2015-07-13

Plato’s Laws, Book 2, and Biblical Values

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by Neil Godfrey

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637  (2015-06-22)
  2. Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws  (2015-06-23)

Earlier posts on Plato’s Laws
Plato’s and the Bible’s Laws and Ethics Compared  (2012-09-14)
Plato’s template for the Bible  (2012-09-16)

I’m passing over this section of Laws quickly, pointing to no more than a couple of details that meet biblical values.

Safeguarding the Truth with Myths

Many works in the Bible teach that obedience to the law of God brings a blessed and happy life while the ways of sinners were plagued with misfortunes. Of course there are a few works that reassure us that not everyone was so naive (e.g. Job). Nonetheless, it’s a “good moral” that is taught to children and many churchgoers. It’s also the root of so much guilt that has inflicted many who have been taught that God heals the faithful.

Plato knew the reality of life but deemed it wise to teach a lie to keep people good. (Guilt and finger-pointing be damned.) Many know the “noble lie” principle from his Republic but he repeated it in Laws:

662b

[W]ere I a legislator, I should endeavor to compel the poets and all the citizens to speak in this sense; and I should impose all but the heaviest of penalties on anyone in the land who should declare that [662c] any wicked men lead pleasant lives, or that things profitable and lucrative are different from things just; and there are many other things contrary to what is now said . . . by the rest of mankind,—which I should persuade my citizens to proclaim.

Plato knew even the gods knew it was not really a rule that the happiest life is the just one . . . 

For, come now, my most excellent sirs, in the name of Zeus and Apollo, suppose we should interrogate those very gods themselves who legislated for you, and ask: “Is the most just life the most pleasant; [662d] or are there two lives, of which the one is most pleasant, the other most just?” If they replied that there were two, we might well ask them further, if we were to put the correct question; “Which of the two ought one to describe as the happier, those that live the most just or those that live the most pleasant life? If they replied, “Those that live the most pleasant life,” that would be a monstrous statement in their mouths. But I prefer not to ascribe such statements to gods, but rather to ancestors and lawgivers: 

The reality is not good news . . . .

[662e] imagine, then, that the questions I have put have been put to an ancestor and lawgiver, and that he has stated that the man who lives the most pleasant life is the happiest. In the next place I would say to him this: “O father, did you not desire me to live as happily as possible? Yet you never ceased bidding me constantly to live as justly as possible.” And hereby, as I think, our lawgiver or ancestor would be shown up as illogical and incapable of speaking consistently with himself, but if, on the other hand, he were to declare the most just life to be the happiest, everyone who heard him would, I suppose, enquire what is the good and charm it contains which is superior to pleasure, for which the lawgiver praises it.

Another answer to the quandary is to acknowledge suffering, mockery and rejection as the badge of honour that the virtuous soul must endure. This is the solution that we find from Genesis (Abel, Joseph. . .) to the Christian era (Jesus, Paul. . . ). Yet this solution is not really presented as the final answer: there has to be something more. So the promise of an unseen reward is held out, such as an “inner godly joy superior to all other joys” or a post-mortem existence in heaven.

So then the teaching which refuses to separate the pleasant from the just helps,[663b] if nothing else, to induce a man to live the holy and just life, so that any doctrine which denies this truth is, in the eyes of the lawgiver, most shameful and most hateful; for no one would voluntarily consent to be induced to commit an act, unless it involves as its consequence more pleasure than pain.

Now distance [i.e. delay in rewards and punishments] has the effect of befogging the vision of nearly everybody, and of children especially; but our lawgiver will reverse the appearance by. . .  one means or another—habituation, commendation, or argument—will persuade people that their notions of justice and injustice are illusory pictures, unjust objects appearing pleasant and just objects most unpleasant to him who is opposed to justice, through being viewed from his own unjust and evil standpoint, but when seen from the standpoint of justice, both of them appear in all ways entirely the opposite.

Deuteronomy 14:23

And thou shalt eat before Jehovah thy God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of thy grain, of thy new wine. . . .

Proverbs 9:13

And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my new wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?

Proverbs 31:6

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, And wine unto the bitter in soul . . . 

Ephesians 5:18

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess . . . .

So there you have it. No-one can get merry with wine until they’re inflicted with the crabbedness of old age — at 40 years! The serious point to note, of course, is that philosophical ideals of the “pagans” condemned drunkenness and enjoined moderation as much as any biblical precept.

 

 

24 Comments

  • John MacDonald
    2015-07-13 12:40:41 UTC - 12:40 | Permalink

    The “noble lie” predates Plato in Greek thinking. There is a very interesting line in Euripides’ “The Bacchae” where Cadmus says “Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.” I have often wondered if all or part of the Jesus story was a noble lie, told to get people to behave well toward one another and to give them hope. Maybe the idea of a better world was a cause the original Christians would die for, even if they didn’t believe Jesus was resurrected from the grave.

    • John MacDonald
      2015-07-14 16:07:29 UTC - 16:07 | Permalink

      It is interesting to ponder the similarities between Euripides “Bacchae” and The New Testament. As many have pointed out:

      (1) According to the gospels, Jesus is an innocent and just man who, at the instigation of the Jewish high priests, is hauled before the Roman Governor Pilate and condemned to die on spurious charges. Exactly the same mythological motif is found five centuries earlier in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, about Dionysus. Like Jesus in Jerusalem, Dionysus is a quiet stranger with long hair and a beard who brings a new religion. In the gospels, the Jewish high priests don’t believe in Jesus and allege that ‘His teachings are causing disaffections amongst the people.’ They plot to bring about his death. In The Bacchae, King Pentheus is a tyrannical ruler who does not believe in Dionysus. He berates him for bringing ‘this new disease to the land’ and sends out his men to capture the innocent godman … Like the Jewish high priests who are appalled at Jesus’ blasphemous claim to be the Son of God, King Pentheus rants in anger at stories of Dionysus’ divine parentage … Like Jesus, Dionysus passively allows himself to be caught and imprisoned … The guard relates the wondrous things he had witnessed Dionysus perform and warns King Pentheus: ‘Master, this man has come here with a load of miracles.’ The king, however, proceeds to interrogate Dionysus who, like Jesus before Pilate, will not bow to his authority. When Pilate reminds Jesus that he has the power to crucify him, Jesus replies, ‘You would have no authority at all over me, had it not been granted you from above.’ Likewise Dionysus answers the threats of Pentheus with: ‘Nothing can touch me that is not ordained.’ Like Jesus, who said of his persecutors, ‘They know not what they are doing,’ Dionysus tells Pentheus, ‘You know not what you are doing, nor what you are saying, nor who you are.’ … As Jesus is led away to crucifixion, he warns the crowd not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, who will suffer for the crime of his execution (cf. Luke 23 v 28-30) … As he is led away, Dionysus, likewise, threatens divine vengeance.

      (2) Before his death, Jesus celebrates a symbolic ‘Last supper’ of bread and wine. [the author here doesn’t note that this is also a symbolic celebration. In the Gospel of Judas this is made more explicit when Jesus wanted to shrug off this painful mortal coil, just as Socrates did when he offered the rooster to Asclepius] In The Bacchae, Euripides calls bread and wine the ‘two powers which are supreme in human affairs,’ the one substantial and preserving the body, the other liquid and intoxicating the mind. The ancients credited the Mystery godman with bringing to humanity the arts of cultivating grain and the vine to produce bread and wine.

      (3) As [Joseph Campbell] writes, ‘To drink wine in the rites of Dionysus is to commune with the god and take his power and physical presence into one’s body.’ In the Christian rites of the Eucharist Jesus is said to symbolically become the wine drunk by the participant in the ritual. Likewise, Euripides tells us that Dionysus becomes the wine and is himself ‘poured out’ as an offering. In some vase representations, bread and wine are shown before the idol of Dionysus. Just as in the Eucharist a Christian is given ‘redemption’ in the symbolic form of a wafer biscuit, in the Mysteries of Dionysus the initiate was presented with makaria (‘blessedness’) in the form of a cake.

      (4) In Euripides’ The Bacchae, King Pentheus tries to insult Dionysus by describing him as ‘the god who frees his worshipers from every law [cf. St. Paul],’ but Dionysus replies, ‘Your insult to Dionysus is a compliment.’

      (5) A Letter To Philip explains that although from the time of the incarnation Jesus suffered, yet he suffered as one who was ‘a stanger to this suffering.’ This teaches that the incarnate Higher Self (represented by Jesus) seems to suffer when the eidolon suffers, but in reality is always the untouched witness. In The Acts of John Jesus explains ‘You heard that I suffered, but I suffered not. An unsuffering one was I, yet suffered. One pierced was I, yet I was not abused. One hanged was I, yet not hanged. Blood flowed from me, yet did not flow.’ … Five hundred years previously Euripides portrayed King Pentheus as binding Dionysus, while actually he was not. As Dionysus says: … ‘He thought he was binding me; But he neither held nor touched me, save in his deluded mind.

      We also find striking parallels to ‘The Bacchae’ indicated in Robert Price’s encyclopedia article New Testament Narrative As Old Testament Midrash (2004): In terms of Dionysus in general, we read from Price:

      (1) Gospel of John, Water into Wine (2:1-11)

      Though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX. The widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (“I know that you are a man of God,” v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).

      In terms of The Bacchae, Price writes

      (1) Acts of the Apostles

      Pentecost (2:1-4ff)

      The whole scene comes, obviously, from the descent of the Mosaic spirit upon the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, with an assist from Euripides’ The Bacchae, where we read “Flames flickered in their curls and did not burn them” (757-758), just as tongues of fire blazed harmlessly above the heads of the apostles (Acts 2:3). Ecstatic speech caused some bystanders to question the sobriety of the disciples, but Peter defends them (“These are not drunk as you suppose” Acts 2:15a), as does Pentheus’ messenger: “Not, as you think, drunk with wine” (686-687).

      (2) Paul’s Conversion (9:1-21)

      As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does … Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi, Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).

      It is not hard, then, to imagine that the first Christians fabricated the Jesus Story, inspired by the following line from Euripides “Bacchae:” where Cadmus says “Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.”

      This is what Nietzsche mean when he asked: “Have I been understood? – Dionysus versus the Crucified” (EH 14.9)

  • John MacDonald
    2015-07-13 20:22:49 UTC - 20:22 | Permalink

    It should be kept in mind too that in the end, Socrates, like Luke’s Jesus, wanted to die. Hence, we read in Nietzsche in “The Gay Science” at 340:

    “The dying Socrates.— I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in everything he did, said—and did not say. This mocking and enamored monster and pied piper of Athens, who made the most overweening youths tremble and sob, was not only the wisest chatterer of all time: he was equally great in silence. I wish he had remained taciturn also at the last moment of his life,—in that case he might belong to a still higher order of spirits. Whether it was death or the poison or piety or malice—something loosened his tongue at that moment and he said: “Oh Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster.” [Asklepios: Greek god of medicine.] This ridiculous and terrible “last word” means for those who have ears: “Oh Crito, life is a disease.” Is it possible! A man like him, who had lived cheerfully and like a soldier in the sight of everyone,—should have been a pessimist! He had merely kept a cheerful mien while concealing all his life long his ultimate judgment, his inmost feeling! Socrates, Socrates suffered life! And then he still revenged himself—with this veiled, gruesome, pious, and blasphemous saying! Did a Socrates need such revenge? Did his overrich virtue lack an ounce of magnanimity?— Alas, my friends, we must overcome even the Greeks!”

    Nietzsche quite rightly points out that Socrates said he owed a rooster to Asclepius because, in death, he was being cured of the greatest of all diseases: human life.

  • 2015-07-13 20:28:07 UTC - 20:28 | Permalink

    Plato’s “noble lie” reminds me of what Winston Churchill said: “Truth is so precious she must be attended to with a bodyguard of lies.”

  • Scot Griffin
    2015-07-14 00:32:37 UTC - 00:32 | Permalink

    When I think of the Noble Lie, I think specifically of his Plato’s “Phoenician” story.

    “How, then, could we devise one of those useful falsehoods we were talking about a while ago,34 one noble falsehood that would, in the best [c] case, persuade even the rulers, but if that’s not possible, then the others in the city?

    What sort of falsehood?

    Nothing new, but a Phoenician story which describes something that has happened in many places. At least, that’s what the poets say, and they’ve persuaded many people to believe it too. It hasn’t happened among us, and I don’t even know if it could. It would certainly take a lot of persuasion to get people to believe it.

    You seem hesitant to tell the story.

    When you hear it, you’ll realize that I have every reason to hesitate.

    Speak, and don’t be afraid.

    [d] I’ll tell it, then, though I don’t know where I’ll get the audacity or even what words I’ll use. I’ll first try to persuade the rulers and the soldiers and then the rest of the city that the upbringing and the education we gave them, and the experiences that went with them, were a sort of dream, that in fact they themselves, their weapons, and the other craftsmen’s tools [e] were at that time really being fashioned and nurtured inside the earth, and that when the work was completed, the earth, who is their mother, delivered all of them up into the world. Therefore, if anyone attacks the land in which they live, they must plan on its behalf and defend it as their mother and nurse and think of the other citizens as their earthborn brothers.

    It isn’t for nothing that you were so shy about telling your falsehood.

    [415] Appropriately so. Nevertheless, listen to the rest of the story. “All of you in the city are brothers,” we’ll say to them in telling our story, “but the god who made you mixed some gold into those who are adequately equipped to rule, because they are most valuable. He put silver in those who are auxiliaries and iron and bronze in the farmers and other craftsmen. For the most part you will produce children like yourselves, but, because [b] you are all related, a silver child will occasionally be born from a golden parent, and vice versa, and all the others from each other. So the first and most important command from the god to the rulers is that there is nothing that they must guard better or watch more carefully than the mixture of metals in the souls of the next generation. If an offspring of theirs should be found to have a mixture of iron or bronze, they must not pity him in any way, but give him the rank appropriate to his nature and drive him [c] out to join the craftsmen and farmers. But if an offspring of these people is found to have a mixture of gold or silver, they will honor him and take him up to join the guardians or the auxiliaries, for there is an oracle which says that the city will be ruined if it ever has an iron or a bronze guardian.” So, do you have any device that will make our citizens believe this story?

    I can’t see any way to make them believe it themselves, but perhaps [d] there is one in the case of their sons and later generations and all the other people who come after them.”

    Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works (Kindle Locations 30436-30467). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.

    When I read the Primary History, I see a Phoenician story.

  • David Ashton
    2015-07-14 17:44:12 UTC - 17:44 | Permalink

    The “Bacchae” comparison is very telling. I am sending a copy of these passages to Dr Edwin Yamauchi, who has argued against other pagan parallels having an influence on the gospels, for his comments, and if there is a interesting response, will post it here.

    • John MacDonald
      2015-07-14 22:18:39 UTC - 22:18 | Permalink

      My two favorite quotes from antiquity are:

      1. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

      2. “Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.” – Euripides’ “The Bacchae”

      These two quotes tell us everything we need to know about what was really going on with religion in ancient history.

      • David Ashton
        2015-07-15 00:20:50 UTC - 00:20 | Permalink

        Maybe not “everything”.

        Dr Steven Sage, “Ibsen and Hitler” (2007) argues in over 380 pages that the German leader modeled his activities on the works of the Norwegian dramatist. Both men really existed.

        • John MacDonald
          2015-07-15 00:40:01 UTC - 00:40 | Permalink

          lol

      • 2015-07-15 16:24:21 UTC - 16:24 | Permalink

        “These two quotes tell us everything we need to know about what was really going on with religion in ancient history.”

        So a vision and three years in Arabia were Paul’s equivalent of Joseph Smith’s Golden Plates! X^) I wouldn’t doubt it. Quite a few historical Jesus scholars think Paul invented Christianity.

        • John MacDonald
          2015-07-19 21:41:31 UTC - 21:41 | Permalink

          A noble lie just means deceiving people for their own good, or for the good of society as a whole. In antiquity, the ruling class deceived the masses by means of religion, because it was the best way of controlling them. Hence, we read from Seneca that

          “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

          The wise in antiquity, as opposed to the masses, were skeptical about the gods because human understanding could not reach knowledge of whether the gods exist or not. Hence, the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras in his lost work, On the Gods, wrote: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.”

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-07-19 22:06:04 UTC - 22:06 | Permalink

            . . . or rather for the good of the power elites themselves. They are the ones whose privileges are protected from society at large by means of propaganda, both religious and political.

            • John MacDonald
              2015-07-19 23:03:24 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

              Exactly

            • 2015-07-20 16:37:05 UTC - 16:37 | Permalink

              Exactly. The power elites just tell themselves that it’s good for the people.

  • John MacDonald
    2015-07-17 19:31:20 UTC - 19:31 | Permalink

    Note too that the noble lie in book 2 of Plato’s “Laws” is told at section 666 (666 a-c), which is also the number of The Beast in Revelations. Maybe every atheist should get a 666 tattoo to show they have seen through the noble lies about Jesus – lol

    • 2015-07-18 16:46:02 UTC - 16:46 | Permalink

      Well there are other coincidences between Jesus and the mark of the Beast. The Greek letters chi, ksi, stigma stand for Xristos, Ksulon, Stigma (Christ, Timber or Beam, Wounds). In the Greek gematria the values of these letters add up to 666. Claim Jesus was nailed to a pole (“crux simplex”) and Ksulon can be swapped out for Iota. This set of three letters in the same system possess the value of 616, which in older manuscripts of Revelation is the number of the Beast!

      • John MacDonald
        2015-07-18 17:57:37 UTC - 17:57 | Permalink

        Regarding whether 666 or 616 is the number of the beast, David Novick comments that:

        “The number of the beast – 666 or 616?”

        NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS

        Understanding why some question the reading “666” in Revelation 13:18 as well as determining the correct reading of this verse requires an investigation into the area of New Testament studies known as textual criticism. Textual criticism is a branch of philology that studies manuscripts or printings to determine the original form of a text. New Testament textual criticism seeks to study the large body of manuscripts, early quotations, lectionaries (readings used for church services), and translations in an effort to ascertain the accurate reading of the New Testament. Some would ask, “Why is this necessary? Don’t we have the original manuscripts, as penned by their authors?” The answer unfortunately is no. No original New Testament writings exist today. However, we do have an abundance of New Testament manuscripts written in the original Greek language. In addition we have many citations of the New Testament contained in quotations from early church writers and lectionaries, as well as numerous ancient translations into other languages such as Latin, Coptic, and Syriac. With such a large number of documents spanning such a long period of time, it is no surprise that some differences have emerged between manuscripts, including those of the book of Revelation. New Testament textual criticism seeks to understand and resolve these differences. Textual criticism is an area of study that is very deep and very wide. In fact, some scholars are dedicated to nothing but the study of New Testament textual criticism. In light of that, it is impossible to present a complete treatment of the textual factors that go into determining the number of the beast in this article. In addition, research in this field continues and new discoveries are continually made. However, what follows is an overview of key factors that help to explain the questions and seek to provide reasonable answers.

        TEXTUAL WITNESSES

        According to Aland’s “The Text of the New Testament”, a well known text on New Testament textual criticism, over 2300 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament exist today [Aland, “Text of NT” 83]. Of these manuscripts, more than 280 contain some or all of the Book of Revelation. Examining Revelation 13:18 in these manuscripts reveals that here are differences between them. Some manuscripts spell out the number using Greek words, some use letters to represent numbers (similar to Roman numerals). Although the vast majority of manuscripts give the number of the beast as six hundred sixty six, four (two pre-sixth century and two no longer existent post-eighth century) are known to state 616 as the number and one 11th century manuscript gives 665. This explains why the question about 666 vs. 616 has been raised. Although one could argue that the fact that the majority of manuscripts contain 666 closes the question, textual criticism acknowledges that not all manuscripts are created equal. Some are more reliable than others, based on numerous factors, including age, condition, and history. So, let’s look at some of the oldest and most respected Greek manuscripts that contain this passage.

        Much of the recent stir about 616 has arisen due to renewed studies of a group of very old manuscripts originally discovered in 1895 by archaeologists at the site of an ancient garbage dump in Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Many of the Oxyrhynchus manuscripts consist of New Testament papyri, and are very old when compared to other manuscripts. One of them named P115 (also called P. Oxy. 4499), dates from around 300 AD and contains some or all of 12 chapters from the Book of Revelation, including Revelation 13:18. It records 616 as the number of the beast using Greek letters (see figure 1). Because of this manuscript’s age, some have jumped to the conclusion that this must be the original reading. However, this conclusion cannot be made. Other evidence must be considered. For example, three manuscripts from the Chester Beatty Papyri include portions of the New Testament. One of these named P47, dates from the 3rd century and contains chapters 9-17 of Revelation. In its reading of Revelation 13:18, it states that the number of the beast is 666, using Greek letters (see figure 2). So, two equally old papyri have both readings – 666 and 616.

        Other ancient manuscripts contain similar differences. The uncial manuscripts consist of those written with Greek capital letters. Around 100 of these date from before the 7th century. Six uncials are known to contain Revelation 13 [Aland, “Text of NT” Chart 6K] and are noteworthy in this discussion. Codex a(Aleph – the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), also known as Sinaiticus, was discovered by Constantin von Tischendorf in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in 1859. It dates from the fourth century and is one of the most revered NT manuscripts, due to its age as well as the fact that it contains all of the New Testament. Its reading of Revelation 13:18 denotes 666 as the number of the beast, spelled out with Greek words. Codex Alexandrinus (A/02), a fifth century uncial as well as Codex P/025 of the ninth century, and codices 046 and Codex 051 of the 10th century all agree with Codex ain their reading of 666 (with slight spelling differences). However, Codex C/04 of the fifth century has 616 spelled out with Greek letters as the number of the beast. So, it agrees with P115 as the only other ancient witness of this alternate text.

        In summary, of the almost 300 Greek manuscripts containing Revelation, almost all of them state 666 as the number of the beast. The two oldest papyri are evenly divided in their reading, and over 80%of uncial manuscripts hold the reading of 666.

        EARLY CHURCH WRITINGS AND TRANSLATIONS

        In addition to the evidence of Greek manuscripts, we can also look to Biblical quotations found in early church writings, as well as ancient translations of the New Testament. One early church writer by the name of Tyconius recognized 616 as the number of the beast in his 4th century Latin version. In contrast, the writings of Origen and Hippolytus (both of the 3rd century) attest strongly to the value of 666 as the correct reading [Burgon 136]. Most noteworthy however are the statements of Irenaeus, the 2nd century bishop of Lyon, known to be a disciple of Polycarp. Polycarp is believed to have been a disciple of John, the author of Revelation. In his treatise, “Against Heresies,” Irenaeus deals with the subject of Revelation 13 and the number of the beast. In Book 5, Chapter 28 of this work, he states that the number of the beast is 666. In addition, Chapter 30 of the same work makes the following statement regarding the number 666:

        “Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six…(portion elided)…I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads (author’s note: a decad is 10) they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.] Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.” [Roberts 558]

        In this illuminating passage, Irenaeus states that 666 is the reading found in the most reliable copies of Revelation, including those copied by men who saw John. In addition, he acknowledges the existence of the 616 reading, but considers it erroneous, attributing it to copying errors and the failure of some to properly examine the authenticity of the alternate reading.

        As the knowledge of Greek decreased in the ancient world, many translations of the Greek New Testament into the common languages of the people were created. These early translations agree in their readings of Revelation 13:18. The 5th century Armenian, the Syriac of the 6th century, the Old Latin of the 13th century, the Coptic, and the Latin Vulgate all agree that the number of the beast is 666.

        • 2015-07-20 16:40:14 UTC - 16:40 | Permalink

          Thanks for the information. It is possible both numbers could point beck to Nero Caesar (666 for the Greek “Neron Caesar” and 616 for the Latin “Nero Caesar” when both are translated into the ancient Aramaic and the Aramaic/Hebrew Gematria numerical values applied to each).

  • David Ashton
    2015-07-17 21:37:31 UTC - 21:37 | Permalink

    On the forehead or right hand, so the prophecy comes true (a bank-sensitive micro-chip would suit, “Daily Mail”, February 1, 2015).

  • anon
    2015-07-20 07:49:31 UTC - 07:49 | Permalink

    interesting and informative series of posts.
    …will be re-reading them again…..

  • John MacDonald
    2015-07-20 17:06:58 UTC - 17:06 | Permalink

    You can really see how Socrates gave birth to Christianity. In Plato’s “Apology,” Socrates points out that we simply don’t know what happens after death. We may simply be non-existent, in which case death is like an endless, dreamless sleep. On the other hand, maybe the soul will live on in a wonderful community of all the other dead souls. As a wise person, Socrates concluded that we simply don’t know.

    Some opportunists took Socrates second option and ran with it, understanding how valuable it would be for the masses to believe, as dogma, that there is a blessed afterlife. They had actually found something that would even comfort a thief on a cross: 42And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” Luke 23:43. If you could sell an idea that would comfort a thief on the cross, imagine what it would be able to do to control the masses!

  • mark
    2015-09-13 13:09:18 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

    I ‘ve had time after retirement to research some things, one of which is the number 666 re: the number of the beast. it’s my personal belief that everyone is wrong about this issue. it may be that I’m wrong, but nobody has been able to tell me why my idea is wrong. I’ve asked on several sites and never get a response. I’m not sure if I’m being ignored because my assertion isn’t taken seriously or if there’s no explanation to give me disproving my belief.
    my idea is this: the book of revelations reads; this takes wisdom. let the one with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is a mans’ number and his number is 666( I paraphrased that but it’s basically accurate ). I understand that recently the number was questioned, some believe 616 is the number. my belief is that neither is correct. I’m having a hard time understanding the assertion that the number is 666 or 616…………..the text is telling us that 666 definitely isn’t the number of the beast. why do I say that? Read the text carefully, it’s being comprehended wrong but nobody sees it except me apparently. my goal is to find out how my contention is wrong or to have someone acknowledge to me that I may be correct.
    Here’s what I believe the text is saying: it clearly says that wisdom is required, and it says the person with understanding could calculate the number. again, I need wisdom, understanding and a calculation to determine the number. That’s what the text says, so my question is this; how can the number be 666 when that number is given in the text? In other words,……….why would wisdom, understanding and a calculation be necessary if the number is provided for all to see? I have to be correct about this or the text is not meant to be taken literally. I definitely don’t believe that either, because if the text is not to be taken literally then what would be the reason for making a contradictory statement? Figurative messages are never the exact opposite of what the literal meaning is. It’s nonsensical, but it’s not really pertinent since I believe the text is literal.
    It’s a simple 3 lines and the message is clear. Therefore, the text comprehended correctly is telling us that clues are in the text, from there it’s up to a wise person that has understanding and can make a calculation to deduce the actual number of the beast using the clues provided. I’m not sure what the answer is but I have a theory. I’ll share it if I get a response………….Mark…………..

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