Genesis myths inspired by Plato?

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by Neil Godfrey

Plato ponders the Legend of Atlantis
Image by vintagedept via Flickr

There was an interesting article in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament in 2007 by Lukas Niesiolowski-Spano (LN-S) of Warsaw University titled “Primeval History in the Persian Period?” (SJOT, Vol.21, no. 12, 106-126, 2007). The paper was first presented at the Seminar of Historical Methodology in Groningen, The Netherlands, 2004.

The Genesis creation stories are unlike other ancient Middle Eastern myths. LN-S refers to the “unparalleled character of the Primeval History in its Near Eastern environment”, and attributes this to the influence of Platonic philosophy in their making.

The assumption throughout the discussion is that no text can be dated earlier than external testimony permits. Genesis, in particular its first two chapters, cannot be dated any earlier than when we find other texts making reference to them. In other words, normal practical historical methodology that applies to any nonbiblical study is followed. Dr LN-S is a lecturer in the Department of Ancient History at the University of Warsaw.

I begin here with some evidence for the earliest knowledge of Genesis, though LN-S really adds this at the end of his article. (I have colour coded some of the following sections to make for easier browsing of the main thought sections I have taken from LN-S’s article.)

What is the earliest evidence for Genesis?

A different Pentateuch that excluded Genesis?

A second century bce Jewish writer, Aristobulos, makes many references to Pentateuchal traditions, says LN-S, but specifically refers only to Exodus, Joshua, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It may be that the Aristobulos’s Pentateuch began with Exodus (likely Exodus 2) and extended to Joshua. No Genesis.

Some statistics — the frequency of names where and when

It is not till very late, the time of the New Testament and the Pseudepigrapha from the Hellenistic period, that we have evidence for the knowledge of major figures from Genesis 2 to 4. The Hebrew Bible does not know about key Genesis characters at all.

Adam, outside Genesis, is referred to only in 1 Chronicles 1, Tobit, Ben Sira and 4 Esdras. Also 9 New Testament references.

Eve, outside Genesis, only in Tobit, 2 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.

Cain, in 4 Maccabees, Hebrews, 1 John and Jude

Abel, in 4 Maccabees, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews

Noah, in 1 Chronicles 1, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Tobit, Ben Sira, 4 Esdras and 8 times in the New Testament

Enoch, 1 Chronicles 1, Ben Sira, Hebrews and Jude (and of course the Book of Enoch)

1 Chronicles 1-9 is suspected by many scholars as not being original to the book (Sara Japhet, 1989).

(The Eden in Ezekiel is older than the Eden in Genesis, and the Jacob in Hosea is also a pre-Genesis Jacob.)

The Snake in the Garden of Eden story

Even the story of the snake in the Garden of Eden does not appear outside Genesis until we read about it in 2 Corinthians and Revelation. Allusions in Psalm 91 and Isaiah 65 have some similarities to the Eden image, but the direction of influence is not clear.

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

LN-S notes:

It is hard to believe that it was not even alluded to by a keen admirer of Knowledge — Ben Sira. The motif of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has no parallel, neither in Semitic cultures nor other ancient civilizations which could have had any contact with the Jews. It appeared in the literature not earlier than the Apocrypha.

Tree of Life

This was a widely known myth among other peoples in the Middle East. It has mentions in biblical texts (Proverbs 3, 11, 13, 15, as well as 4 Esdras, 4 Maccabees, Revelation), but they are indirect and not necessarily related to the Genesis 2 story.

The Garden of Eden

Ezekiel 31 and 28 and 36, Isaiah 51, and Joel 2 know of a primeval garden of joy, but it is not clear that they knew of it from Genesis 2-3 or from some other myth.

The Tower of Babel

This is not addressed by LN-S, but I am tossing it in here since Thomas L. Thompson registered an observation about it in one of his publications. The story ends with the Tower and city being abandoned. Genesis 11:8-9

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The history of Babylon comes to an end from the third and second centuries. The last inhabitants were reportedly deported in 275 bce and the city left to ruin. The author of the Tower of Babel appears to be writing from a perspective of a time when he knew of Babylon as a deserted ruin. His tale is as much an aetiology of the diversity of languages as it is of the destruction of the once great city. I realize this opens up other questions, but it is an interesting thought to keep in mind nonetheless.

Worth asking the question

So from the above there appears to be little evidence that anyone heard of Genesis until very late, not until the third or second century bce.

LN-S, while acknowledging the weakness of statistics as an historical argument, writes

But even so, it is worth asking the question why in the biblical texts which existed in the Persian period there is not a single reference to the accounts from the beginning of Genesis? There is no single reference to cosmogonical story, origins of sin, first man and woman, first crime, and the knowledge (=wisdom) lying at the beginning of the Universe. Why — on the other hand — did these motifs appear so often in the late Hellenistic period and in the early Christian era?

Three kinds of myths

Genesis contains myth, but there are different types of myths with different functions. LN-S refers to three kinds of possible relevance.

1. Homeric myths

There are the traditional religious stories that set the context for the imaginative world of a community. Homer and Hesiod, for example, are said by Herodotus to have taught the Greeks this kind: the origins and descents and names of the gods, their roles and appearances. Such myths are the reference points of the beliefs and thoughts of the community across their generations. The stories are well-known and referenced constantly.

The Genesis myths do not appear in Jewish literature till very late. (The Eden in Ezekiel is older than the Eden in Genesis, and the Jacob in Hosea is also a pre-Genesis Jacob.) They are not like the Homeric myths in that they did not become the central focal point of all other beliefs about the community’s origins and the origins of their institutions and customs or otherwise impact on their religious beliefs and values.

2. Ethnographical myths

These are stories that are there for their curiosity value. They do not have any popular religious significance.

3. Symbolic or Platonic myths

This is the “symbolic intellectual expression”.

Such usage of a myth can be seen from the oldest times . . . . Under the form of a popular story, a profound (or, anyway, deeper) truth and teaching were transmitted. It was much closer to symbols and parables, known from the history of literature, than the curious tales, sung by storytellers, and collected by anthropologists . . . .

Plato wrote of the need for philosophers to create myths to teach abstract truths to the less enlightened populace. He himself created several myths, including the “myth” of the Cave, the myth of Er and the still extant myth of Atlantis as symbolic tales each with a moral.

LN-S concludes that the Genesis myths are Platonic myths either selected or created by a scribal elite:

I would like to recall . . . the statement of John Van Seters: “The sociological study of tradition has argued, in recent publications, that the formation of traditions is the activity of an intellectual elite, not the work of the community as a whole.” [quoting ‘Prologue to History, p.34]. This being so, [then] folkloristic popular mythologies could hardly have their place in such a piece of work as the Primeval History [of Genesis].  .  .  . Myths in such a work as the Primeval History were neither the traditional stories, which created the religious imaginativeness, nor folkloristic stories  .  .  .  What remains from the list is the kind of mythology favoured by the literati, used to cover, under the guise of traditional, religious language, precious truths and hidden wisdom. In short, these are the Platonic myths.

Seven Creation myths traceable to Plato

Plato did not create the Genesis Creation myths. But LN-S sees several Genesis Creation features that are analogous to Greek thought as initiated by Plato.

  1. The beginning of every moving being has its own origins in the self-moving being;
  2. Creation of human-kind in the image of God;
  3. Creation of human-kind as woman and man;
  4. The domination of human-kind over other creatures;
  5. The fall for the sake of a woman’s fault;
  6. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil — the original sin, as the result of being desirous of wisdom;
  7. Possession of wisdom as the reason of original fall, because full knowledge is limited only to the Supreme Being.

The above is the list from the LN-S article. The following elaborations are also from the same article, but only approximately correspond with these 7 above.

1. And the spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2)

LN-S sees the possibility of Platonic thought behind the image of the Spirit of God “moving” upon the chaotic and formless stuff from which it was about to create order.

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of Godwas moving over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

For Plato all creation is by definition moving, and so it has to have its origin (or creation) from something that is by nature self-moving, the spirit of God. For Plato the ultimate origin of all that exists is a self-moving, self-contained and forever moving entity that can be called “god”.

Plato’s explanation of this is found in Phaedro 245c-246a.

But first of all, let us view the affections and actions of the soul divine and human, and try to ascertain the truth about them. The beginning of our proof is as follows:-

The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved by another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live. Only the self-moving, never leaving self, never ceases to move, and is the fountain and beginning of motion to all that moves besides. Now, the beginning is unbegotten, for that which is begotten has a beginning; but the beginning is begotten of nothing, for if it were begotten of something, then the begotten would not come from a beginning. But if unbegotten, it must also be indestructible; for if beginning were destroyed, there could be no beginning out of anything, nor anything out of a beginning; and all things must have a beginning.

And therefore the self-moving is the beginning of motion; and this can neither be destroyed nor begotten, else the whole heavens and all creation would collapse and stand still, and never again have motion or birth.

But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will not be put to confusion. For the body which is moved from without is soulless; but that which is moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul.

But if this be true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal?

(Phaedrus, 245c-246a)

2. Creation of man in the image of God

The whole Platonic philosophy is based on the notion of likeness of a being of a lower level to a being of the higher level (LN-S). The general principle is expressed here:

The creator of the universe addressed them in these words: “Gods, children of gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father, my creations are indissoluble, if so I will. All that is bound may be undone, but only an evil being would wish to undo that which is harmonious and happy. Wherefore, since ye are but creatures, ye are not altogether immortal and indissoluble, but ye shall certainly not be dissolved, nor be liable to the fate of death, having in my will a greater and mightier bond than those with which ye were bound at the time of your birth. And now listen to my instructions:-

Three tribes of mortal beings remain to be created-without them the universe will be incomplete, for it will not contain every kind of animal which it ought to contain, if it is to be perfect. On the other hand, if they were created by me and received life at my hands, they would be on an equality with the gods. In order then that they may be mortal, and that this universe may be truly universal, do ye, according to your natures, betake yourselves to the formation of animals, imitating the power which was shown by me in creating you.

(Timaeus, 41a-c)

The above is the supporting quotation offered by LN-S. Many more could be added. Of the goddess Athena (=Egyptian Neith) Plato wrote in the same Dialogue:

Wherefore the goddess, who was a lover both of war and of wisdom, selected and first of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men likest herself. And there you dwelt . . . as became the children and disciples of the gods.

And again:

And having been created in this way, the world has been framed in the likeness of that which is apprehended by reason and mind . . . and must therefore of necessity, if this be admitted, be a copy of something.


When the father creator saw the creature which he had made moving and living, the created image of the eternal gods, he rejoiced, and in his joy determined to make the copy still more like the original . . .

In Plato’s next Dialogue, Crito, we read in more graphic detail of the creation of humans by the gods, including those who were their “seed” through mortal women.

3. The divine origin of the human soul (breath of life)

In Genesis 2:7

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

This does not sound far from Plato’s idea of the human soul being immortal on account of its divine origin:

And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but the unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind-they are invisible and are not seen?

That is very true, he said.
Well, then, he added, let us suppose that there are two sorts of existences, one seen, the other unseen.

Let us suppose them.
The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging.
That may be also supposed.
And, further, is not one part of us body, and the rest of us soul?
To be sure.
And to which class may we say that the body is more alike and akin?
Clearly to the seen: no one can doubt that.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Not by man, Socrates.
And by “seen” and “not seen” is meant by us that which is or is not visible to the eye of man?

Yes, to the eye of man.
And what do we say of the soul? is that seen or not seen?
Not seen.
Unseen then?
Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen?
That is most certain, Socrates.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses)-were we not saying that the soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard when under their influence?

Very true.
But when returning into herself she reflects; then she passes into the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom?

That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far as may be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding one?

I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of everyone who follows the argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable even the most stupid person will not deny that.

And the body is more like the changing?
Yet once more consider the matter in this light: When the soul and the body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and the body to obey and serve.

Now which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and which to the mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be that which naturally orders and rules, and the mortal that which is subject and servant?

And which does the soul resemble?
The soul resembles the divine and the body the mortal-there can be no doubt of that, Socrates.

Then reflect, Cebes: is not the conclusion of the whole matter this?-that the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes, be denied?

No, indeed.
But if this is true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution?

and is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?

(Phaedo 79a-80b) (cf. Phaedo, 102b-107b, and Phaedrus 245c-246a)

For every body which derives motion from without is soulless, but that which has its motion within itself has a soul, since that is the nature of the soul (Phaedrus 245e)

An interesting echo (not directly referenced by LN-S) is also found a few sentences on in Phaedrus:

and the whole, compounded of soul and body, is called a living being, and is further designated as mortal. (246c)

4. Knowledge promises to bring us closer to the Supreme Being

Genesis 3:5

God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Compare Plato in The Republic VI, 500b-c

“For surely, Adeimantus, the man whose mind is truly fixed on eternal realities has no leisure to turn his eyes downward upon the petty affairs of men, and so engaging in strife with them to be filled with envy and hate, but he fixes his gaze upon the things of the eternal and unchanging order, and seeing that they neither wrong nor are wronged by one another, but all abide in harmony as reason bids, he will endeavor to imitate them and, as far as may be, to fashion himself in their likeness and assimilate himself to them. Or do you think it possible not to imitate the things to which anyone attaches himself with admiration?”

5. Paired good and evil connected with the original fall

The motif of Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is without any known parallel or possible direct source. LN-S notes that only one passage in Plato could make the similar connection of Good and Evil as a pair with the original fall.

And let the figure be composite-a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods are all of them noble and of noble descent, but those of other races are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him.

I will endeavour to explain to you in what way the mortal differs from the immortal creature. The soul in her totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere, and traverses the whole heaven in divers forms appearing–when perfect and fully winged she soars upward, and orders the whole world; whereas the imperfect soul, losing her wings and drooping in her flight at last settles on the solid ground-there, finding a home, she receives an earthly frame which appears to be self-moved, but is really moved by her power; and this composition of soul and body is called a living and mortal creature.

Phaedrus, 246a-c

6. Mixing and separating the cosmic elements

LN-S sees in the Genesis scenes of God separating the cosmic elements and ordering them to create the universe as finding a parallel in Plato’s teaching that God had the sole power to mix opposite elements in the right measure to make his various creations.

For God only has the knowledge and also the power which are able to combine many things into one and again resolve the one into many. But no man either is or ever will be able to accomplish either the one or the other operation.

Timaeus 68d

7. Other

This section is not from the LN-S article, but my own remarks. It’s a long time since I read Plato and I can’t say I’ve read all his Dialogues. So I don’t know what passages LN-S had in mind when in his original list he included the fall of man being the fault of the woman. Plato does teach that women’s nature is inferior to a man’s. If a man leads a less than fully virtuous life he is destined to be reincarnated as a woman.

He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence. But if he failed in attaining this, at the second birth he would pass into a woman . . . (Timaeus)

In The Republic, and also in Crito, Plato does teach the equality of men and women in other respects. Both are equally capable of virtue and deserving of the same education and responsibilities.

LN-S does note J. Van Seters pointing to obvious similarities between Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women and Genesis 6:1-4

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

This scenario is also found in Plato’s Critias:

And Poseidon, receiving for his lot the island of Atlantis, begat children by a mortal woman . . . .

In this mountain there dwelt one of the earth born primeval men of that country, whose name was Evenor, and he had a wife named Leucippe, and they had an only daughter who was called Cleito. The maiden had already reached womanhood, when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in love with her and had intercourse with her . . . .

Plato’s mythical story (the myth of Atlantis) continues to describe the accomplishments of these sons of gods, mighty men of renown, who in this case were the inhabitants of Atlantis. They eventually corrupted their ways, losing their original virtue, so that God chose to punish them with destruction. The story is incomplete, but other references indicate that they were inspired to declare war on half the world (conquering from the Atlantic coast as far as Egypt and Greece), being overcome in war by the Athenians, with eventually all being destroyed by the destruction that submerged them beneath the sea. It is not hard to recognize the similar tale of Genesis beginning with the sons of the gods and mortal women, leading to violence, and God’s decision to destroy them all by a Flood.

There are differences, however. Plato taught that there had been many destructions in the past, many (not quite universal) floods and “fire” endings and beginnings. The Greek Noah, Deucalion, was the hero of one of these lesser (not completely universal) floods. Such snippets in Genesis are found paralleled elsewhere, too. But it is in the Timaeus-Crito dialogues that we find them bound within the same narrative plot structure as we read in Genesis.

I should not forget to link to my earlier post of what looks to me like a very similar sin and conquering image in both the Cain story of Genesis and an explanation by Plato in Timaeus.

New wine in old bottles

Similarities, common elements, analogies are often found among different cultures and are not in themselves proofs of borrowing or interrelationships. However, LN-S adds:

But in our case we do have something more. Elements present in Genesis are the new wine in old bottles: Hellenistic literary motifs disguised in Ancient Near-Eastern clothes. This essence is unique in the surrounding Near-Eastern ancient world, but can be seen as a result of a foreign—that is, Greek—influence. The Greek elements can better explain the particularity of the few theological pictures in the Primeval History. Having established restraints on comparative study, one can in any case declare that Plato’s possible influence over Genesis provides an important—though not decisive per se—hint for the history of Israel’s religion. The issue of Greek influence over Hebrew culture was raised many times in the past. But analogies between Python in the Delphic oracle and the serpent in Eden, or Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women and Genesis 6:1-4,45 do not provide any solid information about the time in which such a relationship would occur. In the case of Plato and the Primeval History the supposed influence of the Greek philosopher over the Jewish theologians is better explained, and well rooted in time. For the study of the Hebrew Bible’s development, it provides a good terminus post quem for the important parts of the text.


If the Primeval History would be seen as the local response, and in a large extent are a reinterpretation of Plato’s thoughts, many crucial biblical theological elements could be understood in a new way.

LN-S looks at two particular teachings of Genesis through this new perspective: (1) the value and inaccessibility of knowledge, and (2) the creation of woman with the same status as man, and man being created in God’s image.

(1) Human nature and the desire for inaccessible knowledge

Genesis teaches that humans always seek for knowledge even though the punishment is cruel. Knowledge, also as it was transformed into Wisdom, is what mankind always seeks. This idea is very typical of Greek philosophy and in late Hellenistic literature. It was not at all popular in the Persian period of the Middle East as far as we know from extant sources.

(2) Anthropological teachings

Genesis teaches that men and women have the same status. They are similar in bodily and spiritual form to God. This is a very Greek idea. Men and gods share a similar nature. This was not the thought of the ancient Middle East. Even though gods might have the physical appearance of men and women, they were in very unlike categories. LN-S comments that Genesis 1:27 “looks rather like a quotation from Plato than as an effect of Eastern reasoning.” I highlight the comment by LN-S I think is most significant.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

If this text had really been composed in the Persian period, without any Greek influence, one should agree—and it is done very often—that this particular author possessed unique theological and philosophical insights, which reached far beyond his time. Alone, in isolation, he would have arrived at the same conclusion that was only reached by long philosophical reasoning in Greece. (LN-S)

A simpler interpretation would be to suggest that the Primeval History of Genesis was written in the context of the Hellenistic period. The Jewish elites responsible for this literature were influenced by Greek philosophy.

Plato’s impact was felt for centuries throughout the ancient Middle Eastern world after the conquests of Alexander. As late as the first century ce we have the Jewish author Philo of Alexandria interpreting biblical texts through neo-Platonism. Even derivative philosophies from Plato (Stoicism, Cynicism) have left clear marks on biblical thought. (I have been outlining, for example, the influence of Aristotle (indirect) and Stoicism (more directly) on Paul’s thought in other posts.) So it is not at all inconceivable that Platonic philosophy would impact Jewish theology.

I’ll leave it to readers to make up their own minds from the evidence that I have cited here from Lukas Niesiolowski-Spano’s article, with just a few additions of my own. I am interested in the uniqueness of the tree of knowledge of good and evil tale. As LN-S notes, it is a unique myth. And myth creation was a value Plato taught his philosopher pupils. Many of the quotations come from Plato’s Timaeus. I have added a few from Plato’s subsequent work, Critias. Together these Dialogues are a connected series of myths (created or modified by Plato to teach his more abstract ideas), beginning with the creation of the universe, of mankind, and the early days of mankind’s history — how it began with perfection, with God and the gods rejoicing, and how it fell into decay and evil, and how God chose to destroy it all. I never cared much for the technicalities of Timaeus or the Atlantis myth in Critias before, but since LN-S have opened up a possibility of a relationship between them and the Jewish author/s of the Primeval History of Genesis, I’ll be giving them a closer read and some more thought.

The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Crana...

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  • Gavin
    2010-05-16 04:36:31 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

    Interesting piece! Is there a reason why references to Adam in the NT (“What is the earliest evidence for Genesis” section) aren’t mentioned?

    • 2010-05-16 08:22:14 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink

      I had another look at the LN-S article and he does add after some discussion about the generic meaning of the word in Hosea (=mankind) that there are 9 NT references to Adam. Mea culpa. (Have added this to the post, now, thanks.)

  • David Hillman
    2010-05-16 07:20:03 UTC - 07:20 | Permalink

    I agree Genesis was written after Exodus. It rewrites one of the wife-sister stories, Abraham in Egypt, as a pre-enactment of the exodus, including details.
    However Hosea does seem to know the outline of Jacob’s career, including grasping his brother’s heel before birth, wrestling with God, and going to Syria to earn a wife by keeping sheep. (But we don’t know how late the prophets were written – I have always though that Amos for example has themes that would suit a much later time than its given setting).
    I would have thought that much of the content of the Genesis stories was from Babylonian myths rather than their Greek versions, though their ethnological form and ideological subversion shows Greek influence.

    Much of Genesis seems on the surface to favour Joseph and especially Benjamin rather than Judah and, if it is later than Deuteronomy it would be a critique too of the restriction of sacrifice to the Jerusalem temple. Philip Davies has suggested there was a period after the Babylonian exile that Judah was ruled from Benjamin, and then became part of the Children of Israel. Perhaps it was in this period that many of the Genesis stories were first told, as well as the stories pro and anti Benjamin, about the Gibeonites, pro and anti Saul and David etc.
    But perhaps you are right that these stories were then used and rewritten to express a philosophical line influenced by Greek philosophy.
    You’ve got me thinking anyway.

    • 2010-05-16 08:44:25 UTC - 08:44 | Permalink

      I don’t know much about recent scholarship on Hosea, so I don’t know why LN-S says that Hosea contains a pre-Genesis Jacob. Will have to see what I can find out about that. The LN-S paper opens up a lot of questions. And as you point out, the whole question of the differences among these OT writings is a fascinating one. The exploration of these texts is only just beginning. It’s a pity the same sorts of critical inquiries are not being plied to the NT writings. Study of those is still ossified in a kind of “Albrightianism”. (How else to describe ‘Jesus historicists’?)

      ETA: To quote LN-S:

      As we have seen, many biblical mythical allusions, preserved in different books of the Old Testament, are plausibly older than their parallels in Genesis (for example: Eden in Ezekiel is older then Eden in Genesis 2-340, or Jacob was mentioned by Hosea before Genesis was written).

      In relation to Eden in Ezekiel he cites Van Seters, but no citation is attached to the Jacob note.

  • rey
    2010-05-16 12:02:26 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

    Philo compares Genesis and Plato, doesn’t he?

    • rey
      2010-05-16 12:10:43 UTC - 12:10 | Permalink

      Ah, you did mention him. Nevermind.

      • 2010-05-16 12:32:59 UTC - 12:32 | Permalink

        Only in passing. But yes, it’s interesting to think that of Philo possibly being closer to the thought of the original author of Genesis than we have assumed.

        On another topic, though — Your reminder prompted me to check my Philo and it fell open at one of his references to Plato in On the Creation that has more to do with my Dating Mark Early post —

        “and the mouth . . . through which as Plato says, mortal things find their entrance, and immortal things their exit. For into the mouth do enter meat and drink, perishable food of a perishable body; but from out of it proceed words — the immortal laws of an immortal soul, by means of which rational life is regulated.” (XXXIX (119))

        I wonder why the Jesus Seminar and Casey and Crossan alike think Jesus very likely said something very similar? Do Philo, Plato and Jesus prove great minds just happen to think alike?

  • David Hillman
    2010-05-17 00:13:15 UTC - 00:13 | Permalink

    Do you think Hesiod influenced the writing of Genesis – both have a resentment at having to work hard and a tendency to blame this on Women. Was Eve written up under the influence of the story of Pandora?

  • 2010-08-03 21:30:56 UTC - 21:30 | Permalink

    Re-reading Timaeus and noted this passage, the first part of which is also reflected in Genesis:

    For our creators well knew that women and other animals would some day be framed out of men

    (See http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/timaeus.html

    Creators? Why did not God himself create man? He did, after all, create the lesser gods. So even slightly more interesting is this:

    if they were created by me [God] and received life at my hands, they would be on an equality with the gods.

    The author of Genesis appears to concede this, putting only the eating of the fruit of a tree between Adam and full equality with God.

    God, therefore, in the Timaeus myth, ordained the lesser gods to create the mortals on earth. First was the man. It appears there must have been many such men created, for the way women came into being was through the reincarnation of men who had been cowardly or weak. Then the sexual generation of the race begins. Those men who had been even baser were reincarnated as various kinds of animals: the lowest types on earth the legless ones; but even lower than those were the sea creatures. Birds were the reincarnation of shallow men who confused the visible with the hidden realities.

    Interesting that in the Greek myth Man is created first of all the animals; Philo, on the other hand, writes at length to justify Man being created last of the animals.

    Also everything God created was good, etc, and he rejoiced etc. in the Greek myth, too.

    But most telling of course is that the Greek story really is myth. And if Genesis appears to be something of a response to this Greek myth . . . .?

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  • Chris
    2014-11-22 02:54:12 UTC - 02:54 | Permalink

    I am very late into the game on this and may well be writing into the void. However, I did want to drop in another idea that has intrigued me. Perhaps it is the other way around. As far as we know from sources, Plato was traveling between 399 BCE and 387 BCE. This coincided with the Babylonian exile. Whether Genesis was written in the 6th century BCE and perhaps only added to the cannon later (which seems to be the current favored iteration) or actually written much later, it is probable that its mythological symbolism was current at that time. It is possible that it was Plato who was influenced by a particularly compelling mix of Jewish and Babylonian thought. This certainly seems to be born out, at some latter point, in the major arcana of the Tarot which blatantly marries Platonic, Kabbalistic, and Catholic symbology, much of it drawn from Genesis and “The Republic.” Intriguing.

    Also, I think Augustine’s Neo-Platonic interpretation of Genesis is worth mentioning. And don’t forget Lilith….

    • Blood
      2015-01-28 23:36:30 UTC - 23:36 | Permalink

      That theory is similar to the one proposed in the book “The Relationship between Herodotus’ History and Primary History” by Sara Mandell and David Noel Freedman, that Herodotus is so similar to the Bible that he must have read some form of it during his travels. The opposite idea — that the Biblical writers were actually influenced by Herodotus — cannot be expressed, since we “know” the Bible pre-dates Herodotus.

      Given the similarities, it is most likely the Bible authors simply read Herodotus (and Plato). Apologetics took care of the rest.

  • Blood
    2015-01-29 00:08:26 UTC - 00:08 | Permalink

    Martin Rösel’s book “Übersetzung als Vollendung der Auslegung. Studien zur Genesis- Septuaginta” (1994) argues for Platonic influence on the LXX translations of Genesis 1-2. He points out that Genesis and Plato’s “Timaeus” not only share a common order of creation (heavenly bodies/stars and time/sea creatures, birds and animals/humankind [last in both orders]), but in both accounts the Creator judges his work very good and rests. Both “Timaeus’s” creation account and LXX Genesis 1-2 share distinct terminology.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for an English translation.

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