2010-05-11

God taught Cain the wisdom of Plato

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by Neil Godfrey

I have been doing some follow up reading on a paper presented at a Netherlands Seminar on Historical Methodology and chanced upon the following passage from Plato in Timaeus. It is speaking of newly created human beings at the dawn of time:

in the second place, they must have love, in which pleasure and pain mingle; also fear and anger, and the feelings which are akin or opposite to them; if they conquered these they would live righteously, and if they were conquered by them, unrighteously.

Given the context of the paper I was reading, it was not hard to hear the echo of God’s instruction to Cain in Genesis 4:

And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Many of us can acknowledge that this instruction to Cain is an unusual image in the context of a primeval tale about Cain and the first murder. Sin is something that must be mastered, ruled, lest it master or rule us. It is a striking image that has prompted countless discussions among believers.

And there it is, the same image, sitting in the writings of Plato. Not only the same image, but the same same context of the sin of anger.

Now I’ve given the away what my next post will be about — the lateness of the composition of Genesis and the influence of Greek philosophy, particularly Platonic thought, that went into the creation of its myths.