Plato’s Influence on the Bible’s Property and Agricultural Laws

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by Neil Godfrey

As per the previous posts, the table here is a simplified summary of some of the points Russell Gmirkin discusses in Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. It is far from being a complete representation of his discussion. It is best read as an easy reference guide in conjunction with the detail covered in the book. The table is only a starting guide: it will be expanded and modified as the details of laws are further explored. I expect to do a few more similar tables for other types of laws. (Still putting on hold the discussion of the final chapter of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible as I backtrack to sections I covered too briefly earlier or inadvertently omitted altogether.)

ANE = Ancient Near Eastern laws

Greece/Plato = Laws as implemented in Athens and/or Laws presented as ideals by Plato in Laws

Property Crimes and Agricultural Law




Laws against trespass

Exodus 22:5-6 

If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard. 

If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

Laws of Hammurabi 57-58 

57 If a shepherd does not make an agreement with the owner of the field to graze sheep and goats, and without the permission of the owner of the field grazes sheep and goats on the field, the owner of the field shall harvest his field and the shepherd who grazed sheep and goats on the field without the permission of the owner of the field shall give in addition 6,000 silas of grain per 18 ikus (of field) to the owner of the field.

58 If, after the sheep and goats come up from the common irrigated area when the pennants announcing the termination of pasturing are wound around the main city-gate, the shepherd releases the sheep and goats into a field and allows the sheep and goats to graze in the field—the shepherd shall guard the field in which he allowed them to graze and at the harvest he shall measure and deliver to the owner of the field 18,000 silas of grain per 18 ikus (of field).

Hittite Law 105-6

105 [If] anyone sets [fire] to a field, and the fire catches a vineyard with fruit on its vines, if a vine, an apple tree, a pear(?) tree or a plum tree burns, he shall pay 6 shekels of silver for each tree. He shall replant [the planting], And he shall look to his house for it. If it is a slave, he shall pay 3 shekels of silver for each tree.

106 If anyone carries embers into his field, catches(??) it while in fruit, and ignites the field, he who sets the fire shall himself take the burnt-over field. He shall give a good field to the owner of the burnt-over field, and he will reap it.

Plato, Laws 843 c-e

[843c] Wherefore every neighbor must guard most carefully against doing any unfriendly act to his neighbor, and must above all things take special care always not to encroach in the least degree on his land; for whereas it is an easy thing and open to anyone to do an injury, to do a benefit is by no means open to everyone. Whosoever encroaches on his neighbor’s ground, overstepping the boundaries, shall pay for the damage; and, by way of cure for his shamelessness

[843d] and incivility, he shall also pay out to the injured party twice the cost of the damage. In all such matters the land-stewards shall act as inspectors, judges and valuers,—the whole staff of the district, as we have said above, in respect of the more important cases, and, in respect of the less important, those of them who are “phrourarchs.” [The “phrourarchs” were the (5) officers of the (60) country police.] If anyone encroaches on pasture-land, these officials shall inspect the damage, and decide and assess it. And if any, yielding to his taste for bees,

[843e] secures for himself another man’s swarm by attracting them with the rattling of pans, he shall pay for the damage. And if a man, in burning his own stuff, fails to have a care for that of his neighbor, he shall be fined in a fine fixed by the officials. So too if a man, when planting trees, fail to leave the due space between them and his neighbor’s plot: this has been adequately stated by many lawgivers, whose laws we should make use of, instead of requiring the Chief Organizer of the State to legislate about all the numerous small details which are within the competence of any chance lawgiver.

Allowing passers-by to eat produce from a field

Deuteronomy 23:24-25

If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket.

If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.

Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.


Plato, Laws, 844d-845d

[844d] As concerns the fruit-harvest, the rule of sharing for all shall be this—this goddess has bestowed on us two gifts, one the plaything of Dionysus which goes unstored, the other produced by nature for putting in store. So let this law be enacted concerning the fruit-harvest:. . . . .

If a foreigner sojourning in the country desires to eat of the crop as he passes along the road, he, with one attendant,

[845b] shall, if he wishes, take some of the choice fruit with-out price, as a gift of hospitality; but the law shall forbid our foreigners to share in the so-called “coarse” fruit, and the like; . . . .  

A foreigner shall be allowed to share in these fruits in the same way as in the grape crop; and if a man above thirty touch them, eating on the spot and not taking any away, he shall have a share in all such fruits, like the foreigner; . . . . 


Moving boundary stones

Deuteronomy 19:14

Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

Deuteronomy 27:17

“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Plato, Laws, 842e – 843 a-b

[842e] First, then, let there be a code of laws termed “agricultural.” The first law—that of Zeus the Boundary-god—shall be stated thus: No man shall move boundary-marks of land, whether they be those of a neighbor who is a native citizen or those of a foreigner

[843a] (in case he holds adjoining land on a frontier), realizing that to do this is truly to be guilty of “moving the sacrosanct”; sooner let a man try to move the largest rock which is not a boundary-mark than a small stone which forms a boundary, sanctioned by Heaven, between friendly and hostile ground. For of the one kind Zeus the Clansmen’s god is witness, of the other Zeus the Strangers’ god; which gods, when aroused, bring wars most deadly. He that obeys the law shall not suffer the evils which it inflicts; but whoso despises it shall be liable to a double penalty, the first from the hand of Heaven, the second from the law. No one shall

[843b] voluntarily move the boundary-marks of the land of neighbors: if any man shall move them, whosoever wishes shall report him to the land-holders, and they shall bring him to the law court. And if a man be convicted,—since by such an act the convicted man is secretly and violently merging lands in one,—the court shall estimate what the loser must suffer or pay. Further, many small wrongs are done against neighbors which, owing to their frequent repetition, engender an immense amount of enmity, and make of neighborhood a grievous and bitter thing.

Gmirkin, pp. 119f

This parallel is reinforced by the common discovery of boundary stones in Attica and the apparent absence of archaeological parallels in ancient Mesopotamia or ancient Israel and Judah. To my knowledge, the earliest Judean boundary stones so far discovered are thirteen boundary stones found at Tel Gezer, written in Hebrew and Greek, dating to no earlier than the Hasmonean Era, suggesting that the use of boundary stones in Judah was a Hellenistic Era development taken over from the Greeks.




  • Bob de Jong
    2017-09-13 16:54:54 UTC - 16:54 | Permalink

    Gmirkin, pp. 119f is rather puzzling: “the apparent absence of archaeological parallels [of boundary stones] in ancient Mesopotamia or ancient Israel and Judah. …….suggesting that the use of boundary stones in Judah was a Hellenistic Era development taken over from the Greeks.”
    The use of boundary stones is archaeologically well demonstrated in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Phoenicia etc. long, long before the Greek/Hellenistic era!
    Hence, Judah and ancient Israel did not have to look at the Greeks to introduce the concept of boundary stones: they had already encountered the Babylonian and Egyptian culture centuries earlier.

    Regarding the absence of archaeological evidence of boundary stones in ancient Israel and Judah: Gmirkin appears to assume that boundary stones are identifiable by their inscriptions. The Tel Gezer stones fit in this category. It has been found that most boundary stones in ancient Israel and Judah (and also in Phoenicia) did NOT carry inscriptions*. Obviously, this makes it very difficult for archaeologists to identify and recover these stones as boundary stones. A clear case of ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

    This leaves us with only the parallel “Allowing passers-by to eat produce from a field”. This title is rather misleading: the Hebrew bible does not address ‘passers-by’ but the poor and foreigners living among the Israelites. Plato does clearly focus on the ‘foreigner …as he passes along the road”. No mention of the poor, or foreigners sojourning in the land. Hence the subjects of the ‘laws’ clearly differ. And the whole rationale differs too: in the Hebrew bible, the law is about sharing wealth with the poor and needy. In Plato, it is about gifts of hospitality. Scoring these passages as ‘parallels’ stretches the concept of ‘parallel’ too far for me.

    *: see e,g. https://wisdomintorah.s3.amazonaws.com/medialibrary/Standing-Stones-in-Ancient-Palestine.pdf, page 35

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-09-13 20:37:03 UTC - 20:37 | Permalink

      I also have questions about ancient boundary stones and their use, if any, in the ANE. I had thought they were a common archaeological find going back millennia, but I don’t have any confirmation of that “memory” at hand.

      I think Gmirkin is not relying so much on his own analysis of the inscriptions on the stones but rather on other scholars’ analyses and conclusions. That’s the impression I get from his very copious footnotes that are necessary to follow up in order to get to the details behind some of the statements in the book.

      I hope by presenting all the relevant evidence I cannot be accused of misleading anyone: as you yourself can see from the complete quotations I provided, the point in common between Plato and the Pentateuchal law is that the foreigner can glean from the field. Yes, other details vary. I am glad I provided sufficient information so that you at least were not misled 🙂

    • Yam
      2017-09-14 05:43:52 UTC - 05:43 | Permalink

      The paper you mentioned writes in p. 38

      “The kudurru stones of Babylon were a type of boundary stone.”

      Based on this he makes his claim.

      Gmirkin is using Slanski’s work about (kudurru)* which states this in p. 95-96:

      “Classification plays a primary role in any research, and since the time of their publication, the objects have been almost uniformly accepted as boundary stones marking the limits of royal land grants. Yet there are features of the artifacts that cannot be reconciled with their alleged function as boundary markers.”

      In Plato’s Laws, there is no poor citizen in the sense of not owning enough land to feed himself. That’s why the population must remain constant and the land always inherited by the kin. In situations of over-population people will go out to create new colonies.


      • Bob de Jong
        2017-09-14 18:53:49 UTC - 18:53 | Permalink

        The ‘Stele of vultures’ was discovered among the remains of the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu. It dates from around around 2450 BCE. One of the inscriptions reads: “”Let the man of Umma never cross the border of Ningirsu! Let him never damage the dyke or the ditch! Let him not move the stele!”. This is the oldest example of the use of a stele (stone, or pillar) to mark a border.

        I think we agree that the Hebrew bible and Plato/Greek laws relate to very different situations about giving food away.

        • Yam
          2017-09-15 08:46:27 UTC - 08:46 | Permalink

          If those stones are boundary stones, then Elamites expanded the territories of Babylon by moving those stones to their temple!

          See observation number 3 in Slanski p.96

          As for Plato and Laws it seems to me that the Biblical writers interpreted the free man in Laws 8.845 as poor. See 8.845b-d.

          Also in Gmirkin n. 258 is stated : ” Eusebius (Preparation for the Gospel 13.21) considered the biblical law more magnanimous, because a slave who ate premium grapes or fig was liable to a beating in Laws.”

          And indeed there is no mention of the poor in Eusebius, maybe he interpreted it this way too.

          Plato considered the poor as enemies of oligarchy. See for example : Plato and Aristotle on Tyranny and the Rule of Law – http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-26-1-plato-and-aristotle-on-tyranny-and-the-rule-of-law.html

          ” The poor will overthrow the oligarchy and set up a democracy, the rule of the people (the poor). Plato thought that democratic “life has neither law nor order.” An unquenchable desire for limitless liberty causes disorder, because the citizens begin to
          chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, . . . they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them. ”

          Now you may have to read the Versnel’s Ter Unus first chapter to understand how ” TYRANTS AGAINST TYRANNY” works. :

          To understand how a tyrant god can be presented as a savior.

          Also it seem to me that the writers of the Hebrew Bible had a program of proselytism through slavery.

          See Gen. 17:13 and 14:9 from Maimonides’ Issurei Biah 14: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/960662/jewish/Issurei-Biah-Chapter-Fourteen.htm

          This way they created laws about Israelite servants and they converted the converted to their religion, to Israelite servant.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-09-15 02:08:05 UTC - 02:08 | Permalink

    Gmirkin, p. 118:

    It was once thought that a Babylonian genre of inscriptions (“kudurru” monuments) that detailed property lines and landowner property rights granted in perpetuity by the king were Ancient Near Eastern examples of boundary stones (King 1912), but these large stone texts, found exclusively in temple archives, are now understood as records of land grants and property transfers. 250

    Endnote 250 (pp. 165f)

    Slanski 2000, 2003. Egyptian surveyors set up new boundary stones on a yearly basis after the inundation of the Nile (cf. Herodotus, Histories 2.109; Strabo, Geography 17.1.3) and Egyptian literature contained several references to the crime of moving these boundary stones. See Lyons 1926:242—4; Berger 1934. But the agricultural context in Egypt was markedly different from the biblical lands and it is difficult to see an otherwise-isolated Egyptian influence in the Deuteronomic provisions on boundary stones.

    • Berger, Suzanne, “A Note on Some Scenes of Land-Measurement,” JEA 20 (1934): 54-6.
    • King, L.W., Babylonian Boundary-Stones and Memorial-Tablets in the British Museum. London: Oxford University Press, 1912.
    • Lyons, Henry, “Two Notes on Land-Measurement in Egypt,” JEA 12 (1926): 242-4.
    • Slanski, Kathryn E., “Classification, Historiography and Monumental Authority: The Babylonian Entitlement ‘narus (kudurrus)’,” JCS 52 (2000): 95-114.
    • Slanski, Kathryn E., The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus): A Study in Their Form and Function. ASORB 9. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2003.

    ASORB American Schools of Oriental Research Books
    JCS = Journal of Cuneiform Studies
    JEA = Journal of Egyptian Archaeology

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-09-15 02:37:35 UTC - 02:37 | Permalink

    Slanski, Kathryn E., “Classification, Historiography and Monumental Authority: The Babylonian Entitlement ‘narus (kudurrus)’,” JCS 52 (2000): 96-97:

    Yet there are features of the artifacts that cannot be reconciled with their alleged function as boundary markers. For example: one inscription relates that it is a copy of a text destroyed when a wall collapsed upon it.4 This statement clearly points to an architectural rather than an agricultural provenance. Five initial observations can be marshaled against the designation kudurru “boundary marker” for the objects:5

    1. While the Akkadian word kudurru does mean “boundary,” the inscriptions do not designate the objects with the word kudurru. Rather, the inscriptions of the objects themselves refer to the objects to as, …narü,6 the regular Akkadian term for “(stone) stele” or “(stone) monument.”7
    2. Some of the inscriptions refer to the objects having been erected “in the presence of the gods.” Combined with the passage cited above indicating architectural provenance, these references suggest that the original setting of the objects had been within temples.
    3. Approximately one-third of the objects was found in Susa, capital of ancient Elam, where they had been taken in the aftermath of Elamite raids into Babylonia. It is inconceivable that the Elamite soldiers went scavenging in the fields to pick up boundary markers and carry them home. Moreover, the objects were set up in the main Elamite temple, alongside more spectacular monuments seized in Babylonia. Archaeological and epigraphical evidence indicates that these other trophy objects—such as the Law Stele of Hammurabi8 and the Stele of Naram-Sin—were removed from Babylonian temples.’9 The original Babylonian setting for the objects under discussion should be sought alongside these other artifacts taken from the temples of Babylonia.
    4. Most of the objects have a highly polished, visually appealing surface. The objects do not have the appearance of stones left outside in the elements.
    5. Recent systematic excavations, as well as reinterpretations of earlier, less systematic excavations, have indicated that find spots for some of these objects lie within the architectural remains of ancient temples.10

    In short, these objects were not boundary markers.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-09-15 04:07:08 UTC - 04:07 | Permalink

    Slanski, Kathryn E., The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus): A Study in Their Form and Function. ASORB 9. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2003. Page 288:

    In contrast to common modern perception, however, the objects were not known to the ancient Babylonians as ‘kudurru’, ‘boundary’, or, by extension, ‘area enclosed by a boundary’, or ‘boundary marker’. Rather, they were known as narü, a word usually translated ‘stele’, but more fundamentally signifying ‘(stone) monument’. A number of factors support re-assessing the form and function of the so-called “kudurrus” and assigning them to the Mesopotamian typology of ‘monument’ rather than ‘boundary marker’.

  • Bob de Jong
    2017-09-15 15:03:26 UTC - 15:03 | Permalink

    Accepting the view (proposed by Slanski and – earlier- also by others) that kudurru were monuments erected in temples (or in cities) does not establish that boundary stones did not exist in the ANE. The ‘Stele of vultures’ was found in a city, and speaks of a command not to move – another – stele. The other stele is discussed in the context of a a border, and the the dyke or the ditch that indicate the border. The dyke, ditch AND he stele were used to identify the border, hence we should identify this stele (not the stele of vultures) as a boundary stone (or monument).

    Indeed, boundary stones were known (and moved…) in Egypt as well. We can’t dismiss this evidence with a simple ‘the agricultural context in Egypt was markedly different’. What does the ‘agricultural context’ have to do with the issue?

    Slanski (or Gmrikin?) is begging the question when she/he says that ” it is difficult to see an otherwise-isolated Egyptian influence in the Deuteronomic provisions on boundary stones.” Ancient Israel and Judah had frequent contacts with Egypt, so an Egyptian influence is not unexpected.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-09-16 07:51:02 UTC - 07:51 | Permalink

      You might be interested in Slanski’s discussion on the Stele of Vultures (Eannatum Stele) in The Babylonian Entitlement narus (kudurrus): A Study in Their Form and Function

      The Eannatum text, concerned as it is with the acquisition and maintenance of land, stresses the inviolability of the land’s borders; as such, the prominent role of borders and boundaries in the inscriptions of the Babylonian Entitlement narüs also finds a parallel in text of the Eannatum Stele. As in the case of the Babylonian Entitlement narüs, the conspicuous border-oriented passages of the inscription may have led early interpreters to think that the monument had been set up upon the field to mark the boundaries of the newly defined territory. Frankfort, perhaps guided by the prevailing misconception that the Babylonian Entitlement narüs had been set up in the fields, contended that both the Stele of Eannatum and the Entitlement narüs stood upon actual land boundaries. In his brief commentary on the Entitlement narüs (“kudurrus”) in The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, Frankfort (1970: 130) wrote that:

      the custom of marking the limits of fields by reliefs naming the gods who vouchsafed the permanence of the boundary is very old; we have seen the Eannatum boundary stone set up at the limits of the field which the ruler of Lagash took again from Umma.

      The parallel drawn by Frankfort between the Entitlement narüs and the Stele of Eannatum is apt, but their actual deployment is other than what he had envisioned — the Stele of Eannatum stood in the fields no more than did the Babylonian Entitlement narüs: both were erected in temples.

      In the service of protecting borders, the Eannatum inscription recounts that the ruler of Umma was forsworn “not to transgress the territory of Ningirsu, not to shift the course of its irrigation channels and canals, not to smash its monuments” (after Cooper 1986: 35). Recall that, as noted above in Chapter Three, esp. p. 28, canals function as borders in the field descriptions of the Entitlement narüs. Thus, on the level of form, the series of first- person oaths sworn by the king of Umma is reminiscent of the series of third-person imprecations found in the imprecative divi- sion of the Entitlement narüs. The king of Umma then calls a curse down upon himself if he should break the agreement: “Whenever I do transgress, may the great battle net of GN, …, by which I have sworn, descend upon Umma!” (after Cooper 1986: 35). This formula is repeated five times with five different gods. In its spirit and repetition, the passage is reminiscent of the series of divine curses closing the inscriptions of the Entitlement narüs. (pp. 253-254)

      and concludes with

      Thus, the Eannatum stele provides parallels to the Entitlement narüs in that it is an inscribed and sculpted stone monument commemorating the acquisition of an income-producing (landed) entitlement and proclaiming the inviolability of its borders. Its inscription shares with the Babylonian Entitlement narüs a text that is grounded in legalistic justification for the situation it presents and is intended to safeguard into the future. The Eannatum Stele was set up in a temple. And, as is made explicit by the majority of the names given to the Entitlement narüs, these artifacts were intended to protect the entitlement — not by means of standing on a field boundary to mark it, but by preserving an immutable record of the entitlement’s acquisition and by furnishing divine verbal and visual representations to ensure its perpetuity. (p. 255)

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