Previous posts in this discussion:
PostGreek Philosophers and Jewish Bible (Alain de Benoist, France, 07/22/12 4:54 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.
(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?
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).
"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.
- Why Do Baha'i Scholars Seek an Ancient Greek-Jewish Bible Connection? (Vincent Littrell, USA 07/26/12 7:52 AM)