Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
London-New York: Routledge, 2016
(Available now in hardcover or Kindle at Routledge  or )

This book compares the ancient law collections of the Ancient Near East, the Greeks and the Pentateuch to determine the legal antecedents for the biblical laws. A striking number of legal parallels are found to be with Athenian laws, and specifically with those found in Plato's Laws of ca. 350 BCE. Constitutional features in biblical law similarly mostly agree with Athens and with Plato's Laws. Greek parallels are also noted for specific law collections, such as Ten Commandments and the Deuteronomic law code. The synthesis of narrative and legal content is also shown to be compatible with Greek literature. Finally, this book argues that the creation of the Hebrew Bible itself took place according to the program for creating a national ethical literature found in Plato's Laws, reinforcing the importance of this specific text to the authors of the Torah and Hebrew Bible in the early Hellenistic Era.

Chapter Summaries

  Chapter 1: Introduction

  Chapter 1 describes the research methods this book employs and situates it within the history of scholarship on Greek comparative studies. Many previous studies have pointed out parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Greek literature and culture, but until quite recently Greek influences were assumed early and indirect. External evidence excludes neither a Hellenistic Era date nor substantial Greek literary influence on the biblical text. This suggests that Greek written traditions should be taken into account when seeking legal antecedents to the biblical law collections.

  Chapter 2: Athenian and Greek Legal Institutions

Chapter 2 examines influences from Athens and from Plato’s Laws on governmental institutions in the Pentateuch, such as: the genre of constitutional law, unknown in the Ancient Near East; similar citizenship requirements and enrollment procedures; military organization into ten or twelve civic tribes, brotherhoods, clans and households; land distribution by allotment into tribal territories; identical function of kinship groups in inheritance, levirate marriage, and blood vengeance; deliberative bodies with comparable executive and judicial responsibilities; similar civil and religious magistrates; and similar procedures for the citizen selection, scrutiny and audit of magistrates (including king).

  Chapter 3: Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Laws

Chapter 3 compares Ancient Near Eastern and Greek influences on Pentateuchal laws, including laws on homicide, assault, theft, marriage, inheritance, sexual offenses, slavery, economic relief, livestock, property crimes, commerce, the military, magic, treason, religion, and ethics.  While some Pentateuchal laws derive from Old Babylonian and Assyrian collections, many have striking parallels with Greek and Athenian laws, and especially with Plato’s Laws. These include the prosecution and execution of dangerous animals; slaying a night thief; exile for unintentional homicide; blood avengers; sacrilege as political subversion; military exemptions; commandments on ethics, and others.

  Chapter 4: Greek and Ancient Near Eastern Law Collections

Chapter 4 performs a similar comparative study on the law collections as a whole. It is shown that the biblical law collections correspond to Greek rather than Ancient Near Eastern law collections with respect to sources, purpose, framing structure, divine promulgation, public recitation, ratification, educational utility and prescriptive force. Greek literary antecedents are identified for the Decalogue (the Commandments of the Seven Sages) and for Deuteronomy (Plato’s Laws). Innovations by Plato also seen in the Pentateuch included the idea of law as education ("torah" or "teaching") and the use of persuasive legal introductions (motive clauses). .

  Chapter 5: Greek and Biblical Legal Narratives

Chapter 5 discusses the integration of legal content with narrative found in both the Pentateuch and Greek writings, but not in the Ancient Near East. Discussions of constitutions and laws appeared in Greek historical narratives, panegyrics, origin and foundation stories, ethnographies, biographies, constitutional histories and philosophical dialogues. The story of Moses closely conforms to the Greek foundation story, in which the expedition leader also created the new colony’s constitution and laws. The changes from patriarchy to constitutional democracy to monarchy and tyranny in Genesis–Kings appear to echo themes in Greek constitutional histories.

Chapter 6: The Creation of the Hebrew Bible 

Chapter 6 argues that the Pentateuch was written by Jews and Samaritans invited to Alexandria ca. 270 BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, and additional books later at Jerusalem, without Samaritan participation. The reinvention of the Jewish nation as a theocracy closely conformed to the government in Plato’s Laws. The Hebrew Bible was an ethical national literature written to promote the new set of laws in accordance with the detailed instructions found in Plato’s Laws. Plato’s strategies for convincing the citizens their laws were ancient and divine appear to have worked brilliantly in Hellenistic Judea, where the biblical laws and literature of ca. 270 BC were soon enshrined as the ancient ancestral texts of the Jews, a perception that has continued virtually unchallenged down into modern times.