoid disputes, and services of priests (e.g. priestly duties in temple were assigned by lot)

14. laws re attitudes towards strangers

15. laws were to include warnings against forgetting them and god when they find themselves successful and blessed

16. state to bear the name of the god

17. religious festivals to be regular institutions to foster love and adhrence to the law

And all of that was before I read Gmirkin's Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.From there can be added to the above:

a. the similar deliberative bodies: assemblies and councils, for trials of capital offences, for declaration of war and establishment of treaties

b. circuit judges, venues for assemblies, private citizens with powers of arrest, permissible for person to kill a wrongdoer in the act, hearsay evidence generally not permitted, necessity for 2 or 3 witnesses, warnings against favouritism in judgement, laws re retaliation and land pollution, the necessity for private citizens to act as informers...

c. the goring ox was to be killed -- contrast lasw in Mesopotamia where the animal was not to be killed. Plato ordered it killed.

d. various laws on assault, injury, .... some details here

d. foundation stories --- andrew covered aspects of those. More detail here.

e. laws for the poor and fields of harvest

too many details to list: see here for a list of items.
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neilgodfrey
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Why is Jerusalem not referenced in the Pentateuch?

Post by neilgodfrey »

In a related question, I asked why we might expect an explicit reference to Jerusalem in the Pentateuch -- especially given a presumption that there was rivalry with the Samaritans and their Mount Gerizim. Andrew responded:
andrewcriddle wrote: Wed Jan 04, 2023 5:21 am . . .
IF the Jews believed, before the composition of the Pentateuch, that the institution of a single sanctuary for worship meant NOT a single sanctuary location to be decided later BUT a single sanctuary at Jerusalem, THEN I would expect some indication in the text.
It may well be that an earlier text requiring a single sanctuary, location unspecified, was finally redacted by Jews who, despite believing that this sanctuary must be at Jerusalem, did not update the text to reflect this. However, I have more problems about our present Pentateuch being a basically original work by Jews who held that the single sanctuary must be at Jerusalem.

(I hope I've explained what I am arguing, YMMV as to how plausible my argument is.)

Andrew Criddle
To which I responded -- not from Plato in this instance but still from Hellenistic influence, although I can't say the point was uniquely Greek:
neilgodfrey wrote: Wed Jan 04, 2023 1:07 pm
What I was most curious about and what prompted my question was not simply the expectation of an explicit preference for Jerusalem but "some basis in the Pentateuch for preferring Jersusalem to mount Gerizim".

I am reminded of another Greek foundation myth, that of Cyrene. The absence of the name Cyrene in the account serves to add to the mystery and supernatural air of the prophecy:
As the next morning was fair, they cast their hawsers off and sailed. Euphemus then remembered that he had had a dream in the night, and in deference to Hermes, god of dreams, he took pains to recall it. He had dreamt that he was holding to his breast the lump of earth which the god had given him and was suckling it with streams of white milk. The clod, small as it was, turned into a woman of virginal appearance; and in an access of passion he lay with her. When the deed was done, he felt remorse - she had been a virgin and he had suckled her himself. But she consoled him, saying in a gentle voice: ‘My friend, I am of Triton’s stock and the Nurse of your children; no mortal maid, but a Daughter of Triton and Libya. Give me a home with Nereus’ Daughters in the sea near Anaphe, and I will reappear in the light of day in time to welcome your descendants.’

Euphemus, after committing his dream to memory, told it to Jason. The dream reminded Jason of an oracle of Apollo’s, and putting the two things together, he made a prophecy himself, exclaiming: ‘My noble friend, you are marked out for great renown! When you have thrown this clod of earth into the sea, the gods will make an island of it, and there your children’s children are to live. Triton received you as a friend with this little piece of Libyan soil. It was Triton and no other god that met us and gave you this.’ (Voyage, E.V. Rieu's translation. pp. 189-193)
Other foundation myths of Cyrene: https://vridar.org/2017/07/31/five-foun ... of-cyrene/

(There are several striking parallels between the Apollonius's story of the Argonauts and the Israelites journeying to Canaan, not the least of which each group is depicted carrying a sacred vessel through the wilderness. Whether an argument can be made for the Pentateuch being inspired in any way by Apollonius's version of the story is another question, though.)

My point here is that when I first read about that dream of the clod of earth and the way it was said to have such importance for the future, I was mystified. I was not aware of the genre of Greek colony foundation myths at the time. The myth did not identify Cyrene as the colony that was the subject of the prophecy.

And by not naming Cyrene the mystery of a supernatural prophecy was all the more enhanced, made "credible" in that world and time when supernatural prophecies were so often clouded in mysterious ambiguities that left the first hearers wondering what and how exactly the prophecy was to be fulfilled. It was the later generations who looked back and saw "clearly" that it was meant for such and such a city -- in this case Cyrene.

As for the issue of preferring Jersusalem over Mount Gerizim, there are several implicit hints of places that could be interpreted as references to Gerizim (beginning with the Garden of Eden "in the east") and Jerusalem (Abraham's offering of Isaac is at a place interpreted differently by Samaritans and Judeans). I think Gmirkin is right when he says the evidence in the text suggests a collaborative authorship. Another scholar who has argued for the Hellenistic origin of the Pentateuch, Barc, posits that the author was a bridge-builder, seeking to bring together Hellenistic and other groups, Samaritans and Judeans, into embracing a common myth. The rift between Samaritans and Judeans, between Hellenists and anti-Hellenists, broke out later. It is a mistake, from this perspective, to assume a hostile rivalry between Judeans and Samaritans at the time of the composition of the Pentateuch.

Genesis, as the introduction to the Pentateuch (or it was possibly originally only the first four books with Deuteronomy a separate story), makes no condemnation of other races or even other gods. It is a story of harmony at that level. The intolerant and genocidal views that entered in later parts of the multi-volumed work were not those of the Genesis author(s).

We still have more questions than answers about these books, but the answers we do have seem to point to efforts at cooperation or bridge-building of some kind. The story, even from the opening chapters of Genesis, is more about harmony and co-existence at a "racial/national" and theological level than rivalry.

-----
In short, as a little addendum to my reply above, my reading of the many prophecies that are part of ancient literature are that most of them are delivered in a deliberately vague or ambiguous manner that leave the protagonists wondering how they will be fulfilled, but it is usually the reader/audience of the text who is in the know of those details.

It is the vagueness that makes the prophecy "real" as coming from a "higher guidance" that is mysterious to the mere mortals who are its playthings.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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I was especially pleased to see a reply from Andrew to my initial response. It's a topic that evidently interests us both and it's one I am still exploring, not only through Gmirkin's work (his especially, of course) but others' as well.
andrewcriddle wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 10:11 am This is not a point-by-point reply to Neil's interesting post about perceived resemblances between the Pentateuch and Plato's Laws. But I will be trying to explain why I see them as very different works.

An immediately obvious difference is that the Laws takes the form of a debate between three old men about how to construct a right-thinking society that would avoid corruption by pseudo-progressive ideas from outside and repudiate the trendy life-style of modern disrespectful kids. The form of the Dialogue raises real questions about Plato's real views and intentions in a way that has no parallel with the Pentateuch. I am going to ignore this issue. Whatever Plato really meant, Platonists took the Laws at face value with the Athenian as Plato's spokesman.

There are some striking parallels between the Laws and the Pentateuch. e.g. The marriage and inheritance rules of Zelophehad’s Daughters has resemblances (as well as important differences) to the rules about heiresses in the Laws. It may be worth noting that this passage is probably a very late addition to the Pentateuch. On the other hand, this is generally likely to be an important issue in a pre-modern society. It is plausible that the Laws and the Pentateuch often cover similar issues because in many ways they are dealing with similar societies.

Important differences are the preoccupation of the Laws with numerology and its worrying tendency to want to regulate every detail of people's private and family life. The Laws defends its proposals in terms of living this life so as to have a good afterlife which is something the Pentateuch notably does not do. The argument of the Laws depends upon a distinction between the spiritual and physical realms. This may be implicit in the Theology of the Pentateuch but not in its anthropology in the way it is in the Laws.

The Pentateuch is committed to upholding monotheism. Not neccesarily in the sense that there is only one God, but in the sense that there is only one God the Israelites should worship. The Laws is not. The Pentateuch bases its ordinances not upon dialectic and (pseudo-) science but upon God's revelation to his people. Israel is to obey God because of their covenant with Him and the history of his vindication of his people. All of this is unlike the Laws.

The Pentateuch upholds an unusually elaborate system of ritual observances for reconciliation with God. Sin offerings, trespass offerings etc. This is something which the Laws is very uneasy about. It opposes any suggestion that one can be in God's favour by rituals rather than moral behaviour.

Andrew Criddle
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by neilgodfrey »

So here we are entering what I think might be the first of a few more new posts from me in response, and presumably Andrew and others might drop in their own criticisms:

My initial reply to the above:
neilgodfrey wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 10:49 am Thanks for the feedback, Andrew.

I'd like to respond over time to different points you have raised.

My initial comment is about the nature of Hellenization. I have understood that this process is about blending the cultures of east and west rather than merely imposing Greek culture on the east. (Though the comparative extent of blend/domination varied in different regions and at different times.) It is arguable that the Pentateuch is such a blend. The most obvious instance of this would be the status of the god Yahweh being rewritten in roles that at times recall Zeus.

On the different formats of the two works, yes indeed, a speculative conversation among three old men is about as far from the thunder and lightning Mount Sinai episode as one can get. But what the dialogue is proposing is, of course, not a repeat of dialogues in order to establish the laws in the new ideal colony. The three men are in the role of the philosopher-rulers, let's say, who are deciding how to introduce and administer the laws as well as the nature of the laws to be introduced. What they propose is that a myth of origins be written to introduce those laws and that that myth of origins should make it very "clear" that the laws are of divine origin.

That is, the philosophers are discussing the desirability of finding the best way to facilitate belief among the inhabitants that their laws are not of human origin but from God.

It follows that the myth itself should be as far removed from any scenario of three old man having a chat while they walk along a country road in Crete as possible. There is to be no hint of human dialogue in the myth that they (or was it the Athenian of the three men?) propose and agree upon.

What we read in the Pentateuch is the idea that they were agreeing upon: a myth that "proved" to citizens that their laws were unlike the laws of any other civic body, a belief that their laws were delivered by God alone.

The three old men in dialogue was the sausage making machine. The sausage itself was the Mount Sinai story.
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Jan 06, 2023 2:24 am Continuing my comments on Andrew's response:
andrewcriddle wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 10:11 am The Pentateuch is committed to upholding monotheism. Not neccesarily in the sense that there is only one God, but in the sense that there is only one God the Israelites should worship. The Laws is not. The Pentateuch bases its ordinances not upon dialectic and (pseudo-) science but upon God's revelation to his people. Israel is to obey God because of their covenant with Him and the history of his vindication of his people. All of this is unlike the Laws.
Of course. Plato wrote of the gods and the Pentateuch in its final form stresses the worship of one god to the exclusion of others. Again, we see Hellenization here. That is, a blending of two cultures. That's what Hellenization was, especially in the early stages. The Pentateuch is not an imitation of Homer or Plato, but an analysis of its contents does show many instances (many of which I posted above) of the application of the teachings and decisions of the philosophers on the road in Crete.

But there is one small detail that is worth keeping in mind: the original text of the Pentateuch was more favourable to polytheistic ideas than its subsequent redactions. Deuteronomy 32 speaks of the division of the "sons of god" among the tribes of the earth, with the portion of the god Yahweh being Israel. Similarly in the creation stories in Genesis 1-2 we read of a council of gods deciding to create humans, then afterwards we read of "sons of gods" mating with mortal women. These passages were modified in later editing and/or revisions of the tradition and interpretation (e.g. the nations in Deut 32 were changed to being according to the "sons of Israel) -- again, even such revisions of an original text was known among Hellenistic era Greeks who made similar types of editing "improvements" to Homer.

Plato also insisted on a change to the gods of Greece and wanted all tales of immorality among them to be banned. He -- as did other philosophers -- also tended to speak of God as a supreme being. We find in Genesis 1 the same kind of god that Plato imagined the Demiurge to be -- a being removed from time and space from his creation, immortal yet without form as we understand it -- not anthropomorphic at all, but very much the sort of being Christians (and other religions "of the book") often imagine. That figure of god was Plato's creation and that is the same type of divine figure who enters Genesis 1. He has no Mesopotamian or Levantine counterpart.

There are many aspects of Greek culture and thought that the Pentateuch rejected. Nudity was acceptable among Greeks in public settings but was frowned upon by the Hebrews. They did not take that aspect of Greek culture on board but condemned it -- as we seem to read about in the shame of Noah, for example, and the shame felt by Adam and Eve.

One can make a list of Greek ways that the Hebrews opposed, but one is still left with the clear links between Pentateuch's laws and the way they are presented -- the preface, the origins, the exhortations with promises -- and the discussion points in Plato's Laws.
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

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neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Jan 06, 2023 2:34 am
andrewcriddle wrote: Thu Jan 05, 2023 10:11 am The Pentateuch upholds an unusually elaborate system of ritual observances for reconciliation with God. Sin offerings, trespass offerings etc. This is something which the Laws is very uneasy about. It opposes any suggestion that one can be in God's favour by rituals rather than moral behaviour.

Andrew Criddle
Again....

Yes, it looks as though the Pentateuch was incorporating local Canaanite-Transjordan-Nabatean/Judean/Samaritan rituals into the Pentateuch. Again -- the blend of cultures. But Plato certainly endorsed animal sacrifice. He even describes a covenant renewal ceremony (not in Laws but another work) where the leaders of Atlantis poor the blood of a bull over a covenant stone and promise to keep the covenant forever etc etc -- not unlike the Exodus covenant ceremony in some respects. But I don't know to what extent the Pentateuch speaks of rituals as a form of bribery of the divine.

But anyone reading the Pentateuch cannot fail to be impressed by the strongly moral message, the commands to be holy, the central command being to love God and then neighbour. Plato did endorse religious feasts on a regular basis and that's what the Pentateuch does, too.

Somewhere else I think Andrew said the Laws stressed rewards in the hereafter. Well, yes, Plato taught the immortal soul. But the Pentateuch rejected the idea of an immortal soul so it could hardly endorse a happy life in the Elysian fields. But there is no doubt that the Laws very much stressed happiness and fulfilment of life in the here and now -- just as did the Pentateuch.
More detailed responses to follow....
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by andrewcriddle »

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
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by John2 »

I have some questions about Gmirkin's idea and thought I'd ask them here. Still not having read Gmirkin's works beyond excerpts and discussion here, I have to ask them.

I was thinking about Hanukkah and wondered why, if the OT is a product of or influenced by Greek culture, was there so much antagonism between Hellenism and Judaism? Why didn't all Jews and Greeks recognize themselves as kindred spirits?
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

John2 wrote: Sat Jan 07, 2023 4:39 pm I have some questions about Gmirkin's idea and thought I'd ask them here. Still not having read Gmirkin's works beyond excerpts and discussion here, I have to ask them.

I was thinking about Hanukkah and wondered why, if the OT is a product of or influenced by Greek culture, was there so much antagonism between Hellenism and Judaism? Why didn't all Jews and Greeks recognize themselves as kindred spirits?
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.

In the specific case of the Jewish theocracy and national literature created under the program laid out in Plato’s Laws, the indebtedness to Greek literature and ideas is obvious to anyone who has made a serious comparative study. Yet it was imperative that the new system of Jewish theocratic government keep this foreign (Greek) contribution to their laws and literature secret to maintain the illusion of their Mosaic origins in distant antiquity.

The Greek contributions to the Hebrew Bible along with Jewish and Samaritan ignorance of these Greek connections were thus integral to the Platonic agenda. And indeed this strategy has proved successful in promoting an unquestioned view of Jewish literature as ancient and strictly reflecting Jewish authorship and culture until Lemche (1993) and others, including myself, began seriously considering possible Hellenistic Era date and Greek influences on the Hebrew Bible.

I first discussed these issues in Gmirkin 2017, but also revisited them in the last chapter of Gmirkin 2022.
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Re: Plato and the Pentateuch

Post by John2 »

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
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