From Plato to Moses: Genesis-Kings as a Platonic Epic

Article from Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity (Routledge, 2016).

By Philippe Wajdenbaum
University of Brussels
April 2016

Click here for article.

Comments (3)

Is your approach, in which the Hebrew Scriptures are part of international, Greek-dominated or at least Greek-influenced literature, necessarily at variance with a documentary hypothesis in which different theological traditions were combined? We still need to account somehow or other for the features of the narrative which suggest documentary divergence/convergence, such as the strangely related two Names of God, which were what presumably gave documentarism its first impetus.

#1 - Martin Hughes - 04/13/2016 - 22:05

Dear Martin Hughes,

Thank you for your question. According to me, this hypothesis that counts Homer, Herodotus and Plato, among others, as direct sources of inspiration for Genesis-Kings is incompatible with the JEDP documentary hypothesis. For instance, several biblical laws that are considered by the documentary hypothesis to originate from the E, D, and P sources are also found in Plato’s Laws. The comparison with Plato’s Laws makes it quite probable that this text was the source for the biblical laws. This hypothesis is verifiable, as the texts of Plato are still available, whereas the JEDP model proposes sources that cannot be verified, as those sources are thought to have been lost.

However, this Greek-influenced model functions in a rather similar way than the documentary hypothesis, as it does identify documents of various dates that present different theologies – but they happen to be Greek texts. For instance, Homer and Hesiod were criticized by Plato for their descriptions of the gods, which marks an evolution in Greek theology. It seems that the biblical author(s) applied Plato’s criticism of traditional Greek poetry from books II and III of the Republic in order to create many biblical narratives: They rewrote Greek myths, some of them found in Homer and Hesiod, in accordance with Plato’s criteria.

Moreover, this hypothesis tends to demonstrate the literary unity of Genesis-Kings, which I consider, along with Thomas L. Brodie and Jan-Wim Wesselius, to be the work of a single author. This idea of a single author for Genesis-Kings was already posited by Spinoza in the eighth chapter of the Theological and Political Treatise. Spinoza thought that this single author, whom he identified as Ezra, would have used “documents”. The subsequent documentary hypothesis has tried to identify those documents based notably on the changes of divine names and alleged different theologies, but seems to have disregarded Spinoza’s original idea of Genesis-Kings as a literary unit. Wesselius (“Towards a New History of Israel”, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 3, 2001) has proposed a hypothesis that explains the apparent divergences (including the changes of divine names) in the doubled narratives of Genesis-Kings as an intentional technique of its author – rather than the assembling of previous texts –, aiming to give the impression to its readers that the text is based on ancient traditions, while it is in fact based on Greek sources. Wesselius calls this technique a “linear literary dossier”.

Most of the cultic practices in Genesis-Kings are of Jewish and/or Samaritan origins, and do not find direct echoes in Plato’s Laws, since this text allows the keeping of local religious traditions in its legislative program for a twelve-tribe ideal State. The annals of the kings of Israel and Judah, cited in Kings, demonstrate that its author used reliable historical sources. Therefore, the model of Greek sources of inspiration does leave room for the use of local sources by the author(s) of Genesis-Kings, but in my opinion the JEDP model is obsolete and it is time to consider the verifiable data available in the Greek texts.

Philippe Wajdenbaum

#2 - Philippe Wajdenbaum - 04/14/2016 - 13:13

This is an excellent paper. It confirms few of my suspicions about Bible. It always seemed to me from reading the Bible there were lot of Hellenistic influences in the Bible. Bible's use of elohim is similar to use of gods by Plato. Yahweh is similiar to Jove or Jupiter (Jove+Pater; God the Father) or even Zeus. Moses could be the Muses, daughters of Zeus into whom he imparted every kind of knowledge and wisdom. It seems to me that “Letter of Aristeas” is an attempt to legitimize the origin of Hebrew Scriptures to Levantic region. I believe that Hebrew Bible in its current form most likely would have been compiled in Ptolemaic Alexandria in third century BCE redacting existing Egyptian or Babylonian along with Hellenistic works to create a new syncretic religion for Egypt and Levant. By looking at the high priests of Israel from 323 BCE onwards, they all have Hellenistic names and were appointed by Ptolemies in Egypt until at least 164 BCE. Even the Hasmoneans who came after them had Hellenistic names. The so called "Judaism" in that period seems to me a Hellenistic syncretic religion introduced by Ptolemies.

#3 - John Thomas - 04/14/2016 - 20:23

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