Sunday, November 2, 2014

Welcome to Plato's Athena

This blog explores my thesis that the Primary History, i.e., the books of the Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Kings, is entirely Hellenistic.  That is: (1) the Primary History as we know it was originally compiled/written in the Hellenistic Era (specifically, during the first third of the 2nd century BCE); (2) the Primary History did not begin as a product of indigenous priests or scribes, but as a political tract sponsored by the Seleucid kingdom to secure its control over the formerly Ptolemaic-controlled region of Palestine after its conquest by Antiochus III in 198 B.C.E.; and (3) Ptolemaic-sponsored separatists, based in Jerusalem, ultimately re-purposed the Primary History to create their own independent Jewish state, giving rise to the Hasmonean dynasty under John Hyrcanus (I believe John Hyrcanus founded the Hasmonean dynasty, not the mythical Judah Maccabee).

My belief in the Hellenistic origins of the Primary History led me to coin the term "Plato's Athena" as a reference to Judaism as Plato's brainchild because I view Judaism as a natural extension and application of his political philosophy.

Although my thesis focuses on a religious artifact, the so-called "Primary History" of the Hebrew Bible, the investigation that spawned my thesis has nothing to do with Judaism (or any other religion, for that matter).  Specifically, I observed that fundamental changes in Western civilization often appear to be accompanied by a significant change in society's attitude toward lending money with interest, i.e., usury.  For example, the Roman Catholic Church, in banning usury by clergy (and, ultimately, by anyone) created a strong contrast between itself  and the Roman Empire, which arguably destroyed itself through usury.  Similarly, the Protestant Reformation and the secular Classical Liberalism that followed in its wake both embraced usury, which the Catholic Church had banned.  Neoliberalism, the current political philosophy of Western Civilization, not only embraces usury but has organized society to operate as if it were a bond that compounds interest perpetually (hence, the need for constant GDP growth).

Armed with these observations, I set out to find other, more ancient examples of changes in societal attitudes towards usury to see if they, too, were harbingers of a more fundamental shift in the nature and constitution of Western civilization.  I found three ancient examples indicating changes in societal attitudes towards usury: (1) the Code of Hammurabi; (2) The Hebrew Bible (especially the prohibitions against usury found in the Primary History); and (3) the works of Plato and Aristotle.  I quickly found that the first and third examples were relatively easy to place in context, and context was vitally important because I was trying to detect significant change, which requires comparing what was new to what came before it.  The Code of Hammurabi appears to have been promulgated as a response to prior states that had failed: usury ultimately led to most people becoming slaves, and slave revolts displaced the states and the slave-owners the states ultimately served.  Where Hammurabi codified reform, Plato and Aristotle urged reform in view of their recognition that usury, as an institution, undermined the state, which was already designed to serve the ruling class.  Both the Code of Hammurabi and the state-supporting rhetoric of Plato and Aristotle, therefore, advanced an agenda advocating a strong "middle class" placed between the slaves and the owners.

Unfortunately, the Hebrew Bible does not provide any context within which to understand how and why its prohibitions against usury, such as they are, came to be.  The situation worsens when one moves beyond the Hebrew Bible into the archaeological record, where one finds that Palestine was under Egyptian control at the time the Bible asserts the Exodus occurred (never mind the fact that there's no archaeological evidence of the Exodus, which would have left scads of evidence, if it were of the size and nature described in the Bible).

Forced to discover context on my own, I found it in the Hellenistic Era and concluded that the Primary History, at least, is an Hellenistic work.  That's not the solution I sought, but it is the solution I found, and, for the reasons I will discuss on this blog, I think it is the most plausible and possible explanation when one considers all the evidence available to us today, which, by the way, is more complete than the evidence that Josephus cited in the 1st century CE and Eusebius cited in the 4th century CE.  (NOTE: I say "cited" because much more documentary evidence was available to Josephus and Eusebius, but they each chose to present only that evidence they believed supported their arguments that the Judaism of the Hebrew Bible predates the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle; i.e., Josephus and Eusebius each took their best shot, but their arguments wither under serious scrutiny.)

I understand there are potential political ramifications that flow from my conclusions.  For example, I would not be at all surprised if some try to label me as anti-Semitic or at least anti-Israel.  Neither charge would be true.  My theory and conclusions actually combat anti-Semitism in that they remove the racial basis for it.  At the same time, as will become clear, my theory and conclusions provide an alternative, secular basis for the Jews' claim to Israel as their ancestral homeland.  In any event, I do not question Israel's right to exist, and, indeed, Israel's right to exist is well established.

I also understand that some may view my theory and conclusions as threat, or at least an insult, to all Abrahamic religions.  It is true that I believe all Abrahamic "religions" were formed as states based on the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, but that is not a challenge to the underlying truth of the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, which have shaped human civilization for the last 2200 years.  Yes, agreeing with my theory and conclusions precludes one from embracing the belief that God revealed the truth directly to mankind, but that does not make that truth any less true.  Do you believe in what the Bible teaches because you believe it is true, or because you believe God revealed it?  Does the fact that men discovered the truth and shared it make it any less valid?  Those are questions worth asking.  It is worth noting that Taoism the religion flowed from Taoism the philosophy, and religious Taoists don't find the Tao any less true.

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