Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it. — Karl Marx
We call that a ridiculous state of intellect in a man, Socrates, which is concerned only with divine knowledge. — Plato
Stranger Every architect, too, is a ruler of workmen, not a workman himself.
Younger Socrates Yes.
Stranger As supplying knowledge, not manual labor.
Younger Socrates True.
Stranger So he may fairly be said to participate in intellectual science.
Younger Socrates Certainly.
Stranger But it is his business, I suppose, not to pass judgement and be done with it and go away, as the calculator did, but to give each of the workmen the proper orders, until they have finished their appointed task.
Younger Socrates You are right.

Statesman 259e-260a

Who would ever have thought Plato and Karl Marx might have agreed on anything? Well, up to a point.

I have posted on Russell Gmirkin’s view that the Hebrew Bible, in particular its first five books (the Pentateuch), were influenced by Plato’s writings, especially his Laws, but the question that must be asked and answered is, Were Plato’s works ever used to attempt to change the real world?

This post is a collation of passages I’ve taken from Plato’s Cretan City by the classicist Glenn Morrow demonstrating how Plato’s Laws were more than a mere theoretical exercise. I include references to what Morrow has to say about Plato’s influence beyond his writings.

From the Preface

No work of Plato’s is more intimately connected with its time and with the world in which it was written than the Laws. The other dialogues deal with themes magnificently independent of time and place, and Plato’s treatment of them has been recognized as important wherever human beings have thought about the problems of knowl­edge, or conduct, or human destiny. But the Laws is concerned with the portrayal of a fourth-century Greek city — a city that existed, it is true, only in Plato’s imagination, but one whose establishment he could well imagine as taking place in his day. (xxix)

Compared with the Re­public, the Laws has the special value of presenting its principles not in the abstract, but in their concrete reality, as Plato imagined they might be embodied in an actual Greek city. (xxix)


There are references to Chaeronea in the quotes. Chaeronea is the site of the battle where Philip of Macedon ended Greek independence. It is usually taken as the event that divided Greek history from that of the Hellenistic Age.

Relevance in the territories conquered by Alexander the Great

If Plato was writing about a new colony, and the Greek age of colonization was long past, what relevance could there be for Samaria and Judea?

The establishment of colonies was a habit of long standing among the Greeks, less evident in Plato’s century than it had been in earlier days, but still regarded as the best way to deal with a surplus of popu­lation (707e) or with a discordant faction in a city (708bc). The great age of colonization during which the Greeks had spread them­selves and their culture all over the Mediterranean area, from the northern shore of the Black Sea to the western coast of Spain, was a thing of the past; but the tradition was kept alive by the Athenian cleruchies and other more pretentious establishments in the fifth and fourth centuries, and another era of colonization was to begin soon after Plato’s time with the conquests of Alexander. Such new cities always started their political life with a set of laws especially designed for them, and a competent legislator was often called upon to ad­vise the founder, or the sponsoring city, in the task of legislation. The great Protagoras was asked to draw up the laws for Pericles’ ambitious colony of Thurii in southern Italy; and Plato himself, according to one tradition, was invited to legislate for the new city of Megalopolis in Arcadia set up after the defeat of Sparta at Leuctra. We see, therefore, that the Athenian Stranger [a key participant in the conversation in the Laws] is in a historically familiar situation, and the conversation he carries on with his companions is but an idealized version of the discussions that must have taken place on countless occasions among persons responsible for establishing a new colony.

Furthermore, it was a situation that might confront Plato or a member of the Academy at any time. Plato’s deep and lifelong in­terest in politics, in the broadest sense of the term, is evident from the large place that the problems of political and social philosophy occupy in his writings. His theories of education, of law, and of social justice are inquiries carried on not merely for their speculative in­terest, but for the purpose of finding solutions to the problems of the statesman and the educator. It may well be affirmed, when we view Plato’s work as a whole, that he was more concerned with practice than with theory. (3f – for the additional detail and sources found in the original footnotes check out full text online at archive.org)

One might even imagine that Alexander and Aristotle would send re-educators to Samaria after its rebellion to advise more loyal persons on the best way to constitute an ideal state.

One footnote that I must add here:

= Plato is indeed, contrary to what is often believed, much more concerned with practice than with theory.
= Plato only came to philosophy through politics … Philosophy was originally, for Plato, nothing but hindered action.

“Platon est en effet, contrairement à ce qu’on croit souvent, beaucoup plus préoccupé de pratique que de théorie.” Robin, Platon, Paris, 1935, 254. Similarly Dies, in the Introduction to the Bude edn. of the Republic, v: “Platon n’est venu en fait à la philosophie que par la politique . . . La philosophie ne fut originellement, chez Platon, que de l’action entravée.” But we must not suppose that for Plato theory was a substitute for action. Indeed the scientific statesman, he says in Polit. 260ab, cannot be content with theoretical principles alone, but must supplement them with directions for action . . .  Cf. also Phil. 62ab.

Plato’s Academy mosaic — Pompeii (Wikimedia)

Plato Meddling in Politics

Did Plato do anything personally to try to make a difference?

From these statements we must infer that one purpose of the Acad­emy which Plato founded and directed during these years, perhaps at times its chief purpose in his eyes, was the training of statesmen, or legislative advisers, imbued with the insights of philosophy. How did the Academy prepare its members for the practical work of legislation and constitution making? By the study of mathematics and dialectic, of course, for the statesman must first of all be a philosopher; but also, it seems clear, by the study of Greek law and politics. It must not be forgotten that in the Republic the education of the philosopher guardians includes more than the abstract sciences. The fifteen years of mathematics and dialectic are to be followed by fifteen years of service in subordinate administrative posts before the candidate for guardianship is completely trained. The Academy was not a polis and it could not offer its students the advantages of actual experience in office; but it could encourage them to gain a wide knowledge of the history and characters of actual states. This it certainly did, attracting students from all parts of the Greek world, and therefore possessing within its own membership considerable resources for a comparative study of laws and customs. Plato himself had traveled . . .  (p. 5)

and further,

On one occasion that we know of Plato had himself taken a hand in politics, when the death of the elder Dionysius of Syracuse in 367 had brought his young and promising son to the throne. Dion, the uncle of the young tyrant, had become Plato’s devoted follower during the latter’s earlier visit to Syracuse, and he now saw an opportunity of bringing about a political reform. He persuaded the young tyrant to invite Plato to Syracuse, and himself sent an urgent request that Plato should come and take the young man’s educa­tion in hand. Plato acceded, but with some reluctance, he tells us, because he feared the young Dionysius was not sufficiently stable in character to make promising material for a philosophical ruler; but his doubts were outweighed by his friendship for Dion, and by his feeling that he should make an effort, at least, when there was an opportunity of putting into effect his ideas of law and government. This mission at first seemed likely to succeed, and Plato may have collaborated with Dionysius on legislation for the resettlement of the Sicilian cities of Phoebia and Tauromenium. But the court at Syracuse was filled with supporters of the tyranny, opposed to re­forms of the sort Plato and Dion had in mind. . . . This history, unhappy though its outcome, shows that Plato’s principles were meant to be applied to the actualities of fourth-century politics. Some prominent members of the Academy later took part (though Plato refrained) in Dion’s later expedition against Syracuse and were associated with him in his brief period of power after the overthrow of Dionysius. These later events would only confirm the reputation that the Academy had as a center of political influence. (7)

The rumours and traditions…

There are other evidences of the influence of Plato and his Aca­demic colleagues on fourth-century states and statesmen. There is a tradition that Plato was invited by the Cyrenians to legislate for them; and another . . . that he was asked to draw up the laws for the Arcadian city of Megalopolis. Both these invitations Plato declined; but in the second case he seems to have sent Aristonymus to act in his stead. Plutarch names several members of the Academy who were influential as legislators or ad­visers to statesmen and rulers. Aristonymus was sent to the Arcadi­ans, Menedemus to the Pyrrhaeans; Phormio gave laws to Elis, Eu­doxus to the Cnidians, and Aristotle to the Stagirites. Xenocrates was a counsellor to Alexander; and Delius of Ephesus, another Academic, was chosen by the Greeks in Asia to urge upon Alexander the project of an expedition against the Persians. Thrace, he says, was liberated by Pytho and Heraclides, two Academics; they killed the tyrant Cotys, and on their return to Athens were feted as “benefactors” and made citizens. Athenaeus tells us, on the authority of Carystius of Pergamum, that Plato sent Euphraeus of Oreus as adviser to King Perdiccas of Macedon; later Euphraeus seems to have become the champion of the independence of his native city, and was slain when the city was reduced by Philip. Hermeias, the tyrant of Atarneus and friend of Aristotle, may have studied in the Academy; and the Sixth Epistle is a letter supposedly written by Plato commending to him two students of the Academy who are coming to live near Atarneus. Finally, at Athens there must have been many persons prominent in public life, like the generals Chabrias and Phocion, who were former students of Plato. We know that the orator and states­man Lycurgus, who came into power after Chaeronea, was such a former student; and the legislation of Demetrius of Phalerum, at the end of the century, shows clear traces of Plato’s influence, through Aristotle and Theophrastus. 

Some of this evidence is of questionable value, but its cumulative effect is to show that the Academy was widely recognized as a place where men were trained in legislation, and from which advisers could be called upon when desired. It is easy therefore to under­stand why Plato should have devoted the closing years of his life to the composition of such a painstaking piece of hypothetical legisla­tion as the Laws. It expresses one of the main interests of his philo­sophical mind; and it may also have been intended as a kind of model for use by other members of the Academy. Plato had indeed set forth in the Republic the principles that should guide a legislator, but they are expounded in very general terms, with little specific legislation. In the Laws, however, the author descends into the arena of practical difficulties, and we can see why he thought it necessary to do so. For if the ideal, or any worthy imitation of it, is to be realized, it has to be exemplified concretely—among a people living in a specific setting in time and place, possessing such-and-such qualities and traditions. This translation of his political ideal into the terms of fourth-century Greek politics was, as he says, “an old man’s sober pastime” (685a, 712b), but it was a form of amusement that he must have thought would give guidance to actual statesmen. (8ff)

Plato, like a Political Demiurge

Plato’s conception of the legislator’s task in bringing his ideal into existence becomes clearer if we consider the analogous work of the demiurge in ordering the cosmos as described in the Timaeus. In both cases the craftsman must be attentive not only to the design he wishes to realize, but also to the materials in which it is brought about. It may seem to some persons unworthy of the divine Plato to occupy himself with such things as the laws of inheritance, the reg­isters of property, the procedures of election, the regulation of funeral expenses; or with the organization of songs, dances and athletic contests ; or with questions of drainage and water supply. A large part of the Laws consists of just such materials—materials on a par, cer­tainly, with the discussion of respiration, the mechanism of vision, or the functioning of the liver and spleen that we find in the Timaeus. For the cosmic demiurge such attention to his materials was necessary, if he was to operate on the world of Becoming and remold it in the likeness of the Ideas. Similarly the political demiurge cannot neglect the understanding of his social and human materials if he is going to construct a state that resembles the ideal. Just as the world crafts­man in the Timaeus has to use the stuff that is available, with its determinate but unorganized and irregularly co-operating powers, so Plato has to use the Greeks of his day, with their traditions of free­dom and respect for law, and their fallible human temperaments. They are not always the best adapted to his purpose, but as a good craftsman he selects them carefully and handles them with skill, so as to create a likeness as close as possible to the ideal. (10)

When Rome faced Carthage

Plato informed details of Rome’s demands on Carthage?

Was Plato’s condemnation of sea power later used by the Romans to justify the destruction of Carthage? “… [T]he Roman offer that the Car­thaginians should settle at least eighty stades from the sea corresponds exactly to the suggestion of the Laws.” Momigliano…  (100)

Compromise and Distortions

Athenian institutions were a distortion of Plato’s recommendations?

There is a closer parallel between Plato’s program for the agronomoi and the two-year term of ephebic training introduced at Athens, or drastically reformed after the battle of Chaeronea, and it is not unlikely that his proposals had some influence upon at least the later form of this institution.87

87 . . . It is generally agreed that there was a reorganization about 335, and it is possible that the Laws left its mark upon it. The account Aristotle gives of ephebic training in his day (Const. Ath. xlii, 3-4) contains some features that resemble Plato’s program for the agronomoi, but it also exhibits some striking differences, and these have usually not been noted. The Athenian program was for youths just turned eighteen; Plato’s is to take place somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. The former was obviously a preparation for citizenship and the military obligations that citizenship involved at Athens; whereas Plato’s seems rather a preparation for office, of men whose full citizenship had been attained some years before. Of course ancient readers, like some modern ones, may have overlooked these differences in purpose and in details; but if the Athenian program reflects Plato’s ideas, it does so dimly and with distortion. (190)

Guardians of the Law in the Real World

Many of Plato’s contemporaries pined for the days when, they believed, times were better because the institution of the Areopagus (the supreme court) had the power to keep officials on the straight and narrow.  Plato incorporated the idea of the Areopagus in his Laws but since Areopagus was more fundamentally the name of the hill in Athens where the judges met he used the term “guardians of the law” instead.

Plato’s board of guardians is a new creation, involving a new grouping of political functions. But the inspiration of this creation was undoubtedly that ancient council that had guided Athens through her most glorious days and assured the victories of Marathon and Salamis, and whose judicial and moral prestige continued to be great throughout the fourth century.

How would these high officers be designated in Plato’s state? Any reference to the Areopagus in their title would of course be inappropriate; the Areopagus was an Athenian hill. 

So he chose the compound word “guardians of the law” or nomophylakes.

This title expresses the twin conditions of political health, as both Plato and Aristotle saw them: government by superior men, but under the rule of law.

The fact that there were actually officials in Plato’s time bearing this title [guardians of the law], and that the function it implies was believed to have been a part of the ancestral constitution, made Plato’s choice historically influential. Nomophylakes [guardians of the law] were in fact established at Athens within a generation after Plato’s death—fewer in number indeed, but vested with powers and a dignity comparable to those of Plato’s officials— as part of the reorganization of the government after Chaeronea, and perhaps under the leadership of Plato’s former pupil, Lycurgus; and they were re-established a decade later in the constitution drawn up by Aristotle’s pupil, Demetrius of Phalerum. After this time such officials, with coercive powers, are frequently mentioned in inscriptions from various parts of the Greek world. (214f)

and again,

The replacement of the lot by election (in part, at least), and the establishment (or reorganization) of the ephebia did in fact take place at Athens in the generation after Plato’s death. The later establishment of a board of nomophylakes with powers similar to those that it was believed the ancient Areopagus enjoyed was another partial realization of Plato’s proposals, and so also was the curtailing of the powers of the popular courts that took place after Chaeronea. (232)

Introducing Rule by Priests

Plato’s literary revision of the Athenian officials who were responsible for judging various office-holders at the end of their terms also led to changes in the equivalent institution in Greek city-states. Ten “straighteners” or “magistrate over the magistrates” (euthynoi) were chosen by lot for the task of investigating the conduct of officials. Plato modified their status and role in the Laws, giving them a high religious status.

Plato enhances the dignity and authority of the euthynoi by further provisions which are without precedent for these officers at Athens. Election is regarded not only as an award of civic excellence, but also as an appointment to the priesthood. The election takes place, as we have seen, in the precincts of Helios and Apollo, and is followed by a solemn act of dedication of these three best men as the city’s “first fruits” (ακροθίνιον . . . ανατίθησι, 946bc); and during the period of their active service they reside in the sacred precincts (946c). They wear the olive wreath and the crown of laurel, a privilege reserved for them alone (946b, 947a). The euthynos who ranks first among the three elected in any year is to be called “high priest” (άρχιερεως, 947a),1,8 and his name is to be used to designate the year in the records of the city. So long as they live, they are to have first seats (προεδρίαν) at every festival—another prerogative of the important priests at Athens—and from their number are to be chosen the heads of sacred missions sent out to take part in joint sacrifices or congresses of Greek cities. The honors a euthynos has enjoyed during his life are crowned at his death by elaborate funeral ceremonies extending over two days, and by burial in a sacred grove in an underground vault with his departed colleagues. Every year afterward there are to be contests of music, gymnastics, and horse racing in his honor (947b-e). (225)

Plato thus introduced and emphasized what in practice had only been dimly implicit: the “recognition that the functions of political officials are sometimes religious in character”. The euthynoi in Plato’s day sometimes officiated at civic sacrifices but they were not religious officials. Plato changed that in Laws and his account in Laws in turn changed practice in Athens and elsewhere.

This recognition that the functions of political officials are sometimes religious in character receives striking expression in the provision that the euthynoi shall be designated priests of Helios and Apollo. That this is not an empty phrase is clear from the circumstances surrounding their election and the special honors they enjoy during their lifetime. These honors and prerogatives—the wearing of garlands of olive and laurel, front seats at the festivals, residence in the sacred precincts—have their parallels in the distinctions accorded at Athens and in the Greek world generally to the holders of the most important priesthoods. But we have no evidence, I believe, that political officials ever bore the title of priest in Plato’s time, in spite of their functioning quite often in a priestly capacity in the public sacrifices.Plato also provides that one of the euthynoi is to be selected annually as “high priest”(άρχιίρ(ως), and the year is to carry his name in the official chronology. Eponymous priests (or priestesses) seem to have been rare, although not unknown, in Plato’s time; but they are abundantly attested for the following and later centuries. Again, although the title of “high priest” must have been known to readers of Herodotus’ account of Egypt, it is not attested for any Greek city until after the middle of the third century.” After this time it becomes very common . . . (417)

Authority of Interpreters of the Divine Will

Plato’s intention appears to have been the religious guidance of the moral character of the people:

Plato’s thought may have been that in the very work of their office they will be performing an essentially religious function, through encouraging in the state’s officials that imitation of the divine orderliness which it is the function of all religious ceremonies to induce in the citizens. Whatever Plato’s reasons, the Laws anticipates the future and may have been an important influence upon Athenian practices in Hellenistic times. (418)

Plato felt the need for one official religious authority. Plato wrote of religious officials called “exegetes” or “interpreters”.

It may then have been Plato who first felt the necessity of bringing all religious law under official exegesis, while preserving its relative independence by making Apollo the sole source of its authority. This interpretation is, I think, compatible with the fourth-century evidence . . . . If it is the correct interpretation—and to support it properly would involve a more thorough inquiry than can be undertaken here—then Plato’s Laws certainly influenced the form that the institution of exegetes took in later times, and helped to establish the supremacy of Apollo in the religious life of Hellenistic Athens. (423)

Towards a Purified Religion

Plato certainly sought to give religion a central place in governance but it was a religion that he wanted “purified” and “enriched”.

Plato hoped to enlarge or enrich current religion by directing attention to other manifestations of the divine than those usually recognized in worship. Apollo is not repudiated; he is associated with Helios in a common cult.

In this union of Apollo and Helios we have a hint of the future. The identification of Apollo with the sun-god was a commonplace in Hellenistic times . . . . (447)

As we saw in the recent post on Gmirkin’s case for Plato’s influence on the Pentateuch, Stoics also worked to find ways to harmonize the various gods:

In any case, this identification was a commonplace among the Stoics, and is found in the Orphic hymns. Whether Plato was influenced by Euripides, or by contemporary Orphics, or was an independent contributor to this current of speculation, we cannot pause to inquire. But his motive can easily be made out. The identification of Apollo with the brightest of the astral gods provides a natural bridge between the common man’s ideas and those of the intellectuals, and was undoubtedly used by Plato as the easiest way to suggest that enrichment of current worship which he has in mind. This part of the Laws . . . was undoubtedly an important influence in setting the pattern of Hellenistic thought. (447f)

So Plato was bringing popular religion into some kind of line with the philosopher’s god. As per Gmirkin, Plato accepted the worship of local gods within his philosophical framework:

Thus for Plato and for the Greeks generally the “cityholding gods”—the “younger gods” of mythology—were far from representing fully the divine nature. (448)

Rather than Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim, the central authority for the Greek world was the Delphic Oracle:

The great stabilizing influence was the prestige of Apollo’s oracle at Delphi, and Plato puts religion in his state under this authority. He recognizes the distinctness of the sacred law and refrains —on some occasions clearly in conflict with his personal inclinations— from legislating contrary to it. All ancient practices and cults that have the support of the oracle are tolerated, and even new ones, if sponsored by Apollo or his exegetes, will have to be admitted. (532)

And his influence was long-lasting:

The very conception of religion that Plato proposes is a middle way: it accepts the old forms, but endeavors to infuse into them the higher morality—and science—of his age, thus effecting an alliance of religion, ethics, and philosophy that persisted through all later antiquity and the Middle Ages that followed. (533)

The Ideal Ruling Council

Recall that in the previous post Plato’s Nocturnal Council was his ideal for a successful government — as long as it was maintained not only as a law-making body but was also an ongoing university for enriching members in philosophical understanding and values:

Thus Plato in constructing his model state makes provision for the establishment of something like the Academy to which he has devoted the greater part of his life, in a form which he thought would most effectively assure its influence upon public affairs. (510)

And its influence…

If Plato’s intentions are realized, the members of the Nocturnal Council will be not mere empiricists, but scientific and philosophical students of the law. Something like the function he here assigns to them was discharged in later antiquity by the jurisconsults under the Roman emperors. We might plausibly argue that Plato’s Laws, through its influence upon the Stoics and Cicero, was an important factor in the rise of this class of professional jurists at Rome. . . .

Just as Plato’s Academy has been the prototype of countless later institutions of higher learning, so his Nocturnal Council can be regarded as the first of the long series of learned bodies of jurists, commissions of experts, and law councils that have been set up since his time to act as guides to legislators. (514)

The Need for a Preamble to Written Laws

Recall that Plato considered it most important to introduce written laws with an appropriate “preamble”. He stressed in Laws that this was a novel but necessary idea. This is surely most significant in any consideration of the origin of the Pentateuchal laws.

But the pains which [Plato through his character, the Athenian] takes to establish his point, his dissatisfaction with previous legislators (857c), and his declaration that no one before him has used this device (722c), show that his proposal is a novel one and needs explanation and defense. There is indeed a tradition that both Zaleucus and Charondas attached preambles of this sort to certain of their laws, and some alleged fragments of these preambles have been preserved. But it is more than likely that the writings from which Diodorus and Stobaeus drew their excerpts are a later composition fictitiously ascribed to these early legislators, analogous to the political writings attributed to Archytas, and perhaps a product of the same Pythagorean circles. It is more probable that Plato influenced the later tradition about Zaleucus and Charondas than that they influenced him. In any case he could not be drawing upon Athenian tradition. The Attic laws that have been preserved are without preambles, and are addressed to the magistrates who are to enforce them, not to the general public. “The philosophic notion of law as an instrument of instruction for a virtuous and well-ordered life found little if any expression in the legislation of Athens.” Nor could Plato have been influenced here by Sparta. Persuasion, “even understood in a wider sense as the generally accepted form which determined the relation between rulers and those ruled, would not be typical of Sparta.” In the absence of better evidence than we have for the genuineness of the fragments of Zaleucus and Charondas, we must conclude that this doctrine is original with Plato. (555f)

Stoic ideas permeated the later Roman world and made their way into the New Testament:

Plato’s contribution to the formulation of this Stoic doctrine has seldom been appreciated; but clearly the Laws should receive a large part of the credit for the beneficent influence which the stern idealism of the Stoic doctrine has had upon all later jurisprudence and legislation. (565)

Relevance Before and Beyond Chaeronea

This translation of his political ideal into the terms of fourth-century Greek politics was, as he says, “an old man’s sober pastime” (685a, 712b), but it was a form of amusement that he must have thought would give guidance to actual statesmen. (10)

Athenian How was it then, my good sirs, that their settlement and legislation turned out so badly?
Megillus What do you mean? What fault have you to find with it?
Athenian This, that whereas there were three States settled, two of the three speedily wrecked their constitution and their laws, and one only remained stable—and that was your State, Megillus.
Megillus The question is no easy one.
Athenian Yet surely in our consideration and enquiry into this subject, indulging in an old man’s sober play with laws, we ought to proceed on our journey painlessly, as we said when we first started out.

Athenian Let us apply the oracle to your State, and so try, like greybeard boys, to model its laws by our discourse.
Clinias Yes, let us proceed, and delay no longer.
Athenian Let us invoke the presence of the God at the establishment of the State; and may he hearken, and hearkening may he come, propitious and kindly to us-ward, to help us in the fashioning of the State and its laws.
Clinias Yes, may he come!
Athenian Well, what form of polity is it that we intend to impose.

We have been looking mostly at the influence of Plato’s Laws after his death. More is to be said about the Hellenistic Age, however.

The Laws then is clearly a message prepared for Plato’s own age and for his own people, a message delivered too late to have the effect that Plato doubtless hoped it would have. The day of the Greek city-state was over. While Plato was writing, Philip of Macedon was already nibbling at the frontiers of the free Greek world and clearly indicating his intention to play the part of leader and autocrat; and less than a decade after Plato had written his last words, Philip won the victory at Chaeronea which has since been regarded as marking the end of Greek history. Never again, after the victories of Philip and Alexander, would the Greeks live in their tight little communities, with such an exhilarating sense of being able to control their destinies. This means that as a pattern for the construction of a city Plato’s design was soon obsolete. Not that the Laws was without influence in the Hellenistic Age. The history of that influence is still to be written; but I have shown in the preceding pages many respects in which the particular details of the Laws passed into the life and practice of later times, so that clearly its influence was by no means negligible. (592f)

Russell Gmirkin’s publications are a significant contribution to what in Morrow’s time was still to be written.

Morrow, Glenn R. Plato’s Cretan City. With a New foreword by Charles H. Kahn edition, Princeton University Press, 1993, https://archive.org/details/platoscretancity0000glen.


The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

10 thoughts on “Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?”

  1. “The legislation of Demetrius of Phalerum, at the end of the century, shows clear traces of Plato’s influence, through Aristotle and Theophrastus… Nomophylakes [guardians of the law]… were re-established a decade later in the constitution drawn up by Aristotle’s pupil, Demetrius of Phalerum. After this time such officials, with coercive powers, are frequently mentioned in inscriptions from various parts of the Greek world.”

    One should also note that the Digramma of Ptolemy, a constitution for the colony of Cyrenaica (Cyrene) established by Ptolemy I Soter in 320 BCE, also included nomophylakes, and is thought to show influence from Plato’s Laws. This suggests any constitutional advice to Samaria or Judea coming from Ptolemaic Egypt may have been informed by Plato. An English translation with some commentary can be found at:


    Dobias-Lalou, Catherine. Inscriptions of Greek Cyrenaica in collaboration with Alice Bencivenni, Hugues Berthelot, with help from Simona Antolini, Silvia Maria Marengo, and Emilio Rosamilia; Dobias-Lalou, Catherine. Greek Verse Inscriptions of Cyrenaica in collaboration with Alice Bencivenni, with help from Joyce M. Reynolds and Charlotte Roueché. Bologna: CRR-MM, Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, 2017. ISBN 9788898010684, http://doi.org/10.6092/UNIBO/IGCYRGVCYR.

    1. Thank you for those references. I am sure there must be much more “out there”, unless I misunderstood Morrow’s statement about Plato’s influence in the Hellenistic era “still waiting to be written.”

        1. Minimalism must be a bridge too far for even atheist documentary presenters. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1364018/Atheist-Dr-Francesca-Stavrakopoulout-BBC-face-religion.html

          Could be detrimental to their biblical study sinecures.

          Davies, P. (2010) Urban Religion and Rural Religion. In Stavrakopoulou, F. and Barton, J., Eds., Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, Continuum International Publishing Group, New York, 103-115.

          That Philip R. Davies was included in a volume she edited must mean that the good professor is fully cognizant of the Copenhagen School’s existence and so consciously chooses to ignore you all. Interesting dynamics among those ivory tower types.

          1. Worth remembering that the one thing the Daily Mail hates above all else is the BBC. Unreliable at the best of times they are worthless as a source on any story involving the BBC.

            1. While that may be the case how does it get us any closer to divining a talking head’s reasons for apparently never acknowledging the minimalist point of view either in writing or on one those debate shows they frequent? She’s edgy but would that be a bit too edgy to bring into an argument Plato who advised 12 as the optimal number of tribes for an ethnos to divide themselves into?

              “a talking head in documentaries and regularly appears on radio and TV discussion and debate shows… ” https://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/exeterblog/blog/2014/03/07/professionalstrength/


          2. I wouldn’t make too much of it. It’s very random in my experience. A lot of respected scholars are only vaguely aware of Minimalism by way of Lemche 1993 or the Dever vs. Minimalism debates of the later 1990s and just stopped reading Minimalism, for whatever reason. I could name names, but I won’t. Why? Laziness? A lack of intellectual curiosity? Perhaps the perception that the initial generation of Minimalists did not make a sufficiently compelling case? Whatever the reason, many scholars tend to read within their “echo chamber” of trusted sources and not actively expose themselves to different viewpoints that might challenge their academic training. I think perhaps Stavrakopoulou is one with a conventional academic training which for the most part she comfortably operates within, but with a few largely incremental innovations. That’s okay, that’s how most academics operate, but I still enjoy what I have read of her work.

            1. There is very intriguing work progressing with historical-critical analysis of early Islam. https://storage.googleapis.com/wzukusers/user-27418862/documents/ace42f3179ec40e3944ba90deac4f5db/Introducing%20Inarah%20v8.pdf Your work and that of Wajdenbaum, Niesiolowski-Spanò, and others flows right into that too. Just that the various strands involved had more time to change and reform getting shuffled and reshuffled like so many decks of cards. It is 270 BC plus 900-1100 years rather than 270 BC plus 300-500 years to get to a Christ and/or the gospels in some form. So much of the same stuff just more time for some of it to percolate in out of the way places like Merv (also known as Marw al-Shāhijān from whence came the Marwanids, a branch of the Umayyad dynasty that ruled as caliphs from 684 to 750) in present day Turkmenistan where a large component of the deported population of Hatra was supposed to have gone following the fall of that city to the Sassanids in 241 AD.

              1. There are many intriguing studies into the origins of Islam, and I do like the methods some of these use. But I sigh — one can only handle so much controversy in a single lifetime!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: