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Post Were the Greek Philosophers Aware of the Jewish Bible?
Created by John Eipper on 07/15/12 10:50 PM

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Were the Greek Philosophers Aware of the Jewish Bible? (Alain de Benoist, France, 07/15/12 10:50 pm)

Vincent Littrell wrote on 12 July:

"In the Aggadah, Socrates was said to have been the disciple of Ahithophel, the adviser to King David (Moses Isserles, Torat ha-Olah 1:11, quoting an old source)."

Which "old source"? Any proof for this claim?

Vincent also wrote: "The Jewish Hellenistic philosopher, Aristobulus of Paneas, who lived in the first half of the second century BCE [...], is reported to have claimed that portions of the Pentateuch had been rendered into Greek before it was translated in its entirety ... and that these portions reached Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, and formed the basis of their philosophical teachings. In developing their philosophical systems, these Greek philosophers were influenced by the biblical account of creation."

Really? Any proof for this "claim" supposedly made by Aristobulus?

Also, "We also find that Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.E. - 50 C.E.), a Jewish thinker and author of an elaborate synthesis of Jewish religious thought and Greek philosophy, put Moses forward as the teacher of Pythagoras and of all Greek philosophers and law-givers. (Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987, vol. 1, p. 349)."

Mircea Eliade reports this assertion, but of course does not support it. Philo Judaeus, actually Philo of Alexandria, did not know Hebrew and was deeply influenced by the Greek philosophers (he is usually described as a "Platonizer"). Once again, any proof of this?

Commenting Vincent's post, John Eipper asked: "Is it commonly accepted that the ancient Greek philosophers were aware of the Jewish Bible?"

Good question, to which there is an easy answer. Outside cult circles, no specialist in the history of religions has ever believed such fairy tales.

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  • Were the Greek Philosophers Aware of the Jewish Bible? (Vincent Littrell, USA 07/16/12 11:51 PM)
    Regarding John Eipper's question on whether or not Greek philosophers were aware of the Jewish Bible, Alain de Benoist replied on 15 July, "Outside cult circles, no specialist in the history of religions has ever believed such fairy tales."

    I'm not so sure. Curiously, Alain seems to imply that my quotes were created by me; did I read him incorrectly? Those quotes were pulled from an edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, which I did cite as extracted from a letter of the research department at the headquarters of the Baha'i Faith. If I may borrow from a recent post of Istvan Simon, I'll say the obvious in that I'm not a scholar of ancient Judaism, and WAIS is not a formal scholarly journal and therefore doesn't require such depth of specialty to credibly discuss an issue.

    I think it safe to assume, however, that contributors to the Encyclopaedia Judaica edition I quoted from are/were experts in the history of Judaism, and didn't travel in "cult circles." As I'm not going to attempt to delve into the reasons the quotes I presented were included in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, or try to go into the original sourcing of those particular quotes. All I can say is that, as I stated in my previous post, they point to the possibility of Greek philosophers being aware of the Jewish Bible. Far from being "fairy tales," this seems entirely plausible, especially in light of Baha'i scriptural commentary and Islamic scholarly sourcing (which Alain didn't mention) on the subject, as well as the above-mentioned quotes from the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

    Geographically, it seems reasonable that at least some Greeks could have traveled to Israel at the time when Mosaic civilization was at its height. It is my understanding that ancient Israel at points in its history had a reputation for being a source of wisdom. It might be that the sages of Mosaic civilization were respected by the ancient Greeks and Sassanids of ancient Persia. Socrates and/or other Greek "seekers of truth," being students of wisdom, might have wanted to get exposure to the thinking of the ancient Israelites. In line with Alain's ignoring the Islamic scholarly sourcing of the idea that the Greeks were aware of Jewish thought, Western ignoring/ignorance of Islamic scholarship on the history of religions is indicated as a problematic by Muslim scholars. Major figures in the field of Islamic philosophy like Seyyed Hossain Nasr point to a significant gap between secularized Western scholarship and Islamic-world scholarship on the history of religions, philosophy and spirituality. Nasr uses descriptives like "prophetic philosophy" when referring to the ancient Greeks, in my view linking the Greeks not only to Jewish thought but to the Zoroastrians as well. (I remember that Mary Boyce, considered by some to be the leading scholar of Zoroastrianism in the West, alludes to the possibility of an ancient Zoroastrian/Greek connection.)

    In my view there are definitely bridges to be gapped regarding the linkages between revelational history and ancient philosophy--Persian, Greek, Egyptian, etc. Western scholars and thinkers like Henry Corbin, Alessandro Bausani and Frithof Schuon, whom I've noted in this Forum before, as well as possibly Mircea Eliade, have well begun this process. With this it is not surprising to me that Alain would attack any work with Mircea Eliade's name on it, due to the latter's connection with "Perennial Philosophy" (basically the study and analysis of religious esotericism and mysticism). For those who delve into the history of religious esotericism as I do however, Eliade's name comes up often. Also, is it possible Alain might have a more personal reason to attempt to discredit Eliade's work, being that Eliade was once in line with Alain's thought but clearly went into another direction? Going from connection to Alain's thought to a scholar of Perennial Philosophy is a dramatic shift indeed, one might say "from one end of the spectrum to the other."

    Shifting gears a little bit, I think all of this brings up an interesting aspect to religious study which was hinted at in parallel by John Eipper in his comment about a Christian pointing to the Incas as having paved the way for Christianity. Some students of the history of divine revelation point to the idea that revelation clears up misconceptions of the past. For example, the Qur'an is seen by Muslim scholars to correct misconceptions Christians had about the history of Christianity and Judaism. Baha'i scholars view revelation in the same light, in that the Baha'i scripture not only presents views of Judaic and Christian history not always in line with current understandings of Jewish and Christian scholars about their own faiths, but of Islam as well. I've been reading the Spring 2012 edition of The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, in which there is an interesting essay by Michael Graves (Wheaton College), titled "Apocryphal Elements in the New Testament and the Qur'an." Regarding Muslim views to Christian distortion of Christian history, Graves states, "From a Muslim standpoint, the solution to the problem of distortion is that the Qur'an serves as the standard by which earlier revelation can be evaluated" (p. 164). Baha'is have a similar view to their scripture as setting a standard that transcends, "learning current amongst men." I know in WAIS thinkers like Alain de Benoist and secularized scholars who don't take seriously the concept of divine revelation, might deprecate such thinking. But increasing numbers of religionists and scholars in the ecumenical community do look at this issue and see the value divine revelation or inspiration might very well have in examining religious history.

    JE comments:  In March 2010, in our "longest books" discussion, Alain de Benoist mentioned reading Mircea Eliade as a youth.  To my knowledge, however, we've never discussed Eliade's work.  Perhaps it's time.
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    • Mircea Eliade (Alain de Benoist, France 07/18/12 2:21 AM)
      Vincent Littrell (17 July) wrote: "It is not surprising to me that Alain de Benoist would attack any work with Mircea Eliade's name on it, due to the latter's connection with 'Perennial Philosophy' (basically the study and analysis of religious esotericism and mysticism). For those who delve into the history of religious esotericism as I do however, Eliade's name comes up often. Also, is it possible Alain might have a more personal reason to attempt to discredit Eliade's work."

      I am extremely surprised by these words. I never "attacked" Mircea Eliade's views nor attempted to "discredit Eliade's work," neither on WAIS nor elsewhere. To the contrary, outside of this Forum, I have always expressed deep admiration for his studies in the field of history of religions. Here, there is clearly some kind of misunderstanding.

      Not only I appreciate Eliade's work, but Mircea Eliade was a close friend of mine until his death. While he worked at the University of Chicago, he had also a small apartment in Paris (near Montmartre) where I used to meet him regularly. I was delighted by our long conversations about religions and history of ideas. Eliade was a real gentleman and had an extraordinary deep knowledge of religious affairs. I have all his books in my library, including his novels and his memoires. I am still a subscriber to the journal of which he was the founder, History of Religions, published at Chicago.

      In his Romanian youth, Mircea Eliade had sympathy for the fascist Legionary Movement founded by Corneliu Codreanu, but he quickly took his distance from any political commitment.

      I know also and have read with great interest the books written by Henry Corbin and Frithjof Schuon, whose names are quoted by Vincent, and also by René Guénon, who converted to Islam at the end of his life. They were exponents of different kinds of anti-modern "traditionalism" and "perennial philosophy" (which certainly cannot be reduced to the "study and analysis of religious esotericism and mysticism"). In the same direction, other names like Titus Burckhardt or Ananda Coomaraswamy could be quoted too.

      None of these people, however, ever supported the extravagant thesis of the Greek philosophers having been inspired by the Bible.

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      • Mircea Eliade (Vincent Littrell, USA 07/21/12 3:49 AM)
        In response to Alain de Benoist's post of 18 July, I stand corrected on Alain's relationship to Mircea Eliade. I did interpret Alain's comment, "Mircea Eliade reports this assertion, but of course does not support it" as an attack, as I thought Alain was saying as a matter of course that Eliade doesn't support his own assertions in his own scholarship. On reconsidering, I see he meant that Eliade didn't support the assertion in the book he was editing.

        Regarding the idea that the ancient Greeks were influenced by the Jewish Bible, I still stand by that concept's plausibility. Adding to my previous mention of Baha'i, Islamic and Encyclopaedia Judaica sources, here are some other hints at the possibility:

        Diogenes Laertius is said to have discussed Pythagoras, also having visited Judea (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras ).

        Algis Uzdaviny's The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy has a few brief mentions drawing on Porphyry, Iamblichus and Numenius of Apamea. Uzdaviny also states, "Contrary to the prevalent view of modern historians of science and philosophy, the ancient Hellenes considered themselves to be students of the much older Oriental civilizations" (p. xvii). Regarding pre-Pythagorean philosophers whom the ancient Greeks drew from, Uzdaviny states:

        "The philosophos wandered across the Mediterranean Sea, Assyria, Egypt, and their practical wisdom (sophia or hikma) applied at every level of existence--was based on the ancient cosmological, theurigical, medical and mythological traditions of the Near East. They were true forerunners of the later Pythagorean brotherhoods." (p. xviii)

        Regarding Numenius of Apamea, Uzdaviny states:

        "Numenius of Apamea urged the rediscovery of the sacred paths of Platonism and early Pythagoreanism, which he traced back to the doctrines and rituals of the ancient Near East. Through a Pythagoreanizing allegorical exegesis he tried to reestablish a sort of primordeal philosophia perennis regarded as the common wisdom of the Chaldean, Egyptian, Phoenician, Jewish and Indian sages." (p. xix) Uzdaviny later links Hebrew sources to Pythagorean thought by mention of Solomon along with Hermes (p. xxvii).

        With Uzdaviny's presentation of excerpts from Porphyry's The Life of Pythagoras we find, "Then Pythagoras visited the Egyptians, the Arabians, the Chaldeans and the Hebrews..." (p. 9) Linking to the idea of prophetic religion on the ancient Greeks other than the Judaic, Porphyry also discussed Pythagoras's learning from the "Magi" of Zoroastrianism (p. 11).

        Uzdaviny also presents excerpts from Iamblichus's On The Pythagorean Life, in which we find mention of Pythagoras being at Tyre and Sidon and spending time at Mt. Carmel, all on the then Phoenician coast. One must wonder what the relationship between Phoenicians and the Hebrews at that time was. I'm going to speculate that Hebrews and Phoenicians did interact at the philosophical level. Iamblichus comments that Pythagoras "conversed with prophets who were descendents of Moschus the physiologist." (p. 16) Moschus (or Mochus) is said to be mentioned in Josephus' history (i.e. an ancient Jewish author). (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mochus )

        Baha'i leader Abdu'l-Baha (whom Baha'is are taught was gifted with innate knowledge) stated, "In the splendor of the reign of Solomon their sciences and arts advanced to such a degree that even the Greek philosophers journeyed to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of the Hebrew sages and acquire the basis of Israelitish law. According to eastern history this is an established fact. Even Socrates visited the Jewish doctors in the Holy Land, consorting with them and discussing the principles and basis of their religious belief. After his return to Greece he formulated his philosophical teaching of divine unity and advanced his belief in the immortality of the spirit beyond the dissolution of the body. Without doubt, Socrates absorbed these verities from the wise men of the Jews with whom he came in contact. Hippocrates and other philosophers of the Greeks likewise visited Palestine and acquired wisdom from the Jewish prophets, studying the basis of ethics and morality, returning to their country with contributions which have made Greece famous." (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 362-63)

        Abdu'l-Baha in other texts refers to Greek Philosophers' visits to Israel as "a matter of record." Above he represents Greek philosopher's visits to Jerusalem as "established fact." Abdu'l-Baha doesn't explicitly cite the records, but it can be assumed that he had specific records in mind when he made his above statements. As the relationship between Western and Eastern scholarship on religious history matures, someone may find the specific records Abdu'l-Baha refers to.

        In my view the thesis that the Jewish Bible influenced ancient Greece remains intact, despite the paucity of Western scholarship on the matter.

        JE comments: The influence of the ancient Hebrews on the Greek philosophers appears to be a central tenet of Baha'i belief. We find something of a parallel with the common LDS (Mormon) association of the pre-Hispanic deity Quetzalcoatl with Christ, meaning that Christ at some point visited the Americas.  Fact, fairy tale, or matters of faith?  I'll have to go with the last option.

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        • Greek Philosophers and Jewish Bible (Alain de Benoist, France 07/22/12 4:40 AM)
          In his post of 21 July, Vincent Littrell mixes two different topics: the (indisputable) fact that the old Greeks were great travelers, and the speculative assertion that the ancient Greek philosophers were "influenced" by the Jewish Bible, an assertion which is not supported by any serious specialist.

          Vincent quotes as authorities Algis Uzdavinys and, of course, "Baha'i leader Abdu'l-Baha, whom Baha'is are taught was gifted with innate knowledge." The references he forwards to WAIS were probably furnished by the Research Center of the Baha'i faith.

          Algis Uzdavinys has no serious academic credentials. He is a Lithuanian art critic, whose great idea is to lead Neoplatonic theurgy "back to its roots in Ancient Egypt"! See his book Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity (2010).

          As for Abu'l-Baha, being not a Baha'i (thank God), I leave the idea that he was "gifted with innate knowledge" to his followers and believers.

          JE comments: We'll never be able to reconcile these fact-vs-faith discussions. To turn to Christianity, can one ever prove the resurrection of Christ? Immaculate conception? Transubstantiation? One either believes these things, or one doesn't.

          Algis Uzdavinys was a Lithuanian scholar.  He died in his sleep in 2010, at the young age of 48.  Kind of scary for this 48 year-old.
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          • Algis Uzdavinys (Vincent Littrell, USA 07/23/12 2:21 PM)

            In his post of 22 July, Alain de Benoist tries to discredit Algis Uzdavinys's credentials to write on ancient Greek Philosophy. He also states that my earlier quotes were likely furnished by the Research Center of the Baha'i Faith.

            It so happens I acquired for my personal library some time ago Uzdavinys's The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy. I originally acquired the book because of my interest in scholarship pointing to the transmission of ethics and spirtualized thought through the ages and across "religious boundaries," in line with my understanding of the "Doctrine of the Transcendental Unity of All Religion." It was the subject matter in the writings of Alessandro Bausani regarding Iranic religion and the "golden chain" of ethical/spiritual transmission from Zoroaster through to Baha'u'llah that ultimately led me to Uzdavinys. The quotes I provided were found and annotated in my reading of Uzdavinys's book, which is next to my computer as I type this. As to the "seriousness" of Uzdavinys's scholarship, regarding The Golden Chain in particular we find that the forward to the book was written by Professor John Finamore, Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Iowa:

            "The Golden Chain provides important texts in the history of Platonism. It begins, perhaps startlingly but certainly correctly, with excerpts about Pythagoras, moves through the Pythagorean tradition, then comes to Plato himself, and continues with excerpts from the major Neoplatonist writers. What unfolds is an evolution of a philosophy, a Platonic philosophy, one that starts before Plato is born and continues to grow after his death--and indeed well beyond the times and writings of the pagan Neoplatonists presented here."

            Towson University's Christos Evangelou, who is also listed as Vice President of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, states the Golden Chain is "very precious for serious scholars and students of philosophy...to rediscover, reconnect with, and revive the lost spirit of Platonic philosophy as a way of taking care of and perfecting the human soul..." (review on back cover of The Golden Chain).

            It seems to me that at least some "serious" scholars of ancient Greek philosophy consider Uzdavinys's work to be "serious."

            Regarding the Research Center of the Baha'i Faith, it seems that Alain was trying to in some way discredit me for drawing on those Baha'i researchers' scholarship which points to non-Baha'i scholarly support of what they believe to be Abdu'l-Baha's authoritative assertions regarding Jewish influence on the ancient Greeks. I'm not sure why my use of Baha'i scholarship on the matter would be discrediting. I feel confident that governing institutions of other world religions have research departments or centers. Why would Baha'i findings of quotes in the Encyclopaedia Judaica discredit those quotes? Interestlingly it appears to me that the Baha'i authorities themselves face questions from Baha'is regarding the gap between lack of Western scholarship on the subject (not necessarily in the Islamic world, however) and Abdu'l-Baha's comments. The Baha'i scholars at the Research Center do indicate the fact that more scholarship does have to be done to bridge the gap. Uzdavinys's work, which as far as I know is in no way connected to the Baha'is, is a beginning.

            Alain also said that I mix "two different topics: the (indisputable) fact that the old Greeks were great travelers, and the speculative assertion that the ancient Greek philosophers were 'influenced' by the Jewish Bible, an assertion which is not supported by any serious specialist." These topics have potential inextricability. It makes sense that in their criss-crossing of the Mediterranean World, the traveling philosphers would have come in contact with Jews either in Judea or the ancient Davidic/Solomnic kingdoms or those kingdoms' successors. I agree that precise evidence may be hard to come by, as it is probable a percentage of these philosophers didn't write down much and transmitted their learning orally. A category of ancient Jewish transmitters of prophecy were known to have only orally transmitted their understandings (Martin Buber in the Jewish context in his book The Prophetic Faith talks about this), so why not their Greek contemporaries? Uzdavinys seems to me to present these traveling philosphers as being rather syncretic and absorbing learning from multiple Mediterranean World sources, to include the Jews, before taking their learning back to Greece.

            JE comments:  It's a shame that we cannot ask Mr. Uzdavinys to respond, but as noted yesterday, he passed away in 2010.

            Here's a related question that might draw our conversation in a new direction:  why is it so important for Baha'i scholars to establish the Ancient Greek-Jewish Bible connection?  Because Abdu'l-Baha wrote that it was so?  Does it reflect an understanding that religious history is one of linear causality, leading to its latest and most perfect expression, which I presume is Baha'i?

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            • Why Do Baha'i Scholars Seek an Ancient Greek-Jewish Bible Connection? (Vincent Littrell, USA 07/26/12 7:52 AM)
              On 23 July, John Eipper asked, "Why is it so important for Baha'i scholars to establish the Ancient Greek-Jewish Bible connection? Because Abdu'l-Baha wrote that it was so? Does it reflect an understanding that religious history is one of linear causality, leading to its latest and most perfect expression, which I presume is Baha'i?"

              I don't think the issue of Jewish influence on the Greeks is that important a focus of the Baha'i World Center's Research Department. However, it is my understanding that a policy of the World center is to answer every letter written to it. Individual Bahais do write letters on myriad issues to the Center and the Baha'is' governing institution The Universal House of Justice. Many issues are referred to the Research Department. It is my speculation that the Research Department's efforts to find scholarly support to Abdu'l-Baha's commentary on the subject of Jewish influence on the ancient Greeks is in response to individual Baha'i requests on the subject, though I note that the Center doesn't necessarily provide a comprehensive response. Rather, it gives enough information to allow the correspondent to continue the research if that person so desires. Moreover, a percentage of the Baha'i World Center's letters of this nature become a matter of public record--if material isn't sensitive, I would think.

              At a deeper level however, interest by Baha'is in this subject likely stems from the belief that all religion comes from the same source--God. That revelation of the past (like the Mosaic revelation) had impact across civilizational boundaries, not only in the sense of physical transmission of ideas orally or by writing but through the nature of revelation itself as "the Creative Word of God" that directly impacts all creation. Therefore from the Baha'i perspective, revelation for a period impacts the science, arts and thinking of humans whether they are conscious of it or not, and it is directly responsible for humankind's advancement both in material and spiritual terms. From the Baha'i perspective, intellect cannot advance without revelation, and an individual's intellect shines that much more if it is centered on searching for spiritual truth. And yes, Baha'is believing in the "Doctrine of Progressive Revelation" do hold that Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, is the "Manifestation of God" for today's day and age, and his teachings are the most perfect divine expression of truth on this earth for current times and for a thousand years in the future.

              Unlike past revelations however, Baha'u'llah is clear and very explicit that his is not the final revelation to man from God. He explicitly states that there will be other manifestations of God, whose teachings will supersede the Baha'i revelation. Of interest is that Baha'is believe that future manifestations of God will be under the "aegis" of the revelation of Baha'u'llah for the next five hundred to a thousand years. Baha'is interpret Qur'anic Surah 33:40 as being correct, in that the Prophet Muhammad was "the Seal of the Prophets," sealing what Baha'is refer to as the "Adamic" cycle of revelation that began with Adam and ended with Muhammad. Baha'is believe that all prophecy of the Adamic cycle of prophecy was preparing mankind for the coming of Baha'u'llah, who is the fulfillment of past prophecy regarding a "return."

              So yes, though Baha'is do believe Baha'u'llah is the "divine physician" for today's day and age and that unification of the human race is the endstate goal of the Baha'i revelation--i.e. the Baha'i theology not only has a plan for individual salvation of the individual human soul that requires prayer, faith, practice of virtue, practice of chastity outside of marriage, and observance of divine law and ordinances--but there is also a plan of heilsgeschichte. Udo Schaefer, in his Baha'i Ethics in Light of Scripture: An Introduction, states:

              "All these prophets and messengers, the founders of the world's religions, are an integral part of the heilsgeschichte (salvation history), i.e. the unfolding of God's plan for the salvation of man in history. As the 'process of His creation hath no beginning and can have no end, otherwise it would necessitate the cessation of His celestial grace,' there will never be a revelation from God which is final." (p. 19).

              Schaefer continues:

              "Thus the Baha'i Faith views revelation as an infinite, progressive process and sees it as historically relative to a continually changing world. Each revelation depends on humanity's spiritual capacity, which in turn is dependent on the spiritual, cultural and social development of the peoples of that particular time. The word of God is revealed to the people of the world 'in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity' to their ability to sustain the burden of His message." (p. 21)

              So, yes Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah's revelation is the latest from God and is precisely in tune with man's overall increased maturity and ability to accept a greater portion of truth since the advent of (among others) the Mosaic, Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic dispensations.

              JE comments: A most informative answer.  Baha'i attempts to trace the Jewish Bible's influence on Greek philosophy would fit within the heilsgeschichte worldview.  Do I interpret Baha'i belief correctly, that no new revelation from God could occur for at least 500 years? This would make Baha'u'llah's teachings immune from any sort of doctrinal challenge for at least three more centuries.

              Interestingly, it was in the 500-1000 year "window" that Muhammad appeared after Christ.

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