Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637

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by Neil Godfrey

Cover of "Laws: Plato (Great Books in Phi...
Cover of Laws: Plato (Great Books in Philosophy)

I had long and often read and heard that the values of the Greeks and Jews were an entire world apart. The Greeks embrace the austere and the ribald gods, nudity, homosexuality, worldly wisdom, the arts, beauty and pleasure; the Jews embrace a caring yet moral god, modesty, family values, divine wisdom, spiritual pursuits.

But read one of Plato’s last written works, Laws, and those contrasting images begin to blur into monochrome.

Plato’s Laws is an exploration of what the ideal laws for a new state would look like. Plato presents his ideas through a three-way discussion involving an Athenian stranger, a Spartan named Megillos and a Cretan, Clinias, as they are traveling to the sacred site of the cave of Zeus on the island of Crete.  Anyone familiar with the Old Testament cannot help but be struck by many points of contact.

I have been wanting to write this post (or series) for a few years now and each time have been put off by the amount of work that organizing the material would take. I have decided now to take the easy way out and simply dot point similarities as one reads through the Laws even though this will involve repetition and disjointedness of themes. Take these posts, then, as a draft document for a more coherent presentation. I will often refer to biblical passages generally without quoting them since most interested readers will know of them anyway and they are details I can fill in later.

There is no reason to think that Plato, writing in the early fourth century BCE, was influenced by the Jewish writings. (Later church fathers did attempt to argue that Plato had indeed been indebted to Moses.) A number of scholars in recent decades have argued that the Pentateuch originated much later than has traditionally been thought — some arguing that the Pentateuch may date as late as Hellenistic (from late fourth century) times. I do not discuss explanations of the similarities of thought here. It is enough at this stage to set out apparent evidence for commonality.

I further comment from time to time on points of contact between Laws and the biblical literature that do not relate to legal content. I am not arguing that Plato’s work itself was a direct influence (nor do I deny the possibility) but do want to highlight the literary tropes, the wider literary culture, in which the biblical writings were produced.

I once posted on Hock’s admonition that New Testament scholars should read ancient novels; they should also read ancient philosophical works and acknowledge more fully than many of them currently do the extent to which the Bible is a product of its wider contemporary literary and ethical cultures.

We start with Book 1.

Benjamin Jowett translation at Internet Classics Archive is in dark azure.

R. G. Bury translation at Perseus Digital Library is in indigo.

The Purpose of the Law

Deut 28, Exod 19, Lev 26, Psalm 1 . . . . the law bestows blessings, both spiritual and material. Among these are good health and physical strength; also great wealth. Godly wisdom is the chief blessing.

Deut 4:6-8 – Law brings reputation for being a wise and understanding people, a light to the world.

Plato, Laws 1.631b: 

The object of laws . . . is to make those who use them happy; and they confer every sort of good. [=They are true laws inasmuch as they effect the well-being of those who use them by supplying all that are good.]

Now goods are of two kinds: there are human and there are divine goods, . . . Of the lesser goods the first is health, the second beauty, the third strength, including swiftness in running and bodily agility generally, and the fourth is wealth, not the blind god [Pluto], but one who is keen of sight, if only he has wisdom for his companion. For wisdom is chief and leader of the divine class of goods, and next follows temperance; and from the union of these two with courage springs justice, and fourth in the scale of virtue is courage. . . . 


(Note here the taxonomy of virtues: first, wisdom; followed by temperance, etc. Such lists are common tropes in Hellenistic literature and it pays to understand this when we read similar lists in the New Testament writings.)

Plato continues by having the Athenian explain that the ideal laws must lead citizens in all aspects of their lives, regulating their passions, desires, tendencies to anger; including how they respond to both ill-fortune and good in their lives. The laws must bestow honours on those who comply and punishments on those who don’t.

For Plato the law is a moral instrument with the purpose of making people good, as seen in 632e:

the rules we discussed just now had goodness for their aim

Or per Jowett:

And when we have gone through all the virtues, we will show, by the grace of God, that the institutions of which I was speaking look to virtue.

God is the source of the Law

sinaiWe are familiar enough with the Biblical narratives and teachings that God alone is the source of all its laws. We know from other Second Temple and some New Testament literature that there were alternative traditions claiming that angels gave some of the laws. The overwhelming message of the narratives in the Pentateuch, however, allow no room for such a view. God is always and often declared to be the one who gave the commandments and anyone turning away from this god and his laws was not to be listened to (Deuteronomy 13).

Compare Plato:

For assuming that you have reasonably good laws, one of the best of them will be the law forbidding any young men to enquire which of them are right or wrong; but with one mouth and one voice they must all agree that the laws are all good, for they came from God; and any one who says the contrary is not to be listened to. But an old man who remarks any defect in your laws may communicate his observation to a ruler or to an equal in years when no young man is present.



All shall declare in unison, with one mouth and one voice, that all are rightly established by divine enactment, and shall turn a deaf ear to anyone who says otherwise

Plato was written for the wise elders in the know, for those who knew they were teaching myths for the moral edification of their people. Younger ones dare not criticize any of the laws; elderly men could, if they did so with a “good attitude”, point out possible points of law that needed changing. The Bible’s narratives hide behind anonymity. We don’t know who the “wise men” were who were responsible for its tales.

Homosexuality is unnatural

jupiter-ganymede-albaniBoth the New Testament and Old are very clear that homosexuality is “unnatural”. Romans even speaks of those who sought to “justify themselves” in this behaviour that arises from “uncontrolled lusts”.

Plato commends the good that come out of the Greek gymnasia and common meals but cannot deny that the same institutions are associated with sexual abuses, too.

Now the gymnasia and common meals do a great deal of good, and yet they are a source of evil in civil troubles. . . [Also…], among whom these institutions seem always to have had a tendency to degrade the ancient and natural custom of love below the level, not only of man, but of the beasts.

The charge may be fairly brought against your cities above all others, and is true also of most other states which especially cultivate gymnastics. Whether such matters are to be regarded jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust.

The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver. Leaving the story, we may observe that any speculation about laws turns almost entirely on pleasure and pain, both in states and in individuals: these are two fountains which nature lets flow, and he who draws from them where and when, and as much as he ought, is happy; and this holds of men and animals-of individuals as well as states; and he who indulges in them ignorantly and at the wrong time, is the reverse of happy.


when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female, and that those first guilty of such enormities were impelled by their slavery to pleasure.


Compare Old Testament and New Testament image of two natural sources, two fountains, one representing the way of the law and blessings and the other of disobedience and curses.

Wine is good but avoid drunkenness

DionysusThe Pentateuch commands the enjoyment of wine at religious festivals (Tabernacles). But we know drunkenness is condemned.

But the laws of Sparta, in as far as they relate to pleasure, appear to me to be the best in the world; for that which leads mankind in general into the wildest pleasure and licence, and every other folly, the law has clean driven out; and neither in the country nor in towns which are under the control of Sparta, will you find revelries and the many incitements of every kind of pleasure which accompany them; and any one who meets a drunken and disorderly person, will immediately have him most severely punished, and will not let him off on any pretence, not even at the time of a Dionysiac festival; . . . . 

Let us then discourse a little more at length about intoxication, which is a very important subject, and will seriously task the discrimination of the legislator. I am not speaking of drinking, or not drinking, wine at all, but of intoxication. Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians,and Celts, and Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain?


The rules about pleasures at Sparta seem to me the best in the world. For our law banished entirely from the land that institution which gives the most occasion for men to fall into excessive pleasures and riotous and follies of every description; neither in the country nor in the cities controlled by Spartiates is a drinking-club to be seen nor any of the practices which belong to such and foster to the utmost all kinds of pleasure. Indeed there is not a man who would not punish at once and most severely any drunken reveller he chanced to meet with, nor would even the feast of Dionysus serve as an excuse to save him. . . .


So let us deal more fully with the subject of drunkenness in general for it is a practice of no slight importance, and it requires no mean legislator to understand it. I am now referring not to the drinking or non-drinking of wine generally, but to drunkenness pure and simple . . .


Plato will return to this subject in the context of religious festivals.

More anon.

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55 thoughts on “Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637”

  1. As you know, Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert gives an extensive list of parallels across several of Plato’s works. Wajdenbaum is not so shy when it comes to determining primacy:

    “With Freud, Nietzsche and Bourdieu, we understand that what is deeply repressed is the relation between Greek literature and the Bible. The concealment of that relationship first was elaborated upon by the biblical writer himself, who found justifications of his own noble lie in Plato’s texts, a lie that he was to address to the youth of his ‘Ideal State’. This author was probably raised among the elite of the Hellenised Judean priestly class; he may have been instructed at the Library of Alexandria, and even at the platonic Academy of Athens—two institutions that were the ancestors of what eventually became our system of teaching. The Hasmonean State, I believe, is the most likely institution to have had the power to establish the Bible as the official national history of Israel and Judah. There we find a Hellenised princedom, a political power that was officially bound to Rome and forced the Edomites to convert (Josephus Flavius, Ant. XIII, 9, 1; see also Strabo, Geog. XVI, 2, 34). It is probable that ‘conversion’ to the new biblical religion even took place in Judea. The Hasmoneans may have been a political and religious party that was closely related to the person who wrote the Bible and his team.”

    One could say Wajdenbaum is arguing that the cultural memory of the Hellenstic origins of monotheistic Yahwism has been actively repressed for well over a thousand years.

    P.S. I’d argue Wajdenbaum is roughly half right in his conclusion. The story is a bit more complicated than what he describes, but the Hasmonean period is when we see enforcement of the Mosaic Distinction (which most likely was first made in the documents c. 200 BCE).

    1. Yes, my awareness of the relationship between Laws and the OT was initiated by Wajdenbaum’s book. One reason I have held back from following up more along W’s lines here is that the second part of his work initiated several questions I needed to follow through before continuing. I have since read Levi-Strauss’s The Raw and the Cooked to try to understand the anthropological argument more precisely.

      (And that is what led me to comparing other arguments for literary/mythological adaptations such as Propp’s Morphology — that I have been addressing on another discussion forum — and Rank-Raglan’s Hero that I addressed here. There have been other sub-meanderings along the way. I’ve also been following up the debates over Calum Carmichael’s thesis that the Pentateuchal laws were written as fictions, not real legislation.)

      W’s sporadic references to Plato also prompted me to lay aside his book and read Laws for myself. It was not long before I learned that Laws has long been something of a problem/mystery among many readers given its echoes of what we know from the Pentateuch.

      I think just setting out a list of similarities (as in fact W has done in the main body of his book) is only the start from which we need to ask questions and test possibilities. I suspect a more productive beginning is to focus on one Greek source at a time and examine it and its correspondences in depth. That’s what has led me to set out what we can identify in Laws as a whole before going any further. (The regular allusions to other sections of the biblical literature, beyond the Pentateuchal Law and including the NT, should also be instructive, I think. I cannot address all of these for fear of the posts becoming unwieldy but I am sure readers will notice details I have not explicitly drawn attention to — and there are many more in the Laws that I do not quote at all.)

      The differences will also need to be explained if there is a historical relationship (MacDonald’s criteria of explanatory power) and that’s where we return to Levi-Strauss. I’d like to see if and how different social/cultural systems might account for differences. In other words, we need to go beyond a surface comparison of a few distinctive points.

  2. Russell Gmirkin is working on a book about the peculiar relationship between the Bible and Plato’s Laws.

    What if it turned out that “God’s Laws” were nothing but political theory that never existed in Ancient Israel, or any other place?

    The mind reels.

    1. I don’t think the Pentateuchal laws ever were “constitutional” or the basis of Judea’s polity, though some of them may have become the expressions of customs and rules of later political factions. How does one take a law against “coveting” seriously in reality? I do suspect some of them were written as ideals — not unlike some other literary law codes from the ancient Near East. But to argue that case requires going beyond the comparisons I am looking at here. That’s for future posts.

      I’ll be interested to see Gmirkin’s work and more by Wajdenbaum when they publish again.

      1. You’ll enjoy my forthcoming book. It has a nice section on the commandment against coveting, which corresponds closely to characteristically Greek polemics against pleonexia, the love of riches, as the source of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the oligarchs and various consequent social evils.

        In my opinion the Pentateuch’s revised constitution and laws represented a refounding of the Jewish/Samaritan nation in the early Hellenistic Era. Various later texts indicate the Torah was accepted by foreign powers as the ancestral laws and national constitution of the Jews.

    2. A few months ago, Prof. Thompson told me that Russ’s book is pretty close to completion, but he did not give me more details when I pressed for them.

      My thesis is that the Primary History do constitute a “constitution” in the sense of Plato’s Laws, but I agree with Neil (and Prof. Thompson) that this “constitution” is not what we have come to expect in modern times. Specifically, my thesis is that the Primary History, i.e., the books of the Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Kings, is entirely Hellenistic. That is: (1) the Primary History as we know it was originally compiled/written in the Hellenistic Era (specifically, during the first third of the 2nd century BCE; although parts of the Torah and Joshua likely were compiled/written in the time of Ptolemy II); (2) the Primary History did not begin as a product of indigenous priests or scribes, but as a political tract sponsored by the Seleucid kingdom to secure its control over the formerly Ptolemaic-controlled region of Palestine after its conquest by Antiochus III in 198 B.C.E.; and (3) Ptolemaic-sponsored separatists, based in Jerusalem, ultimately re-purposed the Primary History to create their own independent Jewish state, giving rise to the Hasmonean dynasty under John Hyrcanus (I believe John Hyrcanus founded the Hasmonean dynasty, not the mythical Judah Maccabee).

      The key to understanding the constitutional nature and purpose of the Primary History is to apply Calum Carmichael’s approach to reading the documents. Namely, the purpose of the narratives is to illustrate what happens when one follows or violates the laws. That is, the laws were written with the narratives in mind.

      When you read the Primary History, and particularly the stories of David and Solomon, you will see that both kingly houses systematically violated the laws of Deuteronomy (just as Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, the bases for those characters did). The implication is that God’s promise to David, if it was ever made in the original documents, was indeed conditional, and David and his house did not meet the conditions. Thus, the house of David and the house of Ptolemy (each Ptolemy had a throne name identifying him as “beloved” of one god or another; David means merely “Beloved”) rightly lost control over Israel. On the other hand, the Seleucid kings actually observed the laws of Deuteronomy. The receipt of an assertedly ancient history (from “returnees” from Babylon in the 2nd century BCE) would have been compelling to the inhabitants, especially given that history seemed to be repeating itself in the modern dispute between the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

      1. Calum Carmichael’s argument that the laws are commentaries or extracted from the narratives (e.g. Genesis) is certainly interesting but on reading his explanations and the details I was disappointed to find many of the links less cogent than I had anticipated. I prefer to keep the hypothesis as a possibility rather than a probability at this stage.

        1. I expand on Carmichael’s thesis, at least to the extent the laws in question refer to deeds that happen in the future. What matters to me is the analysis relative to Deuteronomy, which is what it issue when considering David and Solomon (and the Ptolemies). Carmichael may have gone too far in trying to apply his thesis outside of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History.

    3. From academia.edu:

      “This book compares the ancient law collections of the Ancient Near East, the Greeks and the Pentateuch to determine the legal antecedents for the biblical laws. A striking number of legal parallels are found to be with Athenian laws, and specifically with those found in Plato’s Laws of ca. 350 BCE. Constitutional features in biblical law similarly mostly agree with Athens and with Plato’s Laws. The synthesis of narrative and legal content is also shown to be compatible with Greek literature. Finally, it is argued that the creation of the Hebrew Bible took place according to the program for creating a national ethical literature found in Plato’s Laws, reinforcing the importance of this specific text to the authors of the Torah and Hebrew Bible in the early Hellenistic Era.”


      Interesting approach, but it continues with Gmirkin’s belief that Hebrew Bible (he is probably thinking primarily of Deuteronomy) was written by indigenous Judeans, which cannot be assumed. By 198 BCE, the Greek diaspora was in full swing. The Seleucids had already accepted that they were refugees who could never go home, and the reality is that Rome had essentially conquered Greece by that time. The Hellenes, like the habiru or apiru (the most likely origin of the term Hebrew) before them were refugees searching for a new home, and the Primary History was a “Phoenician tale” (a la Plato’s Republic) the Hellenes told each other to build a new nation that would be free from Roman cultural influence. At least that is how my thesis is shaping up . . .

        1. “Why would Deuteronomy be written by the Hellenes if it doesn’t mention them at all?”

          Actually, it does, just not as “Hellenes” (but as Hebrews). The stories of Saul, David and Solomon appear to be based on the lives of Alexander, Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, and many of the other characters are readily identifiable once that basic fact is recognized. For example, the “elders of Israel” who call for a king are represented by Isocrates, who called for a Philip to be hegemon of the Hellenes. Indeed, the Deuteronomistic History from Judges through 1 Kings is recognizable as a recasting of the history of Greece from towards the end of where Herodotus left off through the times of Ptolemy III.

          I cannot eliminate the possibility that the Hebrews of the second century chose to adopt Hellenistic history in the absence of their own history, but in context that seems highly unlikely. Plato in his Republic advocated the telling of a “Phoenician tale” aka “the Noble Lie” to ensure that the laws of a newly founded colony would not be changed over time, that they would be adhered to because God had determined that it would be so. I believe it is more likely that the authors of the Primary History looked to Hellenistic history as their own but chose not to reveal that fact overtly because of what they were trying to accomplish through their “Phoenician tale.”

          “And shows zero signs of Greek influence?”

          If you believe that Deuteronomy shows “zero signs of Greek influence,” you have not been reading this blog very closely, nor have you taken the time to read the books reviewed and referenced here. I suggest you spend some time with Phillipe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, in which he concludes: “I believe that I have successfully demonstrated that the point of departure for the biblical literature was in Greek classical literature.”

          A more extended excerpt:

          “With Freud, Nietzsche and Bourdieu, we understand that what is deeply repressed is the relation between Greek literature and the Bible. The concealment of that relationship first was elaborated upon by the biblical writer himself, who found justifications of his own noble lie in Plato’s texts, a lie that he was to address to the youth of his ‘Ideal State’. This author was probably raised among the elite of the Hellenised Judean priestly class; he may have been instructed at the Library of Alexandria, and even at the platonic Academy of Athens—two institutions that were the ancestors of what eventually became our system of teaching. The Hasmonean State, I believe, is the most likely institution to have had the power to establish the Bible as the official national history of Israel and Judah. There we find a Hellenised princedom, a political power that was officially bound to Rome and forced the Edomites to convert (Josephus Flavius, Ant. XIII, 9, 1; see also Strabo, Geog. XVI, 2, 34). It is probable that ‘conversion’ to the new biblical religion even took place in Judea. The Hasmoneans may have been a political and religious party that was closely related to the person who wrote the Bible and his team.

          The religious war between ‘conservative’ and ‘Hellenised’ Jews, as depicted in the books of Maccabees, probably hides a conflict between those who wished to promote the newly written Bible and other Judeans who did not hold that Bible to be sacred. This is a conjecture, but it is likely that the Bible was either written or published with strong political support, and the Hasmonean State is the most plausible candidate for that support. Even though the Bible strongly criticises kingship, its philosophical author may have reached a compromise with the Maccabees—corrupt men of war that were also priests; we can infer ties between the biblical writer, probably a priest himself, and that family. The priests of the Hasmonean State can be identified as the first ‘pedagogical authority’ that had the monopoly on symbolic violence needed in order to promote the Bible to its sacred status, as the example of forced conversion tells us. Let us remember that during the reign of the Hasmoneans a man coming from Judea-Palestine, Antiochus of Ascalon, became the head of the platonic Academy of Athens—a solid lead that should be explored further in trying to identify the milieu of the biblical writer.

          In the terms of Bourdieu, the authority of the Hasmonean priests gained legitimacy through the use of physical and symbolic violence, so that their vision of history and religion became dominant. The high class of the priests managed to obtain power over the lower classes. The latter did not have the intellectual means to refute the truth of the Bible, and while some of them probably did try, their voices were reduced to silence. In a few generations, the Bible was accepted as the official history of Israel. When the Romans destroyed the temple of Jerusalem, the priesthood lost its reason to remain, and the need to establish the pedagogical authority of the rabbis arose. Within early Judaism, the doctors of the Law soon became the only legitimate representatives of the Jewish religion, and they forbade the teaching of ‘Greek wisdom’. The confrontation of the Bible with its Greek sources was prevented by a deliberate strategy of avoiding them.”

          “Is this satire?”

          So, no, this is not satire. There is a great deal of scholarship out there establishing the (overwhelming) Hellenistic influence on the Primary History, and my own research merely builds on top of that. Where I depart from public discussion by minimalists is in asserting that the Primary History was written for Hellenes by Hellenes in a very straightforward application of Plato’s recommendations of nation building. (Seriously; they just did what he proposed be done; to recognize the obvious should not be mistaken for being satirical.) I will admit that the evidence we have makes that assertion difficult to prove, but using Carrier’s Bayesian approach, my conclusion is the best fit to the evidence we have.

          Please, ask specific questions or provide specific criticisms of my thesis. I will be happy to address them.

          1. I am currently working on the relationship between the Hebrew “Adonai,” or “my lord,” with Adonis. A connection acknowledged by the Oxford English Dictionary entry on Adonis.

              1. Since Hebrew and Phoenician are closely related languages, I’m not aware of any reason to regard adon- as a loan from one to the other, rather than than as their common Semitic patrimony.

              2. Though the Greeks also have an Adonis. Suggesting at least folk conflation of all three. Many note a corroborating relation between Jesus, and the dying and rising Adonis.

            1. Tryggve N.D. Mettinger’s “The Riddle of the Resurrection” discusses the origin of the name Adonis and may contain something of use for your search. In part,

              A century ago, Kretschmer (1916) made the last serious attempt to maintain a Greek origin for the name Adonis. Ever since Baudissin’s massive refutation (1916) there has been a consensus that the name is of Semitic stock. And this is no new insight. Hesychius of Alexandria (a grammarian of the fifth or sixth centuries C.E.) seems to take Adonis to be a name of the Phoenician Baal…. It is obviously West Semitic ‘dn that forms the etymon of the divine name. In Ugarit we find adn used about Yam, El, and the king….. In Phoenician material, the epithet is used with [Eshmun, Reshep, and Melqart]. In Punic material the epithet is used with [Baal Hamon, Ball, Baal Shamem, Eshmum], and others. The epithet is thus used in connection with various deities.

              The divine name Adonis thus contains the common West Semitic word for “lord”. The element [is] is either a Greek morpheme, used for noun formation, or a reflection of the West Semitic pronominal suffix for the first person singular. In the latter case, the name Adonis can be understood as reflecting the Semitic invocation ‘dny, “my lord!” The West Semitic ‘dn was used for various deities, but … the cultic centre par preference of West Semitic Adon(is) was Byblos. It seems to be in this city that the epithet developed into a proper name……

              1. Thanks much! I’ll probably take the Phoenician as central, as related to Baal. Then see the Hebrew and Greek as variations on that. Though multilinguals might intermix any and all. To produce the idea of a lordly son of a king, who dies and resurrects.

              2. West Semitic adn (later vocalized adon), meaning “lord” (Hebrew adoni means “my lord”) seems to be loaned from Greek dyna-mis (power, strength and also lordship, sovereignty; see Gr. dyna-steia “lordship” (loaned in English dynasty)). The aleph in West Sem. adn can be explained as a prosthetic “a”. All forms and inflections of Gr. dyna-mis begin with “dyna” which is very close (phonetically as well as semantically) to West Sem. adn. Greek loans in West Sem. inscriptions (even Ugaritic) can be discerned (most linguists are not aware of it). E.g., in Ugaritic “hmlt” means a crowd, assembly of people (see Cyrus Gordon’s edition) which is very closed to Greek “homilos” (same meaning crowd, mob).

          2. 1. The Primary History is written in Hebrew, not in Greek.
            2. The Primary History shows no sign of detailed familiarity with the Greek occupation of Palestine (with one lone exception I know of, the case of the Pelethites and Cherethites) or any of the archaeological discrepancies similar to those in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.
            3. The Primary History has detailed knowledge of many historical Assyrian and Judahite figures from the 9th to 6th centuries BC, but none after. That of the Chronicler is clearly worse and derivative.
            4. The geography of the Primary History (see http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/grand-genesis-10-map/ ) is definitely pre-Persian.
            5. If the Bible was written by an Ashkelonite, why didn’t it portray the Philistines in a positive light?

            BTW, as shown by Israel Finkelstein, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah are definitely Hasmonean in origin.

        2. You might read the following article when it comes out:

          Russell Gmirkin, “Greek Genres in the Hebrew Bible,” in Ingrid Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson (eds.), Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity (Changing Perspectives in Old Testament Studies 7; London: Routledge, forthcoming).

          Abstract: The Hebrew Bible has traditionally been considered a collection of Ancient Near Eastern texts. This article surveys Greek and Hellenistic literary genres that are easily detected in biblical writings and are without Ancient Near Eastern parallel. These include genres of narrative writing (apologetic historiography, foundation stories), legal writing (constitutions, civil and sacred law collections, collections of ethical commandments, hortatory legal introductions and laws with motive clauses in Plato’s Laws), prophetic writing (oracles against the nations), plays (cf. Job) and erotic poetry (cf. Song of Songs). The Hebrew Bible appears to be based on the idea of a restricted ethical national literature centered on its law code in accordance to that described in Plato’s Laws. The consideration of such antecedents to the biblical text opens important new avenues of research.

          1. Look forward to it.

            One related question: Which came first, the Greek or the Hebrew “bible” [or bible bits: Pentateuch and/or Primary history and/or other etc] and how do we know?

            1. In my model the Pentateuch was written in Hebrew at Alexandria using Berossus, Plato and other sources found there, and then immediately translated into Greek for addition to the Great Library (the LXX).

              The standard case for translation from Hebrew into Greek rests on Semiticisms in the LXX and other such linguistic evidence. This isn’t really my area, which is source criticism.

              1. A spin-off question if I may —

                Is there any section of the LXX that is comparable to the “stylistic crudities” that the Gospel of Mark is famous for?

              2. I really don’t know what metric one should use for crudeness, i can’t even read koine. It’s not very useful, but I once counted all the και coupled with modern versification, and Mark stands between the Torah and the very Kings. Torah and Kings are by themselves quite homogeneus. (Hopefully the “code” tag preserves tabbed formatting)

                και Luke Acts Torah Mark Matthew Kings(4) John
                verse avg:1.332 1.173 2.071 1.673 1.166 3.148 0.977
                και/words:0.076 0.061 0.096 0.095 0.065 0.122 0.052
                και@start:34.4% 15.5% 52.6% 61.0% 25.5% 84.1% 11.8%

              3. I think the “crudity” lies not so much in the frequency of the kai’s but in the frequency of the particular way they are used — the entire gospel (almost) seems to be one long string of “and then…. and then… and then…. and then…. “‘s.

              4. Yes, the books of kings are even more peculiar in that respect, with 84% of their verses starting with και, compared with 61% for Mark. If Mark wanted to somewhat imitate those 4 books, that would be one easy way of doing it.

                The notorious ευθυς and παλιν are nearly absent from both Kings and Torah. Maybe I could use the parsed greek from http://unbound.biola.edu/ to spot grammatical features, but i don’t know what to look for, or if there’s something to look for at all.

      1. Actually, I hold that the Pentateuch was a collaborative text written ca. 270 BCE by both Jews and Samaritans at Alexandria. Most of the rest of the Hebrew Bible (1/2 Kings. the Prophets) appears to have been written starting a bit later at Jerusalem, and writes the Samaritans out of the picture.

        1. Thanks for the clarification. I did not recall you saying in Berossus and Genesis that both Judeans and Samaritans were involved in authoring the Pentateuch.

          I found many of your arguments in Berossus and Genesis persuasive, and so I agree that much of the Pentateuch was written in Alexandria ca. 270, but I believe it was written to form the basis of a syncretic cult of Yahweh to encourage hellenistic colonization of Phoenicia and Syria, just as the syncretic cult of Serapis encouraged hellenistic colonization of Egypt. The similarities in the charter myths of the cult of Serapis and the Septuagint should not be ignored.

          I also agree that the rest of the Primary History was written later and elsewhere (I believe that to be Antioch, not Jerusalem). By the time of Antiochus III, the Seleucids had their own great library in Antioch headed by a Platonist (making Antioch a much more likely place to find the “Deuteronomist” than Alexandria, whose library was managed by Aristotle’s Peripatetics, who abhorred Plato’s Republic). I don’t think Jerusalem became involved in authoring the Primary History until later still (namely, the Hasmonean period) as redactor/editor.

          I look forward to your new book and will pick up a copy of the book edited by Thompson and Hjelm when it becomes available.

          1. At the time I wrote Berossus and Genesis I had not yet come to realize that the Torah (unlike the rest of the Hebrew Bible) was both a Samaritan and Jewish text. Samaritan involvement in the authorship of the Pentateuch has come to be fairly widely recognized among biblical critics in the last decade or two. Why the Jews and Samaritans cooperated on the writing of the Torah and how the Samaritans later came to be disenfranchised is an interesting historical question.

            Interesting fact about Antioch’s library. However, Aristotle’s library had all the works of his teacher Plato, and according to a credible tradition Aristotle’s library was acquired by the Great Library of Alexandria for its collection. Fragments of all of Plato’s dialogues have been found in Egypt, second in number only to the writings of Homer. Plato’s writings were organized into groups of three by the Librarian Aristophanes of Byzantium (in ca. 200 BCE Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 3.61), I would assume in the course of producing a critical edition of Plato’s works at the Great Library. So Plato’s writings were well represented in Alexandria, which was a center of continuing Platonic research/writing in later Middle Platonism (think Philo) and neo-Platonism.

            1. Agreed that the works of Plato would have been available in Alexandria ca. 270 BCE, but the fact that they were available does not mean they would have been used by the authors at that time.

              Furthermore, I’d argue that the works of Plato would not have been used in a state-sponsored endeavor by the Ptolemies to create a syncretic cult of Yahweh encouraging Hellenistic colonization of Phoenicia and Syria. Indeed, the story of Moses is a clinic on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, betraying the fingerprints of the peripatetic scholars in Alexandria. (As an aside, the syncretic cult of Yahweh formed ca. 270 BCE was most likely polytheistic.)

              On the other hand, the overtly Platonic laws found in Deuteronomy are part and parcel of the Deuteronomistic History, which stands in large part as a polemic against the Ptolemies (e.g., the stories of David and Solomon appear to be lifted directly from the biographies of Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II) illustrating how the Ptolemies violated God’s laws while the Seleucids adhered to them. Moreover, the state envisioned by Deuteronomy was much more in line with how the Seleucids exercised control over their territories (i.e., “independent” vassal kingdoms) than how the Ptolemies did (i.e., centralized control).

              1. I think you will find my book Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible will address a number of the issues you raise. You’ll forgive me if I don’t engage your theories at this time. Let me know off-blog if you ever get your arguments into print or e-print.

              2. “I think you will find my book Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible will address a number of the issues you raise.”

                I hope so.

                “You’ll forgive me if I don’t engage your theories at this time.”

                There is nothing to forgive. I don’t provide enough context for you to engage, and so it is understandable that you really can’t engage within the paradigm you approach the subject.

                “Let me know off-blog if you ever get your arguments into print or e-print.”

                Said Ratzinger to Thompson. 🙂

                In all seriousness, I do appreciate the work you have done in the past and I expect I may appreciate your forthcoming work even more so. I do have a number of challenges to your published theories, but I can let you know those off-blog as well. I’m sure you are prepared to engage there.

            2. “Samaritan involvement in the authorship of the Pentateuch has come to be fairly widely recognized among biblical critics in the last decade or two. ”

              Please point me to some sources on this point. Thanks.

              I would argue that t is more likely that Judeans assisted the Ptolemies in authroing the pre-Deuteronomistic Pentateuch and the Samaritans assisted the Seleucids in editing this “proto-Pentatech,” grafting onto it the Deuteronomistic History (and anti-Egyptian rheteroic) to form the Primary History. Further, I would argue that the Samaritan canon originally included the entirety of the Primary History because the Primary History as a whole justifies centralized control of the cult at Mt. Gerizim and criticizes Solomon’s building of the Temple in Jerusalem (the wrong place; Solomon’s original sin of building the Temple in the wrong place is what led to the exile). The Hasmoneans later edited the texts further to incorporate things like the promise of a messiah from the house of David (first found in Isaiah).

              Considering the origins of the Pentateuch/Primary History as a primarily “Hellenistic” endeavor (i.e., by Hellenes for Hellenes) instead of as a native Judean/Samaritan effort opens up new avenues of inquiry and, I believe, leads to a much more comprehensive and satisfactory explanation of the evidence that we have today.

              1. For Samaritans and the authorship of the Torah, see: Etienne Nodet, A Search for the Origins of Judaism: From Joshua to the Mishnah (Trans. Ed Crowley; JSOTSup 248; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997); Christophe Nihan, “The Torah between Samaria and Judah: Shechem and Gerizim in Deuteronomy and Joshua,” in Gary N. Knoppers and Bernard M. Levinson (eds.), Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 187-224; Kratz, Reinhard G., “Temple and Torah: Reflections on the Legal Status of the Pentateuch between Elephantine and Qumran.” Pages 77-104 in Gary N. Knoppers and Bernard M. Levinson (eds.) Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007; Hjelm, Ingrid, The Samaritans and Early Judaism: A Literary Analysis. JSOT 303. Copenhagen International Seminar 7. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000; idem, Jerusalem’s Rise to Sovereignty: Zion and Gerizim in Competition. London: T & T Clark, 2004; Davies, Philip R., Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, esp. 120-21.

              2. Thanks for the cites. I currently only have Nodet and Hjelm. I will focus on those two and will track down the others.

                Best regards,


              3. Fortunately, my editor for Berossus and Genesis as well as Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible was/is Thomas Thompson, not the esteemed inquisitor Ratzinger.

              4. “Fortunately, my editor for Berossus and Genesis as well as Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible was/is Thomas Thompson, not the esteemed inquisitor Ratzinger.”

                You are indeed fortunate. Prof. Thompson seems very rigorous in his methodology, which I am sure is a great trait to have in an editor, particularly when you are pushing on the boundaries of accepted (acceptable?) historiography (even after Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert).

        2. I am sure Russel is right about the Samaritan contribution to the Pentateuch. The Samaritan bible is after all just these five books. I used to wonder why they included Deuteronomy, which, on the usual understanding excluded all sanctuaries but Jerusalem. I now see that this means that our usual understanding of Deuteronomy must be wrong. (We tend wrongly to read back from the stories in Samuel and Kings).
          I have visited the Samaritans at Nablus. They consider themselves the original children of Israel and showed me some of their family trees going back long before David. I had to go through an Israeli checkpoint to reach them so I asked them about this. They said it was not of their asking. They try to get on with everyone. In fact there are so few of them that they can not afford to offend anyone, and in fact the Palestinians (who give them voting rights) and the Israelis understand this and try to be helpful to them. Their problem is that there are few Palestinians left to marry and they told me that their solution, with the encouragement of their priests, is to seek converts internationally from dating agencies. Else inbreeding would cause genetic disorders.
          They claim that Shechem (now called Nablus from Neapolis) is the original central sanctuary, and not Jerusalem. There are stories in Genesis and Exodus (and indeed outside the Pentateuch, in Joshuah) which fit with this. Archaeology seems to agree with the Samaritans (and disagree with some stories in Josephus) as to the age of the Shechem temple.
          I have some questions to ask Russel
          (1) What is the significance of that phrase in the Pentateuch “the place in which my name shall dwell. Did it exclude all but one temple? If so did the Judaeans and the Samaritans agree to disagree about Which temple was meant?
          (2) What about Bethel?
          (3) Did the king lists(excluding founders, almost all the narrative, and some genealogical invention) also come from the Samaritans?

          1. The traditional interpretation of “the place Yahweh would place his name” (Deut. 17.8) as Jerusalem is based on 2 Sam. 7 and 2 Kgs 8, but there is nothing in Deuteronomy to indicate that this was the originally intended referent. Indeed, Jerusalem is mentioned nowhere in the Pentateuch. The growing scholarly consensus recognizes the possibility (or even likelihood) that Deuteronomy intended Gerizim as the referent. The Samaritans have always believed it referred to their temple on Mount Gerizim, and this is explicit in the Samaritan Torah. The books of Deuteronomy and Joshua gave special recognition to the sacred status of various prominent Samaritan locales, namely Gerizim, Ebal and Shechem (Deut. 11.27-29; 27.4, 11-13; Josh. 8.30-35; 24.1-28). Genesis mentions many other sacred locales, some in Samaritan territory (e.g. Bethel). I believe that the location of the “place where Yahweh placed his name” was initially left deliberately ambiguous by the Jews and Samaritans whom I believe co-authored the Torah at Alexandria. The Jews of Jerusalem who authored Samuel/Kings not long afterwards explicitly identified the place as Jerusalem, which caused a definitive break with the Samaritans, who were also written out of the history of Kings and castigated in the Prophets, despite having co-written the Torah.

            The authors of 1 and 2 Kings had several distinct sources with regnal data (Judea, Samaritan, Babylonian [Berossus] and probably Egyptian [Manetho]) which they organized into a synchronistic work for chronological purposes, as was the custom in late Greek and Hellenistic times. The Samaritans appear to have locally preserved a king-list for the northern kingdom(s).

            1. Thank you for this. It is pretty much what I had concluded. This excludes the idea that Josiah’s reformers wrote Deuteronomy. It looks like the idea of a special temple did not exclude other temples too, at first.

              1. Also Israel Finkelstein’s work, much of which is available on line, can be used as evidence, citing his archaeology of Jerusalem’s walls and his analysis of genealogies and place names, that the stories of Ezra were written in Hasmonaean times. Before the rise of that expansionist Hellenistic monarchy it is possible that Judaeans and Samaritans got on pretty well. John Hycanus however destroyed Shechem.

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