Plato, Aristotle, and Moses

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"Households, cities, countries, and nations have enjoyed great happiness when a single individual has taken heed of the Good and Beautiful. Such people not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind." Philo of Alexandria

Athens, via Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and Jerusalem through the Hebrew Scriptures, refer to two general and fundamental ways of life: the life of free inquiry on the one hand, the life of obedience to God’s law on the other. As discussed in class, the fact that most do not read the Hebrew Scriptures as a politically philosophical text, they are overlooking some fundamental political principles that are similar and complimentary to the Greeks. The book of Genesis to the end of the book of Kings is not only revelation in the form of a narrative, but can be seen as a work of reason, and political philosophy. Plato and Aristotle are certainly accepted as political philosophers, while the Patriarchs are not (widely) regarded as such. Because of this, I shall use the Pentateuch as my basis to discuss my assertion. Given the constraints of this paper, a short reflection on our assigned readings for class, and my limited knowledge of both the Hebrew Scriptures and Greek philosophy, I do not pretend for this to be sophisticated, beyond a thoughtful meditation. With a few exceptions, I shall utilize Moses’ life as the pathway through this illustration. Genesis seems a fitting place to begin. The expulsion from the Garden of Eden was the first “exodus.” In Genesis, humanity as a whole, and in Exodus, the Hebrews through their transformation into the Israelites, began a trek. They each see a perilous journey ahead as they begin fumbling toward a dimly seen goal. God, Moses, and Socrates all want what is best for His/his people. The people would rather not have it, “And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’” A seemingly universal and consistent source of political strife, what the people want vs. what the ruler thinks is good for them.

Plato’s presentation of Socrates is generally in the form of the “dialectic”. The dialectic between God and his creation is expressed frequently throughout the Scriptures. It seems much more often towards the beginning, waning through the prophets (later, waxing until the final culmination of the “dialectic” with the condemnation and crucifixion of God the Son). Adam and Eve’s questioning by the Father: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Cain’s interrogation for the murder of his brother (Am I my brother’s keeper?), Abraham’s bargaining with God over the destruction of Sodom “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were 50 innocent people in the city?”, and Moses’ unenthusiastic response to God’s command to be the standard bearer to “let His people go!” At this point in Moses’ life, he has developed a tripartite identity: a Hebrew origin, an Egyptian upbringing, and after his “exile” in Midian, he has a married and fairly sedentary lifestyle. Moses does not want to be the leader of the Hebrews out of Egypt. Like the “philosophers” in the Republic, they do not wish to rule the multitude, they must be compelled to rule. God compels Moses, through the burning bush, to “carry his cross”. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush,...
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