Plato And The Kabbalah

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Throughout the centuries, leading Jewish mystics and Kabbalists regarded Plato as astudent of their doctrines. Among the prominent Kabbalists of the Renaissance, forexample, was Leone Ebreo, who saw Plato as dependent on the revelation of Moses, and even as a disciple of the ancient Kabbalists. While Rabbi Yehudah Messer Leon, criticized the Kabbalah's similarity to Platonism, his son described Plato as a divine master. Other Kabbalists, such as Isaac Abravanel and Rabbi Yohanan Alemanno, believed Plato to have been a disciple of Jeremiah in Egypt. On the similarity of the teachings of the Greek philosophers and the Kabbalah, Rabbi Abraham Yagel commented:

This is obvious to anyone who has read what is written on the philosophy andprinciples of Democritus, and especially on Plato, the master of Aristotle, whose views are almost those of the Sages of Israel, and who on some issues almost seems to speak from the very mouth of the Kabbalists and in their language, without any blemish on his lips. And why shall we not hold these views, since they are ours, inherited from our ancestors by the Greeks, and down to this day great sages hold the views of Plato and great groups of students follow him, as iswell known to anyone who has served the sage of the Academy and entered theirstudies, which are found in every land.1

While these claims may at first seem contrived, there is a great deal of evidence tosubstantiate it, and Greek philosophy can be demonstrated to be an appropriation of theideas of the Babylonian Magi, who in turn were influenced by early Jewish Kabbalistic ideas.

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.

Ancient Babylon

Although Kabbalists make claims of a much older tradition, the Kabbalah was incepted in Babylon, when the Jews were held there in captivity, in the sixth century BC. A faction chose to reclaim their former status in the Promised Land, and achieve the world domination they believed was promised to them, through the practice of magic. Magicis, however, is forbidden in Judaism, and therefore, not to reveal their apostasy,they created an "interpretation" of the religion, which is now called Kabbalah. And, having rejected the Jewish God, their secret interpretation involved reverence forhis enemy, the dying-god of ancient fertility rites. The dying-god was associated with the Underworld, where he was said to sojourn in the winter, and from which he wassubsequently resurrected in spring, by his sister, the goddess. As twins, the dying-godand the goddess were interpreted to represent dual aspects of a single androgynous deity.  Therefore, both came to be symbolized by the planet Venus, whose original Latin name was Lucifer.

These Kabbalists, however, were confused by ancient historians with the chief priests ofthe Babylonians, known as the Chaldeans, and with the priests of the religion ofZoroaster, or Zoroastrianism, known as Magi. The ancient cult practices of magic andsex-rites that figured in the cult of the dying-god were incorporated by these Magi, whodeveloped the Mysteries of Mithras, the ancient god of the Persians.

This fact was pointed out by one of the leading scholars of the twentieth century, FranzCumont, in Les Mages Hellenisees, which remains to be translated into English.According to Cumont, those Magi with whom the Greeks were most familiar were these heretical Zoroastrians, which he called Magussaeans. What I have pointed out in my ownbook, The Dying God: The Hidden History of Western Civilization, is that the hereticalleanings of these Magi were derived from the principal tenets of the Kabbalah, includingdualism, the worship of a dying-god and the four elements, astrology, pantheism,numerology, and the belief in reincarnation, which were falsely attributed to Zoroaster.R. C. Zaehner commented that in many cases the Magi were sorcerers, or demon worshipers, who were condemned by orthodox Zoroastrians. Zaehner continues:

The practice of worshipping the demons is also referred to by Clement of Alexandria:“the Magians”, he says, “worship angels and demons.”2 This as we have seen, is thepractice ... of the “devil-worshippers”, the third Iranian sect mentioned in the Denkart.With these facts in mind it will, perhaps be safe to conclude that Xerxes, in suppressingthe deava cult, caused a large-scale emigration of dissident Magians. These, afterabsorbing much of Babylonian speculation, transported their beliefs to Asia Minor; andfrom them arose the Graeco-Roman religion of Mithra.3

With the expansion of the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC, the ideas of theKabbalistic Magi were cultivated in different parts of the world, mainly in Egypt, and inIndia, where they went on to influence Buddhism, and most importantly Greece.Jewish Influence in Ancient Greece

There were already important hints of Jewish influence in Greece long before the sixthcentury BC. However, there are no specific references to Jews by the Greeks until thethird century BC. Therefore, Herodotus does not mention them, but discusses the“Phoenicians” and the “Syrians” of Palestine who practiced circumcision.4 In classicaltimes, the Greeks recognized three great divisions among themselves: Aeolian, Ionian,and Dorian. According to Greek mythology, the Ionians and Dorians both derived theirorigin from a foreign source, the “Phoenicians”.

An important branch of the Greeks traced themselves back to Cadmus, the son ofPhoenix, from whom the name Phoenician is derived. The other great branch wereknown as the Danaans, descended from Danaus, who came from Egypt, but who wasoriginally believed to have been a Phoenician. Heccataeus of Abdera, a Greek historianof the fourth century BC, set out his view that the stories of Danaus and Cadmus weretraditions were related to the Israelite Exodus. Referring to the Egyptians he said:The natives of the land surmised that unless they removed the foreigners their troubleswould never be resolved. At once, therefore, the aliens were driven from the country andthe most outstanding and active among them branded together and, as some say, werecast ashore in Greece and certain other regions; their teachers were notable men, amongthem being Danaus and Cadmus. But the greater number were driven into what is nowcalled Judea, which is not far from Egypt and at that time was utterly uninhabited. Thecolony was headed by a man called Moses.5

The Dorians, who were believed to have invaded Greece, were also believed to have beenof Phoenician origin. The Dorian Invasion, which took place in the twelfth century BC,may be connected with the devastation throughout the Middle East wrought by thecontroversial Sea Peoples. Among the Sea Peoples were the Denyen, which scholarshave equated with the Israelite Tribe of Dan, as well as the Danaans. A measure of thebroader impact of these conquests is provided by the renaming of territories after variousgroups of Sea Peoples. After the invasion of Cyprus, its name was changed fromAlashiya to Yadanana, “the isle of the Danunians/Danaoi/Denyen.” The Sikils, whosettled at Dor, also sailed west and gave their name to Sicily, and the Sherden, gave theirname to Sardinia.6

The Dorian Invasion was often termed The Return of the Heraklids, their callingthemselves Heraklids being a claim, not only of descent from Hercules, the Greek versionof the Phoenician Baal. Ultimately, as related by Herodotus, the Persians traced theancestry of Hercules to Perseus, whom they believed to be an “Assyrian.”7 Hemaintained:

… if we trace the ancestry of the Danae, the daughter of Acrisius, we find that theDorian chieftains are genuine Egyptians. This is the accepted Greek version of thegenealogy of the Spartan royal house; the Persians, however, maintain that Perseus wasan Assyrian who adopted Greek nationality; his ancestry, therefore, was not Greek; andthe forebears of Acrisius were not related to Perseus at all, but were Egyptian, whichaccords with the Greek version of the story. But there is no need to pursue this subjectfurther. How it happened that Egyptians came to the Peloponnese, and what they did tomake themselves kings in that part of Greece, has been chronicled by other writers.8It may have been on this basis that, sometime around 300 BC, Areios, King of Sparta,wrote to Jerusalem: “To Onias High Priest, greeting. A document has come to lightwhich shows that the Spartans and Jews are kinsmen descended alike from Abraham.”9Both books of Maccabees of the Apocrypha mention a link between the Spartans andJews. Maccabees 2 speaks of certain Jews “having embarked to go to theLacedaemonians (Spartans), in hope of finding protection there because of their kinship.”In Maccabees 1, “It has been found in writing concerning the Spartans and the Jews thatthey are brethren and are of the family of Abraham.”10

The Mysteries of Dionysus

Contact between the Greeks and the Magi was effected through the Persian conquest ofthe Greek city-states of Ionia in Asia Minor. Greek interest in Oriental teachings resultedin the production of a curious set of pseudoepigraphical works, written in Greek, andattributed to Zoroaster, his disciple Osthanes, and to his patron Hystaspes. Osthanes, asupposed disciple of Zoroaster, known as the “prince of the Magi”, was said to haveaccompanied the Persian Emperor Xerxes on his campaign against Greece as his chiefmagus. Osthanes, mentioned Pliny, was the first person to write a book on magic,meaning the art of the Magi, or the Kabbalah:

...and nurtured the seeds, as it were, of this monstrous art, spreading the disease to allcorners of the world on his way. However, some very thorough researchers place anotherZoroaster, who came from Proconnesus, somewhat before Osthanes’ time. One thing iscertain. Osthanes was chiefly responsible for stirring up among the Greeks not merely anappetite but a mad obsession for this art.11

The influence of Mithraic cult of the Magi was adapted by the Greeks as the cult ofDionysus, or Latin Bacchus. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the sixth century BC,equated the rites of the Bacchants with those of the Magi, and commented: “if it were forDionysus that they hold processions and sing hymns to the shameful parts [phalli], itwould be a most shameless act; but Hades and Dionysus are the same, in whose honorthey go mad and celebrate the Bacchic rites,”12 and of the “Nightwalkers, Magi, Bacchoi,Lenai, and the initiated,” all these people he threatens with what happens after death: “forthe secret rites practiced among humans are celebrated in an unholy manner.”13

The female worshippers of Bacchus, called Maenads, were supposed to re-enact thetearing and eating of Dionysus by the Titans, by whipping themselves into a frenzy, andtearing a live bull to pieces with their bare hands and teeth, for the animal in some sensewas an incarnation of the god.14

Several descriptions of the rites of the Dionysians are available from ancient authors. Clement of Alexandria reports:The raving Dionysus is worshipped by Bacchants with orgies, in which they celebrate their sacred frenzy by a feast of raw flesh. Wreathed with snakes, they perform the distribution of portions of their victims, shouting the name Eva (Eua), that Eva through whom error entered into the world; and a consecrated snake is the emblem of the Bacchic orgies.15

The legendary founder of the rites of Dionysus was known to have been Orpheus.Artapanus, a Jewish philosopher of the third century BC, declared of Moses that, “as agrown man he was called Musaeus by the Greeks. This Musaeus was the teacher ofOrpheus.” 16

Aristobulus, another Jewish philosopher from the same century, claimedthat Orpheus was a follower of Moses, and quoted the following from an Orphic poem: “Iwill sing for those for whom it is lawful, but you uninitiate, close your doors, chargedunder the laws of the Righteous one, for the Divine has legislated for all alike. But you,son of the light-bearing moon, Musaeus (Moses), listen, for I proclaim the Truth.”17

Moses was of course not the source of a magic cult that was developed in Babylon in thesixth century BC. Spurious attributions is the nature of the Kabbalah. It is interesting,however, to note that these writers at least recognized the Jewish origin of these ideas.


The great exponent of the Orphic tradition in ancient Greek philosophy was Pythagoras.According to F. M. Cornford, “whether or not we accept the hypothesis of directinfluence from Persia on the Ionian Greeks in the sixth century, any student of Orphicand Pythagorean thought cannot fail to see that the similarities between it and Persianreligion are so close as to warrant our regarding them as expressions of the same view oflife, and using the one system to interpret the other.”18

Though Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos, his father was a “Phoenician” fromTyre.19

It was apparently following a suggestion by Thales that Pythagoras had traveledto Egypt, at which point, according to Apuleius, in his Apology, he was captured by thePersians and taken back to Babylon along with other prisoners. In Babylon, maintainedPorphyry, Pythagoras was taught by Zaratas, a disciple of Zoroaster, and initiated into the highest esoteric mysteries of the Zoroastrians.20

According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras traveled to Phoenicia, where “he conversed with theprophets who were descendants of Moschus (Moses) the physiologist, and with manyothers, as well as with the local hierophants.21

Of his ideas, maintained Hermippus, a Greek writer who lived about 200 BC, “Pythagoras practiced and taught these in imitation of the beliefs of the Jews and the Thracians, which he had appropriated to himself.”22

Josephus also believed in Pythagoras’ affinity for Jewish ideas: “Now it isplain that he did not only know our doctrines, but was in very great measure a followerand admirer of them… For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a greatmany of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy.”23


As Bertrand Russell outlines, in the History of Western Philosophy, “from Pythagoras,Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, and from Plato into most laterphilosophy that was in any degree religious.”24

In antiquity, the reputation of Plato’s purported connection with the Magi was widespread. Therefore, according to Momigliano, in Alien Wisdom, “it was Plato who made Persian wisdom thoroughly fashionable, though the exact place of Plato in the story is ambiguous and paradoxical.”25

According to Aristobulus, a third century BC Jewish philosopher:It is evident that Plato imitated our legislation and that he had investigatedthoroughly each of the elements in it. For it had been translated by others beforeDemetrius Phalereus, before the conquests of Alexander and the Persians. Theparts concerning the exodus of the Hebrews, our fellow countrymen, out ofEgypt, the fame of all things that happened to them, the conquest of the land, andthe detailed account of the entire legislation (were translated). So it is very clearthat the philosopher mentioned above took many things (from it). For he wasvery learned, as was Pythagoras, who transferred many of our doctrines andintegrated them into his own beliefs.26

The man considered responsible for introducing Magian tenets to Plato was one of his friends, an Ionian mathematician and astronomer, Eudoxus of Cnidus, who seems to have acted as head of the Academy during Plato’s absence. Eudoxus is said to have traveled to Babylon and Egypt, studying at Heliopolis, where he learned the priestly wisdom and astrology. According to Pliny, Eudoxus “wished magic to be recognized as the most noble and useful of the schools of philosophy.”27  In the opinion of Jaeger:

Our material unfortunately does not permit us to evaluate to its full extent the tremendousinfluences exercised upon the Platonists by this man. They are connected in part with theAcademy’s admiration for Chaldean and “Syrian” astronomy, from whose empiricalacquaintance with the heavens it had obtained its reckoning of the times of revolution andits knowledge of the seven planets… In part, again, these tendencies are connected withthe appeal of the religious dualism of the Parsees, which seemed to lend support to thedualistic metaphysics of Plato’s old age. The bad world-soul that opposes the good one inthe Laws is a tribute to Zarathustra, to whom Plato was attracted because of themathematical phase that his idea-theory finally assumed, and because of the intensifieddualism involved therein. From that time onward the Academy was keenly interested inZarathustra and the teaching of the Magi.28

In the Laws, Plato proposed that the citizens be divided into twelve tribes, each to benamed for one of the twelve gods, and that the focus of the state religion be a joint cult ofApollo and the Sun-god Helios.29 Not only are the stars described as “the gods inheaven,” the Sun and moon as “great gods,” but Plato insists that prayer and sacrificeshould be rendered to them by all. E. R. Dodds, who is skeptical of the extent of Magianinfluence on Plato’s thought, is willing to concede that:the proposals of the Laws do seem to give the heavenly bodies a religious importance which they lacked in ordinary Greek cult, though there may have been partial precedents in Pythagorean thought and usage. And in the Epinomis, which I am inclined to regard either as Plato’s own work or as put together by his Nachlass (unpublished works), we meet with something that is certainly Oriental, and is frankly presented as such, the proposal for public worship of the planets.30

The Epinomis, either a work of Plato, or his pupil Philip of Opus, is clearly influenced bythe Magi. But the ideas we find in the book are not reflected in orthodox Zoroastrianism,but in the heterodox teachings of the Magussaeans, which are identical to those of theKabbalah. As for the myths of the popular gods, Zeus and Hera and the rest, claims thework, man must accept their accounts as reliable, but the best and greatest of the gods,are the “visible gods”, the stars and the seven planets.

That science which makes men most wise, it maintains, is astronomy, in other words,astrology, for it proffers man with knowledge of numbers. Because, without theknowledge of number, it claims, man cannot attain to a knowledge of virtue. Therefore,the study of the stars and planets is at the heart of philosophy. Those who studyastronomy are the wisest and most happy, and it is they who are to be the guardians of the ideal state. These doctrines have their origin among the Chaldeans, who, as Philo of Alexandria explains, “especially cultivated astronomy and ascribed everything to the movements of the stars, assumed that cosmic phenomena are regulated by forces contained in numbers and mathematical proportions.”31

Though Plato may not have written the Epinomis, we should expect that he at least wouldnot have denied the origin of his new-found religion, which the author acknowledges asbelonging originally to the Egyptians and the Syrians, “from when the knowledge hasreached to all countries, including our own, after having been tested by thousands ofyears and time without end.” Though, the work apologizes:

And let us note that whatever Greeks acquire from foreigners is finally turned by theminto something nobler; and moreover the same thing must be borne in mind regarding ourpresent statements – that although it is hard to discover everything of this kind beyonddispute, there is hope, both strong and noble, that a really nobler and juster respect than is in the combined repute and worship came from foreigners will be paid to all these gods by the Greeks, who have the benefit of their various education, their prophecies fromDelphi, and the whole system of worship under their laws.32

However, the great exposition of Kabbalistic thought in the Greek language is theTimaeus, where Plato treated its common themes of Time, triads, pantheism, astrology,and the four elements. Plato posits the existence of three distinct realities, as in theancient pagan trinity, which he identifies with a father, a mother, and their offspring.These are: the model or archetype of creation; the space or receptacle in which creationwas placed; and creation itself. Each is considered a living being, or a god.

The universe is suffused with a spirit, the agent of cosmic sympathy, called the “World-Soul”. The universe, the stars and planets, are all living gods, and the reflection of themore perfect model. The revolutions of the astral bodies are regulated according to the Perfect Year, known as the Platonic Great Year, and derived from the Babylonian GreatYear, when the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the fixed stars will have returned to theirpoint of departure. The souls of men originate among the stars. Those that live well afterdeath return to their native star, but those that live otherwise are reincarnated as women, or for those who persist in wrongdoing, return into the bodies of animals.

The purpose of life, according to the Timaeus, is to study astrology, or in other words, Kabbalah. Ultimately, according to Plato, man must learn the laws of the revolutions ofthe spheres, that he may, guided by the revolutions that are found within himself, tame the irrational feelings that are due to his soul’s contamination with matter, or the four elements:

There is of course only one way to look after anything and that is to give it its properfood and motions. And the motions are akin to the divine in us are the thoughts andrevolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and bylearning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth tothe circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to theiroriginal likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set usby the gods, the life that is best for this present time and for all time to come.33

It is in the Republic that Plato articulates the need for a totalitarian state to be governedby philosopher-kings. These elite leaders are to be instructed in Kabbalistic teachings asdescribed in the Timeaus. These ideas he explains in last chapter of the Republic in what is called the Myth of Er.

Most common to the tales or motifs borrowed from the Magi were those dealing withvisits to the Underworld, like the mystic vision of the Jewish Kabbalists which theycalled “descent to the Merkabah”. Similarly, Plato concluded his Republic with a visionof the afterlife recounted by Er, the son of Armenius, who died in a war but returned tolife to act as a messenger from the other world. He described a heaven and hell wheresouls are either rewarded or punished, and a cosmic vision of the universe, controlled bythe Spindle of Necessity and her daughters, the three Fates, where the Sirens’ song echoed the harmony of the seven spheres.

Colotes, a philosopher of the third century BC, accused Plato of plagiarism, maintaining that he substituted Er’s name for that of Zoroaster. Clement of Alexandria and Proclusquote from a work entitled On Nature, attributed to Zoroaster, in which he is equatedwith Er.34 Quoting the opening of the work, Clement mentions:

Zoroaster, then, writes: “These things I wrote, I Zoroaster, the son of Armenius, aPamphylian by birth: having died in battle, and been in Hades, I learned them of thegods.” This Zoroaster, Plato says, having been placed on the funeral pyre, rose again tolife in twelve days. He alludes perchance to the resurrection, or perchance to the fact thatthe path for souls to ascension lies through the twelve signs of the zodiac; and he himselfsays, that the descending pathway to birth is the same. In the same way we are tounderstand the twelve labours of Hercules, after which the soul obtains release from this entire world.35

Ultimately, as Numenius of Apamea remarked, in the late second century AD, “what is Plato, but Moses speaking in Attic Greek.”361 Mazref la-Hokhmah, chap. 25, quoted from Idel, “Jewish Kabbalah and Platonism in the Middle Ages andRenaissance”, Neoplatonism and Jewish though, p. 336.2 Stromata, III. 6. 48.3 Zurvan, A Zoroastrian Dilemma, p. 194 The Histories, II:1045 Diodorus Siculus. XL: 3.26 Stager. “Forging an Identity”, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, p. 1577 Bernal, Black Athena, p. 113.8 Histories, VI: 549 Bernal. Black Athena, p. 11010 Baigent. Leigh and Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, p. 27711 Pliny, Natural History, XXX: 812 Clement. Protreptic, 34.5, quoted fr. A Presocratics Reader, p. 3913 Clement. Protreptic, 22.2, quoted fr. A Presocratics Reader, p. 3914 Russell. The History of Western Philosophy, p. 3715 Clement of Alexandria. Exhortation to the Greeks, 2.1216 Eusebius. Praeparatio Evangelica, 9.27 .1-3717 Eusebius. 13.13.3-818 From Religion to Philosophy, p.17619 Porphyry. The Life of Pythagoras, 120 The Life of Pythagoras, 1221 The Life of Pythagoras, 322 Against Apion, 1.163-6523 Josephus. Flavius Josephus Against Apion, p. 61424 Russell. The History of Western Philosophy, p.4925 Alien Wisdom, p. 14226 Eusebius. 13.12.1f.27 Natural History, XXX: 328 Aristotle, quoted from Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, p. 25929 E. R. Dodds. The Greeks and the Irrational, p. 22130 The Greeks and the Irrational, p. 233 n. 7031 De Abrahamo: 68-7132 987d-988a33 Timaeus 9034 Proclus, In Rem Publicam Platonis, quoted from Bidez & Cumont, Les Mages Hellenisees, t. II, p. 159.35 Stromata, Book V, Chap 14.35 Timaeus, vi, 136.36 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, IX: VI, p. 411a.