Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws

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by Neil Godfrey

This is the conclusion of the previous post.

Victory over enemies

In Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy God promises to give his people victory over their enemies in battle if they keep his laws.

Plato at first expresses doubts over the belief that a state will be victorious in battle because of its superior laws and customs…..

Megillus. O best of men, we [Spartans] have only to take arms into our hands, and we send all these nations flying before us. 

Athenian stranger. Nay, my good friend, do not say that; there have been, as there always will be, flights and pursuits of which no account can be given, and therefore we cannot say that victory or defeat in battle affords more than a doubtful proof of the goodness or badness of institutions.

What counts is the character of the people. How completely do they submit their character to laws designed to make them good?

[E]ducation makes good men, and that good men act nobly, and conquer their enemies in battle, because they are good

Do not forget

The Pentateuch warns against forgetting the reasons for one’s success and the accrual of blessings and becoming proud. Plato has the same warning:

Education certainly gives victory, although victory sometimes produces forgetfulness of education; for many have grown insolent from victory in war, and this insolence has engendered in them innumerable evils; and many a victory has been and will be suicidal to the victors; but education is never suicidal. 

The discursiveness of the remainder of Book 1 of Laws makes it more difficult to break up into quotable summaries but key themes are:

  • The importance of religious festivals as an integral part of education. Moderation in drinking and uplifting music are important parts of these festivals. Wine is discussed as a literal test (and teacher) of character and a metaphor.
  • Education must be life-long and its purpose is to inculcate goodness or perfection of character in citizens. This good character is a matter of self-control, of teaching and training children, youth and adults to master the lower impulsive parts of their natures and follow the good and reasonable. One must be taught to overcome the temptations of the flesh and live a life of self-control. We are reminded of the biblical emphasis on teaching the laws and customs to children and having daily reminders of the law in strategic locations — doorways, clothing…
  • Good laws and education into these laws is necessary to assist citizens to follow the good rather than the bad in their nature.
  • A life of reverence is essential. This is the result of the ways of righteousness making one fearless before other people (one need never fear disgrace or shame) yet fearful of ever being found to be in disgrace through cowardly or self-indulgent ungodly behaviour.
  • Witchcraft has no place in the good state. (This is mentioned only as an aside at this point.)

Next will look at Book 2 of Laws.



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Neil Godfrey

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