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  #1  
Old 10-31-2011, 03:19 PM
Švejk Švejk is offline
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Did Jesus Read "The Republic"? Did Plato know the Bible??

Probably not, but still - when Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were alive, was the Old Testament (or parts of it) available to them in any way? Would they have known about Moses, for instance? And Jesus? Would he have have been in touch with Socratic philosophy in any way, shape, or form?

I am putting this in GQ in hopes that there's an actual answer but any speculation as to what the answer might be is very welcome.
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  #2  
Old 10-31-2011, 03:30 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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IAMNABible Scholar, just a lay reader, but from what I know:

The Greeks didn't have much contact with, or interest in, other philosophies.

The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible was

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According to the legend first recorded in the (pseudepigraphic) Letter of Aristeas, and repeated with embellishments in Philo, Josephus and various later Jewish and Christian sources, Jewish scholars first translated the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) into Koine Greek in the 3rd century BCE.[7][8] The traditional explanation is that Ptolemy II sponsored the translation [9] for use by the many Alexandrian Jews who were fluent in Koine Greek, but not in Hebrew. According to the record in the Talmud,


'King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: "Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher." God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.'[10]

The date of the 3rd century BCE is confirmed for the Pentateuch translation by a number of factors, including the Greek being representative of early Koine,[11] citations beginning as early as the 2nd century BCE, and early manuscripts datable to the 2nd century.
Since Plato was born around 429/423 BC, he couldn't read it.

As for the other way, in John's evangelion, there are many specific phrases and images that point towards John being a Jew educated in not only Greek language but also Hellenic thought and philosophy and merging it with his hebrew faith when viewing Jesus.

Since Jesus himself was, according to the little we know about him, a not-wealthy man from country background who spoke Aramic dialect instead of Hebrew, the normal assumption would be that he wasn't educated about Greek philosophy.

On the other hand, trade routes went quite far in those days already, and we don't know where Jesus went or what he did before he became public around age 30. Some people speculate he went to India to learn from Yogis their powers and point to certain parts of NT; speculating that Jesus met with some Greek traders or even educated Greeks (or Jews) in cities and discussed philosophy with them is far less unlikely.

OTOH, the attitude about mankind, gods, the universe and everything, the starting and end position of both systems - the classical Greek philosophy and the Christian worldview* - is quite different.

* Considering as always in those questions that we don't really know how much of Christian thought comes from Jesus exactly and how much from Paulus and his letters and influence in shaping the early church.
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  #3  
Old 10-31-2011, 03:36 PM
davidm davidm is offline
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Was Jesus even literate?

Seriously, I can't recall any mentions of him either reading or writing anything, and literacy was the exception back then.
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  #4  
Old 10-31-2011, 03:42 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidm View Post
Was Jesus even literate?

Seriously, I can't recall any mentions of him either reading or writing anything, and literacy was the exception back then.
Luke 4:16-21
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He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
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Old 10-31-2011, 03:45 PM
Cmdroverbite Cmdroverbite is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Švejk View Post
Probably not, but still - when Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were alive, was the Old Testament (or parts of it) available to them in any way? Would they have known about Moses, for instance? And Jesus? Would he have have been in touch with Socratic philosophy in any way, shape, or form?

I am putting this in GQ in hopes that there's an actual answer but any speculation as to what the answer might be is very welcome.
For what it's worth, my copy of the Oxford Annotated Bible I had in college stated that a number of the (chronologically) later books of the Bible (the book of Wisdom in particular, if memory serves) show distinct signs of the influence of Greek philosophy, which shouldn't be surprising since Alexander the Great's empire and its successor kingdoms had pretty much made the Greek language and Greek ideas the lingua franca of educated folks in the whole Middle East. One of the things the Maccabees were revolting against was (what they perceived to be) excessive Greek influence in Hebrew culture. So assuming Jesus was a person of education, he would have at least a nodding familiarity with Greek ideas, though possibly as a set of alien philosophies to be shunned.

Less sure about the other way round, but I'd be legitimately surprised to learn that the Greeks had any particular knowledge of Hebrew religious writings, since Israel and Judah, even at their height, were tiny, peripheral states that spent most of their existence as tributaries of bigger empires.
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Old 10-31-2011, 03:45 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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Originally Posted by davidm View Post
Was Jesus even literate?

Seriously, I can't recall any mentions of him either reading or writing anything, and literacy was the exception back then.
Of course he was. He was called Rabbi, which means teacher, and had several disputes with the Pharisees about interpretation of the Torah. In one of the Evangelions it's told how on Schabbat he happened to be in his home town (village) and was called forward to read from the Torah and interpret, and he talked about how a prophet (referring to himself) isn't respected in his home town.

And among the Jews, literacy for men was expected and taught, because they had to read the Bible out loud on Schabbes and interpret it. True, that was uncommon during those times compared to other nations where most farmers were uneducated, but as a devout Jew, Jesus would have been able to read and write Hebrew.

Whether he could read and write Greek is up for guess: Likely not because of his circumstances we know about, but nothing says he didn't learn it during his wanderings.
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Old 10-31-2011, 04:11 PM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
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Originally Posted by constanze View Post
And among the Jews, literacy for men was expected and taught, because they had to read the Bible out loud on Schabbes and interpret it. True, that was uncommon during those times compared to other nations where most farmers were uneducated, but as a devout Jew, Jesus would have been able to read and write Hebrew.
Really? Even while there were still priests in the temple? I always assumed the sabbath-at-home rituals were a necessity born out of the destruction of the temple and the end of the priesthood.
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Old 10-31-2011, 04:15 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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The priests were in the main temple in Jerusalem for the big festivals and sacrifices, but as you can see in Fear Itself's nice link, the towns had their own synagogue for the weekly sabbat.
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Old 10-31-2011, 04:31 PM
toadspittle toadspittle is offline
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Doh! Missed that.
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  #10  
Old 10-31-2011, 05:02 PM
njtt njtt is offline
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Originally Posted by constanze View Post

The Greeks didn't have much contact with, or interest in, other philosophies.
That is utter nonsense. Many of the earliest Greek philosophers, the presocratics, were well known for having traveled widely beyond the lands of Greece, and it is thought likely that philosophy as such - i.e., the tradition of thinking critically about belief systems - probably emerged in Greece when it did precisely because of their awareness of the sophisticated intellectual traditions of older (but still extant) civilizations, such as those of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Socrates and Plato may not have taken much interest in non-Greek intellectual traditions (they did not like to read too much anyway), but they lived some two centuries after the time of the early presocratics, and in that period Greek philosophy had advanced to be streets ahead of the older (and, mostly, non-critical) traditions. Despite that, in the next generation Aristotle took a great interest in other cultural traditions, receiving reports about them from the armies of his patron, Alexander, as they rampaged through the lands where the earlier civilized traditions had flourished. He also collected a large personal library, probably the largest library in existence up to that time (setting aside such things as the ‘library’ of Asurbanipal, which was, mostly, really more of an archive of civil service records).

¬¬¬

Whether any of them were aware of The Bible is another matter. At that time, the Hebrews were a small culture, little known and considered of little significance outside of the small area where they lived. It is quite possible their traditions were overlooked by the earlier Greek thinkers who took an interest in such matters. Nevertheless, within a generation or so of Aristotle’s time, the Library of Alexandria (an institution inspired, in many respects, by the Aristotelian tradition of scholarship) was collecting texts of the Hebrew scriptures.

So, Socrates and Plato very likely were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, although some of the earlier philosophers who influenced them may have known of the Hebrew traditions. Aristotle may possibly have had some knowledge of them, but he probably would not have regarded them as very important or interesting. Later Greek and Hellenistic philosophers would certainly have had the opportunity to access them, but I know of no evidence that any took any particular interest (unless they were actually Jewish, of course).

To be frank, unless you antecedently take it to be the word of God, there is not very much of philosophical interest in the Old Testament. A lot of it is, at best history and at worst myth and legend, and its ethical theory (which, I hasten to add, is not the ethical theory of either Christianity or modern Judaism) amounts to little more than “follow these rules because God says so.” Greek philosophical ethical theory was already light-years ahead of this by Socrates’ time. Sure, once you have the cultural tradition of thinking that the Bible is a terribly important document, then you can extract all sorts of allegorical meat from it, and put all sorts of interesting philosophical glosses on its contents, but the pre-Christian Greeks had no inkling that it was an important book - it was the myths and legends, and the eccentric laws, of a small, unimportant tribe - and probably found it rather dull and silly for the most part, if they ever bothered to look at it.

¬¬¬

There is no evidence (and, I think, nothing in the Bible to suggest) that Jesus ever read any works of Greek philosophy. However, by the time of the origins of Christianity, the relevant part of the world was saturated with the Greek intellectual tradition, and there is no doubt that ways of thinking pioneered by the classical Greek philosophers (Plato especially) played a large role shaping early (and not-so-early) Christian thought. Jesus himself (who, if not illiterate, was probably educated only in the Jewish scriptures and traditions) may not have been much affected by it, but Paul and the Gospel writers (especially, but not only, John), who all wrote their works in Greek, certainly were, and slightly later Christian theologians, the so called “Church Fathers,” even more so. Whether or not Paul or the Gospel writers had ever actually read any of the works of Plato or other classical Greek philosophers, they certainly felt their influence.
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Old 10-31-2011, 06:27 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Paul makes reference to Epimenides in one of his epistles; if he was aware of Epimenides, I have to assume that he was also aware of the other great Greek philosophers. Of course, Paul was more widely-traveled than Jesus, too, so that might not imply much about what Jesus knew.
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Old 10-31-2011, 09:26 PM
Švejk Švejk is offline
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Thank you all for some great answers.

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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
There is no evidence (and, I think, nothing in the Bible to suggest) that Jesus ever read any works of Greek philosophy. However, by the time of the origins of Christianity, the relevant part of the world was saturated with the Greek intellectual tradition, and there is no doubt that ways of thinking pioneered by the classical Greek philosophers (Plato especially) played a large role shaping early (and not-so-early) Christian thought. Jesus himself (who, if not illiterate, was probably educated only in the Jewish scriptures and traditions) may not have been much affected by it, but Paul and the Gospel writers (especially, but not only, John), who all wrote their works in Greek, certainly were, and slightly later Christian theologians, the so called “Church Fathers,” even more so. Whether or not Paul or the Gospel writers had ever actually read any of the works of Plato or other classical Greek philosophers, they certainly felt their influence.
I find this in particular to be very interesting. Given that it may be hard to sort out the influence of Christ as opposed to that of later church fathers and of Plato through them (I guess Augustine was a neo-Platonist, IIRC), what would an example of an element of Greek philosophy in the New Testament be?

ETA: Cmdroverbite also refers to this influence in what he seems to recall was the Book of Wisdom in particular along with chronologically younger parts of the NT. Can anybody expand on this influence?

Last edited by Švejk; 10-31-2011 at 09:28 PM..
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Old 10-31-2011, 10:08 PM
njtt njtt is offline
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Originally Posted by Švejk View Post
I find this in particular to be very interesting. Given that it may be hard to sort out the influence of Christ as opposed to that of later church fathers and of Plato through them (I guess Augustine was a neo-Platonist, IIRC),
That is a bit of an exaggeration. There is excellent reason to believe that Augustine was heavily influenced by neoplatonism (the dominant philosophical movement of his time), but it is probably a bit much to say he was a neoplatonist. Also, note that Augustine was the last of the Church Fathers, and lived centuries after the time of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament. Likewise, the neoplatonist movement (as opposed to Platonism as such) also began centuries after Jesus’s time. The most influential philosophical school at the time of the New Testament, and for some time after, would have been Stoicism (although there were plenty of other philosophical schools around, including brands of Platonism).

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Originally Posted by Švejk View Post
what would an example of an element of Greek philosophy in the New Testament be?
One that springs to mind is the opening of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the word.” “Word” here is being identified with God (creating the world through his words: “Let there be light”), and with Jesus. John’s word for “word,” however, is the Greek “logos,” and the identification of logos with the controlling reason behind the apparent chaos of the universe goes back at least to the presocratic philosopher Heraclitus.
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