The 2nd century Christian apologist Justin Martyr is known for defending Christianity to the Platonists of his day. In his First Apology, he claims that Plato's understanding of the creation of the world depends on Moses:

And that you may learn that it was from our teachers—we mean the account given through the prophets— that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers [...] Both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. (Chapter 59)

Is there any evidence that Plato's understanding of the formation of the world was influenced by the Genesis creation narrative? Did Plato even have access to the Hebrew scriptures?

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    First you would have to decide the question of whether Moses really existed or not. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 2:23
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    And that if he did exist, that he wrote Genesis. My title may be too simplistic, so if it needs to be clarified that's fine, but really I'm asking if there is any evidence for Justin's claim (Plato influenced by "Moses" (Hebrew scriptures)). Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 2:35
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    It's surprising to me that one needs to suppose Plato had known of Moses; surely an independent discovery works just as well. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 3:53
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    It seems Justin Martyr offers no proof for his assertion other than Moses having lived before Plato. Palestine was a backwater at the time of Plato. Kapila lived before both, as did Gilgamesh. What about their influence on both? You make reference to the biblical creation story. Which one? Leviathan is spoken of more often with regard to creation in the old testament than Genesis. If Genesis, which one? Cain and Abel, or Seth? Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 6:00
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    @AlexanderSKing no you wouldn't. The question whether Moses the person existed is irrelevant as to whether Plato was influenced by Moses, as in the Torah.
    – user2953
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 11:35

4 Answers 4


I do not remember any passage where Plato refers to the Jewish religion or to Jewish mythology.

Sometimes Plato refers to myths he pretends to have heard from Egyptians and possibly he invented some myths by himself. E.g., he refers to the myth of Atlantis and he himself traveled to Italy and had contact with he school of Pythagoras and their myths of transmigration.

But I do not remember any reference to the Torah. In Plato's time Israel was a Persian province. It did not play any role outside the country.

I think that Justinus tried a bit to revise history in order to strengthen his message.


At least one well-respected, contemporary scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, Margaret Barker, argues that Plato knew of them, though she acknowledges her view as in the minority:

The early apologists, both Jewish and Christian, maintained that Plato learned from Moses, that he was Moses speaking Attic Greek. The most notable of these was Eusebius of Caesarea, who, in his work The Preparation of the Gospel, argued the case in great detail and listed all those who had held such views before him. Eusebius and the other apologists were probably correct.

My reconstruction suggests that the priests of the first temple knew an invisible, heavenly world on which the tabernacle or temple had been modelled; that they spoke of forms: the form of a man and the form of a throne; that they described the heavens as an embroidered curtain; that they knew the distinction between time, outside the veil, and eternity within it. They knew that time was the moving image of eternity. They knew of angels, the sons of God begotten on Day One, as Job suggests. They concerned themselves with the mathematics of the creation, the weights and the measures. They believed that the creation was bonded together by a great oath or covenant. They believed that the stars were divine beings, angels, and they described a creator whose work was completed not by motion but by Sabbath rest. What I have reconstructed as the secret tradition of the world beyond the temple veil would, in any other context be identified as Plato’s Timaeus, written in the middle of the fourth century BCE. (The passages in Timaeus are: the creation is good, 29; the invisible world, 28; the forms, 29, 38, 52; time and eternity 37; angels created first but the story of their origin is not known, 41; the mathematics of creation 53,69; the bond of creation, 31,378; angels as stars 38; resting as the culmination of creation 30.)

Elsewhere,[A] she notes that:

Scholars have admitted to being puzzled about the origin of Plato's account of creation...: '[Plato] introduced, for the first time in Greek philosophy...the scheme of creation by a divine artificer, according to which the world is like a work of art designed with a purpose.'

She also points out that pre-Christian Jewish writers made the same claim as Justin:

Aristobulus, for example, a Jewish scholar in Egypt in the mid second century BCE, said that Pythagorus, Socrates and Plato had followed Moses 'when they were contemplating the arrangement of the universe so accurately made and indissolubly combined by God.'

[A]: Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2010, pp. 117-8.

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    Of course, Zoroaster also has a Creator myth in Avesta, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of Persia at the time, Herodotus described it in his Histories, and Greeks fought with Persians for 50 years shortly before Plato's birth. I am guessing Plato heard of it. As long as we are speculating en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism#Creation_of_the_universe
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 2:00

You can see :

See also this review.

Her are some extracts :

for the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE – c.50 CE), with his work on The Life of Moses, who used philosophical allegory in an attempt to harmonize Greek philosophy with Jewish philosophy, see page 103.

Relevant also to understand the "foundational project" of early Christian philosophers is the Hellensitic neopythagorean philospopher Numenius of Apamea (2nd century AD), with his work On the Good (only fragments extant) : "For what is Plato than Moses atticizing ?" page 102. But this statement is disputed since the quote comes from the Church Fathers who connected Greek and Biblical wisdom, in order to justify the superiority of Christianity over Hellenism : due to the fact that Moses predates Plato, they argued that the original source of this wisdom is the root of Christianity and not Hellenistic culture.

For Justyn (100 – 165 AD), see page 43 :

Justyn often marks the traditional starting point in the narrative of Christiant engagement with philosophy. [...] While critical of the philosophical tenets of the Greek schools, Justyn did not dismiss Greek philosophy altogheter. [...] Justin regarded Socrates as a precursor to Christ.

In general,

in the context of fourth-century Christianity, Moses was a fitting ancestor of Christianity. In response to the Greek depiction of Christianity as a "new" religion, Christians adapted the Hellenistic Jewish apologetic arguments to argue for the antiquity and superiority of Christian philosophers page 105.

For Gregory of Nissa (c.335 – c.395) and his Life of Moses : "inspired by Philo's bios of Moses", see page 114-on.


There is no primary historical evidence which proves that Plato was influenced by Moses. To the best of my knowledge, Plato never referred to The Torah in any of his voluminous writings.

Egypt and its culture played a significant role in Plato's intellectual influence, the Persian Zoroastrian religion may have had some peripheral influence-(due to Plato's likely travels throughout neighboring Greco-Anatolia, which was under Persian colonial rule during his lifetime).

Plato did travel to Sicily and probably traveled Northward to the Greek colonies in neighboring Southern Italy to meet with and learn from the Pythagoreans-(who would have had some knowledge of Indian Mysticism passed down to them from Pythagoras himself and his likely travels to India).

However, there does not seem to be any documentable evidence from Plato himself-(or from his contemporaries) of any direct contact or knowledge of The Torah. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that Plato may have traveled to Jerusalem and learned about The Torah; however, there is no primary historical evidence that we can refer to.

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