Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"… free Jerusalem from Athens and the church of Christ from the Academy of Plato." (Tertullian: De praescriptione, vii).

Of the “three areas of particular fascination for the AMAIC regarding philosophy” as outlined in the previous MATRIX, namely:
  1. The Philosophy of Jesus Christ - restoring Christian philosophy to its biblical roots, with Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, as the focal point. ….
  1. A Re-orientation of the History of Ancient Philosophy. This actually pre-supposes 1. and needs to be viewed in parallel fashion to the way that the ancient Scriptures pre-figure Jesus the Word, but are also brought to perfection in Him.
  1. The Philosophy of Modern Science. Whilst the real world (physis) was still generally the object of philosophical study for the ancients, modern scientists and philosophers have largely shifted the emphasis on to law and convention (nomos).
it will be 2. A Re-orientation of the History of Ancient Philosophy that will be discussed at length this time round. But this will be done largely in the Supplement attached to this MATRIX. Some have not found very convincing our earlier attempts to Hebraïse what our western culture has handed on to us as Greek wisdom (sophia). Thus a reader has written:

Hi Damien,

That email from Hugh [Owen] didn’t seem to contain anything you wouldn’t have heard of already so I assume you’ll have no trouble responding. I’d be interested in your answer even if no one else is.

Well thanks for that clarification on Sirach [“Was Sirach in the King’s Blazing Fiery Furnace?” See our:]. But you’ll still need solid evidence to back up the claim.

I didn’t find the other ones on Aristotle etc very convincing. It seems more like speculation.

Editor’s Comment: Those educated according to the western stream, myself included, have grown up inculcated with a certain rigorous mindsight on matters of philosophical influences.
It is the conviction that our philosophical roots are profoundly embedded in Greek thought. That our Christian philosophy, as perfected by the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was heavily reliant upon the supposedly Macedonian Greek genius, Aristotle, with enormous contribution also from Socrates and Plato.
The other profound influence upon Thomism was, of course, the celebrated Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo, who was very much again of the Platonic mould.
This is the received wisdom.
So, naturally, when someone comes along and begins to question the basis of this whole edifice, he will at best be regarded as ‘not very convincing’, and at worst, as a complete nut.
At the risk of acquiring such a reputation, essentially the new line that is being taken by the AMAIC (but it is not so new because it was already glimpsed by the Church Fathers) is that:

With ‘salvation being of the Jews’ (John 4:22), so, too, was genuine culture and civilisation ‘of the Jews’, (this term to be taken as covering also Hebrews/Israelites). And especially was philosophy ‘of the Jews’, arising as it did from Hebrew wisdom (or hokmah).
Jesus Christ, “the Metaphysician par excellence” (St. Bonaventure), was the very Alpha and the Omega of this God-given wisdom, of our Christian philosophy.
The Greek ‘wisdom’ (sophia, from which we get the term, philosophy) was something of a third phase removed, watered down version of the original. Quite beautiful and inspired insofar as it had managed to maintain the original pure doctrine of the Hebrews, it was, for the most part, however, a horrible distortion of it, owing to the viciously pagan environment from which it re-emerged now so corrupted. It sorely needed a Thomistic purification to get it back nearer to the biblical original. Hence we would hasten to embrace, as our own, Tertullian’s plea:

"free Jerusalem from Athens and the church of Christ from the Academy of Plato." (De praescriptione, vii).
And Numenius of Apamea also made a strong point when he exclaimed:
“What is Plato, but Moses speaking in Attic Greek?”

But we take it even a step further than the Fathers insofar as we would re-identify the major, supposedly ‘Greek’, thinkers as biblical Hebrews (see Supplement below).

Nor is it only Hebrew philosophy that has been appropriated by the Greeks - and the Egyptians and Mesopotamians before them (there are plenty of articles showing Plato’s dependence on Egypt, for instance). So much of the Bible has found its way, quite distorted, into Greek mythology. The discovery of such a fact tends to be made naturally by those whose education has generously included both Western and ancient Near Eastern thought, such as Michael Astour with his famous Hellenosemitica; the clever professor Cyrus Gordon, keen solver of ancient riddles; and so on. Our good friend John R. Salverda, likewise, has a great knack for resurrecting the biblical stories out of their murky graves in Greek mythology. See e.g. his “Medusa” but also his many other articles at this particular AMAIC site.
Anyway, all of this spelled out in far more detail in the Supplement to this MATRIX:

Re-Orienting to Zion the History of Ancient Philosophy.
Damien F. Mackey
“Mount Zion, true pole of the earth …”.
Psalm 48:2
“I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece”.
Zechariah 9:13
Tertullian: "free Jerusalem from Athens and the church of Christ from the Academy of Plato."
(De praescriptione, vii).
This last saying, by Tertullian, will become as something of a golden thread for this article, though not properly according to the context of Tertullian, but according to the context of our AMAIC historical revisions.
For, as one will read as the description of our site,

“Much of Western culture, mythology and religion has been appropriated from the cultures of the Fertile Crescent region, especially from the Hebrews (Jews)”.
This is a companion to our site,

whose description is the same, but with reference to Far Eastern culture.
Now this description, with its application to the west, basically encapsulates the phenomenon that is the history of ancient philosophy, that has conventionally been presented to us as being entirely Greco-Roman (Ionian-Italian), but which I intend to argue was actually Hebrew (Israelite/Jewish) and biblical.
Certainly the Fathers of the Church appreciated at least the seminal impact that the Hebrews had had upon Greco-Roman thinking, though without their having taken the extra step that I intend to take in this article, of actually recognising the most famous early western (supposedly) philosophers as being originally Hebrew persons.
To give just a few examples from the Fathers and the early eastern and western legends:
“According to Clement [of Alexandria], Plato plagiarized revelation from the Hebrews; this gave the Athenian's highest ideas a flavor of divine authority in the estimation of Clement”. (
“… Aristoxenus in his book the Life of Pythagoras, as well as Aristarchus and Theopompus say that [Pythagoras] came from Tyre, Neanthes from Syria or Tyre, so the majority agree that Pythagoras was of barbarian origin (Strom. I 62, 2-3).
Clement of Alexandria even believed that Sirach had influenced the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (Strom. 2.5; Bright 1999:1064).
Tertullian: "… free Jerusalem from Athens and the church of Christ from the Academy of Plato." (De praescriptione, vii).

Eusebius of Caesarea believed that Plato had been enlightened by God and was in agreement with Moses. (
Aristobulus was among many philosophers of his day who argued that the essentials of Greek philosophy and metaphysics were derived from Jewish sources. Philosopher Numenius of Apamea echoes this position in his well known statement "What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?" (1.150.4)
Aristobulus maintained, 150 years earlier than Philo, that not only the oldest Grecian poets, Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, etc., but also the most celebrated Greek thinkers, especially Plato, had acquired most of their wisdom from Jewish sages and ancient Hebrew texts (Gfrorer i. p. 308, also ii. 111-118) (Eusebius citing Aristobulus and Numenius Ev ix. 6, xi. 10).
The Arabic-Christian legends identify [the biblical] Baruch with the eastern sage, Zoroaster, and give much information concerning him.
Saint Ambrose (Ep. 34) “suggested that Plato was educated in Hebraic letters in Egypt by Jeremiah”.
Bahá'u'lláh states that the Greek philosopher Empedocles "was a contemporary" of King David, "while Pythagoras lived in the days of Solomon" (Cole, p. 31; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 145).
Saint Jerome saw similarities between the Book of Tobit and Homer’s The Odyssey. “Martin Luther likewise observed similarities between Tobit and Greek comedy … but one is even more impressed by resemblances that the Book of Tobit bears to a work of Greek tragedy—the Antigone of Sophocles”.

Some of these situations (e.g. Sirach influencing Heraclitus - thought to be centuries before Sirach - and Plato meeting Jeremiah, who presumably lived about a century and a half before Plato) are chronologically impossible, of course, in the present context of ancient history. However, in my revised scheme of historical philosophy, they may not necessarily be.
Sirach is still yet, I believe, to be firmly dated.
In this article I shall take four of the key early, supposedly “Ionian” Greek (or Sicilian), philosophers of antiquity, Thales, Heraclitus and Pythagoras (Ionian), and Empedocles (Sicilian Greek), all prior to Socrates (hence ‘pre-Socratics’), and reveal what I believe to be their biblical prototype - of whom I claim these four were merely ghostly replicas - chronologically, ethnically and geographically misplaced.
Thales is most important as presumably having begun it all. According to Bertrand Russell, "Western philosophy begins with Thales."….
And we read at: (
Thales of Miletus (c. 624 BCE – c. 546 BCE) was an ancient (pre-Socratic) Greek philosopher who is often considered the first philosopher and the father of Western philosophy. His approach to philosophical questions of course cannot compare to modern or even later Greek philosophers, however, he is the first known person to use natural explanations for natural phenomena rather than turning to supernatural world and his example was followed by other Greek thinkers who would give rise to philosophy both as a discipline and science.
Heraclitus is considered by some to have been the founder of metaphysics.
Thus (
Heraclitus is in a real sense the founder of metaphysics.
Starting from the physical standpoint of the Ionian physicists, he accepted their general idea of the unity of nature, but entirely denied their theory of being. The fundamental uniform fact in nature is constant change (πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει); everything both is and is not at the same time. He thus arrives at the principle of Relativity; harmony and unity consist in diversity and multiplicity. The senses are "bad witnesses" (κακοὶ μάρτυρες); only the wise man can obtain knowledge.
Pythagoras was thought to be the one who coined the term ‘philosopher’.
Thus (
This most famous philosopher was born sometime between 600 and 590 B.C., and the length of his life has been estimated at nearly one hundred years. …. Pythagoras was said to have been the first man to call himself a philosopher; in fact, the world is indebted to him for the word philosopher. Before that time the wise men had called themselves sages, which was interpreted to mean those who know. Pythagoras was more modest. He coined the word philosopher, which he defined as one who is attempting to find out.
Empedocles was said to have first named the four elements (earth, air, fire and water).
Thus (
Empedocles … Greek: Ἐμπεδοκλῆς; Empedoklēs; Ancient Greek …c. 490–430 BC) was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic theory of the four Classical elements.
Thus these were four very significant individuals in the received history of early philosophy!
Yet historians admit to knowing so little about them. That is apparent from these quotes, respectively, (mainly) from the above sites:
Thales: “Not much is known about the philosopher’s early life, not even his exact dates of birth and death”.
Heraclitus: “Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom”.
Pythagoras: “The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Pythagoras must have been one of the world’s greatest persons, but he wrote nothing, and it is hard to say how much of the doctrine we know as Pythagorean is due to the founder of the society and how much is later development. It is also hard to say how much of what we are told about the life of Pythagoras is trustworthy; for a mass of legend gathered around his name at an early date”. (Taken from:
Empedocles: “Very little is known about his life”.

Given these stark admissions, it would not be surprising that the original version of each of these sages could have been lost in the mists of obscurity.
My purpose in this article will be to try to restore the original historical character in relation to these important four: Thales, Heraclitus, Pythagoras and Empedocles.
{l shall be leaving aside at this stage the more important ‘Socratics’, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, whose true identities will really need to be established in the future}.
Thereby I hope to uncover the original artisans of wisdom, giving the precedence to Hebrew Hokmah (Wisdom) over Greek Sophia.
Why is it so important to “free Jerusalem from Athens”,
to borrow Tertullian’s phrase?
Firstly, because (my belief) the four aforementioned great philosophical sages were Hebrews rather than Greeks.
And, secondly, because genuine wisdom thinking and writings could not have been generated by a thing so corrupt and perverse as pagan Greco-Roman culture. To give just one potent example of its highly distorted nature, the shameful proclivities of Socrates himself
…. Philosophy was another area where the acceptance of homosexuality was obvious, and seemed to be representative of the thoughts of many people (or at least male thought) of the time. Most of the early philosophers seemed to thoroughly understand and discuss the actions of pederasty and homosexuality, and Socrates … even described himself as being “experienced in the pursuit of men.” According to the dialogues of Plato – a student of Socrates - pederasty and homosexuality were a part of everyday life, at least for aristocrats.
Two of Plato’ s works, The Phaedrus and The Symposium, paint a brilliant picture of what the attitude toward pederasty was at the time. In the opening pages of The Phaedrus, Phaedrus and Socrates are discussing a speech that Lysias – a popular orator of the day - has written; a speech that was “… designed to win the favor of a handsome boy….” Socrates seems to understand why one would write a speech on this subject, and even states that man “cannot have a less desirable protector or companion than the man who is in love with him.” The Symposium goes into even greater detail about pederasty.
The setting is a symposium – a type of dinner party that only included males as guests, and had entertainment, wine, and discussion of politics and philosophy – in which several men are gathered and all give speeches about why a love of boys is a good thing. Phaedrus - the first to give his speech - states, For I can’t say that there is a greater blessing right from boyhood than a good lover or a greater blessing for a lover than a darling [young boy]. What people who intend to lead their lives in a noble and beautiful manner need is not provided by family, public honors, wealth, or anything else, so well as by love. Pausanias - the second speaker - adds even more to this argument when he states Aphrodite only inspires love among men for young boys, and not women. Those inspired by Aphrodite are naturally drawn to the male because he is a stronger and more intelligent creature.
Socrates also comments on the importance of pederasty in his own life. He says, “My love for this fellow [Agathon- another member of the party who is a beautiful young boy] is not an insignificant affair.” Yet another member of the party, Alcibiades, also loves Agathon and tries to discredit Socrates when he says, “… Socrates is lovingly fixated on beautiful young men, is always around them – in a daze….” ….
[End of quote]
Gross impurity kills wisdom stone dead!
Obviously, a genuine Christian (or perennial) philosophy cannot properly be based upon (arise out of) such corrupt pagan thinking and ethics, no matter how much the latter might have been enlightened by biblical wisdom. Hence, my purpose of re-orientating the philosophia perennis back in line with Hebrew wisdom (hokmah), to Zion.
The question of who really were the original three sages who inspired the great philosophical triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, is a most fascinating one. And it is one that we hope to be able to answer with conviction in due course. As the reader commented (see MATRIX, p. 8), our previous effort in this direction was not “very convincing. It seems more like speculation”. But it was merely a first tentative step out onto an entirely new path.
To achieve this satisfactorily should be made easier, at least chronologically, once we have secured the true identities of Thales, Heraclitus, Pythagoras and Empedocles, who apparently preceded the three ‘Socratics’ in time.
Now, here is how I suspect our four pre-Socratics stand in relation to real history (for I have already done some previous work on this very subject):
Thales is, as I have argued in various articles now, the biblical Joseph of the Book of Genesis. See e.g. Joseph as Thales: Not an "Hellenic Gotterdamerung" but Israelite Wisdom. His name ‘Thales” apparently derives from the sage Ptah-hotep in Egypt, who, like Joseph, lived to be 110 years of age, and who is thought to have inspired some of the biblical Proverbs. Joseph (Ptah-hotep) is likewise the great Imhotep, who even became deified and ‘sanctified’, later, in Ptolemaïc times.
Traditions are completely unreliable and “conflicting” in regard to Greek versions of Thales
Diogenes Laertius states that ("according to Herodotus and Douris and Democritus") Thales' parents were Examyes and Cleobuline, then traces the family line back to Cadmus, a prince of Tyre. Diogenes then delivers conflicting reports: one that Thales married and either fathered a son (Cybisthus or Cybisthon) or adopted his nephew of the same name; the second that he never married, telling his mother as a young man that it was too early to marry, and as an older man that it was too late. Plutarch had earlier told this version: Solon visited Thales and asked him why he remained single; Thales answered that he did not like the idea of having to worry about children. Nevertheless, several years later, anxious for family, he adopted his nephew Cybisthus. …
Unfortunately there is a complete absence of primary evidence for Thales, for ( “No writing of his has come down to us; we have no primary sources”.
It is even considered likely that he did not write anything at all. And this is where the problem lies. The real existence of Thales as an Ionian Greek of the C6th BC is wide open to doubt. By the time of the Greeks, the original sage, the biblical Joseph (Ptah-hotep of Egypt) - as I believe - had mythologically drifted from Palestine to Ionia, from being a Hebrew to an Ionian Greek, and had been slid down the centuries to the tune of more than a millennium.
As I wrote (Joseph as Thales):
…. To Thales is attributed a prediction in astronomy that was quite impossible for an Ionian Greek - or anyone else - to have estimated so precisely in the C6th BC. He is said to have predicted a solar eclipse that occurred on 28 May 585 BC during a battle between Cyaxares the Mede and Alyattes of Lydia …. This supposed incident has an especial appeal to the modern rationalist mind because it - thought to have been achieved by a Greek, and 'marking the birthday of western science' - was therefore a triumph of the rational over the religious. According to Glouberman, for instance, it was "… a Hellenic Götterdämerung, the demise of an earlier mode of thought" …. Oh really? Well, it never actually happened. O. Neugebauer …, astronomer and orientalist, has completely knocked on the head any idea that Thales could possibly have foretold such an eclipse.
Heraclitus, who Saint Clement of Alexandria thought had been influenced by the biblical Sirach (i.e. Ecclesiasticus), may even originally have been this very Sirach. Thus I wrote (
Here occurs that same sort of chronological ‘difficulty’ (in a textbook context) with a Father of the Church as also in the case of Saint Ambrose’s conjecture (in De philosophia) that Plato had met Jeremiah in Egypt. Whilst, chronologically, this is an extraordinary statement by Saint Clement, considering that Sirach would be located centuries after Heraclitus, the presumed chronological problem may actually be due to the ignorance of the real identity of the supposedly ‘Greek’ philosopher. What if Heraclitus, whose special element was fire, were in fact the same person as the Hebrew Sirach (also known as “Siracides”, hence Heraclitus?), who wrote of fire (Sirach 51:3, 4): “You liberated me … from the stifling heat which hemmed me in, from the heart of a fire which I had not kindled …”. The ancient concept of Divine Wisdom, as written of by Sirach, was supposedly absorbed by Heraclitus, who, I think, may have been but a pale Greek version of the biblical scribe.
Pythagoras, based on traditions of the great antiquity of his doctrines; the possibility that he may even have hailed from Syria (Tyre) and was hence a barbarian (that is, a non-Greek); his being circumcised; his concerns with dietary laws; his abstention from illicit sex; and the very Egyptian looking first syllable in his name, Pyth (= Ptah?); was probably once again the great Ptah-hotep, or Imhotep, of Egypt, who I am saying was the biblical Joseph.
We have already considered the lack of sure knowledge about him. Here is another sample (
Pythagoras … spent his early years on the island of Samos, off the coast of modern Turkey. At the age of forty, however, he emigrated to the city of Croton in southern Italy and most of his philosophical activity occurred there. Pythagoras wrote nothing, nor were there any detailed accounts of his thought written by contemporaries. By the first centuries [BC], moreover, it became fashionable to present Pythagoras in a largely unhistorical fashion as a semi-divine figure, who originated all that was true in the Greek philosophical tradition, including many of Plato's and Aristotle's mature ideas. A number of treatises were forged in the name of Pythagoras and other Pythagoreans in order to support this view.
Likewise, did the genius Imhotep (Joseph) become “a semi-divine figure”.
Imhotep was an ancient Egyptian genius who achieved great success in a wide variety of fields. Inventor of the pyramid, author of ancient wisdom, architect, high priest, physician, astronomer, and writer, Imhotep's many talents and vast acquired knowledge had such an effect on the Egyptian people that he became one of only a handful of individuals of nonroyal birth to be deified, or promoted to the status of a god.
Imhotep is sometimes referred to as “the Egyptian god of medicine and healing”. ( It is not surprising to find, then, that ( “The Pythagoreans were, among other things, healers; we are told that 'they used medicine to purge the body, and music to purge the soul'.”
Here are some relevant views of Pythagoras that might be reminiscent of the biblical Joseph (
Clement of Alexandria … is not only a good source of the Pythagorean doctrines, which enhance our knowledge of the Pythagorean tradition.

What did Clement know about Pythagoras and the Pythagorean Tradition?
Pythagoras in Clement's eyes was an ancient sage and religious reformer, a God-inspired transmitter of the spiritual tradition, which itself ascends to the most antique times.

Pythagoras from Samos, - says Clement, - was a son of Mnesiarchus, as Hippobotus says. But Aristoxenus in his book the Life of Pythagoras, as well as Aristarchus and Theopompus say that he came from Tyre, Neanthes from Syria or Tyre, so the majority agree that Pythagoras was of barbarian origin (Strom. I 62, 2-3).
He was a student of Pherecydes … and his floruit falls on the time of dictatorship of Polycrates, around the sixty-second Olympiad [ci. 532-529 BC]. …. But the real teacher of his was certain Sonchis, the highest prophet of the Egyptians. …. Pythagoras traveled a lot and even underwent circumcision in order to enter in the Egyptian shrines to learn their philosophy.
Clement is inclined to think that Pythagoras composed some writings himself, but gave them out as if they contained ancient wisdom, revealed to him.
Pythagoras in no means was a mere transmitter, he himself was a sage, prophet and the founder of a philosophic school: The great Pythagoras applied himself ceaselessly to acquiring knowledge of the future (Strom. I 133, 2). …. Imagine, now, that we are students at Clement's Catechetical School and listen to his lectures. What shall we learn about Pythagoras (given that Clement is the only source of our knowledge)?
Clement would tell us that Pythagoras was a perfect example of righteousness ….
Pythagoras instructed to clean one's body and soul before entering the road by means of strictly drawn dietary regulations. …. One of the reasons for this is that the burden of food prevents soul from 'rising to higher levels of reality' …. Maintaining self-control and a right balance in everything is therefore absolutely necessary for everybody entering the path of knowledge:
'A false balance (zuga) do/lia) is an abomination in the Lord's eye, but a just weight is acceptable to him.' (Prov. 11.1) It is on the basis of this that Pythagoras warns people 'Step not over a balance (zugo)n mh) u(perbai/nein)'. ….
Gross impurity kills wisdom stone dead!
Saint Clement continues:
It is said that the Pythagoreans abstain from sex. [Joseph and the wife of Potiphar?] My own view, on the contrary, is that they married to produce children, and kept sexual pleasure under control thereafter. …. This is why they place a mystic on eating beans, not because they lead to belching, indigestion, and bad dreams, or because a bean has the shape of a human head, as in the line To eat beans is like eating your parents' heads (Orphica, fr. 291 Kern), - but rather because eating beans produces sterility in women. …. Pythagoras advised us to take more pleasure in the Muses than in the Sirens, teaching the practice of all form of wisdom without pleasure. ….
The goal of the Pythagoreans consists therefor not in abstaining from doing certain important things, but rather in practicing of abstinentia from harmful and useless things in order to attain to a better performance in those which are really vital. As in the case with marriage (above), Clement generally disagrees with those who put too much force on self-restriction. He has a good reason for doing this, as we shall see later whilst analyzing Clement's critique of some Gnostic ideas that are closely connected with the Pythagorean problematic. Pythagorean abstinentia should be based on reason and judgment rather than tradition or a rite. Koinwni/a kai) sugge/neia unites not only all mankind, but also all living beings with the gods. …. This alone is a sufficient reason for abstinence from flesh meat. ….
Empedocles, though considered to have lived in the C5th BC and to have nonetheless been the first to have named the four elements, was lagging way behind the Book of Genesis in this supposed achievement of his.
Thus we read at (
Genesis 1:10
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ לַיַּבָּשָׁה֙ אֶ֔רֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵ֥ה הַמַּ֖יִם קָרָ֣א יַמִּ֑ים וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃
wayiqra – elohim – layyabbashah – erets ulemiqweh – hammayim – qara – yammim – wayyareh – elohim – ki+tov
and (he) called – God – to the dry ground – earth and to collection – the waters – (he) called – seas – and (he) saw – God – for+good
The construction of this verse is familiar. See in particular this post on Genesis 1:4 regarding “seeing.”
Genesis 1:10 marks the last time in the creation narrative that God himself names things. Take a look at what he’s named: day and night (in 1:5), sky (in 1:8), earth and sea (here in 1:10). Are these meant to correspond to the four primal elements fire, air, earth, and water? Fire is perhaps a leap from day and night. But if the correspondence is intentional, God is shown to be the creator and fashioner of what was understood to be the substances from which everything else was formed until relatively recent history.
This is a pretty nifty observation, but it presents a small challenge to the historical-grammatical interpretation of Genesis 1.
The problem is that the four primal elements idea is normally attributed to a Greek philosopher by the name of Empedocles who lived in the 5th century B.C. – about 1,000 years after Moses and the traditional date for the recording of Genesis. The Wellhausen hypothesis posits later dates for Genesis but is still 400 years before Empedocles.
We show our Western bias however when we focus on the Greeks. The Egyptians actually had a similar concept …. The Egyptian idea was embodied in a group of deities called the Ogdoad, and the four primordial substances were darkness, air, the waters, and infinity/eternity.
All of this is to say that even from a purely secular standpoint it is not unreasonable to grant that the Greek primal elements concept existed in the Ancient Near East well before the Greeks. ….
[End of quote]
Love him or hate him, Sigmund Freud was well on the right track at least when he considered Empedocles to have been a ‘reincarnation of Moses’.
I think Empedocles’ archetypal personage was indeed Moses. For instance:
( “… there arose in antiquity an interpretation of Moses as a scholar/magician in the classical mould of Pythagoras … and Empedocles”.
Deuteronomy 33:25: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass”.
…. Either they should have such an abundance of these metals, that they could if they would have made their shoes of them; but that is not usual; though it is said of Empedocles (g) the philosopher, that he wore shoes of brass”. ….
Moses had to remove his sandals on the fiery mountain (Exodus 3:5): “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” From the following quote we learn about Empedocles’ sandal on the fiery mountain.
Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and ascended Mount Nebo (Jordan) to gaze on the land he would never reach. …. Empedocles, the ancient Greek philosopher, climbed the active volcano Mount Etna on Sicily and leaped into the flaming crater ….
According to legend, he intended to become an immortal god; the volcano ejected one of his sandals turned to bronze by the heat.
“The character of Empedocles [Hölderlin’s The Death of Empedocles] is in some ways a synthesis of Moses and Aaron: his wisdom and mystical powers of leadership both separate him from the people and lead them to offer him the title of King. The contradiction in this dilemma, however, leads him to spurn the people for their lack of comprehension and ultimately to his own destruction—the plunge into the volcano rather than life in exile”.
How did all of this happen?
We well know that when a story is related to someone else and then passed on from one to another it soon becomes quite changed and different amongst even those living in close time and proximity. How much more (a fortiori) would change occur when incidents and teachings pertaining to ancient peoples were passed down through the centuries and also across the continents!
As I wrote in (
…. The Hebrew wisdom would have filtered through to the Greeks last, only after having passed through pagan Canaanite-Phoenicia (entrepôts such as Ugarit, Byblos and Tyre) in the west, or Babylon in the east, then on to the Ionian Greeks in the north, or south, to Alexandria, and lastly to the mainland Greeks. It later evolved into the more systematised form of philosophy that we know today, though not necessarily even then at the hands of Greeks. For example, the Maccabean Jewish priest, Aristobulus (2 Maccabees 1:10), was supposed to have written a book on philosophy, arguing, for the benefit of the Macedonian ‘Greeks’ – most notably king Ptolemy himself – “that the essentials of Greek philosophy and metaphysics were derived from Jewish sources. Aristobulus maintained that not only the oldest [supposedly] Grecian poets, Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, etc., but also the most celebrated Greek thinkers, especially Plato … had acquired most of their wisdom from Jewish sages and ancient Hebrew texts”.
We westerners have, in our education, been well and truly brainwashed with the notion of ‘Greek genius’:
The subject of Persian or Babylonian influences had been a contentious one in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The subject currently continues to receive attention from several leading scholars, including Walter Burkert, and M.L. West. On the whole, however, the idea has yet to penetrate into mainstream circles, because of a xenophobia which insists on the unique “genius” of the Greeks. ….
Thus we get Pope Francis (probably actually reflecting the thought of his heavily westernized predecessor, Benedict XVI) in his encyclical, “Lumen Fidei”, attributing to Saint Augustine an absorption of Greek philosophy and Neoplatonism:
33. In the life of Saint Augustine we find a significant example of this process whereby reason, with its desire for truth and clarity, was integrated into the horizon of faith and thus gained new understanding. Augustine accepted the Greek philosophy of light, with its insistence on the importance of sight. His encounter with Neoplatonism introduced him to the paradigm of the light which, descending from on high to illumine all reality, is a symbol of God. Augustine thus came to appreciate God’s transcendence and discovered that all things have a certain transparency, that they can reflect God’s goodness. This realization liberated him from his earlier Manichaeism, which had led him to think that good and evil were in constant conflict, confused and intertwined. The realization that God is light provided Augustine with a new direction in life and enabled him to acknowledge his sinfulness and to turn towards the good.

For multiple examples of how the Greeks appropriated Hebrew and other Near Eastern and Mesopotamian culture, visit our Lost Cultural Foundations of Western Civilisation site. There one can read also the contributions of John R. Salverda such as:

Jerusalem’s History as Athenian Myth

Europa Lost

John R. Salverda’s Additions to Sisyphus as Joseph

Scandinavian Legends and the Book of Genesis

Greek Sisyphus and the Patriarch Joseph

Salverda suggests idea of Amazons came from prophetess Miriam and her followers

Pelops as King Ahab
and more.
All this to be considered, though, with the following disclaimer:
[The AMAIC considers the Middle East – West comparisons of John R. Salverda as interesting, with some of them we think being very likely. But we do not necessarily agree with all of the details and identifications].

The Greeks tend to put a whole different slant on eastern thought.
In a hairdresser’s recently I was served by a young male who claimed to be from the city of Babylon, and a Greek (the owner) who listened intently to our conversation about Babylon. How the city has been damaged in recent wars and had much of its wonderful art destroyed.
“Art is the face of the people”, the Babylonian said ruefully.

He also asked:
“Do you know what ‘Babylon’ actually means?”
“Yes, ‘gate of God’.” [Bab-ilu]
“That’s right”.
Then the Greek proudly added his version.
“In Greece, ‘Babylonia’ means ‘to talk too much’.”

Therein, perhaps, lies our problem.

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