Mormonism’s Greek Inheritance: Pre-existence

DMI Dave, one of my favorite bloggers, has recently added a post about how early Christianity wasn’t influenced much by Greek religion. I like Dave, but I disagree with nearly every characterization of Greek religion here, especially the comparison to “fortune cookies,” as well as the thesis that Jews and Christians didn’t participate in Greek culture like drama or the gymnasium (um…Ezekiel the Tragedian? Ps. Phocylides? Theodotus? Philo’s constant references to the gymnasium as well as Paul’s discussion of “shadow boxing” and “crowns” in athletic contests?). Ultimately the only space that he leaves for meaningful contact was in the realm of philosophy. Anyway, my protests in this regard will have to be saved for future posts. For now I want to follow up on my suggestion that Mormonism has inherited several Greek ideas. I recently argued that the Holy Ghost resembles Greek daimons. This is but one aspect.

One of the most interesting overlaps between Mormonism and Greek religio-philosophy is the pre-existence of the soul. Of all of the early Christian writers, only the Platonist Origen is known to have taught the pre-existence of the soul, and he was branded a heretic for it. The reason is that this doctrine is clearly taught by Plato, but one must strain to find evidence of it in either to Old or New Testaments. However, for Mormons we have accepted fully this Platonic doctrine as our own. How do we deal with this inheritance of Greek and not Hebrew or Christian ideas in Mormonism? Does this point to evidence of our willingness to incorporate truth wherever we see it, or does it disrupt the narrative of truth as located solely within the Judeo-Christian heritage?

  • Clark Goble

    When I took my history of Israel class at BYU they talked a lot about the Hellenization of the Jews during the intertestimal period. Apparently there were actually un-circumcicion “operations” done since Jews wished to participate in the gym and that was done naked. When you stop to think about the operation and likely the tools used that says a lot about influence. The gym was also a thorn in the side of those who were anti-hellenization since the gym could be seen from the temple.I think though that the pre-existence of the soul (at least from and LDS perspective) is a non-starter as a parallel. Obviously the “pre-existence” of the soul for Plato and the Greeks wasn’t that of a personal identity “in time.” Rather it was the immortality of the form of the individual. So this is quite unlike LDS notions of pre-mortal life. Although it is undeniable that Platonic views informed Jewish thought.

  • Dave

    Nice post, trashman. It’s always nice when a post sprouts follow-ups at other blogs. I’ll agree that Mormonism inherited a lot of far-flung ideas because of Joseph’s eclecticism. I haven’t read deeply enough on Greek religion to speak with any authority on the topic, but I think the extreme Jewish response to the intense Hellenization program of the second century says a lot: They revolted to preserve the independence and exclusivity of the Jewish religion, and did so successfully.Under the Roman emporers, Christians came under suspicion in much the same way, because they refused (unlike other religious groups in the Empire) to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, and this became a defining test (for both the Romans and for the Christians) of membership in the Christian church. But there was no bar to Greek and Roman philosophical ideas — modes of thinking — being adopted by bishops and other leaders.Those with more background in this area can probably contribute a more detailed discussion, which may very well note some particular practices that were adopted despite Christian antipathy towards Greek and Roman religion.

  • TrailerTrash

    Clark,I think though that the pre-existence of the soul (at least from and LDS perspective) is a non-starter as a parallel. Obviously the “pre-existence” of the soul for Plato and the Greeks wasn’t that of a personal identity “in time.” Rather it was the immortality of the form of the individual. So this is quite unlike LDS notions of pre-mortal life. Although it is undeniable that Platonic views informed Jewish thought.I’m not sure that I agree with your characterization of Plato’s pre-existence of the soul here. In the Phaedrus at least, Plato speaks of the identity of individual souls before birth who “fall” into bodies as they turn away from the immortal realm. Furthermore, his notion of reincarnation requires a view of individual souls. Epicureans like Lucretius argue that there can be no pre-existence of the soul because we don’t remember anything. I think that your characterization here of “Greek” thought represents the Stoic position, but not necessarily the Platonic. Just out of curiousity, if the parallel for LDS pre-existence doctrine isn’t in Greek thought, then where?

  • TrailerTrash

    Hey Dave,Thanks for coming by! I think that the Maccabean rebellion is frequently cited as the locus classicus for the idea that the “Judaism” rejected “Hellenism.” However, I think that this is a mistaken view. As I said before, this isn’t necessarily the topic of this post, but I wanted to briefly respond. A close look at the Maccabean rebellion shows that what was at issue was the stealing of temple funds by Antiochus and the general disapproval of some of the temple leadership. Antiochus responded to the rebellion by trying to humiliate the rebels by forcing them to eat pork, but this isn’t so much a “program” designed to “Hellenize” as it is a stupid retributive reaction to a rebellion. A closer look at Judaism in the Maccabean period shows that they seemed to accept “Hellenism” just fine. They had Greek names. They wrote a letter to the Spartans claiming that they were long lost relatives. The established political ties with Rome. They followed Greek customs of kingship. Most interestingly, they did not restore the deposed High Priest, but continued to keep the new system of buying one’s way. They minted Greek coins. Under thier rule, Jews wrote drama about Jewish stories in Greek verse. Indeed, our sources for this rebellion 1 and 2 Macc are both in Greek. Herod’s temple itself follows many Greek customs for the style of temples, including art and pagan imagery. None of this seemed to cause a stir. As for the gymnasium, this is a more complicated story. The gymnasium was built, but didn’t seem to cause a stir until much later when it was seen in retrospect as a bad idea. A gymnasium was never again built in Jerusalem, but there were gymnasia all accross Judea and Herod built several of them. We don’t have a single complaint about the gymnasia from any other texts except for 2 Macc, which is strange. The DSS, Daniel, Jubilees, all writen in the wake of the Maccabean rebellion, fail to mention it. Indeed, I already pointed to Philo and Paul using imagery from the gymnasium without blinking. Basically, what one can determine about ancient Jews is that they had no problem living around Greeks, speaking Greek, writing their scriptures in Greek, performing Greek drama, styling thier temple after Greek art, minting their money in Greek, learning Greek philosophy, etc. The only thing that they objected to were violations of the temple. That is a pretty limited thing. As for religious practices that the Christians shared with the Greeks, the organization of the church and Christians schools, the sacred meal, speaking in tongues, perhaps baptism, missionary work, etc are all aspects which come from a Greek heritage. They did refuse to sacrifice to other Gods, but again this is a rather limited claim. I think that it is an overstatement to say that Jews and Christians rejected Hellenism and Rome. More accurately, I would say that Jews and Christians lived in the Roman and Greek world, but preserved thier unique identity by protecting thier temple rituals or refusing to participate in the temple rituals of others.

  • Kurthttp://ldsgospeldoctrine.net

    but one must strain to find evidence of it in either to Old or New TestamentsMost of the proof texts are a bit strained, but John 9:2 unambiguously takes pre-existence of the spirit as a matter of fact.

  • Kevin Barney

    You might find my essay on preexistence in the Bible of interest here:http://kevingraham.org/jp3.pdf

  • TrailerTrash

    Kevin,Thanks for posting this essay! It is very useful and I recommend it to our readers. I think, however, that your treatment of the extra-biblical literature is a bit fast-and-loose, so to speak. For example, it is not clear at all that many of those texts the souls of humans are meant rather than the heavenly hosts of beings. Additionally, the readings of certain texts like GThomas and other NHL material seems weak to me. I acknowledge that this is a short essay, but these texts deserve more than one sentence of exegetical work. As for your overall thesis that the biblical material is neutral, but that the idea of the pre-existence comes from polygenesis, I am not sure that I understand what is at stake in positing an independent origin for this doctrine rather than admitting its Greek antecedents.

  • TrailerTrash

    Kurt,The difficultly with the text you site is of course that Jesus’ answer to the question complicates the issue of whether or not he beleives in a pre-existence. As for the reading of the passage, Kevin’s paper does a nice job of outlining the options (pp. 17-18).

  • Kurthttp://ldsgospeldoctrine.net

    I have a tough time with the “they were talking about sinning in the womb” thing. The notion of pre-existence of the spirit is accepted and commonplace in Judaism, the discussion of the guf/gup/guph “Hall of Souls” is in the Talmud, so it isnt some fringe doctrine. Granted, it would probably be difficult to date how far back the tradition went before it ended up in teh Talmud, but it would be equally difficult to trace how far back the “baby sinning in the womb” thing goes as well, and I dont have the AB commentary on John laying around to check its source. I have an easier time reading Jesus’ comments in the light of a well-documented, well-known Talmudic tradition than choosing some obscure reading.

  • TrailerTrash

    Kurt,Two quick comments. As I mentioned, even if you are right that the question presupposes premortal existence, Jesus’s answer can be read to go against this teaching. Additionally, even if it can be shown to be a teaching that was “commonplace” in Judaism, this still doesn’t contradict my suggestion that its roots are in Hellenism.

  • Jared E.http://www.therockyshore.com

    Kevin,I enjoyed the article you wrote, but I have one complaint. Whenever referencing Mormon writers, you never identify them. I can only think of one reason for this: these Mormon writers are general authorities and you don’t want to directly criticize them… Is that right? Would you mind filling in the blanks as to who these ‘writers’ were?

  • Clark Goble

    Furthermore, his notion of reincarnation requires a view of individual souls. The issue is what is a soul for Plato and what does its immorality mean? Soul for Plato is radically different from what a soul for a Mormon is. Further our notion of pre-existence is a temporal one whereas for Plato it’s a kind of timeless existence more akin to universals like mathematical objects. (Although clearly for the neoPlatonists there’s a difference between Ideals or Intellectuation and Soul/Spirit)

  • TrailerTrash

    Clark,I think that these issues are less settled in Plato than you are arguing, partially because he seems to take different positions on the soul in different texts as he is responding to different problems. The text that I am working from is mostly the Phaedrus in his analogy of the soul to a charioteer and two horses. In any case, I agree that Mormon pre-mortal existence is not precisely the same, but not because it is in “time” (since any account of the “fall” of the soul must be in time), but because there is a different account of how souls came to inhabit bodies. How are you conceiving of the Platonic soul and where do you see the differences with the Mormon soul?

  • Pingback: LDS Spirit Preexistence in John 9:2? « Heart Issues for LDS

  • Qumran

    Interesting standpoint.

    However, Mormon metaphysics require that Mormons adopt a completely alternate view than the Platonism and NeoPlatonism offered by Origen. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence in the Apocalypse of Enoch for pre-existent states of material souls to account for Early Christian and current Mormon views of pre-existence. A good rule of thumb: if it is Hellenic, even if it “overlaps”, it isn’t the source of Mormon thought.

  • Qumran

    consider Philosophy and Early Christianity. Graham, Daniel W.; Siebach, James L. http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=11&num=2&id=321

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Qumran,
    Thanks for your comments. The view you offer is precisely the one that I am attempting to counter. While you suggest that the Apocalypse of Enoch (a text written well into the Hellenistic period) provides evidence of a non-Greek notion of pre-existent souls, I am extremely wary of this sort of false dichotomy between Greek and Jewish. For me, it is like trying to argue that Mormon and American are two irreconcilable sociological categories. Rather, there is a great deal of what it means to be American wrapped up in the idea of Mormonism. The same is true for ancient Jewish literature.
    Finally, I am not sure what the allergy to Hellenism is all about in Mormonism. Don’t we believe that truths are found in all cultures and at all times?

  • Qumran

    TT,
    1 and 2 Enoch are genrally accepted to have been written with virtually no Hellenic influence whatsoever. Those retreating to the wilderness were also retreating from what they viewed at the adulteration of their ancient near eastern tradition by Greek philosophy. The perponderance of scholarly evidence suggests that the Jewish and Early Christian views of God entail a material, embodied God (as does Mormonism). Pertaining especially to preexistence, consider Winston’s “Preexistence in Hellenic, Judaic and Mormon Studies” from “Reflections on Mormonism…” edited by Truman G. Madsen. For the broader topic of Hellenization and its impasses with Mormon metaphysics, Farms Review of Books, Volume 11, Issue 2 is full of excellent dialogue.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Qumran, I would strongly disagree with your characterization of the cultural background that influences Enochic literature. Part of the reason is that your reasoning is completely circular. You start with the assumption that 1 and 2 Enoch are not Hellenistic, and then argue that the pre-existence of souls is not Hellenistic. I am afraid that is not a convincing argument.

    In the last few decades since Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism the conflict model of portraying the relationship between Judaism and Hellenism has been problematized. Rather than seeing these two forces as locked in a zero sum game, scholars have increasingly seen nuance and subtlty. There has been a good deal of work showing how even those classically “Jewish” texts and movements like the Maccabbees, Qumran texts, and Rabbinic Judaism belong to the broader Hellenistic culture. People like Eric Gruen, Seth Schwarts, Tessa Rajak and Shaye Cohen have been influential in this paradigm shift.

    As it regards Mormonism and Hellenism, Noel Reynold’s introduction to Christians in Disarray gets at the problem in part, though many of the essays that follow fall into the same old conflict model of Hellenism vs. Judaism.

  • Qumran

    TT,
    I hope I haven’t misstated my argument. Certainly you would agree, if 1 and 2 Enoch and accompanying apocalyptic literature was written by groups in strong reaction to the Hellenization of Jewish thought, then any occurrence of premortal existence found in that apocalyptic literature would be independent from the Platonist counterpart.

    It appears our disagreement is about the philosophy of the Essenes. If they were hellenized, then any idea of premotal existence taken from them would probably be an extension of Plato’s. However, if the Essenes were not Hellenized–in terms on thought–then reason demands their view of premortality (which we both agrees is clearly found there) would be an alternative to the Greek notion of preexistence. It is my intention to show that Near Eastern thought was very different from Greek thought, the Essenes maintained that school of thought along with the early Christians, and eventually Neo-Platonism persuaded the early Church Fathers to adopt Greek metaphysics. This departure caused many of Classical Christian to balk at Joseph Smith’s doctrines as heresy–which are more ancient near eastern than classical. This departure from historic thought by the Early Church Fathers (and also the departure of the Jews) resulted in blatant contrast between the Ancient Near Eastern God and the God of the Creeds.

    Consider for a moment the God of apocalyptic literature. He is heavily anthropomorphized. He is capable of emotions, both positive and negative. He is described as embodied. In apocalyptic literature (especially 2 Enoch) there are undeniable references to pre-existence. This is all in line with earlier Hebrew thought.

    The God of the Early Church Fathers and creeds, which I assert was a product of Neo-Platonism interacting with the church, was deemed immutable, of a completely different ontological nature than man, impassible in the purest sense, a se, unembodied, and outside of space and time in the eternal now. He is completely simple, capable of only his original and all encompassing act, thinking only his one perfected thought. Pre-existence remained for a time in the creedal church, but eventually disappeared.

    If my characterization is correct, there is no denying the similarities between this and Greek metaphysics. In fact, Augustine makes no apologies for this. He says in his Confession, that before becoming a Christian, he found what he read in the Gospel of John to be the exact thing he read from Plato, just in different wording.

    The God of Mormonism, as I understand it, is embodied, shares in positive and negative emotions (sometimes affected by our moral decisions), and exists within time and space as a necessary attribute of being embodied. Likewise, Mormon preexistence doctrines are more similar to Enochian than to Platonic doctrines.

    Scholarship has yet to part ways with the same old paradigm of Judaism vs. Hellenism, and I believe there is good reason to stick to it. I am interested to look at Gruen and company, but as it stands now I remain convinced Jewish thought before Seleucid reign was very different from Greek philosophy, though it eventually accepted it, Philo being one of the very first. I have argued that Prehellenic Jewish thought had ideas of premortality all its own.

    Philo, a hellenized Jew, taught a preexistence from his reading of Plato. However, Winston has shown “[the Mormon idea of preexistence] is completely incongruous with Philo’s entire approach” because Platonic notions see embodiment of the soul as a negative thing (33-34). Furthermore, Winston sees the ideas as similar in their being a moral testing, but says, “the Platonist version involves a theory either of Logos or of a world-soul which would be foreign to Mormonism”(34).

    To conclude, it seems very obvious to me that the prehellenized near-eastern God and ideas of preexistence were traded for Hellenized notions of God and preexistence in both Judaism and Christianity after much of the apocalyptic literature was written. Mormonism’s explanations of God and preexistence both resemble the near-eastern rendering of Essenes and Early Christians and differ from the Greek explanations. This coincidence has led Harold Bloom, who wrote The American Religion, to say “I can only attribute to his (Joseph Smith’s) genius or daemons his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy, that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly.” Why else would Mormons be so excited about Dead Sea Scrolls, Essenes, and Ugaritic Tablets?

    Thank you for your ear. I grant that my argument relies entirely on who was hellenized and when. I believe I have agreed with the majority of scholarship on the matter (especially Mormon scholarship) but allow everyone their own opinion.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Qumran,
    Thanks so much for engaging on this issue. I think it is important, and I hope that we can come to a mutual understanding.

    “Certainly you would agree, if 1 and 2 Enoch and accompanying apocalyptic literature was written by groups in strong reaction to the Hellenization of Jewish thought, then any occurrence of premortal existence found in that apocalyptic literature would be independent from the Platonist counterpart.”

    Actually, I would not agree with this at all. This is the “conflict model” that I referred to before. The assumption here is that if a group is in political and cultural opposition to another, all of the things that they do and believe must be in opposition. In reality, the world is more complex and cultural interactions much more rich. Instead, what is called for is a more careful analysis.

    “It appears our disagreement is about the philosophy of the Essenes. If they were hellenized, then any idea of premotal existence taken from them would probably be an extension of Plato’s. However, if the Essenes were not Hellenized–in terms on thought–then reason demands their view of premortality (which we both agrees is clearly found there) would be an alternative to the Greek notion of preexistence.”

    Again, I think that this either/or dichotomy is part of the problem. This analytic framework is simply incapable of accounting for nuance. What this framework does is force one to make the assumptions that you are making here, that if the Enochic lterature comes from an environment that sees itself as in opposition to Hellenism, then nothing it believes in can possibly be related. (Just as a side note, I am not sure that the Enochic texts were written by the Essene community, though they appear to have used them).

    This raises a separate problem that the terms “Hellenism” and “Judaism” are left undefined, as if we know what they are. These categories then get populated with just the things that we see as in opposition.

    “It is my intention to show that Near Eastern thought was very different from Greek thought, the Essenes maintained that school of thought along with the early Christians, and eventually Neo-Platonism persuaded the early Church Fathers to adopt Greek metaphysics.”

    This is all perfectly fine, but the Essenes belong to the Greco-Roman world, as do the early Christians. This topic is too broad to cover in a short post, but suffice it to say that just as the Hellenism/Judaism dichotomy has become problematized, the early Christian/Hellenism dichotomy doesn’t hold up either. This shift began with the History of Religions school at the beginning of the last century, and in the next generation Diessmann was one of the first to really demonstrate the Greco-Roman context of early Christianity.

    “This departure caused many of Classical Christian to balk at Joseph Smith’s doctrines as heresy–which are more ancient near eastern than classical. This departure from historic thought by the Early Church Fathers (and also the departure of the Jews) resulted in blatant contrast between the Ancient Near Eastern God and the God of the Creeds.”

    This narrative of early Christian history has been around since the Reformation, and was popularized by F.C. Bauer in the 19th c. Mormons have adopted it. The problem is that it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Again, the world is just more complex and cultures are braided in all sorts of ways.

    “Consider for a moment the God of apocalyptic literature. He is heavily anthropomorphized. He is capable of emotions, both positive and negative. He is described as embodied. In apocalyptic literature (especially 2 Enoch) there are undeniable references to pre-existence. This is all in line with earlier Hebrew thought.”

    I think that this is an overgeneralization about apocalyptic literature, and requires a close study about which texts you are putting into this category.

    “The God of the Early Church Fathers and creeds, which I assert was a product of Neo-Platonism interacting with the church, was deemed immutable, of a completely different ontological nature than man, impassible in the purest sense, a se, unembodied, and outside of space and time in the eternal now. He is completely simple, capable of only his original and all encompassing act, thinking only his one perfected thought. Pre-existence remained for a time in the creedal church, but eventually disappeared.”

    Well, neo-Platonism comes a little later that the second and third century thinkers. For some, Platonism is influential, but Stoicism is more influential in the second century. I think that another unfounded assumption here has to do with “the church” as being consistent and unified. Actually, the best evidence shows that pre-existence enters into theological reflection only sporadically and without any real theological importance until Origen.

    “If my characterization is correct, there is no denying the similarities between this and Greek metaphysics. In fact, Augustine makes no apologies for this. He says in his Confession, that before becoming a Christian, he found what he read in the Gospel of John to be the exact thing he read from Plato, just in different wording.”

    Of course everyone knows that Greek philosophical thought becomes increasingly important in articulating Christian theology. This, however, is not the same thing as saying that prior to this period Hellenism was completely absent from early Christianity. Certainly Hellenism is more than just Platonism, and Hellenistic ideas about God are much more rich and complex. Further, the restriction of the inquiry into Hellenistic influence to notions of God and a few other limited ideas is bound to produce an overly simple picture.

    “The God of Mormonism, as I understand it, is embodied, shares in positive and negative emotions (sometimes affected by our moral decisions), and exists within time and space as a necessary attribute of being embodied. Likewise, Mormon preexistence doctrines are more similar to Enochian than to Platonic doctrines.
    Scholarship has yet to part ways with the same old paradigm of Judaism vs. Hellenism, and I believe there is good reason to stick to it. I am interested to look at Gruen and company, but as it stands now I remain convinced Jewish thought before Seleucid reign was very different from Greek philosophy, though it eventually accepted it, Philo being one of the very first. I have argued that Prehellenic Jewish thought had ideas of premortality all its own.
    Philo, a hellenized Jew, taught a preexistence from his reading of Plato. However, Winston has shown “[the Mormon idea of preexistence] is completely incongruous with Philo’s entire approach” because Platonic notions see embodiment of the soul as a negative thing (33-34). Furthermore, Winston sees the ideas as similar in their being a moral testing, but says, “the Platonist version involves a theory either of Logos or of a world-soul which would be foreign to Mormonism”(34).”

    Well, I would dispute a number of the statements made here. While there is some room for disagreement with teh scope of the new paradigm, all recent scholarship in this field takes it for granted. No new book would dare to naively make the same Judaism/Hellenism divide that was taken for granted 20 years ago. I would also strongly disagree with your statement that Philo was one of the first Hellenized Jews, since I think that this history is much more complex. I mention a bunch of pre-Philo figures who are deep into Greek philosophical and literary culture in the original post.

    Again, saying that LDS notions of pre-existence differ in some ways from Platonic notions (or even Philonic notions, which are not strictly Platonic because he doesn’t accept reincarnation) does not prove its notions do not derive historically from Hellenistic notions. What we see even in Hellenism is a wide variety of different kinds of ideas about pre-existence. There are clearly a variety of views of pre-existence, and these are going to adapt to different cultural, theological, and historical contexts. I think that when we get to Mormon notions of lots of things, not just pre-existence, we are going to find serious discrepancies in antiquity.

    “To conclude, it seems very obvious to me that the prehellenized near-eastern God and ideas of preexistence were traded for Hellenized notions of God and preexistence in both Judaism and Christianity after much of the apocalyptic literature was written. Mormonism’s explanations of God and preexistence both resemble the near-eastern rendering of Essenes and Early Christians and differ from the Greek explanations. This coincidence has led Harold Bloom, who wrote The American Religion, to say “I can only attribute to his (Joseph Smith’s) genius or daemons his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy, that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly.” Why else would Mormons be so excited about Dead Sea Scrolls, Essenes, and Ugaritic Tablets?”

    Well, Bloom is also writing before people really began to complexify this period and the assumptions about cultural difference that were operative in the scholarship. But, it is not his field either.

    “Thank you for your ear. I grant that my argument relies entirely on who was hellenized and when. I believe I have agreed with the majority of scholarship on the matter (especially Mormon scholarship) but allow everyone their own opinion.”

    As I have said, I think that Mormon scholarship is largely reliant on out-dated scholarship, and much of the Mormon scholarship you are citing is several decades old as well. As we have been able to better understand this period, and bring more sophisticated cultural and historical models, our understanding of Mormonism must also progress. The Reynolds essay I mentioned above points in this direction, and as we get more scholars who are knowledgable about this material and can grapple with the new directions in the field, we’ll be able to get a better understanding of ourselves.

    FWIW, Terryl Givens’ book about the pre-existence should be out soon. It is a survey of this theme in Western culture from Ancient Near Eastern texts up to the present. I have seen an early draft of this book and it looks great. While I think that as a survey it lacks some of the historical method that makes sense of the persistence of this theme, it at least offers a more nuanced view of the idea than we have seen. I think that it will be an important contribution not just to Mormons, but more generally as well.

  • bystander

    TT,

    Based upon this and other posts I am becoming increasingly curious about what your field of research is and what your graduate program offers in terms of training. You move gracefully among Near Eastern studies, Hebrew Bible, NT, Classical languages, ancient (Greek) Philosophy, Ancient Christianity, Patristics, Literary Criticism, History of Religions, Mormon Studies, and more. Your scope impresses and your readership envies. Come now, unless you are actually a re-animated 19th century German philologist who happens to be up-to-date on 20/21st century scholarship with modern training in interdisciplinary studies I simply can’t believe that you are disciplined in all of these fields!

    Don’t out yourself but please do tell what manner of training your program entails and what do you consider your area(s) of expertise. What did you do your undergraduate studies in? Are you currently engaged in an MA or a PhD program? Have you stockpiled a series of MAs along the way to the PhD, as is the custom these days? You will have to agree that as a reader I must exhaust all means in my attempt to sympathetically determine how to read a text and since I can directly access you, the author, do tell us a bit about yourself as context for all these many posts.

    Thanks, TT. I anxiously await your reply via comment/post or email.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    You should see me when I talk about my actual specialty: VCR repairmanship!

  • g.wesley

    tt,

    i would also be interested in some context to better understand where you’re coming from.

    you may recall that i submitted to such a request for some autobiography once upon a time.

    this post and your recent comments thereon regarding the hellenization of second temple judaism and earliest christianity seem to me not incogruent with what i was trying to say when we were discussing the nt studies island.

    thanks

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Yes, exactly who is this masked man?

  • Qumran

    TT,

    I have numbered my responses to your responses

    1. I am sad to see you wouldn’t agree with my conditional. If there exists a concept of preexistence independent of Greek thought, then this concept is just as suitable an origin of the Mormon idea as any. I understand you don’t believe there exists such an independent idea (despite my pointed to Enoch), but to simply discount it as the conflict model won’t do. If the conditional is true, there is a kind of conflict model; If it is not, there is no conflict model…to that we should agree. It appears to me that you have argued there cannot exist any thought independent of Greek philosophy in Israel during the second temple period while I have argued there can.

    You will also notice I restricted my argument to the “Hellenization of Jewish thought”. Your objections infer I have painted a conflict model using “political and cultural opposition”. I have not. I admit the Platonization of Judaism and Christianity, only I assert that both existed independently first (hardly an audacious claim)—Judaism at very least in an Enochic pocket and Christianity until the loss of the apostles.

    2. I have presented Enochic Judaism as a more reasonable root for the doctrine of preexistence than Platonism. Both sources evidence preexistence. The Enoch texts themselves are the only evidence necessary to show the thought of some Jews was not yet Platonized. The scholar is hard pressed to show any evidence of Platonization of these Enochic Jew’s philosophy. (I do admit I made an inappropriate jump to the Essene community here, my thanks to TT for the correction).

    Again, you’ll notice I employed Hellenization only in context of thought. When I say Hellenization I mostly mean middle Platonism (thanks again to TT for the correction) which I see as an amalgam of earlier Greek metaphysics and a loose term in itself.

    3. Before Hellenization, did Jewish thought not exist? It is clear that Jewish thought became Hellenized despite its best efforts. However, the more stubborn Jewish groups and the early Christians remained free of Hellenized thought. It was later that they succumbed to the most tempting aspects of Greek metaphysics (I would submit after loss of apostolic authority). I would argue that the very active Openness movement (Clark Pinnock, Gordon Olson, Winkie Pratney, Richard Rice, Gregory Boyd, Thomas Jay Oord, John E. Sanders, C. Peter Wagner, William Hasker, David Basinger) and Process movement (too many to name) have both held recently with respect that Classical Christian omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability are actually holdovers from this Platonic infusion. I believe this is still the scholarly consensus and represents the overwhelming majority for Mormon theologians. Like you concede, it is impossible to deny the importance of Greek philosophy to the Early Church Fathers.

    4. I am interested to see evidence of Middle or Neoplatonism finding its way into the gospel before the first century CE—anything finding its way in after that I would expect. Again, I have offered evidence of at least one group of non-Platonized Jews with accompanying textual evidence. 1 and 2 Enoch stand independent of Greek metaphysics.

    5. I stand by my generalizations of the God of Apocalyptic literature and contrasting God of the Early Church Fathers and creeds. Allow me to reduce Apocalyptic to be 1 and 2 Enoch for the sake of my argument. Searching these two texts reveals only a miniscule amount of Greek metaphysics found therein, which are attributed almost unanimously to later resencions.

    6. Yes, Neoplatonism influenced Augustine and Plotinus while Middle Platonism affected Origen, Clement, and Philo.

    7. Again, for the sake of my argument, Hellenization can be replaced with Middle-Platonic and later Neoplatonic influence of Jewish thought.

    8. Why is the Enochic version of preexistence any less possible a root than Plato’s? To simply assume Plato had a hand in everything that looks something like his philosophy in Second Temple Judaism isn’t satisfactory.

    Mormonism’s model of dispensations fits much better with an independent Jewish preexistence than it does with deriving it from Plato. Abraham taught it well before Plato did. If it was evident with Abraham, Moses, Christ, and now, why should we expect it to find root in Plato?

    Maybe we have disagreed simply because we understood “Hellenization” to mean different things.

    If there is Hellenization (Middle-Platonism thought for my argument) in 1 and 2 Enoch, I would stand rebutted… I’m either stupid or stubborn, but not much else could change my mind, hehe.

  • Qumran

    TT,

    Please forgive the tone of my previous post. I should have given you the same cordiality you showed me. Attribute this mistake to my inexperience.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Qumran, no need to ask for forgiveness. I haven’t taken offense at anything you’ve said. You will, however, have to forgive me. It may be a while before I can dedicate the necessary time to properly respond. I have been far to distracted with blogging lately, and some deadlines are creeping up. Please give me a week or two.