Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

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Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by Peter Kirby »

Numenius was a philosopher with an interest in metaphysics, who (among other things) wrote a work in six books titled On the Good. Like other philosophers, he considered that there was some kind of Pythagorean knowledge transmitted to and revealed by the Attic philosophers. The wisdom of Pythagoras could be considered authoritative and yet be shaped according to the reasoning of Numenius because he believed he had to try to discover it through clues in other authors. Unlike his predecessors, he limited the recipients of this knowledge to Socrates and Plato. Later accounts describe him either as a Pythagorean or a Platonist, and both descriptions are apt. His thought is primarily Platonist. By convention, he belongs to the category of "Middle Platonist" philosophers due to his interests, influences, and position in the history of philosophy.

Numenius is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria and used by the philosopher Atticus, providing a terminus ad quem ca. 175 CE. On the other hand, he mentions a first century 'methodist' doctor, Mnaseas. Some references give his date as "middle second century," thus hugging close to the use of his work by Atticus. On the other hand, it's possible (but not a given) that his work was written as early as, for example, 100 CE.

We find this description of Numenius, which is a useful introduction (if not free from all flaws), from George Karamanolis (2009, edited 2021) at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Numenius faces two challenges. First, how can the first God be the ultimate cause of everything, as it appears it ought to be (fr. 16.1–2, 9), if it is inert? Second how can it be simple, as Numenius has claimed, if it is, as he has also claimed, an intellect that thinks? Numenius maintains that the first or highest God, or first intellect, brings about a second one (frs. 13, 21.7), in fact the divine demiurge, and uses this second intellect as an instrument of its thinking (fr. 22.1–2). It is not clear what this instrumental use (proschrêsis fr. 22.2) amounts to, but we find similar vocabulary in the Timaeus (28a7) for the use of the Forms by the demiurge. It is clearer however that the second intellect thinks of the Forms and creates by imposing them on matter (fr. 18.10). Numenius is inspired again by the Timaeus. On the basis of Timaeus 39e7-9 he believes that the demiurge encompasses all Forms in him. To the extent that all other Forms exist by participating in the Form of the Good (frs. 16.2–5, 46b–c), which is identical with the first intellect, this intellect accounts also for the (other) Forms (Frede 1987, 1060–1063), while it is the second god who actually thinks of them. The first intellect thinks only itself, like the Aristotelian God of Metaphysics Lambda, and in this sense its being and its object of thought are identical. Hence the first God remains absolutely simple, pure goodness, is at rest and inert, while the second god is in motion (fr. 15.3–4), is not simple, because it contains the Forms of all entities, and is good only because of its relation to the first God, the Form of the Good, a relation which Numenius describes as “imitation” (fr. 16.15), or as “participation” (frs. 19.9–11, 20.7–10). This, however, does not mean that Numenius considers the demiurge to be ignorant and a less than good creator and in this sense like the demiurge of the Gnostics, as Dillon (1977, 369) has argued. Although clearly the demiurge is not as good as the first God, however, for Numenius the demiurge is a recipient of the goodness of the highest God, the Good, and in turn transmits this goodness to the world which it brings into existence (frs. 14,16, 19). In this respect Numenius' demiurge is clearly different from the creator god of the Gnostics.

Yet creation is a process which, according to the Timaeus, can be divided into two stages, the demiurgic intellect's thinking of the Forms of all entities and its imposing them on matter. Numenius maintains that the demiurgic intellect, the second god in his hierarchy, splits into two when engaged in the creation in the world, because matter, which is required for and involved in creation, is such that it divides whatever has anything to do with it. One reason why matter divides is because it inspires desire in the demiurge (fr. 11.13–16), presumably desire for imposing order and goodness. As a result, the demiurge is divided into one intellect which continues contemplating the Forms and another which imposes Forms on matter and thus orders matter (frs. 11.14–20, 16.10–12, 21.4–5). This means that the demiurgic intellect engages in creation through a third god, that is a third intellect (frs. 21.3–5, 22.4), which is thinking in a discursive way (dianooumenon; fr. 22.4), not in the purely contemplative way that the demiurgic intellect thinks. This third god is conceived along the lines of the world-soul of the Timaeus; it is perhaps fair to say that for Numenius the god that actually engages in creation is in effect the world-soul of Plato's Timaeus (Baltes 1975, 267). Numenius uses very metaphorical language, inspired by the myth of Plato's Statesman, in order to present what the demiurge does and how it thinks in doing it. He argues that it is like a helmsman steering a ship using the Forms as instrument (fr. 18 with Statesman 272e; cf. Timaeus 39e). Despite the metaphorical language, two things become reasonably clear. First, this intellect, the world-soul, is also active in preserving order and maintaining the world in existence (frs. 12.14–19, 18, 52.91–8). Secondly, the third god desires to create (fr. 11.16–20, 18.7–13), which amounts to saying that God, in the person of this third intellect, wants to impose order in the world because order is good (see Deuse 1983, 65–67). Since this third intellect is directly responsible for the existence of the world, it is ultimately not distinguishable from the world itself (fr. 21.3), which according to Timaeus 34b1 is god, because it is this which keeps the world together (see also Tarrant 1979).

There is a question of how to understand Numenius' hierarchy of three gods. Should we take seriously Proclus' testimonies that suggest there are in fact three (frs. 21–22), or the fragments of Numenius preserved by Eusebius which suggest that there are actually only two (frs. 15–16, 20)? The question becomes accentuated in view of Numenius' statement that the second and third gods are one, using the verb “to be” in the singular (estin; fr. 11.14–15) in referring to them together. Frede (1987, 1057–1059) has argued convincingly that the unity of the two does not mean their identity. The demiurge is split into two because of the effect of matter. The second god is divisible in the same way that some other intelligible entities, such as human and animal soul, are (fr. 41.6). Soul remains essentially the same in all animate beings and yet is divided, in the process of ensoulment of the things that it makes animate. This is the case with the demiurge as well. That Numenius proposed a hierarchy of three distinct gods, rather than two (thus Holzhausen 1992, 253–254), or three aspects of one god (Krämer 1964, 88), is strengthened by the fact that Christians like Origen and Eusebius, being Trinitarians, approve of his theology.

Numenius' three gods are the principles of being (first God) and generation (second and third god; fr. 16), and thus of everything that exists. And because the highest god is absolute goodness, the world of generation becomes good and beautiful (fr. 16.16–17). Numenius advanced the idea that goodness is transmitted from the highest God through the second, demiurgic intellect, which realizes creation through a third intellect, to the world without God actually doing anything (fr. 14.6–14), an idea further developed later by Plotinus (cf. Enneads I.6, III.8, V.8).

I would consider that George Karamanolis is basically accurate in correcting Dillon on the point that this "does not mean that Numenius considers the demiurge to be ignorant and a less than good creator and in this sense like the demiurge of the Gnostics." I don't know how hard we can press on the point of contrast, other than saying that different ideas are expressed.

Langseth, who I discuss below, would take exception to the opinion of Karamanolis that the third god is "not distinguishable from the world." Langseth writes (p. 107 n. 195):

Martano’s summary of the Three Gods is mostly accurate, except that he remains deceived by Proclus’ statement that the Third God is the cosmos. The last sentence of fr. 11 makes this view impossible, since the Third God “touches the sensible realm and handles it, and moreover lifts it up to his own character,” i.e. he creates the world.

The idea that there are three - the First, the Second, and the Third - is suggested, "in a riddling way," in the pseudepigraphic 2nd letter of Plato: ... 4:letter=2
For, according to his report, you say that you have not had a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of “the First.” Now I must expound it to you in a riddling way in order that, should the tablet come to any harm “in folds of ocean or of earth,” he that readeth may not understand.

The matter stands thus: Related to the King of All are all things, and for his sake they are, and of all things fair He is the cause. And related to the Second are the second things and related to the Third the third. About these, then, the human soul strives to learn, looking to the things that are akin to itself, whereof none is fully perfect. But as to the King and the objects I have mentioned, they are of quite different quality. In the next place the soul inquires— “Well then, what quality have they?” But the cause of all the mischief, O son of Dionysius and Doris, lies in this very question, or rather in the travail which this question creates in the soul; and unless a man delivers himself from this he will never really attain the truth.

Numenius regarded Socrates and Plato as the tradents of Pythagorean knowledge, and he faults them for stating things ambiguously, putting at least some of the blame on Plato for the disagreements of the philosophers who came after him. On such a view, Numenius would think that Plato had the knowledge that is stated here ambiguously - on the First, the Second, and the Third - and that Plato would have known what their qualities were.

Three important terms here - Agathos (good), Nous (mind), Demiurge (craftsman) - all go back to Plato, especially the Timaeus:
In the Timaeus Plato presents an elaborately wrought account of the formation of the universe and an explanation of its impressive order and beauty. The universe, he proposes, is the product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency. It is the handiwork of a divine Craftsman (“Demiurge,” dêmiourgos, 28a6) who, imitating an unchanging and eternal model, imposes mathematical order on a preexistent chaos to generate the ordered universe (kosmos). The governing explanatory principle of the account is teleological: the universe as a whole as well as its various parts are so arranged as to produce a vast array of good effects. For Plato this arrangement is not fortuitous, but the outcome of the deliberate intent of Intellect (nous), anthropomorphically represented by the figure of the Craftsman who plans and constructs a world that is as excellent as its nature permits it to be.

The idea that Numenius in his work On the Good was influenced by the 2nd letter of Plato and the Timaeus, as well as prior Platonism and Pythagoreanism, to develop an idea regarding three gods is a fairly typical understanding (with some variation as noted above). Joshua Langseth provides this outline of the six books of this work, now known only through fragments. ... 6860702771
  • Book 1 attempts to use dialectical reasoning to reconstruct the “arguments” (logoi) of Pythagoras.
  • Book 2 attempts to find confirmation of these arguments in the Platonic dialogues.
  • Book 3 attempts to find further confirmation in the traditions of the “peoples of good repute.”
  • Book 4 is lost, but likely treated the necessity of a lower creator god beneath the highest god who is “free of labor.”
  • Book 5 introduces the Three Gods, who should be understood as the highest god, and two aspects of the lower god: a contemplative aspect and a creative aspect.
  • Book 6 ties together the themes of the dialogue as a whole, and concludes that the Good is God.
Numenius was a philosopher with considerable influence (Langseth, p. 3):

Numenius was by all ancient accounts a towering figure. We know that Origen of Caesarea praised his esteem for non-Greek wisdom over and against Celsus’ petulant faultfinding (fr. 1b). Later, the Athenian Academy accused Plotinus of plagiarizing Numenius. Porphyry also informs us that Plotinus lectured on Numenius’ work in his Roman seminar, and had a Numenian specialist in his circle named Amelius. In Arnobius’ day (fl. AD 300), a full century after Numenius’ own, there were still adherents of Numenius and of Numenius’ mysterious associate Cronius

Langseth sees the third book as providing a bridge from theoretical metaphysics to a discussion of theology, by way of introducing another way of knowing the subject, which is with reference to myth and analogy:

There is enough, however, to show that the material treated in Book 3 is transitional, not only from metaphysics to theology, but from one mode of apprehension (philosophical inquiry and dialetic) to another (myth and analogy). ... Numenius exercises his broad interests and expansive imagination to tie what he sees as the best of human intellectual accomplishments into a unified whole. Another way to say this is that the ultimate project of the On the Good is an argument for the unity of purpose between what we would understand to be philosophy and religion, of reasoned discourse and metaphor: their common purpose is to know the ultimate and highest truth of the universe, which Numenius calls God. This ambitious goal will set the stage for philosophical and theological speculation (both pagan and Christian) for at least two centuries.

Langseth describes the purpose of his work as showing in multiple ways that Goodness itself is God (p. 19):

Numenius’ purpose is to prove that Goodness Itself is God. His method is to explore the very best human traditions available to him, philosophical and religious. God, or the Good, will turn out to be the ultimate object of all of these traditions.

According to Langseth, the highest principle for the Platonists was always called "God" (variously also known as the Good, or Being, or the One, the Monad). The lowest was "Matter" or the "Indefinite" (aoristos), called a Dyad, "a radical principle of absolute division that lacks coherence and unity altogether" (p. 13). It was common to consider the chaos of sensible matter to be evil. In-between the two is Plato's "Becoming," a world that is subject to change.

Langseth writes that Proclus, Eudorus of Alexandria, and later Christians such as Augustine were "monists," while Plutarch, Numenius himself, and Atticus were "dualists." The difference between the two schools of thought concerns whether only God exists in eternity, or whether matter also has eternal existence. The monists must suppose that "God begins the process of differentiation and division, first into Forms, then into instantiations of Forms, all the way down to the absolute and chaotic differentiation of Matter" (p. 15). For the dualists, the eternal existence of God and Matter resulted in all other things being created through their interaction.

The first fragment shows that the purpose of Numenius encompasses not only reading Plato to discover the philosophy of Pythagoras but also searching out multiple other traditions for agreements:

Therefore, it will be necessary for me to argue and conjecture from the testimonies of Plato, and then relate them back and connect them to the philosophy of Pythagoras; then it will be necessary to invoke the races of good repute. I shall contribute their religious and philosophical teachings, as well as their objects of worship when they are celebrated in conformity with Plato, whatever the Brahmans, the Jews, the Magi, and the Egyptians have instituted.

Langseth writes that "it seems that he allegorized foreign myths to force the conformity rather than using genuinely foreign thought for new insights." (p. 22) And beyond just looking for agreement with Plato (p. 23):

Origen gives us the second clue. He refers directly to this very passage (fr. 1b) and adds that Numenius invokes the non-Greeks that he does because they held “that God is incorporeal.” These two standards by which Numenius selects evidence from non-Greek religion must ultimately accomplish the same end if they are working toward a common goal, whatever that goal is. The topic of discussion is Platonic and incorporeal, but also divine. The third clue is the evidence of the next fragment, in which Numenius discusses defining the “Good.” We can infer from these facts that it is Plato’s concept of the incorporeal Good that is the real topic under discussion here; but more than that, the goal is to understand the Good as an incorporeal god.

The discussion proceeds from the Form of the Good to a conclusion that the Good is the incorporeal God (pp. 27-28):

Numenius is not concerned with God as such in any of the fragments of Book 1, but with the Platonic Form of the Good, which he will eventually identify with a transcendent and incorporeal god. Since there are nonGreek peoples of good repute who, at least according to Numenius, worship such a god (Egyptians, Magi, Brahmans, and Jews), their wisdom can contribute to this discussion. ... He begins with an impersonal principle, the Good, and an attempt to define it. This leads to an attempt to define existence itself, and finally God. It will turn out of course that all three of these (Good, existence, and God), are the same.

The second fragment of Numenius speaks of "Rest, the sovereign cheerfulness that floats upon Existence":

And so it is possible for us to understand corporeal bodies when we conjecture by analogy and from familiar things at hand, but there are no means of understanding the Good from anything at hand nor from any sensory analogy; but, like someone sitting at a watchtower who looks down and sees a small fishing boat—one of those small crafts, alone, solitary, buoyed by the surf—and witnesses the skiff in a single glance, so it is necessary for one to depart far away from sensory objects and commune alone (monôi monos) with the Good. Here there is neither human being nor any other animal, neither corporeal entity great nor small, but a sort of unspeakable and simply unutterable divine solitude. Here the characteristics of the Good are merriment and joy, and in peace and comfort it is Rest, the sovereign cheerfulness that floats upon Existence.

Langseth finds in the phrase "sovereign cheerfulness" a contrast with Stoicism (pp. 34-35):

Concomitant with these is the “sovereign cheerfulness,” an odd phrase and practically oxymoronic. The phrase recalls the Stoic doctrine of the “sovereign Reason” (hêgemonikos logos) that pervades the cosmos and guides the human intellect. Numenius adopts the Stoic term, but he changes the significance. The guiding principle in the contemplation of the Good becomes not an absolute commitment to logic as such, but a search for an otherworldly peace and joy. ... How are we to know whether we have actually found the noetic apprehension of the Good? The test is that this transcendent knowledge brings peace and happiness, a peace and rest and happiness in a solitude that can be described as divine.

In the next fragment, some type of asceticism and the contemplation of numbers is suggested:

If anyone imagines that the Good rushes at him while he persists in the sensory world—even though he might think that he has encountered the Good while he lives immoderately—he is altogether mistaken. For in reality there is need of a discipline—not easy, but godlike—toward it; and it is best for one to pay no mind to the sensory world, but to pursue abstract studies and contemplate numbers, and thus to master the study of what Being is.

Langseth points out that this doesn't imply numerology as such. The study of mathematics is considered preparatory and contemplative, something inherited here from a long philosophical tradition.

In a search for the truth of Existence, the idea that it is Matter is rejected by Numenius: "That which is disorganized is not static, and that which is not static is not Being." This leads to:

However, if it is necessary for it to be separate from the passivity of material objects, so that it might be able to keep corruption away from them when they are set in motion and be able to hold them in place, I do not think that it is anything other than the Incorporeal alone. This is the only nature that is static and stable and not at all corporeal. At any rate, it neither changes nor increases nor makes any other motion, and therefore it seems quite right that the Incorporeal take precedence.

To "the Good," "Being," and "the Incorporeal," Numenius then adds "Eternal," once again expressing that it doesn't change:

Now, then, let us try to approach as closely as possible to Being and speak. Being neither was nor will it ever become, but always it exists in a defined time, in the present alone. And so if one wishes to call this present “eternity” I am in full agreement. We must assume that the past has departed and escaped into no-longer-being. And the future does not yet exist, but promises that it can exist and arrive into being. Accordingly, it is unreasonable to think in any way whatsoever that Being either does not exist or no longer exists or does not yet exist, since when it is said in this way a single great impossibility in the reasoning results, that both being and non-being are the same.

Later "the Incorporeal" (Asomatic) is defined with a name, in positive terms:

Now, such matters are rewarding as far as I am concerned. For my part, though, I will no longer to pretend, and I will not say that I do not know the name of the Incorporeal; and at this point I probably really would take greater pleasure in saying than not. And, what is more, I claim that its name was just a short while ago examined! Now, do not laugh if I say that the name of the Incorporeal is “Existence” and “Being.” The reason why its name is “Being” is that it is neither generated nor corrupted, nor does it accept any other movement or change at all, greater or less, but is simple and changeless and in the same form and does not deviate from its sameness of its own accord, nor is it compelled by anything else.

At some point in the discussion, as referenced in a later fragment, "I said that Being is asomatic, and that it is the Noetic." So in addition to the names already given, Nous can be added.

The third book in some way involves the allegorization of stories in support of the philosophy of Numenius. Langseth points out this known example of the allegorizing of Numenius (on the war of the Atheneans and the Atlanteans in the Timaeus):

Others believe that the contrast is between better souls that are also fostered by Athena and others attached to generation, which also belong to the god who oversees generation. Numenius is the major expositor of this interpretation.

Here we find an example of a contrast between "souls," the better souls presumably belonging to the better god (allegorized as Athena), while the lesser souls that are "attached to generation" (this world of change) and thus belong to a lesser god, the demiurge, the "god who oversees generation."

In the one story that Eusebius quotes from the third book, a story taken by Numenius from that which is told by the Jews (one of his reputable people), Langseth proposes this similar allegorical interpretation (p. 84):

Musaeus’ power to pray represents the power of providence (i.e. Being) in the world. The Egyptians’ magic is a force of the active aspect of Numenius’ concept of Matter. In fr. 9, these forces are expressed in superlative terms, thus allowing them to be used as allegorical types. The thrust of this passage is allegorical. It advances the argument of Books 1-2 by demonstrating that God and Matter can and do interact, and that they are truly opposed to one another.

Here is the text quoted by Eusebius from Numenius ("Fragment 9"):

Next there is Iannes and Iambres, Egyptian priestly scribes, men judged second to none in wizardry (mageu'sai) when the Jews were being driven out of Egypt. At any rate they were the ones who were deemed worthy by the mob of the Egyptians to stand against Musaeus, who was the leader of the Jews—a man who had become most able to pray to god—and it was evident that they were able to undo the most extreme of the plagues that Musaeus visited upon Egypt.

The first couple words indicate that this is one story told in a series of stories. Langseth maintains that the sympathetic figure in this story is "Musaeus" because he is described as "a man who had become most able to pray to god." This would identify him as the better soul in this allegory.

Langseth suggests that outright "hostility" is only one metaphor being used for the interactions between God and Matter (p. 86):

The hostility in this fragment is only one way of accounting for the relationship between God and matter; Numenius has many ways of describing this relationship. It is a war, but it is also a process of stabilization, as in fr. 4a. In fragment 11, it will be described as a seduction. These separate descriptions are mutually exclusive if taken literally, and so we must view them as metaphorical attempts to understand from different angles a transcendent process outside of human experience. The world arises from an interaction of good Providence and evil Matter, “as the divines of old” or “as the ancient theologians” (veteres theologi) taught; so says Chalcidius in his report of Numenius’ teaching.

Because Eusebius and Origen doesn't quote it, only speculation can fill the gaps for what might have been drawn upon from the traditions of the Egyptians, the Magi, and the Brahmins, which the first fragment speaks about. Langseth suggests for example "Osiris’ battle with Typhon (=Seth), Ahura Mazda and his endless war with Ahriman" as possibilities, towards supporting what Numenius himself says, that he drew on multiple traditions.

After arguing that the Good is Being, which is God (Plato's "the First"), the next subject is the nature of the divine. The rest of the work can be interpreted as unraveling the riddle of "the Second" and "the Third" in terms of different "quality," here expressed as "three gods." A motivating concern here is the question of how God can come to interact with Matter, even though God is unchanging.

Fragment 11 states:

It is necessary for one who intends to have understanding about the
First God and the Second God to distinguish each point in order and with a sort of “good stewardship.” Then, when it seems to be in good order, it will also necessary to attempt to speak methodically and not otherwise; or else, as the saying goes, the treasure turns to ash for one who applies oneself too soon before the first elements are accomplished. Let us not suffer the same! Let us invoke God to be his own interpreter and to demonstrate a treasure trove of insights with our reason; that is how we should begin. We must pray, and we must make our distinctions.

The first god is in his own realm and is simple, because he associates with himself completely and is not ever divided. However, the second god and the third god are one. When he meets with matter—it being dyad—he unifies it, and he is divided by it since it has a lustful character and is in flux. And so by not being in contact with the noetic realm (for he would be in contact with himself) because he sees matter and cares for it, he becomes neglectful of himself. He touches the sensible realm and handles it, and moreover he lifts it up to his own character since he yearns for Matter.

Langseth provides a well-informed statement here, identifying the "third god" with the demiurge (pp. 107-108):

The First God is a principle of unity, the polar opposite of Matter or the “dyad.” God is therefore static and undivided. He is, in fact, Being as described in Books 1-2. It was established in Book 2 that Being, which is here called the First God, is also the Noetic.

2) The Second God exercises his own noetic own activity in between the First and the Third. Since the Second God is named a “god,” but also is closer to divisive matter, we should understand him to be a principle that is noetic but at the same time divided; he should properly be made of of several noetic objects. He is the divine mind and contains the multiple Ideas or Forms.

3) The active principle, or the “Third God,” actually organizes and creates with Matter with the Noetic models that the Second God provides. The Third God is produced when the Second God “forgets himself” and “cares for Matter.” The unifying activity that the Third God performs upon Matter makes him a creator, and so he is roughly equivalent to the Demiurge of the Timaeus (on which see more below). The Platonic Demiurge creates by looking at the Forms, which, in Numenius’ system, are the thoughts that exist in the mind of the Second God. By organizing and creating with matter, the Third God creates ontological levels between himself and Matter.

The title indicates one way in which the three gods here could be named: (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, and (3) Demiurge. The First God is Being, which is the Good. All three are minds, and the Second God is defined by noetic activity, perceiving multiple Forms as the divine Mind. The Third God performs the action of ordering matter as creator, making him the Demiurge.

The fragments of Numenius aren't quite as neatly delineated as the summary just provided (pp. 108-109):

Numenius has created an enormous difficulty by treating the Second and Third Gods sometimes as separate, at other times as different functions of one god who is also called the “Second God.” In other fragments, the Second God is not split into a Second and a Third God, but is treated as one god who does two things: he both thinks and he creates. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that, since the composite Second God has a creative aspect that he receives from the Third God, Numenius will refer to this Second God as the Demiurge (e.g. in fr. 12 and in fr. 16), even though the demiurgic function is more exactly filled by the Third God, the creator. This must be in part what the Platonist Amelius meant when he said that Numenius does not always speak of the same things in the same way.

Resolving these apparent difficulties can be somewhat glossed over in the history of thought, to the extent that this kinds of rough edges are exactly the sort of thing that subsequent thinkers would smooth out in their own way, rather than inheriting from Numenius word-for-word. Langseth is forced to refer to "the Second of Three Gods" and "the Second of Two Gods" separately in order to systematize his thought fully.

Another name for the First God is introduced in Fragment 12 (with "the Demiurge" here referring to the second god of two), offering some nuance about the First God existing in himself and also being "the father":

And in fact it is not right for the First God to create, and it is also necessary to think of the First God as the father of the Demiurge. So, then, if we were asking about the Demiurge, and we were to say that he must be pre-existent and so depict him as being exalted, this contribution to the argument would be sufficient. But if the discussion is not about the Demiurge, but rather we are asking about the First God, then I repudiate what was said and insist that it go unsaid, and will go hunting from a different direction and attempt to catch the argument.

Fragment 12 continues to provide a better understanding of the Second God of two (here called "Demiurge"):

However, before we capture the argument, let us agree with one another that it not be subject to debate that the First God is free of all labor and is Emperor, while the Demiurge is the governor [hegemonein] and travels though heaven. Through him we have our mission when mind (nous) is sent down progressively to all who are arrayed to partake in it. So, when God regards us and turns his attention to each of us, then it happens that the corporeal world comes alive and lives when it is related to the volleys of God. On the other hand, when God turns his attention back to contemplation of himself, the corporeal world withers, but the mind lives, since it enjoys a happy life.

Langseth says here that "he feels that it is important to understand that the Second God acts, while the First is at rest" (p. 119). Further, Langseth writes (p. 120):

There remains a part of the Demiurge that engages in noetic rather than creative activity; this is the Second of the Three Gods from fr. 11. The Third God can impart this noetic activity onto Matter below him, but there is an indication in this fragment that it can be reabsorbed as well back into the Second God. Since the Second God is engaged in contemplative noesis, this reabsorption happens when we contemplate the noetic realm.

Fragment 13 presents another analogy to understand the Second God:

The relationship of a farmer to his planter is most analogous to that of the First God and the Demiurge. Being, at any rate, sows the seed of every soul into all things that participate in him; while the Lawgiver plants, distributes, and transplants into each of us what is sown from him.

Here the First God ("Being") is the landholder, while the Second God (the "Lawgiver") plants the seed.

Fragment 14 provides another analogy:

Whatever is given accrues to the receiver and departs from the giver (e.g. service, property, minted and plate coinage). These are mortal and human things. Divine things, on the other hand, are those that are transferred from one place and completely pass to another, but do not depart from the one place, though they are at the other. They benefit the receiver and do not harm the giver, and they aid the recollection of things that he [the receiver] once knew. In this way, the beautiful possession is beautiful knowledge that the receiver enjoys, but the giver does not lose it. Similarly, one might see a lamp kindled and lit from another lamp, which does not harm the first, but rather the wick in the one has been lit by the other’s fire. Such a thing is knowledge (epistemes), which when given and taken remains with the giver, while the same knowledge follows upon the receiver.

The cause of this, stranger, is nothing human; rather, the reason is that a state of being and essence that has knowledge is the same for God who gives it and you and me who receive it. That is why Plato [Philebus 16c] too says that Wisdom comes to humankind from Prometheus with something like the brightest fire.

Fragment 15:

It is clear that the First God will be static, and the Second in turn is in motion. Thus, the first is concerned with the noetic world, and the second with the noetic and sensible. Do not be surprised if I say this, since you will hear a still much more surprising thing. For, corresponding to the motion present in the Second God, the stasis present in the First I claim is its own particular sort of motion, from which the order of the world and its eternal stability and salvation (soteria) spreads into everything.

On this word, Langseth writes: "Numenius’ use is a metaphysical function that is a defining attribute of the asomatic principle in Book 1 called a katechon, a “binding agent,” something that holds the disorderliness of matter together. Numenius is still occupied with giving appropriate names to the results of divine activity as we experience it in the world. In the analogies of fr. 12-14, the terms that he used to describe the results had psychological and epistemological significance: Mind, Soul, Knowledge, and Wisdom. Here, the quality that God imparts to the world is more overtly metaphysical, and is called Preservation. It is the quality that God pours over the world in order to impart God’s goodness to it." (p. 136)

In Fragment 16, the First God is the Good itself, and by imitation the Second God (of two) is a "good Demiurge" (demiourgos agathos), who is also nonetheless "altogether contemplative" (as the Second God of three):

For the Second god is double, and by himself makes both the idea of Himself and the world; and though he is a Demiurge, he is still altogether contemplative. Since we have concluded four names for the four things, they have to be the following: the First God is the Good Itself, His imitator is the good Demiurge, and one type of Existence belongs to the first one, and another type belongs to the second one. Existence’s imitation is the beautiful world, beautified by participation in the Beautiful.

Langseth says the closest analogy in philosophy before Numenius that he can find is Philo (pp. 144-145):

The closest parallel to the three gods as understood in fragment 16 is Philo of Alexandria (first c. BC). Philo also proposed a Second God to whom he often gave a Stoic name: the logos. Philo splits this logos into two by adapting Stoic epistemology to his Platonic metaphysical systems (Migratio Abraham 157, Vita Mosis 2.127-28). In their theory of the human intellect, Stoics distinguished between endiathetos logos, or “conceptual reasoning” that arises in our own minds and prophorikos logos, or “expressive reasoning” that we use to communicate our thoughts. Philo says that his divine logos is also divided into endiathetos and prophorikos, one who conceives of the world and one who creates it. This system bears a striking resemblance to Numenius’ “two gods who are one” in substance, though not in terminology.

Langseth interprets the four things described by Numenius in this way (p. 147):

That is what gives us four “things,” the division of the Demiurge into two ousiai, or existences. These Four Things are: 1) The Good Itself, 2) the ousia of the First Demiurge (i.e. the Second God), 3) the ousia of the Second Demiurge (i.e. the Third God), and 4) the Beautiful World, i.e. the result of God’s creative activity upon chaotic matter, the beautified material world of our experience. Numenius’ “four things” are the levels of the Ontological Pyramid.

Langseth prepares the reader for the content of the sixth and last book in this way (p. 150):

In between fragments 16 and 17 Numenius has reestablished the Platonic framework of his discussion. Plato expressed himself in a way, Numenius says, that he believed would be familiar and palatable to his audience while suggesting the existence of an even higher reality.

In Fragment 17, Plato is depicted as approaching the subject with a discussion of the mind of the Demiurge, who is familiar among most men. At the same time, through this gradual introduction, Plato points to another before it, the unknown, more divine God.

Since Plato knew that among humankind the Demiurge alone is known, and the first mind who is called Being Itself is altogether unknown among them, he therefore spoke as though one might say the following: “Gentlemen, the one whom you think is mind is not the first, but there is another before it, a pre-existent and more divine mind.”

In terms of the interpretation of the Timaeus, Proclus says that "Numenius classes the first mind as the 'that which is the Zôion,'" the living being, which indicates another term available in Middle Platonism here.

Fragment 18 provides yet another analogy to explain the theology of On the Good:

I suppose a helmsman sailing in the middle of the sea sits above the rudder guiding his ship with the tiller, and strains his eyes and his mind directly to the sky; and his course goes up through the sky as he sails down along the sea. So also the Demiurge does to matter: so that it might neither drift away nor wander off, he binds it with a harmony and sits above it, as though above a ship on the sea, and he steers the harmony, guiding his tiller with the Forms, and he watches and fixes his eyes to the God above him instead of to the stars; he takes his critical faculty from the contemplation, and his impulsive faculty from desire.

Fragment 19 clarifies something that I've been taking as a given in the presentation so far, which is that the Good is One (the First God alone):

Everything that participates in him participates in nothing other than in intellection alone. In this way, then, and in not other, everything would enjoy communion with the Good. Now, with regard to intellection, it is in the First God alone. And so only a foolish soul would doubt that everything else is made better by him as though taking on a new hue, if this is with him alone [monon monôi]. For if the Second God is good not through himself but through the First, how is it possible that [the First God] is not good, when by participation in him [the Second God] is good, especially if the Second God participates in him as the Good? Thus I assure you Plato taught to the clear-sighted through syllogism that the Good is One.

Fragment 20 once again writes about how Plato introduced these things at first conventionally, with reference to the Demiurge:

Plato assumed that these things are so when he defined them in various places. In the Timaeus he characteristically wrote about the Demiurge in the conventional way when he said “he was good”; but in the Republic he said that the Good is the “Form of Good,” as though the Good were the Form of the Demiurge, who we say is good by participation in the First and Only. For, just as human beings are said to be struck from the Form of “Human Being,” and cattle from that of “Cow,” and horses from the Form of “Horse,” so also might we reasonably say of the Demiurge, if he is good by participation in the first Good, then the First Mind would be the Form of Good, since he is Goodness Itself.

Langseth concludes (p. 171):

It is in this way that Numenius the philosopher has, by contemplation of divine things, caught a glimpse of the Good. He is not as “alone” as he claims to be, however, since we have joined him.

Indeed, many who who knew the philosophy of Numenius would, in one way or another, join him also.
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Re: Numenius: (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by Peter Kirby »

On the Good by Numenius is such a rich topic. I hope it can be explored further.
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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by andrewcriddle »

There are significant links between Numenius and the Chaldean Oracles which date from the time of Marcus Aurelius.
Oracle 11 reads
Perceiving the Good itself, where the Paternal Monad exists,
Τἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ νοοῦσα ὅπου πατρικὴ μονάς ἐστι.
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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by Peter Kirby »

andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 8:08 am There are significant links between Numenius and the Chaldean Oracles which date from the time of Marcus Aurelius.
Oracle 11 reads
Perceiving the Good itself, where the Paternal Monad exists,
Τἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ νοοῦσα ὅπου πατρικὴ μονάς ἐστι.
Andrew Criddle
Thanks, Andrew! I didn't know about this.
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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by Peter Kirby »

Andrew Criddle has written elsewhere:
andrewcriddle wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 11:59 am Some Middle Platonists identified matter as the source of evil.

Neo-Platonism moved away from this idea which is entirely absent in late Neo-Platonists such as Proclus.
Langseth writes (pp. 12-13):

Before Iamblichus [ca. 242–ca. 325], it was generally considered appropriate among Platonists to give to Matter a unique relationship with evil. There are different ways of describing this relationship: matter is “evil” (as an adjective), matter is “Evil” (as a noun); matter has an “evil soul,” etc. This is reasonable, of course, since Matter is (at least before Iamblichus) the opposite of the Good. As a general rule, unity is good, and chaos is bad.

Lagseth, in a footnoote (p. 13 n. 31):

Evil as a noun: Plot. Enn. 1.8.8; evil as an adjective: Chaldaean Oracles fr. 88.2 (des Places 1971b); Evil Soul: Plut. Mor. 1015e. See Witt 121. Witt’s characterization of Numenian matter as “Satanic,” in the Miltonian sense, however, greatly oversimplifies the situation. The paradoxical nature of Numenian matter will be discussed below. See also Kenney 219.

In another footnote (p. 16 n. 41):

Numenius holds a view that Plutarch (Mor. 1014e ff.) rejects for the very reason that he was unable to conceive of matter as both without quality and evil. Since for Numenius qualities worthy of the name come ultimately from the Good, Numenius has no trouble seeing their deprivation as evil, the opposite of Good.

In another footnote (p. 39 n. 100):

Martano (51) notes that there is no discernible ethical doctrine in Numenius; such an ethical doctrine would be superfluous for a man who believed that his entire philosophical and contemplative project was itself a rejection of evil and a contemplation of the Good. For Numenius, the practice of philosophy itself is the sum of ethics.

Langseth quotes this testimonial fragment (p. 44 n. 107):

See e.g. Chalcidius in fr. 52.56-57: existente providentia mala [i.e. silvam] quoque necessario substitisse (“…since providence exists, evil (i.e. Matter) must necessarily also subsist …”).

And also references Chalcidius again here (p. 78):

The world arises from an interaction of good Providence and evil Matter, “as the divines of old” or “as the ancient theologians” (veteres theologi) taught; so says Chalcidius in his report of Numenius’ teaching.

Langseth writes that "the testimonial tradition that Numenius considered matter in and of itself evil is too strong to ignore, and is implicit in Numenius’ reasoning," citing "E.g. Chalcidius in fr. 52." (p. 44) Langseth argues that, for Numenius, "If Being is the Good, then Non-Being=Matter must be the opposite of the Good: it must be evil." (p. 45)

Argued again in another footnote (p. 76 n. 143):

There is no direct statement that survives in which Numenius unambiguously calls Matter “harmful.” There are testimonia (e.g. fr. 48) that Numenius identified Matter with evil, which does follow from Numenius’ explicit opposition of Matter to the Good. In addition, the “salvation” or “preservation” that comes from the Good=Being (fr. 15) should also be opposed to the activity of Matter in the world, and “harm” is a good term to give to this force opposed to “preservation.” Chalcidius’ description as Numenius’ description of Matter as “harmful” should be accepted as secure.

And explained further here (p. 78 n. 146):

For Numenius, Matter is both recalcitrant (fr. 9) and submissive (fr. 11), as his own words clearly show. Van Winden ([1959] 125-26) searches in vain for a source for Chalcidius 310, in which Matter is both evil and without quality; he finally settles upon Hermogenes (the target of Tert. adv. Hermogenem), about whom we know really very little. His conviction that this doctrine is inconsistent with Numenius’ view of matter as unqualifiedly recalicrant blinds him to the fact that the sentiment is perfectly Numenian, as Borghorst (37) saw; cf. van Winden 125. Chalcidius himself says that for Numenius “matter accepts improvement and order from god” (a deo vero exornationem ordinationemque accepit) and that matter is the “originator and protector of the passive part of the soul” (patibilis animae partis … auctrix et patrona).

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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by nightshadetwine »

Peter Kirby wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 11:59 pm
I shall contribute their religious and philosophical teachings, as well as their objects of worship when they are celebrated in conformity with Plato, whatever the Brahmans, the Jews, the Magi, and the Egyptians have instituted.

Langseth writes that "it seems that he allegorized foreign myths to force the conformity rather than using genuinely foreign thought for new insights." (p. 22) And beyond just looking for agreement with Plato (p. 23)
What's interesting about this is that you do find very similar concepts in Egyptian texts. Some scholars think that Greek philosophy may have actually been influenced by Egyptian ideas. I don't mean to hijack your thread and go into Egyptian stuff but I though you would maybe find it interesting.

"The Shabaka Stone: An Introduction", Joshua J. Bodine in Studia Antiqua 7, no. 1 (2009):
After some initial introductions about Ptah (lines 48–52b), the Memphite Theology starts by declaring that “through the heart and through the tongue something developed into Atum’s image.” This something that took shape in the form of Atum was the result of none other than the “great and important . . . Ptah, who gave life to all the gods . . . through this heart and this tongue.”... It is through Ptah that all the gods were born, “Atum and his Ennead as well,” and that all things came into existence (lines 53–56, 58):

"Thus it is said of Ptah: “He who made all and created the gods.” And he is Ta-tenen, who gave birth to the gods, and from whom every thing came forth, foods, provisions, divine offerings, and all good things. Thus it is recognized and understood that he is the mightiest of the gods. Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine word. . . . Indeed, Ptah is the fountain of life for the gods and all material realities."

The Memphite Theology was clearly setting forth the idea of creation as a combination of both immaterial and material principles, with Ptah serving as the connection between the two. Creation, according to the Shabaka Stone, was both a spiritual or intellectual creation as well as a physical one. It was through the divine heart (thought) and tongue (speech/word) of Ptah as the great causer of something to take shape in the form of the physical agent of creation Atum, through which everything came forth. Importantly, creation was first and foremost an intellectual activity and only then a physical one. The intellectual principles of creative thought and commanding speech were realized in Ptah and could be said to be embodied in him. He is that which “causes every conclusion to emerge” (line 56). Just as important though, at several points earlier in the text, as well as within the Memphite Theology, Ptah is identified as Ta-tenen, the primeval mound that Atum sat upon arising from the waters of Nun as he created the gods (see lines 2, 3, 13c, 58, 61, and 64). So, while Ptah is the intellectual and creative principle that “in-forms” and precedes all matter, he is also “a physical principle that is the font of all matter, conceptualized in his identification with Ta-tenen,” and in his imparting of life to Atum who, standing on Ta-tenen, carried out physical creation...

The descriptions of the “relations between Ptah and Atum,” opines Iversen, “were not attempts to elevate one at the expense of the other, but purely theological attempts to define the difference between creator and demiurge.”... —Ptah was creator while Atum was demiurge (second god) who was a Memphite deity and “not his Heliopolitan counterpart and namesake.” Looked at in context with other Egyptian conceptions of creation—where there was an “immaterial creator responsible for creation as such,” who is “projected . . . into a second, sensible god” who carries out material creation—the Shabaka text was simply a treatise explicating the local Memphite version of creation... It did not take scholars long to recognize that in the ideas of the Memphite Theology there was an approach similar to the Greek notion of logos. The so called “Logos” doctrine is that in which the world is formed through a god’s creative thought and speech—Logos meaning, literally, “Word.” The parallels with the creation account in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, or with the opening chapter of the Gospel of John in the Christian New Testament, are obvious, as with other ancient texts and philosophies.

So if I'm understanding this correctly, Ptah has two aspects: one aspect is intellectual and non-material, and the second aspect is physical that is represented by Ta-tenen, the primeval mound. The god Atum is the demiurge or physical creator who seems to emerge or emanate from Ptah.

"Amun and Amun-Re" by Vincent A. Tobin in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: Volume 1 (Oxford University Press, 2001):
During the New Kingdom, the theology of Amun-Re at Thebes became very complex. His position as king of the gods increased to a point that approached monotheism. In Amun-Re's most advanced theological expressions, the other gods became symbols of his power or manifestations of him- he himself being the one and only supreme divine power. This absolute supremacy of Amun-Re was eloquently expressed in the sun hymns found in the eighteenth dynasty tombs at Thebes. As Amun, he was secret, hidden, and mysterious; but as Re, he was visible and revealed. Although for centuries Egyptian religion had been flexible and open to contradictory mythological expressions, the Theban theology of Amun-Re came close to establishing a standard of orthodoxy in doctrine.

“The Celestial Realm,” by James P Allen in Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2003):
As he exists outside of nature, Amun is the only god by whom nature could have been created. The text recognizes this by identifying all the creator gods as manifestations of Amun, the supreme cause, whose perception and creative utterance, through the agency of Ptah, precipitated Atum's evolution into the world. The consequence of this view is that all the gods are no more than aspects of Amun.

Genesis in Egypt the Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1988), James P. Allen
“Chapter 90” continues the theme of Amun’s preeminent causative role by explaining how the various “developments” of the creation in fact derive from, and are manifestations of, Amun himself. The entire pantheon is nothing more than the sum total and image of the creator, whose existence precedes theirs (lines C2-6). The first elements of the creation—the Primeval Mound and the sun—as well as the pre-creation universe that surrounded them, all emanate from the creator (lines C7-9). The primordial Monad, and its first development into the void and the sun, are also his manifestations (lines C10-17). And his was the voice that pronounced the first creative utterance, shattering the stillness of nonexistence and setting the entire process of creation in motion (lines C18-26).

So there seems to be a concept of a deity that is "hidden" and beyond human understanding, but also has an aspect that is manifested and revealed.

Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2004), Geraldine Pinch:
In many Egyptian sources the creation of life involves three elements: the creation of a body, the transfer to that body of some part of the divine essence of the creator, and the animation of the body by the breath of life... The second element, the transfer of the divine essence, eventually led to the concept that all deities, or even all living beings, were not just made by a transcendent creator but were in some sense forms of the creator... The creator was sometimes referred to as “the One Who Made Himself into Millions” or “He Who Made Himself into Millions of Gods.” Creation could be seen as a process of differentiation, in which one original force was gradually divided (without necessarily diminishing itself) into the diverse elements that made up the universe... Before creation begins there is no division into genders. The creator seems to include both the male and female principles. Creator deities were commonly called “the father and mother of all things”...

The intellectual powers that enabled the creator to bring himself/herself into existence and to create other beings were sometimes conceptualized as deities. The most important of these were the gods Sia, Hu, and Heka. Sia was the power of perception or insight, which allowed the creator to visualize other forms. Hu was the power of authoritative speech, which enabled the creator to bring things into being by naming them. In Coffin Texts spell 335, Hu and Sia are said to be with their “father” Atum every day...

From at least as early as the New Kingdom, the god Ptah could represent the creative mind. Then Sia and Hu were identified as the heart and tongue of Ptah. This concept is expounded in the so-called Memphite Theology and in various hymns to Ptah. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the organ of thought and feeling. So Ptah was said to have made the world after planning it in his heart. It was “through what the heart plans and the tongue commands” that everything was made... It reconciles the separate creation myths of Atum of Heliopolis and Ptah of Memphis and includes a first-person account by Ptah of how he created all life through his powers of thought and speech. This section has often been compared to the famous opening of St. John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”...

A Middle Kingdom text set in the turbulent First Intermediate Period compares humanity with a flock and the (unnamed) creator with the good shepherd who cares for them. “For their sakes He made heaven and earth, and drove away the rapacity of the waters. So that their nostrils should live He made the winds. They are images of Him, come forth from His flesh. For their sakes He rises in heaven. For them He made plants and flocks"... New Kingdom hymns to the creator god Amun also refer to god making people “in his own image” but are vague about how this was done...

Shu and Tefnut were the children of the creator sun god... Shu and Tefnut were produced by an androgynous creator god, usually identified as Atum or Ra-Atum... At first, Shu and Tefnut were not fully differentiated from the creator. In the Coffin Texts they are often treated as a trinity: “the one who developed into three.” This may be why the monotheistic theology of King Akhenaten found a place for Shu and Tefnut as aspects of the god of light. Some early statues of Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti, probably represent them as Shu and Tefnut.

The Egyptian World (Routledge, 2007), Toby A. H. Wilkinson:
Maat’s role in creation is expressed in chapter 80 of the Coffin Texts (c.2000 BC) where Tefnut, the daughter of Atum, is identified with maat, the principle of cosmic order, who, together with Shu, the principle of cosmic ‘life’, fills the universe (Faulkner 1973: 83–7; Junge 2003: 87–8). Maat is, therefore, one of the fundamental principles of the cosmos, present from the beginning, like the personification of Wisdom in the later Biblical tradition (Wisdom of Solomon 7, 22; 7, 25; 8, 4; 9, 9). This concept of creation and the role of maat has also been likened to that found in Plato’s Timaeus (30a–b), where the creator demiurge forms a cosmos governed by reason by replacing disorder with order (Junge 2003: 88)...

Even the ‘monotheist’ Akhenaten, while aiming to abandon all myths in favour of a single divine concept of the Aten, still mobilized some very old mythical constellations in order to enhance his claim to the throne. He declared himself the sole son of his god, and his ka and representative on earth (Silverman 1995: 74–9), while presenting himself – in both text and image – as Shu, the firstborn son of the Heliopolitan creator god Atum... The triad of Atum, Shu and Tefnut is significant; there is reference to the time when Atum ‘became three’ (Coffin Texts II, 39c–e). His ka (‘vital power’) is present in his two children (Pyramid Texts 1652a–1653a). During the reign of Akhenaten, the iconography of the king, his queen Nefertiti and the Aten reflects that of Shu, Tefnut and Atum...

The Pyramid Texts trace the king’s birth back to the time of the primordial creator god. He is said to have been born from the self-impregnated sun god Ra or Atum; or even from Nun. An inscription in Theban Tomb 49 reads ‘The king was born in Nun before heaven and earth came into being’. The Memphite Theology united the king with Ptah.

It's interesting that the pharaoh was said to be born from the primordial creator god before incarnating on earth. This is very similar to how Jesus is viewed in John and some other New Tesament passages. Also, Akhenaten seems to have thought of himself as being the incarnation of the creator's firstborn son "Shu" who represented cosmic life.

There also seems to be a concept that is similar to a trinity. You have a deity that becomes three.

"Poimandres: The Etymology of the Name and the Origins of the Hermetica" by Peter Kingsley in From 'Poimandres' to Jacob Böhme: Gnosis, Hermetism and the Christian Tradition (Brill, 2000):
It would be easy to assume that the creation of an abstract entity called 'Understanding of Re' is the work of the Greeks, with their supposedly unique facility for philosophical abstraction. But that is not the case. The hypostasising - or personifying as a divine being in its own right - of a specific abstraction called P-eime nte-re, 'Understanding of Re' or 'Intelligence of Re', may not be attested elsewhere in Coptic; however, it is very familiar indeed in Egyptian religion itself. From the earliest known period the Egyptians were extremely fond of personifying - and divinising - abstractions, but the most important of all these deities were two in particular: Sia, 'Understanding' or 'Intelligence', and Hu, 'Word' or 'Command'. Already in the Pyramid Texts Sia stands at the right hand of Re. From then on he is 'the representative of Re' or Re's messenger; sometimes he is effectively equated with Re, but usually he is 'the son of Re', his chief assistant along with Hu - in the creation of the universe. It is certainly no coincidence that we find the same fundamental idea of a divine, personified Intelligence coupled with a divine, personified Word in the first of the Hermetica, where Poimandres as the divine Intelligence (Nous) is assisted by a personified Word (Logos) in the creation of the universe. But that is a matter we shall come back to later...

As noted earlier, the tendency among scholars who adhere to the Greek etymology of the name has been to claim - with more than a little proprietorial interest - that here we have a revealing example of the Hermetica's indebtedness to Judaeo-Christian tradition, in the form of the idea of a divine 'shepherd of men'. But apart from the fact that the notion of a shepherd of men has a long history stretching back to the dawn of Greek literature, and apart from the further fact that this history can be traced back earlier still, via Mycenaean culture, to its roots in the Near East, what has also been missed is the evidence indicating that the Jewish and Christian ideas of God, saviour or spiritual guide as a shepherd evolved out of one religious tradition in particular: the Egyptian. There, naturally enough, the role was associated with one god above all--Re, 'the good shepherd of men', ever attentive, ever-conscious of the needs of his flock--and also with other Egyptian gods who performed the function of delegate or executor for Re...

Then we come to the roles attributed, throughout the first of the Hermetica, to a divine personified Intelligence (nous) and a divine personified Word (logos) as responsible for the creation of the universe. Certain superficial, and dissatisfying, analogies can be drawn here with the roles played by logos and nous in earlier Greek philosophical tradition or in Philo of Alexandria; but in the vividness of the personifications and the exactness of the details these Hermetic figures correspond unmistakeably to the functions of Thoth - or Sia - and Hu in Egyptian theological tradition. It is the same with the repeated identification, again running through the first of the Hermetica, of the divine Nous or Poimandres with Life. This, too, makes little sense in terms of Greek philosophy; but it corresponds exactly to the fact that in Egyptian tradition Thoth, like Sia, is the giver of abundance and the 'lord of life'.

From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change (Oxford University Press, 2014), Jan Assmann:
The implicit ‘cosmogonic monotheism’ typical of ancient Egypt, deriving everything that exists (including the gods) from one single divine source, the sun god, is made explicit in two ways: in a radically exclusivist form by the revolution of Akhenaten, and in an inclusivist form with the rise of the theological discourse that eventually arrived at the idea that all gods are One. This monistic theology of All-Oneness lives on as a countercurrent to western monotheism in the Hermetic and Neoplatonic traditions until today...

The idea of the world as the embodiment of a soul-like god and of God as a soul animating the world remains central in Egyptian theology even after the New Kingdom and the flourishing of its theological discourse. We are dealing here with the origin of a conception of the divine which was to become supremely important in late antiquity: the “cosmic god,” the supreme deity in Stoicism, Hermeticism, and related movements... Their most explicit codification is to be found in the texts forming the Corpus Hermeticum. The “pantheistic” motif of the One and the millions appears in the Greek texts as the One and the All, to hen kai to pan, or hen to pan, and so on, and in a Latin inscription for Isis as una quae es omnia. The “cosmotheistic” aspect is expressed in statements about the world as the body of God...

The discourse of explicit theology arrives at a solution of the problem of how to correlate god and gods that may be summarized by the formula “All gods are One.” This is the form of cosmotheistic and hypercosmic monotheism characteristic of Hellenistic and late antique religiosity, and which can also be found in Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Indian texts. Egypt, however, is the civilization where these ideas can be traced back to a much earlier age than elsewhere and where they can be explained as the result of a long development.

Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple (Yale Egyptological Seminar, 2006), David Klotz:
The issue of intellectual and religious cross-cultural interchange is extremely complex, and no culture can be credited with being the source of all thought. Yet, the fact that many images and concepts, as formulated in the Hibis texts, reappear very similarly in Apocalyptic, Gnostic, Hermetic, Orphic, and Magical texts – in addition to the philosophical works of Plato, Iamblichus, and Plotinus – deserves serious attention. The additional fact, moreover, that many of these texts either were written in Egypt (i.e. Gnostic, Hermetic, and Magical texts) or claim Egyptian origin (e.g. Plato’s Timaeus, Iamblichus’s De mysteriis, Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride) should arouse even greater interest. In effect, classical and other texts claiming to reflect Egyptian concepts or mysteries do in fact reflect authentic Egyptian sources. More importantly, they correspond precisely with religious texts that actually date to this crucial period of heightened cultural exchange...

"So did you establish your throne in Ankhtawy,
As Amun-Re, Ba Lord of the firmament,
These (both) mean: your form in the initial moment,
When you arose as Amun-Re-Ptah."

This is another example of a "three-tier" world or, more appropriately, of a trinity. These three deities appear together at Hibis as recipients of a Maat-Offering scene. Noting the Graeco-Roman correspondences of Egyptian deities (Amun = Zeus, Osiris-Ptah = Hades, Re = Helios) one should compare the following Orphic statement quoted by both Macrobius and Julian: "Zeus, Hades, Helios Serapis: three gods in one godhead!" More explicitly dealing with Egyptian religion, Iamblichus aptly described the various aspects of the demiurge (Kneph):

"The demiurgical intellect, master of truth and wisdom, when he comes in the creation and brings to light the invisible power of hidden
words, is called Amun, but when he infallibly and artistically, in all truth, creates every thing, he is called Ptah
(a name which the Greeks
translate Hephaistos, only observing his ability as an artisan)"...

This description of Amun-Re "whose length and width are without boundaries," yet who is also "remote" and "mysterious" of visible form, as the source of "millions" should be compared with the following Hermetic description of god:

"For this is his body, neither tangible nor visible nor measurable
nor dimensional nor like any other body; it is not fire nor
water nor air nor spirit, yet all things come from it"...

He “creates everything,” “dwells in everything,” is “lord” of everything, but he is not everything. Amun was supposed to be transcendent, and the Egyptian priests made it clear that natural phenomena were merely terrestrial manifestations, or Bas, of Amun.

I know this was an overload of quotes but as you can see, there are some concepts found in Egyptian texts that resemble Greek philosophical concepts. Of course, I'm not saying that all of these concepts originate with the Egyptians.
Last edited by nightshadetwine on Thu Apr 04, 2024 2:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Numenius "On the Good": (1) Agathos, (2) Nous, (3) Demiurge

Post by Peter Kirby »

Thanks, nightshadetwine! This is the kind of stuff that I'm interested in. Please continue to share!
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