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Plato's Timaeus vs. Genesis


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The Book of Genesis has strong parallels with Plato's Timaeus. In Timaeus, a deity referred to as "The Father" creates things in much the same order as the deity does in Genesis. Humans are created last in both texts. The deity "rests" after his creation is finished in both versions. Both refer to the first human being by name. Both describe great floods initiated by gods -- multiple ones in Timaeus. In the Greek translation (which the Christians used), a lot of the words are the same. Both set up the idea of a chronological genealogy that can be traced from the first man down to the present time. In both, humans were created only 6,000-9,000 years before. 


There are also strong differences. Plato's theory is much more involved with the soul and its' creation, and eventual return to his "companion star" if he lived a good life, or its return to earth as a woman if he lived a less than good life, or an animal if he was unjust or cruel. in Plato, the Creator does not create things like animals or humans directly, he creates a lesser race of gods do it. Genesis knows nothing of a soul, metempsychosis, or lesser gods that create things (though later interpreters like Philo and the Christians personify the diety's "word" as a separate creator god called "the Logos"). Plato's creation is just a copy of the perfect creation elsewhere. The Genesis authors do not identify this world or universe as a copy of another one somewhere. In Plato, the creator (demiourgos) is not a being to be worshipped.  


The reader of Timaeus is aware that this is supposedly a dinner table conversation between Timaeus, Socrates, and Critias. it's human beings discussing what the "gods" supposedly did, each speaking in the first person, not a third person, authorless narration passed off as a "sacred text" above criticism. 


Many theologians (often mistakenly identified as "historians") naïvely assumed that because Genesis is the first book in the Bible, it must have been written first. Genesis in its raw form is supposed to be part of a "JE Epic" composed in the 10th Century BCE by anonymous authors known today as the Yahwist and the Elohist. But there is a problem with this as the theologians have come to conclude that a third writer, "The Priestly Source," actually composed the early part of Genesis and finished it. Since 1900 it has been de rigueur for theologians to compare Genesis to Second Millennium cuneiform texts from Babylon, because they already decided that Genesis is also rooted in the same time, a prime example of circular reasoning. There are a few parallels, such as a flood, but overall, Genesis, for all its crudeness, reads far more like a text composed hundreds of years after genuinely Bronze/Iron Age texts like "Enuma Elish."


There are many possibilities here. Plato could have been familiar with an early version of Genesis; the Genesis author could have been familiar with Plato; both could have been familiar with common sources that are lost to us. There was a lot of interaction between Greek and Near Eastern cultures from the 8th Century BCE onwards, but no evidence has come forward to show that Akkadian literature was translated into Greek. Plato and his contemporaries show no interest in, or awareness of, translations of foreign written languages. However, after Alexander's campaigns, the Near East was Hellenized, and the Bible and related texts are both translated and written in Greek. Therefore it is probably less of a stretch to assume that Biblical authors knew Plato than might be imagined. No copies of Genesis are older than the second century BCE, i.e. long after Plato's Timaeus was written, copied, and distributed across the Hellenistic East. 




translated by Donald J. Zeyl (Plato: Complete Works, ed. Cooper, Hutchinson, Hackett 1997)


22a First human being was Phoroneus

22b Deucalion and Pyrrha survived the flood

22b Solon traced Deucalion's lines of descent and chronology to his time

22d-e Egyptian tells Solon that when gods flood the earth to purge it, shepherds in mountains preserve their lives, those who live in cities are destroyed

23a Egyptian tells Solon that because of heavenly flood, Greeks are "completely unfamiliar with anything there was in ancient times" 

23b Egyptian tells Solon that Greeks are so naive they only remember one heavenly flood, but "in fact there had been a great many before"

23d Solon begs Egyptian to give "a detailed, consecutive account of all that concerned those ancient citizens”

23d Goddess Neith/Athena founded Athens 1,000 years before Egyptian cities but Greeks don't know this

23e Egyptian civilization is 8,000 years old

28a Timaeus explains “everything that comes to be (genesis) must by necessity come to be by the agency of some cause, for it is impossible for anything to come to be without a cause”

28a-b The Demiourgos (craftsman) looks at what is changeless and reproduces it

28b Ouranous (translated as “universe,” “heaven” in Greek Bible) or Kosmos (translated as “world order”) — has it always existed? Or did it have an origin? “It has come to be.”

28c Everything that comes to be by the agency of some cause

29b world is an image of something

30b Demiourgos put intelligence in the soul, the soul in a body, and so constructed the universe. Divine providence brought our world into being, endowed with a soul and intelligence

28c-29a two models of cosmos

32a Demiourgos creates universe out of earth, air, fire, water

35-37b Demiourgos creates world soul

37b Creator referred to as “Father” (Pater)

37d Father began to think of making a moving image of eternity, moving according to number, which is called “Time” (Chronos)

37e “For before the heavens came to be, there were no days or nights, no months or years”

38c Father brought into being the Sun (originally without fire), Moon, and five other stars (planets) for the begetting of Time

38d Father placed the seven heavenly bodies in seven orbits around earth

39b-c “So that there might be a conspicuous measure of their relative slowness and quickness with which they (the bodies) move along in their eight revolutions, the god kindled a light in the orbit second from the earth, the light that we now call the Sun … in this way and for these reasons night-and-day, the period of a single circling, the wisest one, came to be.”

39e The god’s purpose was to make “this living thing (the Universe) as like as possible to that perfect and intelligible Living Thing by way of imitating its sempiternity.” (sempiternity - existence within time but infinitely into the future; as opposed to eternity, understood as existing outside time)

39e Prior to the genesis of time, the god realized that “still fell short” of the Living Thing “in that it didn’t yet contain all the living things (zoa) that were to have come to be within it”

39e-40a There were four of these living things (zoa): 1. the heavenly race of gods (stars)  2. “the kind that has wings and travels through the air” 3. “the kind that lives in water” 4. “the kind that has feet and lives on land.”

41a-b The begetter of this universe makes speech to the gods, instructs them to create mortal things, not Himself, because “if these creatures came to be and came to share in life by my hand, they would rival the gods.”

41d-42a Father creates soul for man

42b-c If a person lived a good life, he would at the end return to his dwelling place in his companion star, if he failed to live a good life, his should would be reborn as a woman; if he failed this second time, his soul would be reborn as “some wild animal”

42d The god sows souls into the Earth and Moon, handed over to the young gods the task of weaving moral bodies

42e When the god had finished, he rested

42e-43a Lower gods create earth creatures








1:1 Theos creates heavens and earth

1:2 Earth was a desert waste, Theos moved a wind upon waters

1:3 Theos said Let there be light

1:4 Theos separated the light from darkness

1:5 Theos named the light “day” and darkness “night”. Evening and morning was one “day.” (second day)

1:11 Theos creates plants (third day)

1:14 Theos said Let there be lights in the vault of darkness to separate day from night (fourth day)

1:20 Theos said, Let the waters teem with living things, and let birds fly over the earth (fifth day)

1:24 Theos said let the earth bring forth living beings, cattle and reptiles and wild animals (sixth day)

1:26 Theos said let us make human beings in our own image (sixth day)

2:1 Theos rested (seventh day)

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