Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Church Fathers Were Right About Jewish Origins of Greek Philosophy


Damien F. Mackey



My view that so-called ‘western’ philosophy has its true origins in Hebrew (Jewish) wisdom (חָכְמָה: Chokmah) has led to my writing articles such as the following:


Joseph as Thales: Not an "Hellenic Gotterdamerung" but Israelite Wisdom



Re-Orienting to Zion the History of Ancient Philosophy




Hebrew Foundations of Pythagoras



Dr. Ed (Ewald) Metzler, who has done some important work identifying the influence of Israel’s Davidic dynasty upon Egypt, as I discussed in


House of David



has also written interestingly, regarding Pythagoras and “The Impact of Israel on Western Philosophy” (http://moziani.tripod.com/philosophy/ammm_2_2.htm):


[# 3]

According  to  Hermippus  of Smyrna Pythagoras owed all of his theories to the Jews. ….


[# 4]

Of course, Pythagoras might have gotten his  theorem  somewhere  else, if it were not for his other  teachings,  which  make him look like a man of   weird   idiosyncrasies.10)   However,  the  bond which   ties   his  various  theories  together  is  the fact  that  they  all  refer  to the Tablets of the Law in   the   Holy  of  Holies  of  the  First  Temple  in

Jerusalem, such  as the holiness of the ten spheres (Decalogue), the Tetraktys (Tetragrammaton), and the  so-called  Pythagorean numbers 3, 4, and 5 of the   tablets   and   their  box …. The  Pythagoreans swore  their  holy oath by the Tetraktys, i. e. by the Tetragrammaton Y.H.W.H. or YaHUH (Yahuweh), “by  him  who  has  given  to  our  people  the  Ten Commandments”,   the   ten   boustrophedon   lines (Devarim  “logoi”  or  Sephirot  “spheres”)  of  the Torah  “theoria”  of  Moses,    as  the  Jews  even today   bless  “him  who  has  given  the  Torah  to his  people  Israel.” …. 


In the persecution and scattering of the Pythagoreans after the death of Pythagoras we may have a later reminiscence of the Oppression (after the death of Joseph) and subsequent Exodus of the Israelites.


Clues from the Church Fathers


Some of my inspiration for the above-mentioned philosophical articles arose from a common Patristic view about the pagan Greco-Roman philosophers being, in large part, influenced by the Bible and its Hebrew wisdom and Law. Augustine of Hippo was a notable contributor to this view.  


Augustine of Hippo


Pope Benedict XVI had shown himself to be a great fan of St. Augustine of Hippo - e.g., quoting him regularly in his 2007 Lenten Meeting with the Clergy of Rome - as was Pope John Paul II before him, who, in his Apostolic Letter, ‘Augustine of Hippo’ (1986), wrote that (Ch. IV): “… the aim of [Augustine’s] own study [of Sacred Scripture] … is the entirety of Scripture, so that the true thought, or … the “heart” … of Scripture may be indicated, harmonising it where necessary with itself…”.

Augustine has the reputation of a man of perceptive genius. What I especially take from the saint for the purposes of this article is an often-quoted section of his Chapter 11 from his classic, The City of God, in which Augustine tells how Christian commentators had discerned “conceptions” in the writings of Plato “in which they recognize considerable agreement with the truth of our religion”. This phenomenon had led some (e.g., St. Ambrose) to conclude that Plato had actually heard the prophet Jeremiah when in Egypt:    


Certain partakers with us in the grace of Christ, wonder when they hear and read that Plato had conceptions concerning God, in which they recognize considerable agreement with the truth of our religion.  Some have concluded from this, that when he went to Egypt he had heard the prophet Jeremiah, or, whilst travelling in the same country, had read the prophetic scriptures, which opinion I myself have expressed in certain of my writings. ….


Whilst Augustine himself had cause later to reject this opinion on chronological grounds:


…. 306    De Doctrina Christiana, ii. 43.  Comp. Retract. ii. 4, 2.But a careful calculation of dates, contained in chronological history, shows that Plato was born about a hundred years after the time in which Jeremiah prophesied, and, as he lived eighty-one years, there are found to have been about seventy years from his death to that time when Ptolemy, king of Egypt, requested the prophetic scriptures of the Hebrew people to be sent to him from Judea, and committed them to seventy Hebrews, who also knew the Greek tongue, to be translated and kept.  Therefore, on that voyage of his, Plato could neither have seen Jeremiah, who was dead so long before, nor have read those same scriptures which had not yet been translated into the Greek language, of which he was a master ….


it may be that a properly revised chronology, coupled with an originally Jewish origin of so-called ‘Greek’ philosophers, as according to my articles above, and others, may yet allow for a chronological synchronisation, in Egypt, of the prophet Jeremiah and ‘Plato’.

For instance, if ‘Plato’ turns out to be - as I suspect he must - a younger Jewish contemporary of Jeremiah’s, say a Baruch, who was indeed exiled in Egypt with the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 43:6-7), then the intuition of the Church Fathers may not be chronologically impossible after all. The mysterious name, ‘Plato’, may perhaps derive from the Babylonian element balatu, that a captive Jew might have been named when in Exile. Only later did these Middle and Near Eastern traditions filter into the Greco-Roman world, having become greatly distorted in the meantime. Baruch, moreover, already has an important philosophico-religious eastern identification in Syro-Arabic traditions as the famous Zoroaster (Zarathustra).

If ‘Plato’ were originally a biblical Hebrew (Jew), then Augustine’s following concern that the former could not have grasped non-Greek writing would no longer be relevant:     


… unless, indeed, we say that, as he was most earnest in the pursuit of knowledge, he also studied those writings through an interpreter, as he did those of the Egyptians,—not, indeed, writing a translation of them (the facilities for doing which were only gained even by Ptolemy in return for munificent acts of kindness … 307    Liberating Jewish slaves, and sending gifts to the temple.  See Josephus, Ant. xii. 2.though fear of his kingly authority might have seemed a sufficient motive), but learning as much as he possibly could concerning their contents by means of conversation. 


For Saint Augustine, like other of the Fathers, was struck by the similarities, for instance between early Genesis and Plato’s Timæus:


What warrants this supposition are the opening verses of Genesis:  “In the beginning God made the heaven and earth.  And the earth was invisible, and without order; and darkness was over the abyss:  and the Spirit of God moved over the waters.” …. 308    Gen. i. 1, 2.For in the Timæus, when writing on the formation of the world, he says that God first united earth and fire; from which it is evident that he assigns to fire a place in heaven.  This opinion bears a certain resemblance to the statement, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth.”  Plato next speaks of those two intermediary elements, water and air, by which the other two extremes, namely, earth and fire, were mutually united; from which circumstance he is thought to have so understood the words, “The Spirit of God moved over the waters.”  For, not paying sufficient attention to the designations given by those scriptures to the Spirit of God, he may have thought that the four elements are spoken of in that place, because the air also is called spirit.


309    Spiritus.Then, as to Plato’s saying that the philosopher is a lover of God, nothing shines forth more conspicuously in those sacred writings. 


Even more “striking” for Augustine, however, is the similarity between Plato and the Hebrew Book of Exodus:


But the most striking thing in this connection, and that which most of all inclines me almost to assent to the opinion that Plato was not ignorant of those writings, is the answer which was given to the question elicited from the holy Moses when the words of God were conveyed to him by the angel; for, when he asked what was the name of that God who was commanding him to go and deliver the Hebrew people out of Egypt, this answer was given:  “I am who am; and thou shalt say to the children of Israel, He who is sent me unto you;” …. 310    Ex. iii. 14.as though compared with Him that truly is, because He is unchangeable, those things which have been created mutable are not,—a truth which Plato zealously held, and most diligently commended.  And I know not whether this sentiment is anywhere to be found in the books of those who were before Plato, unless in that book where it is said, “I am who am; and thou shalt say to the children of Israel, who is sent me unto you.”


No wonder, then, that another of the Fathers, St. Clement, had felt compelled to exclaim:


“What is Plato but Moses in Attic Greek!"


(In Stromateis, I, 22).


These and other Fathers were quite correct, I believe, in their original impulses about the rise of philosophy: that Greek philosophy did have its origins in the Jewish scriptures. And, yes, perhaps Plato did encounter the prophet Jeremiah in Egypt, for the conventional dates and biography that are assigned to Plato by the Greco-Romans may not be correct at all.

Moreover, the original Plato may not have been a Greek.

Such God-inspired wisdom could not have, in my opinion, arisen from the pagan Greeks!


Saint Jerome and Book of Tobit


I had, in my:


Similarities to The Odyssey of the Books of Job and Tobit



referred to Saint Jerome’s recognition of the resemblance of Tobit to The Odyssey. Now the prophet Jeremiah (potential inspirer of Plato) may have had a very close connection with my composite Tobias/Job if I am correct in identifying Jeremiah with the young Elihu of the Book of Job:


Does the Prophet Jeremiah Figure in the Book of Job?


Now recurring themes throughout the Book of Job, again, and also in the Book of Jeremiah, is the theme of justice (also the theme of the Pope Benedict’s Lenten address), and righteousness, and it is a dialogue between Job and three friends, with the clever young man in the wings. It all sounds very much like The Republic of Plato!

Other Platonic dialogues deal with virtues such as courage, temperance, love, and so on; all being quite biblical of course.

And it has even been suggested that Plato’s ideal of the Philosopher King - both his merits and his defects - was based on the wise (but later foolish) King Solomon himself. (See: http://apaul-solomonsmind.blogspot.com/2008/01/platos-republic.html). Who else was the wise ‘Athenian’ statesman Solon, anyway, but the great ruler Solomon, the wisest of the wise, but re-cast in Greece, like ‘Plato’ and ‘Socrates’, as an Athenian?

And Solomon was likely Senenmut (Senmut) in Egypt:


Does the Name ‘Senenmut’ Reflect the Hebrew 'Solomon'?



Edwin M. Yamauchi had observed that the laws of Solon were basically the ‘Jewish’ laws of Nehemiah, ("Two reformers compared: Solon of Athens and Nehemiah of Jerusalem," Bible World. New York: KTAV, 1980. pp. 269-292).


Babylonian Exile Universalises Hebrew Wisdom


Just as the powerful Davidic dynasty had become, at least initially, a conduit for Hebrew wisdom to pour into Egypt, so, with the deportation firstly of Israel into Assyria and Media and then of the Jews into Babylon - exiles experienced, respectively, by Tobit and his family, and by wise Jews such as Baruch - the influence of Israel had permeated to the east, to Mesopotamia, to Persia and even eventually to India.

At about this same approximate time, we find there emerging Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, and indeed Socrates, whose original identities are likely to be found in the Hebrew world (e.g. Zoroaster as Baruch).

Israel was probably the breeding ground for each of these philosophico-religious gurus, who themselves can seem sometimes like biblical composites (and hence a bit of a weird, like Pythagoras, mix): e.g.: Zoroaster leads an Exodus and draws water from a rock, like Moses; but also honours sacred fire, like the priests for Nehemiah (2 Maccabees 2:2; cf. 1:20); and he influences the king of Persia, like Daniel.

Buddha also has Moses-like traits, but has as well such striking likenesses to Jesus Christ (e.g. his miracles and parables) that some traditions associated with him must post-date the Gospels.

Invariably, however, the non-Hebrew version is always a ‘whiter shade of pale’ of the vibrant original.

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