Prophet Daniel and ‘Plato’

PLATO

by

Damien F. Mackey

   

 

The view of certain of the Fathers of the Church, that much of Greek philosophy was borrowed from the Hebrews, has led me – with the benefit of a revised history – to be able to propose that sages who are traditionally regarded as Ionian and mainland Greek (and Italian) philosophers may have been, in their original guise, Hebrews (Israelites, Jews).

 

 

Introduction

 

From the details given in the Book of Daniel it may be argued that Daniel’s floruit as the governor of Babylon extended from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the early reign of Cyrus. In conventional terms, this would be, in round figures, from 600 BC to 540 BC – approximately 60 years. King “Nebuchednezzar”, in awe of Daniel’s wisdom after the Jewish sage had recalled and interpreted the king’s dream, had made Daniel the ruler of Babylon (Daniel 2:48): “Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men”. V. 21: “And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus”.

The last date that the Book of Daniel gives us for its hero is the third year of King Cyrus (10:1): “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision”.

Daniel may have died at about that stage, or he may simply have retired from official business. Whatever be the case, it should be possible to find in the Neo-Babylonian records a governor of Babylon of long duration, who had continued until the early reign of Cyrus.

Less optimistic about the possibility of finding any such sort of account of Daniel (Belteshazzar) in the historical records , however, is Robert D. Wilson (Studies in the Book of Daniel, Vol. 2) http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page9d.html

 

Was Daniel An Historical Character?

 

There are those who doubt the historicity of Daniel upon the grounds that his name does not appear in the records of the period of the exile. One noted critic stated the case thus: “It is natural that we should turn to the monuments and inscriptions of the Babylonian, Persian, and Median Empires to see if any message can be found of so prominent a ruler, but hitherto neither his name has been discovered, nor the faintest trace of his existence.”

Dr. Wilson discusses this phase of the question thoroughly, looking at the various types of inscriptions that have come to us and showing that it is most unreasonable to base an argument upon the kind of data that we have, especially upon the lack of evidence. After setting forth the case in an impartial manner and discussing pro and con every possibility, Dr. Wilson draws this conclusion:

“Inasmuch, then, as these inscriptions mention no one filling any of the positions, or performing any of the functions or doing any of the deeds, which the book of Daniel ascribes to its hero Belteshazzar; how can anyone expect to find in them any mention of Daniel, in either its Hebrew or its Babylonian form? And is it fair, in view of what the monuments of all kinds make known to us, to use the fact that they do not mention Daniel at all as an argument against his existence? “What about the numerous governors, judges, generals, priests, wise men writers, sculptors, architects, and all kinds of famous men, who must have lived during that long period? Who planned and supervised the building of the magnificent canals, and walls, and palaces, and temples of Babylon? Who led the armies, and held in subjection and governed the provinces and adjudged cases in the high courts of justice, and sat in the king’s council? Who were the mothers and wives and queenly daughters of the monarchs who sat upon the thrones of those mighty empires? Had the kings no friends no favorites, no adulatory poets or historians, no servile prophets, no sycophantic priests, no obsequious courtiers, who were deemed worthy to have their names inscribed upon these memorials of royal pride and victory; that we should expect to find there the name of Daniel, a Hebrew captive, a citizen of an annihilated city, a member of a despised and conquered nation, a stranger living on the bounty of the king, an alien, a slave, whose very education was the gift of his master and his elevation dependent on his grace? Let him believe who can. As for me, were the documents multiplied tenfold, I would not expect to find in them any reference to this humble subject of imperious kings.”

 

[End of quotes]

 

Let us not give up so easily.

 

A Possible Candidate for Daniel

 

If my recent revision of Neo-Babylonian history is correct, then this should affect somewhat – but also assist, hopefully – the search for the historical Daniel. Given my argument that some of the Neo-Babylonian kings have been duplicated, and perhaps even triplicated:

 

Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part One: Seven Kings Become Four

 

https://www.academia.edu/22954569/Neo-Babylonian_Dynasty_Needs_Hem_Taken_Up_._Part_One_Seven_Kings_Become_Four

“This article will be an attempt to streamline the Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) Dynasty according to the author’s view that its present arrangement may contain duplications”.

 

Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part Two: How the Kings Line Up

 

https://www.academia.edu/22962577/Neo-Babylonian_Dynasty_Needs_Hem_Taken_Up._Part_Two_How_the_Kings_Line_Up

 

this series being supplemented by another article:

 

“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel

 

https://www.academia.edu/23886406/_Nebuchednezzar_of_the_Book_of_Daniel

 

 

then one might expect the potential 60 years of floruit for Daniel as governor of Babylon to be somewhat reducible.

Whilst there may not be any known governor of Babylon from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the first few years of Cyrus – as I’d anticipate from the Book of Daniel that there should be – with my new identification of Nebuchednezzar II (and Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar”) with King Nabonidus, then such an official comes right into view. He is Nabu-ahhe-bullit, who was governor of Babylon from at least Nabonidus’s 8th year until the 3rd year of Cyrus. Thus we read in the following article

(http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?id=177754;article=15087;

 

From the contemporary cuneiform contract tablets, we know that Terike-sarrutsu was the governor (shakin mati) of Babylonia in Year 1 Nabunaid [Nabonidus] (555/4 BC).

Nabu-ahhe-bullit succeeded him as office holder by Year 8 Nabunaid (548/7 BC). This man remained in office down to Year 3 Cyrus but became a subordinate of the governor Gubaru, the appointee of Cyrus, when Babylon was captured by the army of Cyrus in 539 BC. He is not to be confused with Ugbaru.

[End of quote]

 

Rather than Daniel’s having at this stage become “a subordinate” of Gubaru’s, though, he may have departed (one way or another) from the political scene.

By now Daniel would have been in his 60’s or 70’s.

This is how I would tentatively reconstruct the chronology of his governorship:

 

Daniel, as Nabu-ahhe-bullit, had been appointed governor of Babylon close to the third year of Nebuchednezzar II (= Nabonidus), who reigned for 43 years. That is a service of four decades.

He continued on through the 2-3 years of Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus, envisaging himself in Susa (Daniel 8:1-2): “In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam …”.

He was still in Babylon in the 1st year of Cyrus, but then moved to Susa, Cyrus’s capital, and served the king until his 3rd year.

 

The Name

 

It is thought that the Babylonian name that “Nebuchednezzar” gave to Daniel, Belteshazzar, is not actually a Bel name, as definitely is Belshazzar (Bel-sarra-usur), “Baal protect the King”.

That Belteshazzar is more of a balatu (“life”) type of name. Correspondingly, we read at (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/daniel/): “Thus the name Belteshazzar seems to be connected in the writer’s mind with Bel [sic], the favourite deity of Nebuchadrezzar; but it can only mean Balatu-utsur , “his life protect,” which looks like a mutilation”.

That does not mean that the name given to Daniel would have lacked reference to a deity. For “Nebuchednezzar” specifically said (Daniel 4:8): “Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)”. From this it might be expected that Daniel was given the name of the god whose name was held likewise by the king (Nebuchednezzar/Nabonidus): namely, Nabu.

Appropriately, in the name of the long-lived governor of Babylon, Nabu-ahhe-bullit, we have both the Nabu element and the balatu -like element in bullit. This element, bullit, at least, is an appropriate one for the first part of the name, Belte-shazzar.

However, there is also the Nabu-ahhe-bullit like name, Nabubullitsu (e.g. in Sir W. Budge’s Babylonian Life and History, Index, p. 159), that comes yet closer to Belteshazzar, which is, after all, a foreign transliteration of an originally Babylonian name.

 

Finally, now with my revised Neo-Babylonian history, we have virtually a perfectly matching chronology for Daniel and his proposed alter ego, Nabu-ahhe-bullit.

 

* * * * *

 

There are various articles written according to which Plato’s views were based upon, now Babylonian, now Egyptian concepts. There is, for instance: “On the Babylonian Origin of Plato’s Nuptial Number”, by George A. Barton, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 29 (1908), pp. 210-219. On p. 210, the author goes so far as to write: “The passage in which Plato introduces this mystic number is said to be the most difficult passage in his writings”.

Gary Geck, however, regards the land of Egypt as the place of primary inspiration for Plato (http://brightmorningstar.blog.com/2013/08/08/platos-ideal-state-based-on-egypt/):

 

Put yourself into Plato’s shoes in the 4th Century BCE. What was the paragon of political perfection? Egypt of course, which was ancient even to Plato. Egypt was ruled by philosopher kings of a sort. The priest-class was said to have had tremendous influence over the Pharaohs. Who was the Pharaoh, but the highest of the philosopher/priests (a god even perhaps to them). It is my belief that Plato’s ideal state was based on Egypt. Several times during the Platonic works, references to Egypt are made and all paint the ancient kingdom in the light of a wise and mature state. As he writes in the Timaeus from the Egyptian perspective, “You Hellenes are ever children”. Keep in mind that Egypt had been around for thousands when Plato was writing this. A remarkable feat for any culture. And even more remarkable was the fact that Egypt remained conservative and traditional throughout this time. Egypt was the place to go for learning and spiritual initiation. Plato must have believed that Egypt’s longevity was because of their love of wisdom (Greek: philosophos). Alexander the Great choose Egypt as the location for Alexandria for good reason. Plato was said to have visited Egypt seeking knowledge [McEvoy, James (1984). “Plato and The Wisdom of Egypt” Irish Philosophical Journal (Belfast: Dept. of Scholastic Philosophy, Queen’s University of Belfast)] and then returned to Athens many years before writing the Republic. ….

[End of quote]

 

Or was the influence upon Plato and the Greeks, instead, a Persian (Magian)/Babylonian mix? (http://www.gnosticmedia.com/will-durant-the-story-of-philosophy-plato/):

 

I found an interesting article about Plato on David Livingstone’s site while reading about the roots of alchemy for something that came up in the comments section of your latest show. The part I found particularly intriguing was this tidbit: “The subject of Persian or Babylonian influences had been a contentious one in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The subject currently continues to receive attention from several leading scholars, including Walter Burkert, and M.L. West. On the whole, however, the idea has yet to penetrate into mainstream circles, because of a xenophobia which insists on the unique “genius” of the Greeks. The most detailed examination of the matter had been conducted by the greatest of the last century’s scholars, Franz Cumont. His work, Les Mages Hellenisees, or the Hellenized Magi, a compendium of ancient sources on the subject, has received little attention in the English world, due to the fact that it has not been translated. This continues to mar criticism of his theories, as most critics have not read the brunt of his work. Scholars have usually dismissed the possibility of Persian influence in Greece, because of the lack of similarity between Zoroastrian and Greek ideas. However, what these scholars have failed to see, as Cumont has pointed out, is that those Magi the Greeks came into contact with were not orthodox, but heretics. The only way to reconstruct their doctrines is by accumulating the numerous remnants of comments about them in the ancient sources. By reconstructing these pieces, we find that Magian doctrines are far removed from, or even inimical, to orthodox Zoroastrian ones. Cumont discovered that these Magi practiced a combination of harsh dualism with elements of Babylonian astrology and magic, which composed a Zoroastrian heresy known as Zurvanism. It is in this strange recomposition of ideas that we find the first elements that characterized Greek philosophy.

[End of quote]

 

I remarked above that Plato was “probably a ‘composite’”, but I think that a ‘cosmopolitan’ also well fits ‘him’.

Continuing with the last quote above, we find the author now arguing for “a Jewish influence”, with reference to Daniel himself:

 

Another component which Cumont failed to identify though, was that of Jewish influence. The Magi cult of astrology and magic emerged in Babylon in the sixth century, precisely that era during which a great and prominent part of the Jewish population was there in exile. We cannot ascertain who was responsible for the introduction of these ideas, but the Bible itself identifies Daniel with one of the “wisemen”. Whatever the case may be, these ideas do appear in a recognizable Magian form initially among the Essenes, and more particularly in Merkabah mysticism, which scholars identify as the beginnings of the Kabbalah. There is little to examine the character of Jewish literature prior to the third century BC. Before that, it is in Greece were we find the elaboration of these ideas.” “Plato the Kabbalist” http://www.thedyinggod.com/node/105

[End of quote]

 

Let us consider some possible Danielic and other Hebrew influences upon what are now regarded as the writings of Plato. What follows (see Part Three) will be basically in line with previous articles of mine such as:

 

Re-Orienting to Zion the History of Ancient Philosophy

 

https://www.academia.edu/4105845/Re-Orienting_to_Zion_the_History_of_Ancient_Philosophy

 

Church Fathers Were Right About Jewish Origins of Greek Philosophy

 

https://www.academia.edu/8999321/Church_Fathers_Were_Right_About_Jewish_Origins_of_Greek_Philosophy

 

Hebrew Bible as an Inspiration for Ancient Greek Philosophy

 

https://www.academia.edu/17887243/Hebrew_Bible_as_an_Inspiration_for_Ancient_Greek_Philosophy

 

 

 

Plato and Hebrew Wisdom

 

 

 

The writings of “Plato”, whoever he may have been, were undoubtedly influenced by Hebrew wisdom. Here we consider some likenesses to the Book of Job, for instance, before passing on to the Book of Daniel.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

To presume to translocate so-called ‘Greek’ philosophy, to Babylonia, or to Egypt, or to Palestine, are moves that are probably not going to go down well with many. A reader immediately responded to an early effort of mine along these lines (e-mail of 25 March 2010):

 

…. I have not had much of an introduction before to your other theses on the identities of various historical personages. I must admit to being somewhat sceptical of the Plato theory. I think you would need more than a few parallelisms to make such a case. I think the historical evidence would be in favor of the fact that Plato and Aristotle were living breathing Greeks, the latter being Alexander’s tutor in Macedonia ….

 

In an article written at this time I had supported:

 

(i) St. Clement of Alexandria’s view that Plato’s writings took their inspiration from the Hebrew Moses, and

(ii) St. Ambrose’s belief that Plato had learned from the prophet Jeremiah in Egypt; a belief that was initially taken up by St. Augustine, who added that

(iii) Greek philosophy generally derived from the Jewish Scriptures.

 

And, though St. Augustine later retracted his acceptance of St. Ambrose’s view, realising that it was chronologically impossible for Jeremiah (c. 600 BC) to have met Plato anywhere, considering the c. 400 BC date customarily assigned to Plato, I had, on the other hand, looked to turn this around by challenging the conventional dates, and by proposing an identification of the original Plato as Baruch, a Jew, the young priest-scribe contemporaneous with Jeremiah.

This reconstruction – which I have not been able properly to develop – would have, if it had proved legitimate, enabled me to take the testimony of the Fathers a positive step further. From the Book of Jeremiah we learned that Jeremiah and Baruch went together to Egypt.

Whether or not it may be possible in the future to tie together Daniel and Baruch, the one who we know as “Plato” – a ‘composite’ character, anyway, according to my estimation – may have both Daniel and Baruch likenesses.

Baruch, after all, is sometimes considered to have been another great sage of antiquity, Zoroaster.

 

Later I learned that St. Justin Martyr had, even earlier than the above-mentioned Church Fathers, espoused this view of the Greek philosophers borrowing from the biblical Hebrews. And Justin Martyr too, had, like Plato, written an Apology, in Justin’s case also apparently (like Plato) in regard to a martyrdom.

Thus we read (http://beityahuwah.blogspot.com/2005/08/plato-stole-his-ideas-from-):

 

Plato Stole his ideas from Moses: True or False ….

 

The belief that the philosophers of Greece, including Plato and Aristotle, plagiarized certain of their teaching from Moses and the Hebrew prophets is an argument used by Christian Apologists of Gentile background who lived in the first four centuries of Christians. Three key figures who presented this thesis are Justin Martyr “The most important second­ century apologist” {50. Grant 1973}, Titus Flavius Clemens known as Clement of Alexandria “the illustrious head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria at the close of the second century, was originally a pagan philosopher” (11, Robert 1857) and is renowned as being possibly the teacher of Origen. He was born either in Alexandria or Athens {Epiphs Haer, xxii.6}. Our final giant who supports this thesis is Eusebius of Caesarea known as the father of Church history. Each of these in their defense of the Christian faith presented some form of the thesis that the philosophers of Greece learned from the prophets of Israel. Our interest in this paper is on the arguments of the earliest of these writers, Justin Martyr. He represents the position of Christian apology in the middle of the second century, as opposed to the later Clement of Alexandria and the even later Eusebius of Caesarea.

In light of the stature and the credibility of these three Church Fathers even if the idea that Plato learned from Moses seems far fetched we would do well to take a closer look at the argument and the evidence presented by such men of stature. Justin was a philosopher who came from a pagan background. He issued from Shechem in Palestine. He was a marvelous scholar in his own right well read and well qualified to make informed judgments in the arena of philosophy.

Our purpose is to briefly look at the theses presented by Justin Martyr and to try to discern the plausibility of the thesis.

Justin Martyr and the line Plato took from Moses.

Justin Martyr was a prolific second century Apologist. He was born in Flavia Neapolis (Shechem) in Samaria. Well known for the local Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim and a temple built by Hadrian to Zeus Hypsistos. He later passed through Stoicism and the way of Aristotle’s disciples the Peripatetics and was rejected as unqualified to study Pythagoreanism and finally he met a Platonist with whom he advanced in his studies. To him the goal of Platonism was “the vision of God”. One day he met a Christian on the beach and was converted to the faith. He did not become a priest or bishop but took to teaching and defending the faith.

 

Text

He wrote many works and many more bear his name. However modern scholarship has judged that of the many works that bear his name only three are considered genuine. These are 2 Apologies and the Dialogue with the Jew Trypho. They are preserved in one manuscript of the year 1364 (Cod Par, gr. 450).

 

Language

Justin wrote in Greek, and right in the middle of the period of philosophy called Middle Platonism. The book in which he outlines his thesis that Moses and the prophets were a source for the Greek Philosophers is his first Apology. It is dated to 155-157 BC and was addressed to “The Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antonius Pius Caesar Augustus, and the sons Verissimus, philosopher, philosopher, and Lucius” Grant (52, 1973).

 

Context

Grant (1973) believes the reason which triggered the Apology was the martyrdom of Polycarp in 156 AD and the injustice of it during the bishopric of Anicetus. Even as this martyrdom and its report may have spurred Justin on to write so it had been that it was on seeing the fortitude of the Christian martyrs which had disposed him favorably towards the faith (Ap 2.12.1). ….

In the Apology 1 Justin gives the reason for his writing

“I, Justin, the son of Priscus and grandson of Bacchius, natives of Flavia Neapolis in Palestine, present this address and petition on behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused; my self being one of them” (Apology 1 chap).

The Apology 1 is divided into 60 chapters. The translation we are using is that of the Ante Nicene Fathers and can be seen at www.ccel.org The topics covered are many. He starts in chapter 2 by demanding justice, he requires that before the Christians are condemned they should be given a fair trial to see if they have committed any crimes or not. They should not be condemned merely for being Christian. He covers many subjects including: the accusation Christians were Atheists, faith in God; the Kingdom of Christ; God’s service; demonic teachings; Christ’s teachings and heathen analogies to it; non Christian worship; magic; exposing children, the Hebrew prophets and their prophecies about Christ, types of prophetic words from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This brings us to about chapter 38. At this point Justin begins to cover the issue of determinism and free will. He argues that although the future was prophesied it does not mean every thing is determined according to fate and man has no responsibility for he has no choice. Rather he points to Moses revealing God’s choice to Adam “Behold before thy face are good and evil: choose the good”. (Apol 1 44) And he quotes lsaiah’s appeal to Israel to wash and be clean and the consequences of doing so or not doing so. The consequences of disobedience are that the sword would devour Israel. Justin picks up on the statement regarding the sword and argues that it is not a literal sword which is referred to but “the sword of God is a fire, of which those who choose to do wickedly will become the fuel” (Apol 1 44). Justin having appealed to Moses and Isaiah as a warning to the Roman rulers now appeals to one with whom they are more familiar, Plato the philosopher, to support his case that man is free to choose good or evil. It is here that Justin makes a most interesting and intriguing statement rallying Plato to the side of Moses and Isaiah, in the eyes of the sons of the Emperor whom he calls philosophers.

And so, too, Plato, when he says, “The blame is his who chooses, and God is blameless” took this from the prophet Moses and uttered it.

For Moses is more ancient than all the Greek writers. And whatever both philosophers and poets have said concerning the immortality of the soul, or punishments after death, or contemplation of things heavenly, or doctrines of the like kind, they have received such suggestions from the prophets as have enabled them to understand and interpret these things. And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the truth] when they assert contradictories.

….

He appears to be making the claim that Plato who has “exerted a greater influence over human thought than any other individual with the possible exception of Aristotle” (Demos, 1927.vi} was dependent for his understanding of freewill and responsibility on Moses. The saying “the blame is his who chooses, and God is blameless (Aitia helomenou Theos d’ anaios) {Joann. Mdcccxlii,224}” was taken from Moses by Plato and uttered it {eipe}”.

[End of quote]

 

I shall continue with this commentary later in this series, when I come to discuss one of Plato’s famous Myths.

 

Plato and Likely Borrowings

from the Book of Job

 

There can be a similarity in thought between Plato and the Jewish sages, but not always a similarity in tone. Compared with the intense atmosphere of the drama of the Book of Job, for instance, Plato’s Republic, and his other dialogues, such as the Protagoras, brilliant as they are, come across sometimes as a bit like a gentlemen’s discussion over a glass of port. W. Guthrie may have captured something of this general tone in his Introduction to Plato. Protagoras and Meno (Penguin, 1968), when he wrote (p. 20):

 

… a feature of the conversation which cannot fail to strike a reader is its unbroken urbanity and good temper. The keynote is courtesy and forbearance, though these are not always forthcoming without a struggle. Socrates is constantly on the alert for the signs of displeasure on the part of Protagoras, and when he detects them, is careful not to press his point, and the dialogue ends with mutual expressions of esteem. ….

 

[End of quote]

 

Compare this gentlemanly tone with e.g. Job’s ‘How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me?’ (19:1-3), and Eliphaz’s accusations of the holy man: ‘Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your iniquities [which supposed types of injustice on the part of Job Eliphaz then proceeds to itemise]’ (22:5).

In Plato’s dialogues, by contrast, we get pages and pages of the following sort of amicable discussion taken from the Republic (Bk. 2, 368-369):

 

[Socrates] ‘Justice can be a characteristic of an individual or of a community, can it not?’

[Adeimantus] ‘Yes’.

[Socrates] ‘And a community is larger than an individual?’

[Adeimantus] ‘It is”.

[Socrates] ‘We may therefore find that the amount of justice in the larger entity is greater, and so easier to recognize. I accordingly propose that we start our enquiry …’.

[Adeimantus] ‘That seems a good idea’, he agreed.

….

 

Though Protagoras is a famous Sophist, whose maxim “Man is the measure of all things, of those that are that they are, and of those that are not that they are not” (Plato’s Theaetetus 152), I have often quoted in a philosophical context {– and also in}:

 

The Futile Aspiration to Make ‘Man the Measure of All Things’

 

https://www.academia.edu/8494268/The_Futile_Aspiration_to_Make_Man_the_Measure_of_All_Things_

 

this Protagoras may actually be based upon – according to my new estimation of things – the elderly Eliphaz of the Book of Job. Whilst Eliphaz was by no means a Sophist along the Greek lines, he was, like Protagoras with Socrates, largely opposed to his opponent’s point of view. And so, whilst the God-fearing Eliphaz would never have uttered anything so radical or atheistic as “man is the measure of all things”, he was however opposed to the very Job who had, in his discussion of wisdom, spoken of God as ‘apportioning out by measure’ all the things that He had created (Job 28:12, 13, 25).

Now, whilst Protagoras would be but a pale ghost of the biblical Eliphaz, some of the original (as I suspect) lustre does still manage to shine through – as with Protagoras’s claim that knowledge or wisdom was the highest thing in life (Protagoras 352C, D) (cf. Eliphaz in Job 22:1-2). And Guthrie adds that Protagoras “would repudiate as scornfully as Socrates the almost bestial type of hedonism advocated by Callicles, who says that what nature means by fair and right is for the strong man to let his desires grow as big as possible and have the means of everlastingly satisfying them” (op. cit., p. 22).

Eliphaz was later re-invented (I think) as Protagoras the Sophist from Abdera, as a perfect foil to Socrates (with Job’s other friends also perhaps emerging in the Greek versions re-cast as Sophists). Protagoras stated that, somewhat like Eliphaz, he was old enough to be the father of any of them. “Indeed I am getting on in life now – so far as age goes I might be the father of any one of you …” (Protagoras 317 C). That Eliphaz was old is indicated by the fact that he was the first to address Job and that he also refered to men older than Job’s father (Job 15:10). Now, just as Fr. R. MacKenzie (S.J.) in his commentary on “Job”, in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, tells of Eliphaz’s esteem for, and courtesy towards, Job (31:23):

 

Eliphaz is presumably the oldest of the three and therefore the wisest; he is certainly the most courteous and the most eloquent. He has a genuine esteem for Job and is deeply sorry or him. He knows the advice to give him, the wisdom that lays down what he must do to receive relief from his sufferings.

[End of quote],

 

so does Guthrie, reciprocally (I suggest), say: “Protagoras – whom [Socrates] regards with genuine admiration and liking” (op. cit., p. 22).

But, again, just as the righteous Job had scandalised his friends by his levity, according to St. Thomas Aquinas (“Literal Exposition on Job”, 42:1-10), “And here one should consider that Elihu had sinned out of inexperience whereas Job had sinned out of levity, and so neither of them had sinned gravely”, so does Guthrie use this very same word, “levity”, in the context of an apparent flaw in the character of Socrates (ibid., p. 18):

 

There is one feature of the Protagoras which cannot fail to puzzle, if not exasperate, a reader: the behaviour of Socrates. At times he treats the discussion with such levity, and at other times with such unscrupulousness, that Wilamowitz felt bound to conclude that the dialogue could only have been written in his lifetime. This, he wrote, is the human being whom Plato knew; only after he had suffered a martyr’s death did the need assert itself to idealize his character.

[End of quote]

 

Job’s tendency towards levity had apparently survived right down into the Greek era. Admittedly, the Greek version does get much nastier in the case of Thrasymachus, and even more so with Callicles in the Gorgias, but in the Republic at least it never rises to the dramatic pitch of Job’s dialogues with his three friends. Here is that least friendly of the debaters, Thrasymachus, at his nastiest (Republic, Bk. I, 341):

 

[Socrates] Well, said I, ‘so you think I’m malicious, do you Thrasymachus?’

[Thrasymachus] ‘I certainly do’.

[Socrates] ‘You think my questions were deliberately framed to distort your argument?’

[Thrasymachus] ‘I know perfectly well they were. But they won’t get you anywhere; you can’t fool me, and if you don’t you won’t be able to crush me in argument’.

[Socrates] ‘My dear chap, I wouldn’t dream of trying’, I said ….

 

Socrates and Plato are similarly (like the Sophists) watered down entities by comparison with the Middle Eastern originals. Such is how the Hebrew Scriptures end up when filtered through the Greeks, [and, in the case of Plato, perhaps through the Babylonians before the Greeks, hence a double filtering]. Even then, it is doubtful whether the finely filtered version of Plato that we now have could have been written by pagan Greeks. At least some of it seems to belong clearly to the Christian era, e.g. “The just man … will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned … and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified” (Republic, Bk. 2, 362).

I submit that this statement would not likely have been written prior to the Gospels.

 

“Plato and Porphyry each made certain statements which might have brought them both to become Christians if they had exchanged them with one another”, wrote St. Augustine (City of God, XXII, 27).

What is clear is that the writings of Plato as we now have them had reached an impressive level of excellence and unparalleled literary sophistication.

Thus we read in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan and Free Press, 1967, V. 6), article “Plato” (p. 332):

Plato As a Writer

 

Greek prose reached its highest peak in the writings of Plato. His flexibility, his rich vocabulary, his easy colloquialism, and his high rhetoric, his humor, irony, pathos, gravity, bluntness, delicacy and occasional ferocity, his mastery of metaphor, simile and myth, his swift delineation of character – his combination of these and other qualities put him beyond rivalry. …

[End of quote]

 

Much may be owed here, however, to the Hebrew books, such as Job, which appears to have exerted a heavy influence upon Greek literature. For example:

 

Similarities to The Odyssey of the Books of Job and Tobit

 

https://www.academia.edu/8914220/Similarities_to_The_Odyssey_of_the_Books_of_Job_and_Tobit

 

 

Plato and Images From Daniel

 

 

 

 

Could the mysterious name, “Plato” – he probably being a ‘composite’ character – be actually derived from the first element (Belte-) in the prophet Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar?

 

 

 

It is inconceivable, I would suggest – and certainly Justin Martyr seems to have been of this opinion – that it was a pagan Greek who was the first to argue strongly for the immortality of the soul, as is sometimes accredited to Plato’s Socrates.

Or to have been the first one to have discovered the four cardinal virtues.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

As noted in Part One, Daniel’s given name, Belteshazzar, is of course “a foreign transliteration of an originally Babylonian name”. That Babylonian name, as I argued there, was Nabu-ahhe-bullit, the name of the governor of Babylon, which Daniel was. As I wrote:

 

Appropriately, in the name of the long-lived governor of Babylon, Nabu-ahhe-bullit, we have both the Nabu element and the balatu -like element in bullit. This element, bullit, at least, is an appropriate one for the first part of the name, Belte-shazzar.

However, there is also the Nabu-ahhe-bullit like name, Nabubullitsu (e.g. in Sir W. Budge’s Babylonian Life and History, Index, p. 159), that comes yet closer to Belteshazzar, which is, after all, a foreign transliteration of an originally Babylonian name.

 

Further on I shall have more to say about the unusual name (for a Greek), Plato.

What I intend to do primarily in this article is to take some of the most picturesque and famous images from the Book of Daniel, and see if we can find an echo of these in the life and writings of Plato.

I refer to such images as King Nebuchednezzar’s Statue of Four Diverse Metals representing kingdoms (Daniel 2); King Belshazzar and the ‘Writing on the Wall’ (Daniel 5); and Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts (Daniel 7).

Let us now try to re-locate ‘Plato’ to what may well have been his proper Near Ancient Eastern environment, as Belteshazzar, in Babylonia.

 

Plato’s Usage of Key Images

from the Book of Daniel

 

‘Plato’ Derived from a Babylonian Name

 

Though ‘Plato’ is generally considered to have been the real name of the great philosopher, historian Julia Annas, who entirely accepts this, tells however of a “surprisingly substantial minor tradition” that (and this is more in accordance with our own view) “‘Plato’ was a nickname which stuck”. Thus she writes (Plato. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2003, pp. 12-13):

 

Name or nickname?

 

Plato’s name was probably Plato. The ‘probably’ may surprise you; how can there be any doubt? Plato’s writings have come down to us firmly under that name. But within the ancient biographical tradition there is a surprisingly substantial minor tradition according to which ‘Plato’ was a nickname which stuck, while the philosopher’s real name was Aristocles. This is credible; Plato’s paternal grandfather was called Aristocles, and it was a common practice to call the eldest son after the father’s father. We have, however, no independent evidence that Plato was the eldest son. And ‘Plato’ does not appear to be a nickname; it turns up frequently in the period. Further, the explanations we find for it as a nickname are unconvincing. Because ‘Plato’ suggests platus, ‘broad’, we find the suggestion that Plato had been a wrestler known for his broad shoulders, or a writer known for his broad range of styles! Clearly this is just guessing, and we would be wise not to conclude that Plato changed his name or had it changed by others. But then what do we make of the Aristocles stories? We don’t know, and can’t tell. And this is frustrating. A change of name is an important fact about a person, but this ‘fact’ slips through our fingers.

Our ancient sources about Plato often put us into this position. There are plenty of stories in the ancient biographies of Plato, and frequently they would, if we could rely on them, give us interesting information about Plato as a person. But they nearly always dissolve at a touch.

[End of quote]

 

This is quite telling. One so often finds that the textbook historians have to conclude on a disappointing note like she does, because, owing to their pursuit of someone in the wrong era, or in the wrong country, they end up chasing ghosts through mists; exactly as this writer describes it here, “they … dissolve at a touch”. I claim instead, through a revision that corrects dates and finds the ‘other halves’ of historical people, to be rendering full-blooded characters, with substantial (auto)-biographical information; people who produce deeds and writings of zeal and passion.

The name ‘Plato’ did, I suggest, come about by the philosopher’s having his name “changed by others”, as the writer has said above, but which she rejects as an option. Here, I believe, is the original historical account of it: it is the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity.

 

(Daniel 1:3-7):

Then the king [Nebuchednezzar] commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah [not of the tribe of Judah as the NRSV has it but] of the sons of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

 

These were, I believe, real historical people. And I have identified Daniel as the long-serving governor of Babylon: Nabu-ahhe-bullit.

Professor William Shea claims also to have identified Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel’s friends, in ‘a five sided clay prism found in Babylon and now housed in the Istanbul museum. It gives a list of men and their titles. Three men listed on the prism have pronunciations which Shea thinks are very similar to the names of Daniel’s three friends. (http://www.biblehistory.net/newsletter/meshach_shadrach_abed-nego.htm).

No doubt this is a sincere attempt on the part of Shea.

However, I find myself generally in agreement with a sceptic’s refutation of it at: http://www.theskepticalreview.com/tsrmag/012more.html

This biblical era is in fact extremely well attested historically – against the constant assertions that the Bible is not historical – by the abundance of seals and inscriptions naming many of the characters who appear in the Book of Jeremiah; not least of which being a seal of ‘Baruch son of Neriah’ (cf. Jeremiah 36:11; Baruch 1:1).

The name Plato, I have suggested, was taken from one element in Daniel’s given name, Belteshazzar. We might expect now that there was at least a double filtering of the original Daniel, from firstly the Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaïc) recording of him through Mesopotamia (Babylon), then, secondly, from Mesopotamia through Greece. And we could possibly add a further one, from pagan Greece to Greece of the early Christian era. So, while we could no longer expect the now highly processed and much refined Plato to be a dazzling reflection of Daniel, we might still, nonetheless, expect to find a discernible echo of this Daniel in Plato.

From the above scriptural text of Daniel 1 we learn that the young Jew and his confrères were either of the royal line, or aristocratic (possibly how Plato’s other name, Aristocles, and that of his father, Ariston, arose). The young men comprised a highly educated, skilled and wise élite. And their experience would now be vastly augmented in their new culture, with a different language and mythology, in the intense atmosphere of a tyrant king’s court.

{No wonder that the Republic of Plato is filled with discussions of tyranny and tyrant kings! (E.g. Book 8, § 8 and Book 9, § 9)}.

Note the emphasis, too, on education, which is also a major feature of the Republic; especially in the context of the Book of Daniel, as education for effective rulership, for competency in the king’s court – i.e., the education of the philosopher statesman.

It has been said that Plato may have had kings David and Solomon in mind when writing about ‘the Philosopher King’. More chronologically proximate, though, would be this incident of the brilliant young Daniel and his friends being educated towards governorship, to which Daniel managed fully to attain.

Who better than Daniel, anyway, would have qualified for Plato’s philosopher-statesman!

Here is the account of his marvellous statesman-like ability in Daniel 6:3-4:

 

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

 

IMAGE ONE: NEBUCHEDNEZZAR’S STATUE

OF VARIOUS METALS (Daniel 2)

 

Daniel was, like Joseph in Egypt, an interpreter of dreams (another Platonic feature). But, whereas the seemingly benign Pharaoh had actually told Joseph of what his dreams had consisted, King “Nebuchednezzar” had demanded that his wise men both recall the Dream and then interpret it: a seemingly impossible task, and one well beyond the powers of the Chaldean sages. But Daniel was up to it (Daniel 2:31-33):

 

‘You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. ….

 

Such was the Dream. Daniel then interpreted it for the king as representing successive kingdoms, with Nebuchednezzar’s present Chaldean kingdom being the head of gold.

Similarly Plato, but in far less dramatic circumstances once again, proposes this very same sequence of metals; but he applies them to classes of men, not kingdoms. Plato does not actually call this a Dream, but “a fairy story like those the poets tell about”. Here is how it goes (Republic, Bk. 3, 415):

 

‘You are, all of you in this land, brothers. But when God fashioned you, he added gold in the composition of those of you who are qualified to be Rulers (which is why their prestige is the greatest); he put silver in the Auxiliaries, and iron and bronze in the farmers and the rest. Now since you are all of the same stock, though children will commonly resemble their parents, occasionally a silver child will be born of golden parents, or a golden child of silver parents, and so on. Therefore the first and most important of God’s commandments to the Rulers is that they must exercise the function as Guardians with particular care in watching the mixture of metals in the characters of their children. If one of their own children has bronze or iron in its make-up, they must harden their hearts, and degrade it to the ranks of the industrial and agricultural class where it properly belongs: similarly, if a child of this class is born with gold or silver in its nature, they will promote it appropriately to be a Guardian or an Auxiliary. For they know that there is a prophecy that the State will be ruined when it has Guardians of silver or bronze’.

[End of quote]

 

Surely King Nebuchednezzar himself was being entirely Platonic in his command for the selection of the ‘golden boys’ of Israelite youth for education towards their holding a position in the king’s court! Similarly, too (cf. use of “promote” and “degrade” in Plato above), Nebuchednezzar “honoured those he wanted to honour, and degraded those he wanted to degrade” (Daniel 5:19).

Perhaps Plato derived the classes of descending order of metal refinement from an interpretation of Nebuchednezzar’s statue that would suggest that the lower down the statue one goes, the less superior the kingdom. But what is sometimes translated as “inferior” may not necessarily be the correct interpretation, given for instance the might of the later Persian Empire. So perhaps the Dream should be interpreted as meaning, not inferior, but lower down on the statue, and thus pertaining to chronology. This would be a tactful way to explain it to King Nebuchednezzar, at least, who would assuredly not want to have heard that any subsequent kingdom might turn out to be superior to his own. But note the “prophecy” in Plato above (Nebuchednezzar’s Dream entailed a prophecy of future history) that “the State” – currently the golden head – can “be ruined” by the “silver” and “bronze” entities.

Daniel, but also Plato according to his biography, had contact with a succession of powerful kings. These they tried to influence for good, with greater or lesser success.

Daniel’s kings, real historical characters, belonged to the successive Chaldean, Median and Persian empires that featured as metals (yet to be conclusively identified, I think) in Nebuchednezzar’s statue.

Plato’s kings were, typically in relation to the Greeks, situated further westwards on the Mediterranean, in Sicily. Arguments might be advanced for Plato’s kings, Dionysius I and II, and the chief minister, Dion, to represent either the Judean or the Mesopotamian rulers (Dion being an official) of Daniel’s era. Their similarity of names could perhaps suggest the Judean succession of similar names: Jehoiakim and his son, Jehoiachin, and the relative Zedekiah (= Jehozedek). But it might be rather hard to identify amongst these Chaldeans Plato’s Dion, who quite enthusiastically, apparently, embraced Plato’s blueprint for rulership, and who, according to Guthrie, “invited [Plato] to come and train Dionysus II … as a philosopher-statesman” (op. cit., p. 16).

Or the Platonic succession of rulers could represent Nebuchednezzar and Belshazzar, with perhaps Darius the Mede included. For example, Dionysius I, from whom Plato “learned something of tyranny at first hand”, might well stand for Nebuchednezzar, “an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world” (Daniel 3:32). The brother-in-law, Dion, may have been a Median king, such as Darius the Mede, with whose nation the Chaldean line had intermarried. Darius, like Dion, was favourable to Daniel. Dionysius II, of whom Plato completely despaired, could then be Belshazzar of the ‘Writing on the Wall’ notoriety, whom Daniel took to task for not learning from his father’s mistakes.

 

 

What’s in a Name?

 

So far, I have historically identified Daniel in Babylon as the long-ruling governor of that city, Nabu-ahhe-bullit, with Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, having been derived, in part, from the bullit element in that name.

And, taking that first element of Belteshazzar, Belte-, I have suggested that this might be from where was derived the mysterious name (likely a given name) of “Plato”. And I am in the process of showing that some of the key images of Plato’s dialogues are reminiscent of some of the most famous incidents in the Book of Daniel.

Daniel’s given name, Belteshazzar, which is not in fact a Bel- name, appears to me to be a very poor foreign reconstruction of an original Babylonian name. Just like in the case of St. Paul’s Jannes and Mambres, in which it is very hard to discern the original Egyptian names. See my:

 

Moses Withstood by Jannes and Mambres

 

https://www.academia.edu/22115162/Moses_Withstood_by_Jannes_and_Mambres

 

 

IMAGE TWO: KING BELSHAZZAR AND

THE WRITING ON THE WALL (Daniel 5)

 

The Chaldean rulers of Babylon, as they are presented in the Book of Daniel, are a most interesting psychological study. The autocratic and tyrannical Nebuchednezzar eventually goes mad (4:28-33), but later returns to his senses and is said to have exalted the Most High God (vv. 34-37). His son, Belshazzar, however, is a ne’er do well from beginning to end, whom Daniel reprimands for his stubbornness and pride.

 

Plato’s Meno

 

It seems to me that the evil Chaldean king, Belshazzar, might find an echo in the person of Meno, in Plato’s Meno. He is not a king there, but a man of some power, nonetheless, a friend of the ruling family of Thessaly, and he has connections interestingly with the king of Persia (read Media?).

Guthrie tells of Meno as follows (Introduction to Plato. Protagoras and Meno, Penguin, 1968, pp. 101-102):

 

… The character of Meno, as a wealthy, handsome and imperious young aristocrat, visiting Athens from his native Thessaly, is well brought out in the dialogue itself. He is a friend of Aristippus, the head of the Aleuadae who were the ruling family in Thessaly, and his own family are xenoi (hereditary guest-friends) of the Persian king, a tie which must have dated from the time of Xerxes, who made use of Thessalian hospitality on his expedition against Greece. He knows the famous Sophist and rhetorician Gorgias, who had stayed at Larissa in Thessaly as well as meeting him in Athens. From Gorgias he has acquired a taste for the intellectual questions of the day, as seen through the eyes of the Sophists, whose trick question about the impossibility of knowledge comes readily to his lips.

Xenophon tells of his career as one of the Greek mercenaries of Cyrus and gives him a bad character, describing him as greedy, power-loving, and incapable of understanding the meaning of friendship. This account is probably prejudiced by Xenophon’s admiration for the Greek leader Clearchus, a grim and hardly likeable character, whose rival and personal enemy Meno was. There were rumours that Meno entered into treacherous relations with the Great King [of Persia], but he appears to have been finally put to death by him after the failure of the expedition, though possibly later than his fellow-prisoners.

[End of quote]

 

‘Bad character’, ‘greedy’, ‘power-loving’ ‘unloyal friend’, ‘connected with a Persian (Median) king’, but then ‘slain and replaced by the king of the Persians (Medes)’, all of this fits King Belshazzar and his replacement by Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:30-31). Belshazzar’s greed and his love of power and flattery is clearly manifest in this description of his great feast, one of the most celebrated feasts in history and in the Old Testament (Daniel 5:1-4):

 

King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.

Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchednezzar had taken out of the Temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the Temple, the House of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

 

Obviously Meno could not match this sort of opulence and grandeur; but Socrates does say of him – and this is immediately before Socrates begins to write in the sand: “I see that you have a large number of retainers here” (Meno, 82).

We can gain some impression of King Belshazzar’s treacherous nature from Daniel’s pointed address to him (vv. 18-23):

 

‘O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchednezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. And because of the greatness that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honoured those he wanted to honour, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. But when his heart was lifted up his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like an oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever He will. And you, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his Temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured.

 

Daniel would on this occasion have had the full attention of the whole company since these words of his were spoken just after King Belshazzar and his court had witnessed the terrifying apparition of the ‘Writing on the Wall’ whilst in the midst of their blasphemous celebration. Here is the description of it. And does it have a resonance anywhere in Plato? (vv. 5-9):

 

[As they were drinking the wine and praising their gods]:

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom’. Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.

 

This fascinating life and death encounter I think may have inspired the whole drama of the (albeit pale by comparison) Meno. Instead of the miraculous ‘Writing on the Wall’ of the Chaldean king’s palace, though, we get Socrates writing in the sand. Instead of the words that name weights and measures indicating the overthrow of a great kingdom, we get a detailed lesson in geometry. Instead of the stunned and terrified Chaldean king, we get Meno, who tends to be similarly passive in the face of the Socratic lesson. Instead of the exile, Daniel, we get Meno’s slave boy seemingly providing a confirmation of the matter, under the skilful prompting of Socrates.

Daniel enters the palace’s banquetting hall preceded by his reputation, though now somewhat faded from memory (as in the case of Joseph with the Oppressor Pharaoh). And Meno is aware of the legendary reputation of Socrates. Let us compare the two accounts, taking firstly the biblical one (vv. 10-16):

 

The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banquetting hall. The queen said, ‘O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchednezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, ‘So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and tell me its interpretation, but they were not able to give the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom’.

 

Now Meno, supposedly focussing on the subject of virtue, tells of what he knows of Socrates’ enigmatic reputation, and it, too, like Daniel’s, has connection with “magic” (see quote above and 4:9), and Meno himself feels numb and weak, just like Belshazzar, so lacking in virtue (or “moral goodness” as in quote below) (Meno, 80):

 

Meno. Socrates, even before I met you they told me that in plain truth you are a perplexed man yourself and reduce others to perplexity. At this moment I feel that you are exercising magic and witchcraft upon me and positively laying me under your spell until I am just a mass of helplessness. If I may be flippant, I think that not only in outward appearance but in other respects as well you are exactly like the flat sting-ray that one meets in the sea. Whenever anyone comes into contact with it, it numbs him, and that is the sort of thing that you seem to be doing to me now. My mind and my lips are literally numb, and I have nothing to reply to you. Yet I have spoken about virtue hundreds of times, held forth often on the subject in front of large audiences, and very well too, or so I thought. Now I can’t even say what it is. In my opinion you are well advised not to leave Athens and live abroad. If you behave like this as a foreigner in another country, you would most likely be arrested as a wizard.

Socrates. You’re a real rascal, Meno.

 

On the occasion of Socrates’ writing in the sand, which I think must have originated from the ‘Writing on the Wall’ in the Book of Daniel, we have as the audience, Meno (whom I am equating with King Belshazzar), and his “large number of retainers” (Belshazzar’s large court), and the writing about to be effected due to a query from Meno. And, in a sense to interpret it, we get, not Daniel a former exiled slave, but Meno’s own slave boy, a foreigner (like Daniel) who however speaks the native language (like Daniel). The issue has become the immortality of the soul and whether it pre-exists the body, as manifest in someone’s being able to recall knowledge. Socrates will attempt to demonstrate this supposed pre-knowledge using the young slave boy – but perhaps this, too, is built upon Daniel’s God-given ability to arrive at entirely new knowledge without any human instruction (as in the case of his recalling Nebuchednezzar’s Dream).

Anyway, here is the dialogue (ibid.):

 

Meno. …. If in any way you can make clear to me that what you say is true, please do.

Socrates. It isn’t an easy thing, but still I should like to do what I can since you ask me. I see you have a large number of retainers here. Call one of them, anyone you like, and I will use him to demonstrate it to you.

Meno. Certainly. (To a slave-boy). Come here.

Socrates. He is a Greek and speaks our language?

Meno. Indeed yes – born and bred in the house.

Socrates. Listen carefully then, and see whether it seems to you that he is learning from me or simply being reminded.

Meno. I will.

Socrates. Now boy, you know that a square is a figure like this?

(Socrates begins to draw figures in the sand at his feet. He points to the square ABCD)

Boy. Yes.

Socrates. It has all these four sides equal?

Boy. Yes.

Socrates. And these lines which go though the middle of it are also equal? (The lines EF, GH).

Boy. Yes.

….

 

And so on.

 

Such apparently is how the life and death biblical account becomes gentlemanly and tamed, and indeed trivialised, in the Greek version! Daniel is not a passive slave, like the boy, supposedly recalling pre-existent knowledge, but a Jewish wise man, a sure Oracle to kings under the inspiration of the holy Spirit of God.

The ‘Writing on the Wall’ contains, like Socrates’ writing in the sand, division, and measure, but adds weighing. There is nothing Protagorean or Sophistic here. God, not man, is indeed the measure of kings and kingdoms according to the biblical account (vv. 24-28):

 

‘So from [God’s] presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; and Peres [the singular of Parsin], your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians’.

 

Russian Orthodox priest Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov has likewise, in his Internet article, “The Sovereignty of God”, made a Platonic connection with this very biblical incident (http://frsergei.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/the-sovereignty-of-god):

 

….

The yearning for Goodness has been with us through the recorded history of humanity. In the words of Plato, Good, “is that which every soul pursues and for the sake of which it does all that it does …”. (Republic 505 …). Men have been striving to do what is good, and not always selfishly what is good for them. Every new philosophy tried to market itself by appealing to some universal good to be achieved. And yet the result of all our intense labors has horrified us in the twentieth century, and the twenty-first one is up to no good start. Good appears to be other than sovereign in our hearts. And if not there, can it find refuge anywhere in a godless world?

Murdoch writes that “the chief enemy of excellence in morality … is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandizing and consoling wishes and dreams, which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one” …. This personal fantasy, or in patristic terms, logos fantastikon, also and perhaps most importantly, prevents one from seeing what is there inside one. And if we humble ourselves enough to see our true state, then would we not cry out with Apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24 NRSV) If Good is merely a concept, a creation of the human mind, then there can be no hope. If man is the measure of all things, then “mene, mene, tekel u-parsin” (Dan. 5:25).

 

One thinks that King Belshazzar, who was apparently incapable of humbling himself to recognise his true state, as Daniel had said of him, ‘You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven!’, would have been perfectly at home therefore with man, and not God, as the measure. Hence, when he was weighed, he was found wanting.

Now, could the very name Meno have arisen from the Mene, ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end’? Certainly Fr. L. Hartman (C.SS.R), commenting on “Daniel” for The Jerome Biblical Commentary (26:22), connects the Mene (or half of it) to King Belshazzar (on whom I think this Meno was based):

 

…. Daniel must first say what words were written on the wall; evidently no one else could even decipher the script. His interpretation involves a play on words that is possible only in a purely consonantal script, such as Hebrew or Aramaic. The three words that were written in the consonantal script would be mn’, tql, and prs, which could be read, as Daniel apparently first read them, menê’, teqal, and peres – i.e., as three monetary values, the mina (equivalent at different times to 50 or 60 shekels, and mentioned in Lk 19:12-25), the shekel (the basic unit of weight), and the half-mina. Daniel, however, “interpreted” the writing by reading the three words as verbs, mena’, “he counted”, teqal, “he weighed”, and peras, “he divided”, with God understood as the subject and Belshazzar and his kingdom understood as the object. Thus, God has “numbered” the days of Belshazzar’s reign. (Things that can be counted are few in number). God has “weighed” the king in the balance of justice and found him lacking in moral goodness. (The idea of the “scales” of justice, which goes back to an old Egyptian concept, is met with elsewhere in the OT: Jb 31:6; Ps 62:10; Prv 16:11, etc.). God has “divided” Belshazzar’s kingdom among the Medes and the Persians. For good measure, there is an additional pun on the last of the three words, prs, which is also read as pãras, “Persia”, “Persians”.

Fr. Hartman continues speculatively, and he concludes by equating King Belshazzar to the half-mina:

An older form of the conundrum may also have connected the word mãday, “Media”, “Medes”, with the root mdd, “measure”. The conundrum seems to have existed in an older form, independently of its present context. The statement that Belshazzar’s “kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians” does not fit well with the statement at the end of the story, according to which Belshazzar’s whole kingdom was handed over to the Medes, with no mention of the Persians. Ginsberg even opines that the conundrum was originally applied to the only three Babylonian kings who were known to the Jews of the Hellenistic period: the mina would stand for the great Nebuchadnezzar, the shekel for the insignificant Evil-merodach, and the half-mina for Belshazzar.

 

According to my revision of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, Evil-merodach was Belshazzar.

 

 

A Beastly Comparison

  

IMAGE THREE: THE FOUR BEASTS – THE LION MAN (Daniel 7)

 

The scribal Daniel tells of the Dream (his own) that he wrote down (Daniel 7:1-4):

 

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being. ….

 

Needless to say these “four great beasts” are up to no good.

Now Plato seems to have absorbed this lion-man image and located it in his ‘imperfect societies’ (Republic, Bk. 9, 588):

 

‘Let us show him what his assertion really implies, by comparing the human personality to one of those composite beasts in the old myths, Chimaera and Scylla and Cerberus and all the rest’.

‘I know the stories’.

‘Imagine a very complicated, many-headed sort of beast, with heads of wild and tame animals all around it, which it can produce and change at will’.

‘Quite a feat of modelling’, he replied; ‘but fortunately it’s easier to imagine than it would be to make’.

‘Imagine next a lion, and next a man. And let the many-headed creature be by far the largest, and the lion the next largest’.

‘That’s rather easier to imagine’.

….

 

Ezekiel, whose vision also, like Daniel’s, was preceded by a great rush of wind, or whirlwind, opens with (Ezekiel 1:5, 10):

 

… four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. …. As for the appearance of their faces: they four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion, on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; such were their faces. ….

 

Here is that lion-man (‘leonine’ man) combination again, plus the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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