From Humble Beginnings: A Tale of Two Divinities — Jesus and Apollo

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by Neil Godfrey

Apollo with bow and lyre. National Gallery of Art

Have you heard it declared that no-one would make up a story about Jesus coming from such a nothing-back-of-the-woods place as Nazareth? No, no, the argument goes — if anyone were to make up a story about Jesus they would have impressed their readers by having him hail from some place of renown.

I don’t recall off-hand what led me into reading an obscure French work from 1927 about Pythagoras, but that work in turn led me to once again pick up the Homeric Hymns of all things. This time a light flashed above my head: I found myself confusing the goddess Leto with Mary urgently looking for a place to give birth to her child and finding nowhere … except a humble stable! And Nazareth — how could a messiah possibly come from Nazareth?

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. — John 1:46

Now before you roll your eyes a second time let me explain. I am NOT saying that the story of Jesus’s humble origins are a direct, intertextual creation inspired or shaped by the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. What I am saying is that the idea of a great divinity having a very humble earthly beginning was a motif, a trope, a concept, an idea that was part of the cache of ancient Greco-Roman culture. (A quick persusal of some chapters in The Reception of the Homeric Hymns did persuade me, though, that the hymns were certainly part of the collective knowledge of literate persons in the first and second centuries of this era.)

Let’s have a look at the passage of interest in Hymn 3, to Apollo, as translated by Michael Crudden.

The hymns begins with a picture of all gods on Olympus rising up in awe when the great Apollo enters, all except for his father and mother, Zeus and Leto.

According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. (Unesco)

Next, Leto is called the blessed one for having given birth to such a mighty son. Apollo is called a “joy for mortals”. The poet ponders where to begin his tale and decides to sing of the time of Apollo’s birth on the island of Delos.

The time came for Leto to give birth and we read of her traveling a great distance to find the appropriate place, at least a welcoming one. She traversed populous Crete, and the countryside of Athens, and Aigina’s isle . . . .

And, famed for its ships, Euboia; Aigai, Eiresiai too,
And, near to the sea, Peparethos; Athos the Thracian height,
And the topmost peaks of Pelion; Samos the Thracian isle,
And the shadowy mountains of Ida; Skyros, Phokaia too,
The precipitous mount of Autokane; Imbros the firm-founded isle,
And mist-enshrouded Lemnos; holy Lesbos—the seat
Of Makar, Aiolos’ son—and Khios that lies in the sea,
Sleekest of isles; rugged Mimas, and Korykos’ topmost peaks;
Dazzling Klaros too, and sheer Aisagea mount;
Samos with plentiful waters, precipitous Mykale’s peaks;
Miletos, Kos—the city where dwell the Meropes folk —
Precipitous Knidos too, and Karpathos swept by the wind;
Naxos, and also Paros, and rocky Rhenaia too

Over so great a distance in labour with him who shoots
From afar [Apollo was an archer] went Leto, seeking whether amongst these lands
There was any that would be willing to furnish her son with a home.

But there was no room at the inn….

But they trembled much in fear, and not one dared, despite
Her rich soil, to welcome Phoibos [a name for Apollo], until queenly Leto set foot
Upon Delos

The rich and famous chose not to welcome Leto and her son-to-be.

Delos https://www.greece-is.com/rise-fall-delos-visible-island/

Leto plaintively asked Delos….

and, questioning her, gave voice to winged words:
‘Delos, would you be willing to be the seat of my son,
Of Phoibos Apollo, and furnish him with a rich shrine on your ground?’

But how did Delos compare with all the above that Leto had just passed through? Leto said to Delos,

you’ll not, I think, abound in cattle or flocks, nor will you bear corn or grow an abundance of trees.

And Delos knew it well enough and said in reply:

‘Most glorious Leto, daughter of mighty Koios, I would
With pleasure welcome the birth of the lord who shoots from afar,
For in truth in men’s ears I am of dreadfully grim repute,
But in this way might gain great honour.

Delos’s inferiority complex over her stony, barren appearance got the upper hand, though, so she poured out her fear:

. . . . this dreadful fear
Pervades my mind and heart, that, when [Apollo] first sees the Sun’s light,
Holding the isle in dishonour—since stony indeed is my ground—
He may with his feet overturn me and thrust me under the sea.
There always great waves without ceasing over my head will break,
While he will reach some land that is pleasing to him . . .
. . . But the many-footed beasts
And black seals will make their lairs upon me, homes that will be
Secure for lack of people.

Fear not, Leto reassured Delos. First, with the promise that Delos would become the most famed central sanctuary in all of the Greek world and beyond:

. . . But if you possess a shrine
Of Apollo who works from afar, all humans, assembling here,
Will bring you their hecatombs: vast beyond telling the steam of fat

Will always be shooting upward, and those who possess you you’ll feed
From a foreigner’s hand, since there is no richness beneath your soil.’

And finally with an oath declared that Delos would have honour above all other isles.

‘Now let the Earth know this, and also broad Heaven above,
And the down-dripping water of Styx, which is the blessed gods’
Greatest and most dread oath: here Phoibos will always have

His fragrant altar and precinct, and will honour you above all.’

Isodore Levy, author of that book on the influence of the legend of Pythagoras in the Greek and Jewish worlds, was drawing quite different links with the gospels, between Apollo and Jesus. But they can wait for another post. I found the above of most interest for now. Never again will I allow anyone to get away with trying to say that Jesus really did have to come from Nazareth because no-one would make up a story about a god-man (or a figure near enough) coming from some place of no reputation.

Crudden, Michael. The Homeric Hymns. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.


Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?

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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

Continue reading “Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?”


Two Covenants: Israel and Atlantis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7f]

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by Neil Godfrey

Russell Gmirkin concludes his second last chapter with a look beyond Genesis to highlight the plausibility of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias influencing some of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua.

In Critias Plato was composing an account of Athenian origins and its political organization, a politogony. Gmirkin cites Naddaf’s The Greek Concept of Nature which I turned to and read how various Greek poets and philosophers were interested in writing accounts that began with a cosmogony, then moved on to an anthropogony or zoogony, and finally came to a politogony — all of which seems to me to encapsulate the structure of Genesis and the Pentateuch: creation of the cosmos is the opening chapter, then the creation of humans and how humans came to be organized as they are across the inhabited world, and finally how thbe nation of Israel came about with its laws, priesthood, tribal organization as well as how its relations with other peoples originated. After writing the above I quickly checked the early chapters of Gmirkin’s book and found he had made just that point from the outset.

Plato’s account of Atlantis is set in mythical time: the god Poseidon married the mortal, Cleito, and fathered five pairs of twins who became princes ruling the ten tribes of the land. These ten leaders ruled independently as kings but swore allegiance to be one with each other in loyalty and policies and keep forever the laws of Poseidon. Those laws were inscribed on a pillar and kept in the temple. Gmirkin is, of course, prompting us to compare this scenario with the organization of Israel and its covenant with Yahweh.

One can point to the many obvious differences between Plato’s Critias and the biblical book of Exodus. My own approach to such comparative studies is to examine how unique the comparisons are and whether we can find in those similarities explanations for the differences that go beyond the ad hoc. The most significant place where a comparison must begin is the fact that in the following scene we look in vain, as far as I am aware, for parallels in the literature of the Levant or Mesopotamia.

National Covenant with Yahweh || National Covenant with Poseidon

Some similarities between Plato’s Critias and the scene of Israel swearing obedience to their god at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus:

Exodus 24:3-8 Critias 119e-120b
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (4) And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. And whatsoever bull they captured they led up to the pillar and cut its throat over the top of the pillar, raining down blood on the inscription.
He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. And inscribed upon the pillar, besides the laws, was an oath which invoked mighty curses upon them that disobeyed.
(5) He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. When, then, they had done sacrifice according to their laws and were consecrating (120a) all the limbs of the bull,
(6) Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. they mixed a bowl of wine and poured in on behalf of each one a gout of blood, and the rest they carried to the fire, when they had first purged the pillars round about.
(7) Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”


And after this they drew out from the bowl with golden ladles, and making libation over the fire swore to give judgment according to the laws upon the pillar and to punish whosoever had committed any previous transgression; and, moreover, that henceforth they would not transgress any of the writings willingly, nor govern nor submit to any governor’s edict (120b) save in accordance with their father’s laws.
(8) Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” And when each of them had made this invocation both for himself and for his seed after him, he drank of the cup and offered it up as a gift in the temple of the God

The similarities between the passages were pointed out by Philippe Wajdenbaum in Argonauts of the Desert and Gmirkin has gone another step in spelling out specific points for comparison:

  • the moment of the creation of a new nation is identified in a single episodic event;
  • all the tribes of the nation are assembled and participate;
  • a sacrifice seals the event, with bulls representing the tribes;
  • there is an altar with an associated pillar or pillars;
  • blood is (a) splashed about to consecrate the place of sacrifice and (b) poured into ceremonial vessels;
  • laws are inscribed on the pillar or altar [in Exodus the laws were written in a book, but later in Deuteronomy and Joshua they were inscribed in stone: see below];
  • a solemn oath or covenant to obey all the words of the law;
  • strong curses invoked for disobedience to the laws [see below – Deut 27, 28, 29];
  • the oath is binding on those present as well as their descendants [Deut 28].

Such strong and systematic literary parallels exist between Exodus 24 and no other passage in Greek literature.29 Conversely, no literary parallels exist between Exodus 24 and Ancient Near Eastern literature or inscriptions, where there is no example of citizens entering into a covenant to obey a law collection, and where indeed the laws carried no prescriptive force.

29 A minor difference is that in Exodus 24 and Deuteronomy, it was the entire assembled children of Israel who were enjoined to obedience to the laws and who were entered [into] the covenant, whereas in Critias it was the ten princes who ruled in the kingdom of Atlantis.

(Gmirkin, 237, 241 — bolding is my own in all quotations)

Here is a little more detail on the inscribing of laws on pillars in the Greek world. It comes from another work cited by Gmirkin. (I have replaced Greek quotes with translations taken from the same work by Hagedorn or added my own translations alongside Greek text.) Continue reading “Two Covenants: Israel and Atlantis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7f]”


Table of Nations and other Post Flood events — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7d]

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

The survival of humans and animals in an ark owes more to Mesopotamian than Greek antecedents, but the division of the known world into 70 nations in Genesis 10 follows Greek patterns of the genealogical organization of nations descending from eponymous founders . . . (Gmirkin, 230)

The Table of Nations

Once again Gmirkin detects a Greek-like interest in scientific thought of the day. (Compare earlier posts focused on the scientific interests underlying the creation chapter.)

The writings of the philosopher Anaximander of Miletus included the book Genealogies, which cataloged nations and migrations of peoples, supplementary to his creation of the first map of the world. (Gmirkin, 232)

Anaximander’s map of the inhabited world (Naddaf, 111)
Genesis 10, the “Table of Nations”, describes the post-flood division of the earth among (as traditionally acknowledged) 70 nations.

Compare Deuteronomy 32:8-9 that in its original wording (as established in part by reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls) says Yahweh (YHWH) was one of a host of lesser gods who was assigned a particular nation to possess:

When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God; The Lord’s (Yahweh’s) own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.

The number of 70 nations may have derived from a Canaanite tradition that said the consort of the “most high god” (El) had 70 children.

At Ugarit we read in the Baal myth of ‘the seventy sons of Asherah (Athirat)’ (šb’m. bn. ‘atrt, KTU2 1.4.VI.46). Since Asherah was El’s consort, this therefore implies that El’s sons were seventy in number. (Day, 23)

Each nation acknowledged its own god(s):

Babylon (Bel-Marduk, Nebo, Tammuz), Mizraim or Egypt (the Queen of Heaven), the Canaanites (Baal and Asherah), the Arameans (Hadad) and Sidon (Ashtoreth). Later in Genesis we encounter other nations whose gods appear in later biblical books: the Philistines (Dagon), Moab (Chemosh) and Ammon (Molech or Milcom). (Gmirkin, 231)

Recall that Plato portrayed the primeval world as various localities divided up among the gods, the gods ruling the people assigned to them (or those they created) in their respective regions.

Also — though Gmirkin does not refer to the event in this chapter (he had raised it in another context earlier)  — compare the division of the cosmos among three divine brothers.

There are three of us Brothers, all Sons of Cronos and Rhea: Zeus, myself [Poseidon], and Hades the King of the Dead. Each of us was given his own domain when the world was divided into three parts. We cast lots, . . . (Homer, Iliad, 15. …) see below for a discussion of the relevance to Genesis.

I add these other possible links to Greek myth here to reinforce the case for the Hellenistic sources for the Bible. Gmirkin’s work, as the title itself makes clear, is primarily addressing the case for Plato’s Timaeus and its companion composition Critias lying behind Genesis 2-11.


Given the monotheism of the Bible, we expect to read that all founders are human.

Gmirkin does not discuss in this volume other studies that suggest the mythical origins behind the biblical account of Noah cursing Canaan, son of his youngest son, for “seeing” him naked when he was drunk:

Noah’s interactions with his sons, and how their offspring are thought to become progenitors for all humankind, may be based upon myths in which the main characters were originally gods, an instance of Euhemerism. Like Euhemerus, Israelite authors could interpret the gods acting in the primeval myths of other cultures as really having been “illustrious humans, later idealized and worshiped as gods.” (Louden, 87f)

The Bible itself takes the same road [as the Greek philosopher Euhemerus], as humans replaced the gods of Greek mythology. (Wajdenbaum, 108)


While these two mythic types [see adjacent column] are extant in several different traditions, the versions in Genesis 9, though highly truncated, not only seem closest to the forms the same two mythic types assume in Greek myth but also correspond in four particulars absent from the other known versions:

      • the corresponding names, Iapetos/Japheth;
      • the altered sequence given of the punished sons;
      • the connection with the eponymic Ion/Javan;
      • and the closely corresponding wordplays (yapt/Yepet, Τιτήνας/τιταίvoντας). (Louden, 87f – my formatting)

Great Ouranos [=Heaven] came, bringing on night, and upon Gaia =Earth] he lay, wanting love and fully extended; his son, [=Cronos] from ambush, reached out with his left hand and with his right hand took the huge sickle, long with jagged teeth, and quickly severed his own father’s genitals (Hesiod, Theogony, 176ff]

Plato thought that such a scandalous story should be censored. . . (Plato, Rep. 377 b). It seems likely that the biblical writer recycled that story but modified the detail of Cronos castrating his father into Ham seeing his father naked; it is most noteworthy that some Jewish midrashim interpret Ham’s deed as an actual castration. . . . (Wajdenbaum, 108)

Now behind Genesis there seems to lie a story in which Noah’s sons did more than see him naked: Gen 9:24 “When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his young son had done to him …” What can this have been but castrating him? The association of Iapetus with Kronos, and hence with the castration of Ouranos, suggests that he is the same figure as Japheth youngest son of Noah. (Brown, cited by Louden, 87)


I suggest, then, that to connect the Flood myth with stories set in subsequent eras, Israelite tradition utilized a combination of two common types of myth set in primeval times: one in which intergenerational conflict among gods resulted in a son taking power by castrating his father, the former king of the gods; and another in which three brother gods draw lots to determine their own portions of rule and to establish hierarchical relations between themselves.  (Louden, 87)

See also What Did Ham Do to Noah?

See the previous post for the flood event being the beginning of historical time. Once, he [= Solon] said, he wanted to draw them into a discussion of ancient history, so he launched into an account of the earliest events known here: he began to talk about Phoroneus, who is said to have been the first man, and Niobe; he told the story of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha after the flood, and the tales of their descendants; and he tried, by mentioning the years generation by generation, to arrive at a figure for how long ago the events he was talking about had taken place. (Timaeus 22a-b)

Genesis 10:1-32

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.

The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. . . . And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, And Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (out of whom came Philistim,) and Caphtorim. And Canaan begat Sidon his first born, and Heth, And the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, And the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad.

19 And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.

20 These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations.

21 Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram. And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash. And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber. And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.

30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east.

31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.

While it is now widely acknowledged that the genealogical structure of Genesis, and especially the division of nations in Genesis 10, is broadly indebted to Greek antecedents . . . a specific indebtedness to Critias and Timaeus has generally escaped consideration. (Gmirkin, p. 232)

Critias 113e-114c

By copying this section of Critias below I do not intend it to be read as a direct hypotext for Genesis 10. Rather, what one finds in common with Genesis 10 is the cogently brief account covering the description of how an entire land was divided up, with geographic markers for verisimilitude, with geographic names taken from founding figures, and other details you may discern for yourself:

[Poseidon] fathered and reared five pairs of twin sons. Then he divided the island of Atlantis into ten parts.

He gave the firstborn of the eldest twins his mother’s home and the plot of land around it, which was larger and more fertile than anywhere else, and made him king of all his brothers, while giving each of the others many subjects and plenty of land to rule over.

He named all his sons. To the eldest, the king, he gave the name from which the names of the whole island and of the ocean are derived — that is, the ocean was called the Atlantic because the name of the first king was Atlas.

To his twin, the one who was born next, who was assigned the edge of the island which is closest to the Pillars of Heracles and faces the land which is now called the territory of Gadeira after him, he gave a name which in Greek would be Eumelus, though in the local language it was Gadeirus, and so this must be the origin of the name of Gadeira.

He called the next pair of twins Ampheres and Evaemon;

he named the elder of the third pair Mneseus and the younger one Autochthon;

of the fourth pair, the eldest was called Elasippus and the younger one Mestor;

in the case of the fifth pair, he called the firstborn Azaes and the second-born Diaprepes.

So all his sons and their descendants lived there for many generations, and in addition to ruling over numerous other islands in the ocean, they also, as I said before, governed all the land this side of the Pillars of Heracles up to Egypt and Etruria.


I omitted a section in the above chapter. The reason, again, is to cast an eye beyond what Gmirkin discusses and to note other Greek influence. Here we have a vignette breaking into a genealogy that reminds us of a famous Greek poetic genealogy of heroes who were born from gods.

The genealogies of the Old Testament, especially the Book of Genesis, are much more closely comparable to the Hesiodic ones [than to Mesopotamian lists], both in their multilinearity and in their national and international scope. (West, 13)

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.

The [Greek] genealogies are not homogeneous. They contain folktale, fiction, and saga in very varying proportions. These variations reflect the different sorts of material that were available in different regions for the construction of genealogies. (West, 137)

Fragments from Hesiod’s genealogy of founding Greek heroes:

Of mortals who would have dared to fight him with the spear and charge against him, save only Heracles, the great-hearted offspring of Alcaeus? Such an one was strong Meleager loved of Ares [= the god of war], the golden-haired, dear son of Oeneus and Althaea. From his fierce eyes there shone forth portentous fire: and once in high Calydon he slew the destroying beast, the fierce wild boar with gleaming tusks. In war and in dread strife no man of the heroes dared to face him and to approach and fight with him when he appeared in the forefront. But he was slain by the hands and arrows of Apollo, while he was fighting with the Curetes for pleasant Calydon. (fr 98 )

Aloiadae. Hesiod said that they were sons of Aloeus, — called so after him, — and of Iphimedea, but in reality sons of Poseidon and Iphimedea, and that Alus a city of Aetolia was founded by their father. (fr6 )

Abraham at War

The story of Abram’s military defeat of the coalition of Mesopotamian kings in Genesis 14 has motif and themes that are highly reminiscent of the conflict between Athens and Atlantis in Critias. The kings of Atlantis were portrayed as ruling righteously within their borders many years, until they engaged in a war of territorial aggression to enslave the peoples within the Mediterranean (Timaeus 24e, 25b; Critias 120d, 121b; cf. Gen 14:1-3). All would have been lost (Timaeus 25b-c; cf. Gen 14:4—12) had not the Athenians valiantly engaged the Atlantians in war and defeated them (Timaeus 25c; Critias 112e; cf. Gen 14:13-15). Abram similarly rose to the occasion, leading a small band that included Amorite allies (Gen 14:13-14) to rescue his nephew Lot from slavery, defeat the unjust invaders and liberate the local kings, much as the Athenians took the leadership of the Hellenes and defeated the invading forces of the Atlantians against overwhelming odds, liberating Egypt and the Greek world (Timaeus 25b-c). (Gmirkin, 232)

Abraham is presented as a national exemplar of righteousness and courage in war just as the Athenians were models worthy of their patron goddess of wisdom and courage in war, Athena.

A few pages later Gmirkin proposes that Joshua’s conquests of the Promised Land had a similar literary purpose.

Sodom and Gomorrah

There are many echoes of Plato’s Critias:

    • Yahweh’s portrayal as a terrestrial deity who dined and counseled with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18);
    • the ethical decline of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20; 19:4-13), precipitating judgment from God (cf. Critias 121 b-c);
    • a cataclysm of fire from heaven (Gen 19:24-29; cf. Timaeus 22c-d);
    • the saving of a righteous few (Gen 18:17-33; 19:14-23);
    • and the re-founding of civilization (Gen 19:30-38, locally, in Moab and Ammon).

One also sees echoes of the catastrophe that ended the pre-flood world:

    • the evocative comparison of the Jordan plain with the Garden of Eden (Gen 13:10);
    • the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20; 19:4-13; cf. Gen 6:6-7);
    • the survival of a righteous few (Gen 19:14-23; cf. 6:14-18; 7:1; 9:1);
    • new tribes descending from the survivors of the cataclysm, (Gen 19:31-38; cf. Genesis 10).

These echoes point to the re-use of story motifs from Timaeus-Critias in both the biblical flood story and the story of Lot’s rescue from Sodom. (Gmirkin, 233, my formatting)

Day, John. Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. London ; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2002.

Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.

Naddaf, Gerard. The Greek Concept of Nature. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Wajdenbaum, Philippe. Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. London ; Oakville: Equinox, 2011.

Louden, Bruce. Greek Myth and the Bible. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.

West, M. L. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Its Nature, Structure, and Origins. Oxford Oxfordshire : New York: OUP Oxford, 1985.

Hesiod. Theogony. Translated by Richard S. Caldwell. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2015.

Hesiod. “Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragments.” Theoi Classical Texts Library. Accessed January 19, 2023. https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodCatalogues.html.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Émile Victor Rieu. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1950.



Sons of God, Daughters of Men … and “Giants” — Why are they in the Bible?

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by Neil Godfrey

In Genesis 6 we read a most cryptic detail that leaves us wondering what it is all about:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. . . . There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth . . . 

On “giants” — a whole post or two could be written on this word. Suffice it for our purposes to note that the Hebrew word is “nephilim”. Nephilim, from the root nāpal, literally means “fallen ones” (cf Ezekiel 32:27 “They lie with the warriors, the Nephilim of old, who descended to Sheol with their weapons of war.”) We may think of them as mighty warriors now departed from the earth, heroes of old, and not necessarily as gigantic in stature — although many of them were depicted as larger than average. (cf Hendel, 21f)

We have been covering Russell Gmirkin’s book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts, but as I was poring through the background reading I found myself drawn back to the question of why the story of the flood in Genesis begins with an account of “sons of god”, or as the Hebrew also allows, “sons of gods”. Why did the Genesis author open his flood story with such a curious episode?

Let’s begin at the beginning — with the noncontroversial fact that Mesopotamian myth lies behind the biblical story of Noah’s flood. But let’s also examine how Mesopotamian and Biblical narratives are so very different from each other.

In Mesopotamian flood myths the gods did not use the flood to punish humankind because of its immorality or violence. No, it was not a moral judgement sent by any of the gods. It was a decision of convenience and comfort: a god was complaining of overpopulation and the resultant noise of so many people on earth keeping him awake.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atra-Hasis epic in the British Museum. Wikimedia

The land grew extensive, the people multiplied,
The land was bellowing like a bull.
At their uproar the god became angry;
Enlil heard their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
“The noise of mankind has become oppressive to me.
Because of their uproar I am deprived of sleep. (Atrahasis myth as quoted in Hendel, 17)

Significant here is what happens after the flood. The flood marks a dividing line between two different ages:

To prevent future overpopulation, the gods take several measures: they create several categories of women who do not bear children; they create demons who snatch away babies; and . . . they institute a fixed mortality for mankind. The restored text reads: “Enki opened his mouth / and addressed Nintu, the birth-goddess, / ‘[You,] birth-goddess, creatress of destinies, / [Create death] for the peoples.'” Death, barren women, celibate women, and infant mortality are the solutions for the problem of imbalance that precipitated the flood. (Hendel 17f)

Here we find that although there were myths of great floods, the primary myth about the dividing of mythical from “historical” time was the Trojan War. And this mythical saga opened, like the Genesis flood story, with gods and mortals marrying and producing heroic figures.

In previous posts we have seen Gmirkin’s argument that the Genesis author began his flood narrative with gods marrying women under the influence of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias. What I am interested in doing here is examining the wider tradition of that same Greek myth of gods and mortals and how other accounts more directly linked this myth with the end of the primeval world. There are additional influences from this wider world of Greek myth on the Genesis author, I believe.

The Trojan War as the Divider between Mythical Time and Historical Time

Surviving Greek tales of gods living on earth with humans are compiled in a work called the Catalogue of Women. This poem begins with gods (or sons of older gods) marrying mortal women and producing heroic figures.

The Catalogue . . . does not begin with an account of the flood but with a remark about the union of the gods with mortal women to produce the heroes who are the subject of the Catalogue. This strongly suggests that the [biblical author] has combined this western genealogical tradition and the tradition of the heroes with the eastern tradition of the flood story. (Van Seters, 177)

In this myth the chief god, Zeus, decided to put an end to the mixing of divine and mortal races by means of war: he manoeuvred events to bring about the Trojan War that was meant to kill off the semi-divine heroes. Many of these heroes were taken to the Fields of the Blessed but the point of their demise was to re-establish a clear division between gods and humans. (There is no general moral condemnation of these heroes in Greek myth, nor, as Gmirkin stresses in his own work, is there moral condemnation against these figures in the biblical narrative.) From the time of the Trojan War the “age of myths” basically comes to an end and “real history” begins.

Returning to the question of why Genesis 6:1-4 is such a brief account (so brief the author must have assumed his readers knew the larger story), it is interesting to learn that brief synopses of longer tales are also found in Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women. This work, too, often reads much like a compendium of mere outlines of myths.

As in the Theogony, the genealogies were interspersed with many narrative episodes and annotations of greater or less extent. We can see that these narratives were often very summary; but they are there, and are an essential ingredient in the poem. A large number of the traditional myths, perhaps the greater part of those familiar to the Greeks of the classical age, were at least touched on and set in their place in the genealogical framework. Thus the poem became something approaching a compendious account of the whole story of the nation from the earliest times to the time of the Trojan War or the generation after it. We shall see when we come to study its contents more closely that its poet had a clearly defined and individual view of the heroic period as a kind of Golden Age in which the human race lived in different conditions from the present and which Zeus terminated as a matter of policy. We shall also see that he organized his material with some skill so as to convey his sense of the unity of the period in spite of the multiplicity of genealogical ramifications. (West, 3)

The first readers or audiences were expected to know the details of what could be abridged so they could maintain their focus on the larger plot.

In Greek myth, the intermarriage of gods and mortals was the opening scene of the tale that led Zeus to destroy the race of heroic demi-gods and so restore a new world with a clear division between the divine and human. These myths were anything but consistent, however, and other accounts offered a different reason for Zeus deciding to depopulate the earth through the Trojan War. One other reason was that the earth was simply becoming overpopulated. It is possible that the Greeks borrowed this idea from the Mesopotamian myth (see above where a god complains about the noise so many people were making) but it is also possible — since there is a comparable Indian myth — that the concept had a more general Indo-European origin (Hendel, 20).

So we have different motives for Zeus’s decision to destroy the old world and bring about a new one: Continue reading “Sons of God, Daughters of Men … and “Giants” — Why are they in the Bible?”


Demigods, Violence and Flood in Plato and Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7c]

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by Neil Godfrey

Is it possible to set forth a plausible case that the Genesis author of Noah’s Flood was inspired in any way by his reading of Plato’s myth of Atlantis? There can be no doubt that the author was influenced by an ancient Mesopotamian story so let’s establish that undeniable source for Genesis with Russell Gmirkin’s own acknowledgement:

The traditional view of scholars is that the Genesis flood derived from sources extant no later than the time of the seventh to sixth-century Babylonian captivity. Gmirkin expands the field for literary comparison to include third-century BCE Hellenistic-era works and identifies Berossus as the Genesis’ author’s source for the Mesopotamian myth. In the words of another author, Philippe Wajdenbaum,

Even if the most ancient version of the deluge comes from the Sumerian tradition, and even if the biblical writer knew of this tradition, he inserted it into a platonic framework. . . . The first eleven chapters of Genesis are indeed inspired by Mesopotamian myths, but there is a more recent Greek layer that is just as obvious. The evolution of humankind in the Bible—from the ideal life in Eden to the degeneration that led up to the deluge, and from the discussion of patriarchal life to the gift of laws— is all found in Plato’s dialogues. (Wajdenbaum, 107)

In the Primordial History, the Mesopotamian flood story, with its survival of Utnapishtim and his family and servants in a boat, had undeniable literary parallels to both the J and P versions of the Noachian flood. (Gmirkin, 10 — J and P are scholarly abbreviations pointing to different sources thought to lie behind the biblical literature: for a critical discussion on J and P in the Genesis Flood see Rendsburg on Genesis and Gilgamesh: Misunderstanding and Misrepresenting the Documentary Hypothesis (Part 2))

What, then, is Gmirkin’s view of that “more recent Greek layer” that Wajdenbaum (see the side box) speaks about?

Here are the common elements between Plato’s story of Atlantis and the Genesis Flood:

    • Both stories are preceded by a “golden age” of innocence and abundance when the deity (Poseidon, Yahweh) ruled directly with his people;
    • Both stories depict a descent into corruption after sons of gods marry mortal women: in the myth of Atlantis immorality increases over generations as the divine element in the demigods becomes diluted through ongoing marriages with mortals; in Genesis the corruption is said to happen following the sons of the gods taking women and producing “nephilim”. (An important note needs to be injected here for those of us conditioned to think that Genesis 6 is referring to demons (“sons of god/s”) descending to earth to take human women. That interpretation arose later in Jewish tradition with works like Enoch and Jubilees. There is no suggestion in Genesis 6 that these “sons of god/s” were demonic or evil. They are introduced, rather, as producing “men of renown”, though they later descended into violence.)

      This image from https://www.greece-is.com/the-search-for-atlantis/ is a brilliant reminder that Atlantis was created entirely from Plato’s imagination.

.Plato’s Critias 121

[After earlier describing the god Poseidon taking the human girl Cleito and with her producing generations of highly renowned kings, the first named Atlas … ] But when the divine portion within them began to fade, as a result of constantly being diluted by large measures of mortality, and their mortal nature began to predominate, they became incapable of bearing their prosperity and grew corrupt. Anyone with the eyes to see could mark the vileness of their behaviour as they destroyed the best of their valuable possessions; but those who were blind to the life that truly leads to happiness regarded them as having finally attained the most desirable and enviable life possible, now that they were infected with immoral greed [or “lawless ambition”] and power.

Zeus looks down, sees the degeneration, and decides to pass judgment:

Zeus, god of gods, who reigns by law, did have the eyes to see such things. He recognized the degenerate state of their fair line and wished to punish them, as a way of introducing more harmony into their lives. He summoned all the gods to a meeting in the most awesome of his dwellings, which is located in the centre of the entire universe and so sees all of creation. And when the gods had assembled, he said . . . 

Genesis 6:1-12

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. . . . There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Yahweh, like Zeus, sees the corruption and announced judgement:

Then [Yahweh] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And [Yahweh] was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. . . . 

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 

Continue reading “Demigods, Violence and Flood in Plato and Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7c]”


Primeval History from Cain to Noah — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7b]

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

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

Continuing the series discussing Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts . . . .

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden in Eden (note, not expelled from the land of Eden but only from Eden’s Garden) generally coincides with the Greek mythological Age of Zeus that succeeded the idyllic golden age of Kronos:

The proliferation of cities, kings and technology broadly conforms to the rise of civilization and self-sufficiency in the Age of Zeus in Greek sources from Hesiod to Plato. (Gmirkin, 210)

So let’s recap with Hesiod’s poem Works and Days:

The gods desire to keep the stuff of life
Hidden from us. If they did not, you could
Work for a day and earn a year’s supplies;
You’d pack away your rudder, and retire
The oxen and the labouring mules. But Zeus
Concealed the secret, angry in his heart
At being hoodwinked by Prometheus,
And so he thought of painful cares for men. (lines 42ff)

Hesiod wrote of the change Zeus sent through Pandora:

Before this time men lived upon the earth
Apart from sorrow and from painful work,
Free from disease, which brings the Death-gods in.
But now the woman opened up the cask,
And scattered pains and evils among men.
Inside the cask’s hard walls remained one thing,
Hope, only, which did not fly through the door.
The lid stopped her, but all the others flew,
Thousands of troubles, wandering the earth.
The earth is full of evils, and the sea.
Diseases come to visit men by day
And, uninvited, come again at night
Bringing their pains in silence, for they were
Deprived of speech by Zeus the Wise. And so
There is no way to flee the mind of Zeus. (lines 90ff)

Hesiod pictured successive races, each having to suffer more than the previous one:

Far-seeing Zeus then made another race,
The fifth, who live now on the fertile earth.
I wish I were not of this race, that I
Had died before, or had not yet been born.
This is the race of iron. Now, by day,
Men work and grieve unceasingly; by night,
They waste away and die. The gods will give
Harsh burdens, but will mingle in some good. (lines 196ff)

Hesiod addresses his instruction to a nobleman, Perses, appropriately given that the nobility saw themselves as direct descendants of Zeus:

O noble Perses [literally, “Perses, of the genus of the gods], keep my words in mind,
And work till Hunger is your enemy
And till Demeter, awesome, garlanded,
Becomes your friend and fills your granary.
For Hunger always loves a lazy man. (lines 299ff)

And so Adam was charged with the toil and hardship to survive:

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread (Gen 3:17-19)

Moving ahead to Cain’s exile from the land of Eden, we cover here chapters 4 to 6 that are each widely understood to be derived from different source material. In chapter 4 Gmirkin identifies Plato’s broad narrative framework although the detail of the text originated elsewhere.

Genesis 4

Genesis 4

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city . . . 

The problems in the narrative that have long confused readers — where did Cain get his wife? how could he build a city without other people? — disappear if read against the background of Plato’s myth in Critias, his successor to Timaeus. With Critias in the background we can picture Cain being expelled from the land of Eden, which was Yahweh’s territory, into another region of other people ruled by another deity.

Unlike omnipresent depictions of Yahweh in Psalms, Amos, Jonah, here one could escape beyond that god’s presence.

Plato’s Critias 109 b

Once upon a time, the gods divided the whole earth among themselves, region by region. . . . So each gained by just allocation what belonged to him, established communities in his lands, and, having done so, began to look after us, his property and creatures, as a shepherd does his flocks . . . 

. . . and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.

18 To Enoch was born Irad;

and Irad begot Mehujael,

and Mehujael begot Methushael,

and Methushael begot Lamech.

19 Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. 

20 And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. 22 And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.

Lists of inventors were popular in both the Greek world and the Ancient Near East (Gmirkin, 210)

Yahweh Elohim was the god of the land of Eden and its people.

Cassuto in his commentary (pp. 228ff) argues that the grammatical construction of the key passage better suggests that it was Cain’s son, Enoch, who built the first city, Irad — which would coincide with the Babylonian tradition that the first city was Eridu.


The firstling of those cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud. (The Eridu Genesis — Jacobsen, 518)

These Apkallü . . . are the wise men known from mythology who rose from the sea in prehistoric times to reveal science, social forms and art to man. Since for the Sumerians there was something supernatural about these concepts, a primordial revelation was necessary. . . .

Ninagal . . . the blacksmith’s work; . . . Nungalpiriggal is . . . the inventor of the lyre (or the harp) . . .  (Dijk, 45, 49)

The fish-figurines …. the apkallus, often occurring in groups of seven . . . represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berossos’ account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization. (Riener,  6)

First therefore he who introduced to the Greeks the common letters, even the very first elements of grammar, namely Cadmus, was a Phoenician by birth . . . The healing art is said to have been invented by Apis the Egyptian . . .  Atlas the Libyan was the first who built a ship, and sailed the sea. . . . (Eusebius, Prae X, v… vi)

Demeter – gave cultivation of grain; Dionysus, – viticulture; Apollo, the calendar and lyre; Prometheus, fire… (Seters, 83)

Arion … invented and named the dithyramb. . . . Glaucus … the inventor of the art of welding. . . .  (Herodotus, I)

With Genesis 5 we begin a new genealogy from Adam, the ten generations up to the Flood. Gmirkin first set out his case for this section being derived from the Hellenistic era author, Berossus in Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. While Mesopotamian years for each pre-flood generation was measured in the tens of thousands (totalling approximately two hundred thousand years) Plato spoke of a beginning closer to ten thousand years before his time, and a calculation of the Bible’s beginnings are shorter still.

The most that can be inferred from Genesis itself is that the Primordial History is set a few thousand years in the past, approximately in line with contemporary Greek theories. Although Genesis 5 also adopted a scheme of ten long-lived patriarchs before the flood, under the influence of the Babyloniaca of Berossus (Gmirkin 2006: 107-8), its chronological scheme is more in line with Greek than Mesopotamian estimates of the age of the world. (Gmirkin, 213)

Calculations for the time of creation vary, and the differences between the Hebrew and Septuagint versions are most pronounced. But those who are intrigued by the common calculation that Adam was created 1656 or 1657 years before the flood will be interested in how Cassuto relates this figure to the Mesopotamian methods of calculation:

Of the round numbers referred to, which are composed according to the sexagesimal system, one is 600,000—sixty myriads— a high figure that indicates an exceedingly large amount. Now 600,000 days make 1643 solar years of 365 days each. If we add seven plus seven, as was done in the case of Methuselah’s years, we obtain exactly 1657. We have here, then, a pattern similar to that of the Babylonian chronology: a number based on the sexagesimal principle with the addition of twice times seven. (Cassuto, 261)

Genesis 5

Genesis 5

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.

Enosh lived ninety years, and begot [a]Cainan. 10 After he begot Cainan, Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years, and had sons and daughters. 11 So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died.

12 Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalalel. 13 After he begot Mahalalel, Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years, and had sons and daughters. 14 So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.

15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and begot Jared. 16 After he begot Jared, Mahalalel lived eight hundred and thirty years, and had sons and daughters. 17 So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years; and he died.

18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. 19 After he begot Enoch, Jared lived eight hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died.

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

25 Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and begot Lamech. 26 After he begot Lamech, Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years, and had sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died.

28 Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. 29 And he called his name Noah,[b] saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” 30 After he begot Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years, and had sons and daughters. 31 So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years; and he died.

32 And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Despite several of the same or similar names appearing in Genesis 4 and 5, in a different order (Westermann 1984: 348-9), it is noteworthy that no narrative connections were made with the seven generations of the line of Cain in Genesis 4, nor any attribution of important inventions to Seth’s descendants, nor any anecdotes regarding the growing violence of the pre-flood world. Genesis 4 and 5 thus appear to be independently authored narratives of the antediluvian world, linked only by the artificial coordination of these two accounts at Gen 4:25-26 (cf. Westermann 1984: 338). The names common to the two genealogies suggest they both made use of related antecedent source material whose character cannot now be recovered.

The narrative objective of Genesis 5 appears to be extremely limited: to give a detailed chronological framework for the antediluvian world. (Gmirkin, 211)

Westermann, 349

Westermann’s inability to consider the possibility that the author of Genesis was indebted to Berossus is evident when he wrote:

Before the discovery of the cuneiform texts, one had seen the prototype of Enoch in the seventh king of the list of Berossos, Evedoranchos = Enmeduranki. It was said of him that he was taken up into the company of Shamash and Ramman and was inducted into the secrets of heaven and earth. Since the new discoveries have shown that the parallel between the series of ten in Berossos and Gen 5 is no longer tenable, one can no longer maintain a dependence of what is said of Enoch in Gen 5 on the seventh king in Berossos (nevertheless U. Cassuto still does). (Westermann, 358)

The Cassuto reference to which W. refers:

In the Babylonian tradition, the seventh king in the list of ante-diluvian kings—who thus corresponds to the Biblical Enoch, the son of Jared—is likewise distinguished from the other monarchs. His name appears as Enme(n)duranna in the list of kings; as Enmeduranki in another document, belonging to the worship of the diviner-priests (K. 2486); and as (this is apparently the correct reading) in Berossus. The inscription K. 2486 records all sorts of wonderful tales about this king. Although the text has been badly damaged, the essential subject-matter, despite the obliterations, is clear, to wit, that Enmeduranki was beloved of the gods Anu, Bel, Šamaš and Adad, and that these deities, or some of them, (made him) an associate of theirs, (placed him) on a throne of gold, and transmitted to him their secrets, the secrets of heaven and earth, and gave him possession of the tablets of the gods, the cedar rod, and the secret of divination by means of pouring oil upon water (a method of divination that was also known among the Israelites . . . ). Enmeduranki was regarded as the father of the diviner-priests— their father in the sense that he was the originator of their doctrine, and also in the physical connotation of the term . . .  every diviner-priest (barû) claimed descent from him. (Cassuto, 282f)

Poseidon pursuing yet another mortal woman

We have seen how Plato described the newly created earth being divided up among the various gods and goddesses, with each pair of deities appearing to create their own first humans from the dust of their respective allotted territory. Athena and Hephaestus gave their first humans of Attica or the city of Athens, divine forms of government, wisdom, crafts, prowess in war, and so forth. The god Poseidon was given the region beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the land of Atlantis. Poseidon … well, read for yourself Plato’s account of what happened next…

Genesis 6

Continue reading “Primeval History from Cain to Noah — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7b]”


“Garden of Eden” : Mesopotamian Perspectives

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

by Neil Godfrey

I couldn’t resist. I had to add the evidence for the competition to the previous post. There with reference to Russell Gmirkin I set out the evidence for the biblical Garden of Eden being inspired by Greek literature. I know many would prefer I find something that adheres to a more conventional perspective, an account owes more to Mesopotamian traditions. So here are the closest scenarios from that part of the ancient world that I can find that might remind us of Genesis’s Garden of Eden. I will leave it to you to compare them with the Greek writings.

There was the garden of the gods; all round him stood bushes bearing gems. Seeing it he went down at once, for there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it, beautiful to look at; lapis lazuli leaves hung thick with fruit, sweet to see. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate, and pearls from out of the sea.  (Epic of Gilgamesh)

So Gilgamesh passes through a garden not for humans but for the gods on his way to see Utnapishtim, the Sumerian version of Noah.

There is a Sumerian description of “a land of immortality”, Dilmun:

In Dilmun the raven utters no cry,
The ittidu­-bird utters not the cry of the ittidu-­bird,
The lion kills not,
The wolf snatches not the lamb,
Unknown is the kid­devouring wild dog,
Unknown is the grain­devouring . . ,
Unknown is the widow,
The bird on high . .s not his . . ,
The dove droops not the head,
The sick­eyed says not “I am sick­eyed,”
The sick­headed says not “I am sick­headed,”
Its (Dilmun’s) old woman says not “I am an old woman,”
Its old man says not ”I am an old man,”
Unbathed is the maid, no sparkling water is poured in the city,
Who crosses the river (of death?) utters no . . ,
The wailing priests walk not round about him,
The singer utters no wail,
By the side of the city he utters no lament.

(Myth of Enki and Ninhursag, in Kramer, 144f)

In the Babylonian myth of Marduk humans are made to serve the gods:

In “A Bilingual Version of the Creation of the World by Marduk,” man is likewise made for the sake of the gods. There the gods solemnly proclaim Babylon as the dwelling of their hearts’ delight; but, in order to induce them to stay there, Marduk and Aruru create the race of men so that these might attend to the needs of the gods by building their sanctuaries and maintaining their sacrifices. According to a third version . . . humankind was brought into being because the gods desired to have someone to establish the boundary ditch and to keep the canals in their right courses; to irrigate the land to make it produce; to raise grain; to increase ox, sheep, cattle, fish, and fowl; to build sanctuaries for the gods; and to celebrate their festivals. All this man was to do for the benefit of his divine overlords, because “‘the service of the gods” was his ‘‘portion.”’ A similarity to this last tradition is found in the second chapter of Genesis, which mentions as man’s destiny the cultivation of the soil (vs. 5) and the development and preservation of the Garden of Eden (vs. 15). But this work obviously was in his own interest; the Lord God did not ask for any returns. (Heidel, p. 121)

Enkidu – represented the original untamed, savage man in the Gilgamesh epic

Another story from the same region introduces humanity as wandering nomads apparently leading a brutish life until a god has pity on them and decides to “bring them home” to profitable employment serving the gods.

Nintur was paying attention:
Let me bethink myself of my humankind,
(all) forgotten as they are;
and mindful of mine, Nintur’s, creatures
let me bring them back,
let me lead the people back from their trails.

May they come and build cities and cult-places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult-cities
in pure spots, and
may they found places for divination
in pure spots!

(The Eridu Genesis)

From Optimism to Pessimism

Thorkild Jacobsen discusses this text and notes the sharp contrast with the Genesis account of humankind’s beginnings:

In the “Eridu Genesis” moreover the progression is clearly a logical one of cause and effect: the wretched state of natural man touches the motherly heart of Nintur, who has him improve his lot by settling down in cities and building temples; and she gives him a king to lead and organize. As this chain of cause and effect leads from nature to civilization, so a following such chain carries from the early cities and kings over into the story of the flood. The well organized irrigation works carried out by the cities under the leadership of their kings lead to a greatly increased food supply and that in turn makes man multiply on the earth. The volume of noise these people make keeps Enlil from sleeping and makes him decide to get peace and quiet by sending the flood. (p. 140)


The “Eridu Genesis” takes throughout, as will have been noticed, an affirmative and optimistic view of existence: it believes in progress. Things were not nearly as good to begin with as they have become since and though man unwittingly, by sheer multiplying, once caused the gods to turn against him; that will not happen again. The gods had a change of heart, realizing apparently that they needed man.

In the biblical account it is the other way around. Things began as perfect from God’s hand and grew then steadily worse through man’s sinfulness until God finally had to do away with all mankind except for the pious Noah who would beget a new and better stock.

The moral judgment here introduced, and the ensuing pessimistic viewpoint, could not be more different from the tenor of the Sumerian tale; only the assurance that such a flood will not recur is common to both. (p. 142)

Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation. Second edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. “The Eridu Genesis.” In “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, edited by Richard S. Hess and David Toshio Tsumura, 129–42. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 2018.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh; Reprinted with revisions. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.



The Garden of Eden — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7a]

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

This post continues the series discussing Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts.

After the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden we enter a new series of adventures that find their counterpart in the next book by Plato, Critias. Here we are led to understand that the land of Eden was only one part of the created world and that Cain, on being exiled from Eden itself, enters another land presumably inhabited by other peoples removed from the presence of the god Yahweh Elohim. We read names renowned for inventing the various crafts and arts of civilization and the building of the first cities. We read of “sons of gods” marrying mortal women and producing heroic warriors. We read of violence spiralling out of control and of Yahweh deciding to end it all by wiping out all humanity and every living thing in a cataclysmic flood. He is persuaded, however, to spare one family to start anew. Finally, new ethnic groups are once again scattered across the world from the tower of Babel.

We know the story but as long as we are sure that it was composed long before the classical era of Greece (from the fourth century BCE) and look only to possible antecedents in the Mesopotamian region then we will miss the remarkably distinct parallels with Greek myth. Yes, there is no doubt that the Flood story in Genesis is derived from an early Babylonian story, and the tower of Babel is obviously focused on Babylon, — no question there. But keep in mind that “Hellenistic” culture was initially about blending, uniting, the cultures of the east and west, of the lands once ruled by Persia with the values and ideas of their Greek conquerors.

This is Russell Gmirkin’s contribution to the way we view the Bible — to test the possibility that Genesis and its companion literature were written as late as the Hellenistic era:

The current chapter shifts the focus to Critias, Plato’s sequel to Timaeus. The use of Critias as a model for the antediluvian world in Genesis has not previously been proposed by biblical critics. While Timaeus was concerned with the origins of the kosmos, of life and death, and of human moral sensibilities and failings, Critias presented a tale set in earliest mythical times that laid out the devolution of ideal political institutions, established by the gods, into a spiral of ambition and violence divinely punished by cataclysmic earthquake and flood that ended the Age of Heroes and overflowed the mythical continent of Atlantis. (p. 199 — my highlighting in all quotations)

Genesis is an odd mix. It begins with a stately account of creation in six days — all in coherence with the scientific thought of the Hellenistic era — but then shifts to mythical tales of talking snakes and “sons of gods” marrying mortal women. In Gmirkin’s view, it is as if we are reading a work that “consciously mimic[s] Plato’s Timaeus (the scientific and theological narrative) and Critias (mythical narrative).”

Jan Brueghel – Wikimedia

I had initially expected to post a discussion of the entire seventh chapter but instead have resolved to post a series of smaller units, each one covering one aspect of the primeval history from Cain to Babel. Instead of quoting Gmirkin and others he references, I have decided to cut to the chase and allow you to see for yourselves how episodes from Genesis compare with Greek literature. My quotations are selective. I have omitted details that do not find correspondence. For example, Plato’s account of Atlantis speaks of building a palace for Poseidon. Gmirkin remarks that in Genesis, since Yahweh Elohim converses with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it can be assumed that he has a temple or mansion of some kind there, too. But of course if that is what the Genesis author and his audience took for granted it is not mentioned. So I have omitted from my selections Plato’s description of the god’s palace.

Russell Gmirkin additionally discusses other options that have been proposed as models of the Garden of Eden: the royal parks of the kings of Assyria, temple gardens of Mesopotamia, and other Mesopotamian mythical stories such as Gllgamesh. He finds little strong comparison in any of those alternatives. (See the post following this one for some instances of what have ben considered “Garden of Eden” parallels in ancient Sumerian literature.) Why would a supply source for pagan temples be an inspiration for the Genesis author? Or why the hunting grounds of an Assyrian king?

Genesis 2-3


Homer, Hesiod, Pindar

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) [Athens] was founded first, when the goddess received your rootstock from Earth and Hephaestus (Timaeus 23e)

There lived on this hill a man who was one of the original earth-born men of the land. (Critias 113c)

we’ve also heard from many about the kingship exercized by Kronos, And . . . that earlier men were born from the earth (Statesman, 269a-b)

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. . . .

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, 

where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)

The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. . . . 

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. 

Now the serpent . . . said to the woman, . . . The woman said to the serpent . . . 

. . . the serpent said to the woman “. . . your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom . . . *

Yahweh Elohim . . . was walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . .

(Gen 2:8-14, 25; 3:1-8)

Poseidon, as a god, easily organized the central island [of Atlantis]. Once he had fetched up two underground springs — one warm, the other flowing cold from its source — and caused all kinds of food to grow in sufficient quantities from the soil . . . . the island by itself provided them with most of the necessities of life. . . They had everything, [precious stones and metals] that could be mined from the ground, and in fact in many parts of the island there was dug up from the ground something which is now no more than a name, although in those days it was an actual fact and was second in value only to gold — orichalc [which gleamed like fire]. . . . Everything aromatic the earth produces today in the way of roots or shoots or shrubs or gums exuded by flowers or fruits was produced and supported by the island then. . . . Any water which overflowed was channelled to the grove of Poseidon, where all the various species of trees grew to be beautiful and extraordinarily tall thanks to the fertility of the soil, . . . Streams descending from the mountains drained into it, and it made a complete circuit of the plain, . . . and then the water was allowed to discharge into the sea.  (Critias 113e – 114e. 115a, 117b, 118d)

Trees and flowers and fruit, grow in proportion; and again, the mountains contain stones likewise, whose smoothness, transparency, and beauty of colour are in the same proportion; it is from these that the little stones we value, sardian stones, jaspers, emeralds, and all such, are pieces; but there, every single one is like that, or even more beautiful still. . . . But the true earth is adorned with all these things, and with gold and silver also, and with the other things of that kind as well. For they are plainly visible, being many in number, large, and everywhere upon the earth. (Phaedo 110d-111c)

. . .  the parts of the world-order having everywhere been divided up by gods ruling over them; moreover divine spirits had divided living things between them, like herdsmen, by kind and by herd, each by himself providing independently for all the needs of those he tended, so that none of them was savage, nor did they eat each other, and there was no war or internal dissent at all. . . . But to return to what has been reported about a life for human beings without toil, the origin of the report is something like this. A god tended them, taking charge of them himself,  . . . they had an abundance of fruits from trees and many other plants, not growing through cultivation but because the earth sent them up of its own accord. For the most part they would feed outdoors, naked and without bedding; for the blend of the seasons was without painful extremes, and they had soft beds from abundant grass that sprang from the earth. What I describe, then, Socrates, is the life of those who lived in the time Kronos . . . Well then, if, with so much leisure available to them, and so much possibility of their being able to get together in conversation not only with human beings but also with animals – . . . to do philosophy, talking both with animals and with each other, and inquiring from all kinds of creatures whether any one of them had some capacity of its own that enabled it to see better in some way than the rest with respect to the gathering together of wisdom, the judgement is easy, that those who lived then were far, far more fortunate than those who live now. (Statesman, 271c-272c)

. . . the Elysian plain at the world’s end, . . .  where living is made easiest for mankind, where no snow falls, no strong winds blow and there is never any rain, but day after day the West Wind’s tuneful breeze comes in from Ocean to refresh its folk. (Homer, Odyssey IV, 563-569)

The gods, who live on Mount Olympus, first Fashioned a golden race of mortal men; These lived in the reign of Kronos, king of heaven. And like the gods they lived with happy hearts untouched by work or sorrow. Vile old age never appeared, but always lively-limbed, far from all ills, they feasted happily. Death came to them as sleep, and all good things were theirs; ungrudgingly, the fertile land gave up her fruits unasked. Happy to be at peace, they lived with every want supplied, (Hesiod, Works and Days, 110-120)

But with nights equal forever, with sun equal in their days, the good men have life without labor . . . . Beside the high gods they who had joy in keeping faith lead a life without tears. . . . . But they who endure thrice over in the world beyond to keep their souls from all sin have gone God’s way to the tower of Kronos; there winds sweep from the Ocean across the Island of the Blessed. Gold flowers to flame on land in the glory of trees; it is fed in the water, whence they bind bracelets to their arms and go chapleted . . . (Pindar, Olympian Ode 2)


* I have added, rightly or wrongly, to Russell Gmirkin’s notes of comparisons Plato’s suggestion that the impulse for conversation between humans and animals was “the getting of wisdom.” For another interpretation of Plato’s influence on the Genesis temptation narrative see The Temptation in the previous post.

(There is one other detail that I might develop later: Gmirkin explains certain contradictions in Genesis 1-2 as the consequence of different authors being responsible for different sections, so that the scientific portion of Genesis 1 had one author while the myth of Adam and Eve another. That may be so, but I also note that Plato himself is not consistent and while at one place he speaks of an idyllic age without need for technology and other time he describes technologies in that ideal world of the past. He didn’t seem to worry if he told a different version when a different purpose for the story was called for. Plato could also write both highly technical “scientific” discourses as well as dramatic and colourful myths within the one work.)

Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.

Plato. Timaeus and Critias. Translated by Robin Waterfield. OUP Oxford, 2008.
Plato. Phaedo. Translated by David Gallop. Clarendon Press, 1977.
Plato: Statesman. Translated by C. J. Rowe. First published 1995, Reprinted with corrections 2005. Warminster, England: Liverpool University Press, 1995.

Hesiod. Theogony ; Works and Days. Translated by Dorothea Wender. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1973.
Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by E.V Rieu. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books, 1946.
Pindar. The Odes Of Pindar. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. The University of Chicago Press, 1947.



The Second Creation Story in Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 6]

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

by Neil Godfrey

The stately narrative of the creation of the cosmos in six days crowned by a sabbath rest comes to an abrupt end as the reader is swept into a totally different dimension: an announcement of the “generations of heaven and earth”, a world of animals being created after the man, a garden with mythical geography and two forbidden trees, a talking serpent, and a god walking in the cool breeze wondering where his newly created man and woman are. If the first creation account draws on Plato and other Greek scientific thought, what are we to make of these following chapters?

For Russell Gmirkin, this Genesis second creation account is also inspired by Plato’s “second creation account” in Timaeus:

It is striking that both Plato’s Timaeus and the book of Genesis divide their account of the creation of the world into two parts, the first narrating the creation of the present universe as a whole . . . 

. . . and with the second part introducing the popular anthropomorphic gods of the Greeks, offering an explanation for mortality and how human wickedness came about without being the responsibility of the supreme creator god.

Thank God for Plato – or rather, Plato for God

It was Plato alone who postulated a truly eternal god that dwelled beyond the plane of sensible existence, beyond time, in the world of Being. This essentially monotheistic conception of a supreme transcendent god existing beyond the sensible universe was a major Platonic innovation, found neither in popular Greek myth nor in the writings of the pre-Socratics, though a commonplace belief today in the religions that are Plato’s intellectual heirs. Earlier natural philosophers who postulated a monotheistic deity, such as Xenophanes of Colophon, Heraclitus of Ephesus and Anaxagoras of Clazomene, did not localize the supreme god outside the realm of sensible existence, but rather as an intelligence pervading the physical universe. Plato’s view of this god as one, eternal and without bodily form, appears to most closely echo the views of Xenophanes. But Plato, by postulating a separate eternal realm of Being distinct from the temporal realm of Becoming, gave a novel ontological basis for the existence of a divine realm where both Forms and the Demiurge could have an abiding existence separated from the sensible physical kosmos. (Gmirkin, 159)

Plato wrote of the supreme deity commissioning his lesser gods to create mortals and Genesis 2 is consistent with this pattern:

  • in the first chapter Elohim creates the cosmos;
  • Elohim then appears to address a divine assembly, “Let us create humans…”;
  • in the second chapter a deity called Yahweh Elohim is depicted creating man and woman, walking in the cool of the day in the garden and engaging in conversation with earthly mortals.

The traditional view among scholars is that Genesis contains two quite different accounts, each composed many years apart, each depicting a different god, and being clumsily combined (certain contradictions between the two were allowed to stand) into a single narrative. Gmirkin argues that both of these different accounts were composed under the influence of Plato’s two-stage creation narrative.

The serious reader will want to investigate the details: what textual variants do we find in the various Hebrew and Greek manuscripts? Gmirkin discusses these questions, engaging with various inconsistencies, and concludes:

it seems reasonable to posit that the original text of Genesis 1-3 was consistent in its use of Elohim and Yahweh Elohim in the First and Second Creation Accounts respectively. (p. 163)

I have to admit that I have some slight reservation over the similarity of the names of the deities: Elohim and Yahweh Elohim. Is it possible that in the original text Yahweh Elohim was stressing a particular attribute of Elohim rather than being meant to be a second god? (Compare the many epithets associated with Zeus and Dionysus.) Another option proposed has been that the original text was referencing two different “hypostases” of the supreme god but I’ll save that discussion for another time when I post on some of Bernard Barc’s ideas. My question at this point does not at all overturn the basic principle of Gmirkin’s thesis, but I wonder if it does open up doors to further explorations of the details of how Hellenistic influence was embedded in Judean/Samaritan thought before the split between the two peoples and reactions against Hellenism.

Here are the generations of heaven and earth

A Roman mosaic depicting the Greek primordial gods Uranus and Gaia

Another curiosity in Genesis that has surely caused many readers at some stage to wonder is “here are the generations of the heaven and earth”:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth — Genesis 2:4

That’s one of the many curiosities that I asked about as a child. At the time I was assured that since this was holy writ the meaning had to be whatever followed, however unsatisfying the proposed answers were. One had to wait to reach adulthood to find the same questions are permitted and freely discussed by the scholars. The most likely explanation (uncomfortable for the innocent believer) is that we are reading a passage that had its origins in a view that Heaven and Earth were themselves gods. That’s exactly what we find in Greek mythology. Plato’s highest craftsman god was the father of numerous other deities, beginning with Ge, earth, and Ouranos, heaven.

Plato claimed that the traditional visible Greek gods, starting with Ouranos and Ge, were the offspring of the invisible Demiurge or Creator, and that these semi-mortal, corporeal gods in turn created mortal life, which exonerated the eternal Demiurge from having created mortals with their potential for evil. Likewise, in Gen 2:4 Ouranos and Ge appear as the first two offspring of the Creator of Genesis 1, and an account of their descendants is projected. In Genesis 2-3 the narration shifts from the Creator to the creation of mortal Efe by Yahweh Elohim, a visible god who is one of the descendants of the Creator of Genesis 1, alongside the other terrestrial gods alluded to in Genesis. Yahweh Elohim in turn created mortal life, like the lesser gods in Timaeus. (p. 165)


Continue reading “The Second Creation Story in Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 6]”


In Six Days: Genesis 1 as Science — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 5b]

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

by Neil Godfrey

Thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group for the review copy.

Genesis 1 is not a science text. It is primarily a theological myth but it is theology and myth wrapped around a contemporary scientific understanding of how the earth and heavens came into existence. Russell Gmirkin in Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts sets out a case for the author(s) of Genesis 1 being well-read in the Greek literature of the third century BCE and composing an account designed to promote piety among the wider communities of Samaria and Judea.

Like Plato’s Craftsman God who shaped and ordered the primeval elements into a beautiful cosmos, the creator deity of Genesis 1 appears to stand apart from the chaos as he commences his work of “purposefully”, “intentionally”, fashioning everything to be “good”. He does this mostly by a process of dividing and separating elements, assigning each new item its appropriate name, and expressing satisfaction in the “goodness” of the completed product. In all of the above, Plato would have recognized in Genesis 1 a brief theological-scientific summary of his own understanding of how the creator god made the heavens and the earth. But there would have been a few details Plato disagreed with. The author of Genesis 1 was up to date with scientific theories that had been developed since Plato’s time.

The First Day

Science Theology
God said, “Let there be…” — Xenophanes: a supreme being set all things into motion by thoughts of his mind alone. God said, “Let there be…” — Plato: Divine purpose
God separated the light from the darkness — Empedocles; Hesiod and Plato – cosmos was formed by separating its primary elements God saw the light was good — Plato: God was good and creating the cosmos in his perfect image
Light appears before the sun is formed — Empedocles’ theory of aether; Zeno; also Hesiod and Plato God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night” — Plato: the importance of names
Evening and morning were the first dayPlato: God’s first act of creation was time (days and nights and other means for measuring time)  


Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Gen 1:3)

How could a god create by merely saying a word? We are not reading about a magic performance because the command is not directed at any particular object to become something else. Plato does not express the idea of God creating by command, as RG notes. Rather,

The best parallel is perhaps provided by the natural philosopher Xenophanes, who held that the omnipotent supreme being effortlessly set all things into motion by the thoughts of his mind alone (Simplicius, Physics 23.11, 20; Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 9.144; cf. Jaeger 1936: 45; Flannery 2010: 84) (Gmirkin, 126)

Genesis 1:4

God saw that the light was good


He was good, and in him that is good no envy ariseth ever concerning anything; and being devoid of envy He desired that all should be, so far as possible, like unto Himself. (29e)

He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good. (30b)

The separation of elements was a prominent theme of Greek science:

and God separated the light from the darkness (Gen 1:4)

But first, how could there be light before the creation of the sun? Hesiod wrote in Theogony, 123-125:

From Chaos were born Erebos [Darkness] and black Nyx [Night];
from Nyx were born Aither and Hemera [Day]

Aether is the light sky, created before the sun and stars.

The four elements together constitute unqualified substance or matter. Fire is the hot element, water the moist, air the cold, earth the dry. . . . Fire has the uppermost place ; it is also called aether, and in it the sphere of the fixed stars is first created ; then comes the sphere of the planets, next to that the air, then the water, and lowest of all the earth, which is at the centre of all things. (Diogenes Laertius, explaining the theory of Empedocles.)

Day and night were the first acts of God’s creation:

God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:5)

. . . and Plato agreed. After creating the various elements themselves, Plato’s god began by creating time — “days and nights” — and the various heavenly bodies by which time was to be measured. The author of Genesis delayed those measuring devices until the fourth day.

For simultaneously with the construction of the Heaven He contrived the production of days and nights and months and years, which existed not before the Heaven came into being. And these are all portions of Time; even as “Was” and “Shall be” are generated forms of Time (Timaeus 37e)

The Second Day

Science Theology
Separation of earth and sky — Plato: Thus it was that in the midst between fire and earth God set water and air (Timaeus 32b) And God made the dome in the middle of the waters — Plato: God is the Creator

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Gen 1:6-8)

I have often read that passage as an account of some sort of iron dome in the sky, but though the idea of a metallic vault with holes to enable rain to fall is found elsewhere in the Bible it is not, RG points out, what is described in Genesis 1.

The air, which was lighter and warmer than the earth and seas, but not as light or hot as the tenuous realm of fiery aether, formed an intermediate zone between the earth and upper skies. It is evident that this airy region is designated in Genesis 1 as the expanse of the heavenly dome or firmament (raqia), since it is given the name Sky (Gen 1:8) and it is in this same sky that the fowl were later said to fly and in which the sun, moon, and stars were placed (Gen 1:17, 20). Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the word raqia designates a metallic vault or dome above the earth, supported by the highest mountains, and as firm as a brazen mirror, and having doors and windows through which the rain and snow fell (Gen 7:11; 28:17; Ps 78:23), as in the Ancient Near Eastern mythical cosmogony. But no such meaning attaches to the term raqia here. Rather, raqia here appears as a simple legacy from the older, pre-scientific language usage, an old term for the sky familiar to the intended audience of Genesis 1, but used there without its mythical linguistic baggage. Rather, raqia is best understood as a simple reference to the dome of the sky. (p. 129)

The Third Day

Science Theology
Separation of earth and seas — Anaximander, Heraclitus, …. God said, . . . — as above
Spontaneous generation of plants — Empedocles, Archelaus, Democritus, … and it was so — as above
Plants are not “living souls” like animals — Zeno God called the dry land “Earth”…. — as above
Plants emerge before the sun is formed Empedocles God saw that it was good — as above
Classifications of plants (domestic and wild) — Plato, …

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:9-10)

Recall from earlier posts the theories of Greek science that notion of like bodies being attracted to like, and the heavier sinking below while the lighter ones rose to the top, the dry elements gathering separately from the wet, the hot from the cold.

Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:11-13)

Here we find a disagreement with Plato and Aristotle and a preference for the views of Zeno, the founder of Stoic philosophy. While Plato and Aristotle classified plants with animals (“living souls”) because they all possessed some ability to move, however limited, Zeno said that plants were not “ensouled creatures”.

[Gen 1:11-13] makes the claim, common in Greek science, that the first plant life sprung up from the earth by spontaneous generation. According to theories proposed by several natural philosophers, the seeds of life were present throughout the mixture of elements in the primordial chaos. (p. 131)

After initially generating spontaneously from the earth, the plants thereafter reproduced by means of seeds. Again, we have a scientific classification, this time of plants into two kinds according to their manner of propagating seeds.

Notice, also that plants are said to emerge before the sun is created. Compare the view of the Greek philosopher Empedocles who said

that trees were the first animals to grow up from the earth, before the sun was unfolded around it and before night and day were separated… They grow by being raised out by the heat in the earth, so that they are parts of the earth just as embryos in the abdomen are part of the womb. (Aetius 5.26.4)

The Fourth Day

Science Theology
Let there be lights… two great lights… — “description of heavenly bodies as lights or lamps (maor), a term also used for clay lamps and candlesticks (Ex 25:6; Num 4:9, 16; Ps 64:16). This indicates that the sun, moon and stars were viewed as vessels containing fire an idea also advocated by several noted philosophers (Anaxmines, Empedocles, Heraclitus), but contrary to the theory of Anaxagoras …” (p. 132) God said, . . . — as above
set them in the dome of the sky — that is, in the atmosphere  (as per various Greek philosophers) and God made two great lights — as above
signs, seasons, years and days — the technical terms used here overlap with those in the Astronomical Book of Enoch (“signs” = points of the equinoxes and solstices). Commentaries generally say Enoch borrowed from Genesis, but it is possible that the Genesis author borrowed from Enoch (VanderKam, p. 97). RG states that he will discuss these matters in a future work on Babylonian and Samaritan scientific and mythical traditions in Genesis 1-11. for signs and for seasons and for days and years. . . to give light upon the earth — Plato: the heavenly bodies were created and set in their motions for the benefit of humanity on earth; they were thus “proofs” of divine benevolence. (Other Greek philosophers disagreed, claiming they were thrown into their orbits and took on their characteristics by natural and unplanned processes.)

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. And let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Gen 1:14-19)

Plato disagreed with other natural philosophers like Anaxagoras who understood the heavenly bodies to have been thrown into the upper regions because of their lighter nature and were ignited by clashing together, and such like. For Plato, there was nothing “natural” about the “design” of the orbits of these bodies: they were carefully set in their orbits by a divine intelligence for the benefit of humankind.

Along with the theology, RG points to three scientific details (concepts found among the Greek philosophers) here: these heavenly bodies were fire-containing vessels, were in the airy part of the heavens; and were useful for calendrical purposes.

The Fifth Day

Science Theology
Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures — an implicit endorsement of the Greek theory of panspermia, that the seeds of life were scattered throughout all primeval matter. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind — Contradicts the scientific opening pointing to spontaneous generation of the sea life and water-birds from the ocean. Here God fashions the sea life and water birds.
God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply — The word for “blessed” is a command: God is commanding them to reproduce sexually after their initial emergence/fashioning.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures (LXX ψυχών ζωσών), and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen 1:20-23)

If the opening statement depicts spontaneous generation the later sentence has God making the sea creatures. For RG, this contradiction arises from the author attempting to impose a theological account on top of what was understood to be the scientific process.

The Sixth Day

Science Theology
Let the earth bring forth living creatures — Spontaneous generation was a widespread Greek scientific notion for the origin of living creatures. And God said . . .  God made — as above
Classification by air, water and land animals; four-footed and many-footed; domestic and wild animals and plants — scientific classifications comparable to those found in Plato. But Plato had four classifications: another one for heavenly life forms, that is, the gods or stars — omitted in Genesis. God saw that it was good — as above

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle (LXX τετράποδα [=tetrapods]) and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:24-25)

RG posits that the author of Genesis is overlaying scientific concepts with a theological narrative. One of the scientific concepts here is said to be reference to life forms, plants and animals, according to classifications such as are found among the early Greek natural philosophers. Here we have two types of animals: the wild and the domestic; four-footed and those that “creep”, presumably those with many more legs or no legs. With that understanding in mind, it is interesting to compare Greek scientific concepts with a list of created life forms in an early Mesopotamian creation account:

Plato speaks of four classifications of living forms:

And so there are four kinds of living beings in the universe:

  1. the heavenly gods (i.e. including the stars),
  2. winged creatures that travel through the air,
  3. those that live in water,
  4. and finally those that go on foot on dry land. (Timaeus 40a)

Of the different kinds of land animals, Plato wrote:

. . . animals of this kind have four or more legs, and the more mindless they were, the more such underpinning the gods gave them, to draw them even closer to the ground. As for the most mindless of them, the ones with their whole bodies level with the ground, the gods made them without feet, since they no longer needed them at all; these are the creatures that crawl along the ground. (Timaeus 92a)

and further, land animals were classified into the wild and the tame:

. . . all animals [are] divided into tame and wild. For if their nature admits of domestication they are called tame; if it does not, they are called wild. (Statesman 263e-264a)

And there were two kinds of plants:

These living beings are now cultivated trees, plants, and seeds, which have been reclaimed by agriculture for our use from their original wild state, before they were ever cultivated. (Timaeus, 77a)

and the cultivated plants were further subdivided:

as for cultivated crops — both the dry sort (that is, our staple and all the others we use as foodstuffs, which we collectively call ‘pulses’) and the arboreal sort (not only the sources of our drink and food and oil, but also the produce of fruit-bearing trees which, though hard to store, exists for the sake of our amusement and our pleasure) (Critias, 115b)

Compare and Contrast a Babylonian Creation Myth

Continue reading “In Six Days: Genesis 1 as Science — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 5b]”


Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for the review copy.

(continuing the series on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts) ….

If the authors of Genesis were inspired by Plato’s discourse on the origins of the cosmos in Timaeus how can one explain the obvious contrast between Plato’s lengthy scientific and philosophical reasoning and the simple narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3?

To answer this question Russell Gmirkin [RG] begins by explaining that there were “seven distinct modes of Greek discourse on cosmogony” and that authors adapted their rhetoric according to the particular audiences each had in view.

1. Scientific Discourse: Natural philosophers most often wrote for their elite, wealthy and educated peers. “Schools” or “universities” were established by prominent thinkers (e.g. Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum) and cosmogonies were written to expound their underlying philosophical reasoning.

2. Revealed Myth: Parmenides of Elea wrote cosmogonies addressed to two different audiences. In Way of Truth he wrote a detailed scientific discourse for his educated peers. In Way of Opinion he wrote a cosmogony in the form of a myth that was being taught by the goddess Justice or Necessity.

Bust of Parmenides discovered at Velia (Wikipedia)

In this mode of discourse, the aim was not to achieve knowledge but to induce belief in the theories being presented. Here Parmenides appears to have anticipated Plato, who advocated implanting beliefs in the citizenry as a necessary precursor to achieving true knowledge in a select few . . . . It appears that Parmenides (like Plato) saw a social utility in presenting theories of cosmogony to the general public under divine authority, since he named the appropriate goddess as Necessity or Justice, “who steers the course of all things,” suggesting that a mythical account on cosmogony that recognized a divine steering principle was needed to ensure a pious and just citizenry. It appears that the populace was induced to believe not only that this account of the origins of the universe was divine, but also had the endorsement of the scientific educated elites. The poetic form of the discourse may have been intended to enhance its appeal to the masses. (pp. 66f)

3. Myth as Discourse (Enchantment): Plato taught that in an ideal government philosophers should rule and oversee all aspects of education from infancy to adulthood. The curriculum for the young had to consist of myths that fostered “good” behaviour. These myths needed to be attractive to all ages, especially the young, and hence were to be relayed in songs, poems, theatrical performances and public readings at festivals. Existing myths that told of gods were useful but first had to be censored by the philosopher rulers to remove from them every negative and immoral act of the gods. Nothing bad about the gods was to enter the minds of the citizens. Education was to encompass the whole society, from mothers telling infants nursery rhymes to entertaining performances (singing, reading, acting) for the young and adults.

The aim and intended reception of discourse by myth was to induce belief, and thereby implement societal conformity to theological and ethical norms. Myth, whether in the form of song, story or theatrical performance, was chosen as the medium for inducing belief, due to the pleasant, entertaining, enchanting character of the myth . . . Myth was thus the chosen rhetorical tool to condition the emotions and convey theological and ethical truths on a pre-rational level to intellectually unsophisticated audiences. (p. 68)

Genesis 1 reads as an authoritative story. It was not entirely a myth like other creation myths. It presented a scientific account of the moving power over the primordial chaos bringing about a series of separations that led to day and night, earth and sea, the spontaneous generation of life forms from the ocean, and so forth.

A story format was highly suitable for instilling beliefs about God’s fashioning of the universe for audiences of all ages and was easily understood by school children and even the youngest children, important target audiences under Plato’s system of education. (p. 68)

The second creation account (Genesis 2:4ff) follows up the cosmogony with a mythical narrative about the origins of animals and humans, the reason humans dominate the animals, the introduction of sexual reproduction and clothing, etc. It is a story easily understood by all, from the very young to the old. The beginning of the account may be a subtle reminder of Greek myths:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created . . .  — see Gen 2:4 for the Hebrew text

Continue reading “Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]”


The Pale Horse of the Apocalypse, Its Rider and Companion

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by Neil Godfrey

This post concludes an outline of Thomas Witulski’s analysis of Revelation 6:1-8. All posts are archived under Witulski: Die Vier Apokalyptischen Reiter Apk 6

And I looked, and behold a pale green/blue horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. — Revelation 6:8
Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 62

Here we have two figures, one named Death and another, following, named Hades. The two of them, together, have power over the fourth part of the earth. I bypass here the bulk of Thomas Witulski’s discussion about the authenticity of the received text and other passages in which “Death and Hades” appear and jump to his conclusion:

. . . [T]he view has prevailed in ancient historical research that the uprising of the Jews in Egypt and North Africa was ultimately put down by the collaboration of two Roman commanders; on the one hand, the governor of the province of Aegyptus, Μ. Rutilius Lupus, and on the other hand, the praefectus classis Q. Marcius Turbo. (W. 192)

If we accept the view that the four horsemen represent historical persons, that the first horseman was the emperor Trajan, that the second horseman signified the Jewish messianic uprisings, and that the third represented an Asian governor attempting to regulate the consequences of that uprising, then we may think it necessarily follows that the fourth horseman named Death along with another named Hades represent the two Roman commanders appointed to suppress that Jewish rebellion.

The colour of the horse is χλωρός (chloros). The Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon gives its meaning as greenish-yellow, pale, green. Various commentaries denote its meaning as the colour of death, of a pale blue corpse. The word appears in Homer’s epics when persons are faced with the “pale horror” of imminent death. Another Greek author wrote of facing imminent death so that he turned “paler than grass in autumn”.

The two riders are given power over a quarter of the earth. That does not mean that they killed a quarter of the earth but that they were given that portion of the earth in which to exercise their power.

On the phrase “to kill with the sword”, David E. Aune in Revelation 6–16 notes

“To kill with the sword” sounds like a parody of the Roman ius gladii, “law of the sword,” i.e., the power to punish individual criminals (Digest 2.1.3; A. Berger, Roman Law, 529). (403)

Continue reading “The Pale Horse of the Apocalypse, Its Rider and Companion”


The Deer in Acts of the Apostles and the Aeneid

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by Neil Godfrey

So I have not been the only one to pick up on the meaning of the name of a woman Peter raised from the dead and associate it with Virgil’s Aeneid. Her name is given as Dorcas, meaning a “deer”, and her healing follows immediately after Peter’s healing of Aeneas. Michael Kochenash has written a chapter on the same intertextual link in Roman Self-Representation and the Lukan Kingdom of God.

We have a different emphasis, though.

In Acts, Peter raises from the dead a well-loved disciple named Tabitha, “Greek name Dorcas”, who had won renown for her caring work of making woven clothes. This scene takes place on the cusp of expanding the Christian mission from the Jews to the gentiles. Since that miracle took place just after the healing of Aeneas, the namesake of the famed mythical founder of the Romans, I was reminded of the dramatic scene in Virgil’s Aeneid where a slain deer is the cause of war between Aeneas’s company and the Latins. It was that war that marked the beginning of a place for the ancestors of Rome in Italy. Like Dorcas, the deer was well-loved by all around her and associated with woven decoration.

Acts 9:

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

Dido with Aeneas on the hunt for deer; Dido will become the victim deer (image from myartprints.co.uk)

Virgil’s epic poem about the odyssey of Aeneas from Troy to Italy where he founded the settlement that would become Rome sustains the image of deer throughout books 1, 4, 7, 10 and 12. A crisis in the epic occurs when Aeneas is in danger of being diverted from his divine mission by falling in love with Dido, the queen of Carthage. After Aeneas finally breaks free and leaves for Italy, the distraught Dido kills herself with the sword Aeneas had gifted her. Kochenash discusses at some length the deer similes in these episodes and their resonances in the Acts passage that I had completely overlooked. The emotionally wounded Dido is compared to a wounded deer. Her death is caused by Aeneas in two senses: by his leaving her and by her taking the sword he had left her. The metaphor Virgil uses is that of arrows of the hunter slaying the deer, an ironic twist on the arrows shot by Cupid.

There are other deer comparisons in the Aeneid that Kochenash addresses in the same context. One of these is the climactic end of the epic where Aeneas, compared with a savage hunting dog, slays the king Turnus who is likened to a helpless deer.

What does all of this have to do with Acts and Peter’s healing of Dorcas, apart from the fact that Dorcas means “deer”?

First of all, the author of Acts drew special attention to the name Dorcas by presenting it as a translation of the Aramaic Tabitha. Secondly, and I think most significant, is that the healing happens at Joppa, the place known from the story of Jonah who took God’s message to the gentiles of his day. Jonah tried to flee from his task by taking a ship from Joppa but God redirected him back to Assyria. And third, the reader is primed to “think Roman” by the immediately preceding healing of Aeneas.

Or in Kochenash’s words,

The three Petrine narratives within Acts 9:32–11:18 represent a transition in the mission of the kingdom of God: the inclusion of those beyond the margins of Jewish religion and society (i.e., Gentiles). Tabitha lives in the city of Joppa, a detail emphasized by Luke to foreshadow the Gentile mission that begins in the next narrative. The tragedy of Dido reflects a Roman attitude that human life is expendable when it impedes the progress of Rome’s empire. When Luke’s Peter is thus read as contrasting with Virgil’s Aeneas in a pivotal narrative concerned with the expansion of the kingdom of God, the character of God’s kingdom becomes evident by contrast to that of Rome.

This interpretation coheres with a Greco-Roman literary ethos, wherein Greek writers relished the opportunity to encrypt arcane messages within their narratives. While a general readership would be able to read the narrative with sufficient comprehension, those with the appropriate cultural competence would enjoy noticing the subtle references that augment such a reading. According to Dennis R. MacDonald, “In most cases, imitations disguise a rewarding sensus plenior—a fuller meaning below the surface, somewhat like allegory—that is intended for the more sophisticated. Discovering a clever, obscure twist on a popular tale often produces a smile, as though in the cryptic allusion the author has winked.” Luke’s use of the names Tabitha and Dorcas—in proximity to the name Aeneas—can, I suggest, be read as a wink to his readers. (p. 116 – author link is to the cited work in archive.org)

Here is Kochenash’s summary of his longer discussion:

The Romans could not completely obscure the fact that its touted Pax came at the expense of (human) collateral damage. Even Rome’s foundation epic, Virgil’s Aeneid—written under the patronage of Augustus himself—includes two such fatalities: Dido and Turnus. According to Mary Thornton, by comparing these two to deer, “Vergil is guaranteeing that although we see the faults and the responsibilities of Dido and Turnus for their misfortunes, we will not fail to give them our sympathy just as we would do for any wounded deer.” Luke’s narrative constructs a matrix consisting of a man named Aeneas, a dead woman whose name means “deer,” and the theme of the expansion of the kingdom of God, all of which can be read as an allusion to the tragedy of Aeneas and Dido. This allusion prompts readers to understand the kingdom of God through the framework of Roman self-representation. By raising Tabitha from the dead, Peter enacts the expansion of the kingdom of God, performing an action that has the opposite effect of Roman expansion. Whereas the expansion of the Roman Empire brings death, that of the kingdom of God brings life. (p. 118 – author link is to the cited work in Jstor)

Even if many of the early readers of Acts had not read Virgil’s Aeneid the stories of Aeneas and Dido were well known throughout the empire as artworks and papyri remains testify.

There is one detail, however, that I do find myself wondering if Kochenash has overlooked. Why does Acts point out all of the garments that Dorcas had made? Continue reading “The Deer in Acts of the Apostles and the Aeneid”

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