Plato and Moses

Plato and Moses August 21, 2014

In his four-volume Court of the Gentiles, published in the mid-seventeenth century, Theophilus Gale aimed to “confirm thee Authoritie, and demonstrate the Perfection, of Sacred Scriptures.” 

His other aim was to refute the Deist idea of natural theology, the notion that theology outside Israel and Christianity took its rise purely from nature: “A farther Designe I have in promoting this hypothesis is to beat down that fond persuasion which has of late crept in among , and been openly avowed by many, too great Admirers-of pagan Philosophie, (especiall thyat of Plato ) as if it were al but the Product of nature’s light.”

He knows he is in a long tradition of Jewish and Christian thought. Aristobulus, a Jew, claims that Plato followed the institutes of the Jews carefully, and this is repeated by Clement and Eusebius. All make the same claim about  make same claim about Pythagoras. Tertullian claims in his Apology that all poets and sophists drawn from prophets.

Gale denies that the notion that Plato borrowed from Jews is a Christian prejudice. Pagan philosophers say the same. Hermippus of Smyrna, who write life of Pythagoras, says that he “transferred many things out of the Jewish Institutions into his own philosophy” and calls him “imitator of Jewish Dogmas.” Gale takes from Grotius the notion that Pythagoras lived among Jews. Numenius is reputed to have said, “What is Plato but Moses Atticizing?” 

Besides, Plato’s own writings show that he borrowed from the Jews regarding God, his nature, worship, creation. Specific Platonic ideas are derived from revelation. His theory of the theory of one and many, according to which all is one in archetypal idea of God and  many in individual natures, might, Gale thinks, relate to plurality of persons and divine essence in the Trinity: “Platonists speak much of a Trinitie.” Whatever they mean by it, the tradition comes from the Scriptures.

Gale thinks that Plato refers to Genesis 1:1-2 in talking about soul and creation and when in the Timaeus he refers to the delight that the creator takes in creation. When Plato refers to a “probable fable,” he means the “Jewish tradition” 

Like Augustine and others, Gale attempts to demonstrate a historical connection between Plato and Jewish sources, arguing that Plato encountered Jews during a sojourn in Egypt. Jewish thought doesn’t appear explicitly in Plato because Plato deliberately covered his dept, because Jews were despised, to gain more glory for himself, to gratify Greeks: “Plato thus discolored and disfigured the habit of his Jewish Traditions, and conceled their original; yet we are not without some evident notices and discoveries, that he owned the Jews, under other Names, as the Authors of them.”

It’s a neat bit of hermeneutics of suspicion, or persecution and the art of writing.

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