Aristobulus on Plato drawing from Moses

As quoted in Eusebius:

[ARISTOBULUS] ‘IT is evident that Plato closely followed our legislation, and has carefully studied the several precepts contained in it. For others before Demetrius Phalereus, and prior to the supremacy of Alexander and the Persians, have translated both the narrative of the exodus of the Hebrews our fellow countrymen from Egypt, and the fame of all that had happened to them, and the conquest of the land, and the exposition of the whole Law; so that it is manifest that many things have been borrowed by the aforesaid philosopher, for he is very learned: as also Pythagoras transferred many of our precepts and inserted them in his own system of doctrines.

‘But the entire translation of all the contents of our law was made in the time of the king surnamed Philadelphus, thy ancestor, who brought greater zeal to the work, which was managed by Demetrius Phalereus.’

Then, after interposing some remarks, he further says:

‘For we must understand the voice of God not as words spoken, but as construction of works, just as Moses in the Law has spoken of the whole creation of the world as words of God. For he constantly says of each work, “And God said, and it was so.”

‘Now it seems to me that he has been very carefully followed in all by Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato, who said that they heard the voice of God, when they were contemplating the arrangement of the universe so accurately made and indissolubly combined by God. Moreover, Orpheus, in verses taken from his writings in the Sacred Legend, thus sets forth the doctrine that all things are governed by divine power, and that they have had a beginning, and that God is over all. And this is what he says: 52

“I speak to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart, and close the doors, all ye profane,
Who hate the ordinances of the just,
The law divine announced to all mankind.
But thou, Musaeus, child of the bright Moon,
Lend me thine ear; for I have truths to tell.
Let not the former fancies of thy mind
Amerce thee of the dear and blessed life.
Look to the word divine, keep close to that,
And guide thereby the deep thoughts of thine heart.
Walk wisely in the way, and look to none,
Save to the immortal Framer of the world:
For thus of Him an ancient story speaks:
One, perfect in Himself, all else by Him
Made perfect: ever present in His works,
By mortal eyes unseen, by mind alone
Discerned. It is not He that out of good
Makes evil to spring up for mortal men.
Both love and hatred wait upon His steps,
And war and pestilence, and sorrow and tears:
For there is none but He. All other things
‘Twere easy to behold, could’st thou but first
Behold Himself here present upon earth.
The footsteps and the mighty hand of God
Whene’er I see, I’ll show them thee, my son:
But Him I cannot see, so dense a cloud
In tenfold darkness wraps our feeble sight.
Him in His power no mortal could behold,
Save one, a scion of Chaldaean race:
For he was skilled to mark the sun’s bright path,
And how in even circle round the earth
The starry sphere on its own axis turns,
And winds their chariot guide o’er sea and sky;
And showed where fire’s bright flame its strength displayed.
But God Himself, high above heaven unmoved,
Sits on His golden throne, and plants His feet
On the broad earth; His right hand He extends
O’er Ocean’s farthest bound; the eternal hills
Tremble in their deep heart, nor can endure
His mighty power. And still above the heavens
Alone He sits, and governs all on earth,
Himself first cause, and means, and end of all.
So men of old, so tells the Nile-born sage,
Taught by the twofold tablet of God’s law;
Nor otherwise dare I of Him to speak:
In heart and limbs I tremble at the thought,
How He from heaven all things in order rules.
Draw near in thought, my son; but guard thy tongue
With care, and store this doctrine in thine heart.”

Aratus also speaks of the same subject thus: 53

“From Zeus begin the song, nor ever leave
His name unsung, whose godhead fills all streets,
All thronging marts of men, the boundless sea
And all its ports: whose aid all mortals need;
For we his offspring are; and kindly he
Reveals to man good omens of success,
Stirs him to labour by the hope of food,
Tells when the land best suits the grazing ox,
Or when the plough; when favouring seasons bid
Plant the young tree, and sow the various seed.”

‘It is clearly shown, I think, that all things are pervaded by the power of God: and this I have properly represented by taking away the name of Zeus which runs through the poems; for it is to God that their thought is sent up, and for that reason I have so expressed it. These quotations, therefore, which I have brought forward are not inappropriate to the questions before us.

‘For all the philosophers agree, that we ought to hold pious opinions concerning God, and to this especially our system gives excellent exhortation; and the whole constitution of our law is arranged with reference to piety, and justice, and temperance, and all things else that are truly good.’

To this, after an interval, he adds what follows: 54

‘With this it is closely connected, that God the Creator of the whole world, has also given us the seventh day as a rest, because for all men life is full of troubles: which day indeed might naturally be called the first birth of light, whereby all things are beheld.

‘The same thought might also be metaphorically applied in the case of wisdom, for from it all light proceeds. And it has been said by some who were of the Peripatetic School that wisdom is in place of a beacon-light, for by following it constantly men will be rendered free from trouble through their whole life.

‘But more clearly and more beautifully one of our forefathers, Solomon, said that it has existed before heaven and earth;55 which indeed agrees with what has been said above. But what is clearly stated by the Law, that God rested on the seventh day, means not, as some suppose, that God henceforth ceases to do anything, but it refers to the fact that, after He has brought the arrangement of His works to completion, He has arranged them thus for all time.

‘For it points out that in six days He made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, to distinguish the times, and predict the order in which one thing comes before another: for after arranging their order, He keeps them so, and makes no change. He has also plainly declared that the seventh day is ordained for us by the Law, to be a sign of that which is our seventh faculty, namely reason, whereby we have knowledge of things human and divine.

‘Also the whole world of living creatures, and of all plants that grow, revolves in sevens. And its name “Sabbath” is interpreted as meaning “rest.”

‘Homer also and Hesiod declare, what they have borrowed from our books, that it is a holy day; Hesiod in the following words: 56

“The first, the fourth, the seventh a holy day.”

‘And again he says:

”And on the seventh again the sun shines bright.”

‘Homer too speaks as follows:

” And soon the seventh returned, a holy day.”

‘And again:

” It was the seventh day, and all was done.”

‘Again:

” And on the seventh dawn the baleful stream
Of Acheron we left.”

‘By which he means, that after the soul’s forgetfulness and vice have been left, the things it chose before are abandoned on the true seventh which is reason, and we receive the knowledge of truth, as we have said before.

‘Linus too speaks thus:

“All things are finished on the seventh dawn.”

‘And again:

“Good is the seventh day, and seventh birth.”

‘And:

“Among the prime, and perfect is the seventh.”

‘And:

“Seven orbs created in the starlit sky
Shine in their courses through revolving years.”‘

Such then are the statements of Aristobulus.

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