Chains of tradition buttressing the right to rule the school were commonplace among the Greek philosophers.
Each of these “chains” shares an odd common trait with the others: no matter what the actual chronology may be, each chain of tradition is fourteen links from the founder to the newest head of the academy.
It does not make any difference whether those fourteen generations took one hundred years or five hundred years— accuracy in counting years is not the point. Getting from the newest head of the academy back to the founder of the school in but fourteen links is what it’s all about.
This oddity also can be observed in the New Testament, where Jesus’s lineage is traced in groups of fourteen (father to son, rather than teacher to disciple). And were we to laboriously count out the chain from Moses at Sinai to Rabbi Yohanan and his disciples, we’d get the same magic number: fourteen. No one knows why fourteen seems to be the “correct” number of links, but Pirke Avot joins with all the philosophical schools in tracing its newest leader’s lineage back to the founder in fourteen generations.
Visotzky, Burton L.. Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It (Kindle Locations 2037-2045). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition. (My formatting and highlighting)
Now that’s an intriguing mystery. Here is a truncated portion of the opening two chapters of that Mishnah tractate, Pirke Avot (=Chapters of the Fathers):
- Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua.
- Joshua gave it over to the Elders,
- the Elders to the Prophets,
- and the Prophets gave it over to
- the Men of the Great Assembly. . . .
- Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. . . .
- Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. . . .
- Yossei the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah, and Yossei the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem, received the tradition from them. . . .
- Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. . . .
- Judah the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shotach received from them. . . .
- Shmaayah and Avtalyon received from them. . . .
- Hillel and Shammai received from them. . . .
- Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai received the tradition from Hillel and Shammai. . . .
- Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai had five disciples: Rabbi Eliezer the son of Hurkenus, Rabbi Joshua the son of Chananya, Rabbi Yossei the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon the son of Nethanel, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Arach.
We all know about the curious genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew and the way it points out the fourteen-fold division of the line from Abraham to Jesus:
Matthew 1:17 — Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
I would be very interested to see examples of the fourteen teachers/pupils links among the Greek philosophical schools.
Is there anyone who can help locate instances of that tradition?