There is a review by Stéphanie Anthonioz of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible on The Bible and Interpretation site.
I have been discussing this book — see Archives: Gmirkin: Plato and Creation of Hebrew Bible — and hope to complete those posts soon.
Some quotes from Stéphanie Anthonioz’s review:
The argument is simple and comparative: the greater number of Pentateuchal laws, even if they had some Semitic precursors, seem copied from Athenian law or, more precisely, the Platonic laws (chapters 2-5).
Beyond this argument, the author proposes that the Laws of Plato constitute a new hermeneutical key for the ideology not only of the Pentateuch but the whole of the Bible: the Bible is the official national literature mandated according to the same instructions of the Platonic laws (chapter 6).
For the author, the hypothesis which has never been advanced is that which he defends, that knowledge of the Pentateuch did not exist before the era of Hellenistic interaction and, furthermore, that it is massively based not on Semitic traditions but Greek. In the brief section, “The current volume” (pp. 4-5), the author restates the new historical framework of his hypothesis: it is in the Great Library of Alexandria that the Jewish authors, assembled under royal sponsorship, drew from their sources and drafted the Pentateuch. A historical consequence directly follows: the theocracy which is established in Judea at the beginning of the Hellenistic era is modeled on Plato’s model government.
The biblical collection was ultimately composed in two phases: the first, the work of the Seventy under royal sponsorship in Alexandria; the second in later stages in Palestine in order to constitute not only a national literature, but also to be an educational program to train obedient citizens. In this discourse, for example, Job becomes the paragon of Greek tragedy! Thus, “The Hebrew Bible as a whole can best be understood as a literature intended for the education of the soul, utilizing all the tools in the Platonic psychogogic arsenal: poetry, myth and song, theology and prayers, pageant and spectacle, theater, drink and dance and persuasive rhetoric that appealed to the patriotic, praised the noble and exalted and condemned the wicked and disobedient, who were threatened with punishments in this life and terrors in the next” (p. 267). Knowledge of this intention and invention would have been erased from the literature such that no link with Alexandria could be denounced.
However, the author’s energy is somewhat attenuated by historical and methodological issues. Because, in criticizing the historical framework of a cultural fount and common law in the Mediterranean basin, the author sets up a framework no less hypothetical and lacking historical proof: namely, the writing of the Pentateuch by the Seventy in the Great Library of Alexandria of ca. 270 BCE. Moreover, while studies especially archaeological continue to document influences across the Mediterranean basin and the Near East, the author prefers a mythical framework: what historicity can we today grant the Seventy credited with translating the Septuagint? For more information one has to go back — it is true — to the author’s first volume Berossus and Genesis, where the date under Ptolemy II Philadelphus and authorship of The Letter of Aristeas are discussed. However, this question remains difficult and its answer no less hypothetical.
In addition, the author presents the Greek sources most often in their historical context: the laws of Solon, of Clisthenes, the codes, the Twelve Tables. So why deny this historical depth to the biblical text and legal corpora? From this historical framework flows a number of inconsistencies. Thus, to give one example, p. 5, the author asserts that the direct consequence of dependence on Plato’s Laws is the theocracy established early in the Hellenistic era in Judea. But later, in the comparison he offers of institutions, he never fails to emphasize the democratic, egalitarian dimension of the political and social system: but then what is to be made of the biblical priestly caste and its power?
Other criticisms raised relate to questions of traces (or lack of them) of Greek style in the Hebrew text; and a clearly defined concept of Judaism.
Anthonioz suggests a better fit for the close fit between Athenian sources and the Pentateuch is the period of the Persian empire. That idea of course stands in opposition to Gmirkin’s own suggestion that authors of the Hebrew work were reliant upon the Hellenistic era Library of Alexandria.
The European scholarship on the Pentateuch has tended these last decades to reach some consensus regarding its final redaction. The Pentateuch appears itself as an authoritative text, both ideologically and theologically. The many trends within the textual strata make it clear that it was not an easy task to reach a consensus regarding identity. But it was brought to completion through the closure of these five books as a whole during the Persian period and their subsequent translation into Greek in the following Hellenistic period.
The better sense of the thesis
Indeed, the intuition that the Pentateuch makes better sense in light of Athenian sources is quite convincing in my eyes, but these influences may have begun earlier and the Persian Achaemenid period seems a perfect historical context as the empire was confronted repeatedly and the Levant stood at the cross roads of Greece to many routes from the eastern to the western frontiers and the southern to the northern ones.
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As a final word, it is clear that the detailed comparisons between the Greek and Biblical systems of legislation are of immense value and definitely advance comparative studies on this subject.
I greatly appreciate the contribution Anthonioz’s review makes to the discussion of Gmirkin’s thesis. My own posts have focused most the details of comparison between the biblical laws and those of the Near East and Athens. At the same time I have been wondering what to make of other arguments that have been advanced elsewhere (especially, as I understand it, since Philip Davies In Search of Ancient Israel) of the Persian era seeing the birth of “Judaism” and the production of biblical myths. (Anthonioz draws attention to the key myths of Abraham (the genealogical story) and of Moses (the prophetic and legal stories) that I first became aware of as foundational strata of the Pentateuch’s story through Thomas L. Thompson’s publications, each plausibly relating to migrations of “Judeans” to Palestine in the Persian era.)
So it looks to me like Stéphanie Anthonioz’s review opens up an interesting discussion over different possible explanations for the clear and striking similarities between Plato and the Pentateuch that Russell Gmirkin has set out in detail.
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