I just finished reading Timaeus by Plato (Desmond Lee translation). Overall, my impression is this text is based much more in mythology and religion than other dialogues by Plato that I've read. It struck me as odd so many bold claims were made one after another while constructing this "story of the universe till the creation of man", in contrast to other dialogues (in fact, I consider Timaeus mostly a monologue) in which more critical questions were asked rather than claims made. In that sense, I find Timaeus particularly antisocratic.

Thus, I'm left with looking at Timaeus as mostly a religious text, proposing ideas such as reincarnation, sin, and others commonly attributed to religion.

Near the end of the book, I noticed one particularly interesting parallel between Plato's inharmonious motions in us at birth and Christianity's original sin. We are born "broken" and need to restore our original form.

And the motions in us that are akin to the divine are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and by learning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth to the circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to their original likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set us by the gods, the life that is best for this present time and for all time to come.

This was also alluded to much earlier in the text right before introducing the human body:

And because of all this the soul when first bound to its mortal body is as much without reason today as it was in the beginning. But when the stream of growth and nourishment flows less strongly, the soul's orbits take advantage of the calm and as time passes steady down in their proper courses, and the movement of the circles at last regains its correct natural form, and they can name the Different and the Same correctly and render their possessor rational. And if at this stage education is added to correct nurture, a man becomes altogether sound and healthy and avoids the deadliest disease; but if he is careless, after limping through life he returns again to Hades in unregenerate folly.

Sex also seems to be introduced as a consequence of immoral lives, and considered as opposing the goal of being "altogether sound and healthy", which corresponds to one interpretation of early Christianity that "sex happened after the fall of man and the expulsion from Eden". There is even a play on words which overlaps with "forbidden fruit" in the Garden of Eden.

The men of the first generation who lived cowardly or immoral lives were, it is reasonable to suppose, reborn in the second generation as women; and it was therefore at that point of time that the gods produced sexual love, constructing in us and in women a living creature itself instinct with life.


So a man's genitals are naturally disobedient and self-willed, like a creature that will not listen to reason, and will do anything in their mad lust for possession. Much the same is true of the matrix or womb in women, which is a living creature within them which longs to bear children. And if it is left unfertilized long beyond the normal time, it causes extreme unrest, strays about the body, blocks the channels of the breath and causes in consequence acute distress and disorders of all kinds. This goes on until the woman's longing and the man's desire meet and pick the fruit from the tree, as it were, ...

This makes me believe Christianity's original sin might have been heavily inspired by Timaeus (or vice versa?), but at a glance I can't find any confirmation of that on the Wikipedia page.

Have others drawn this parallel? How accurate or likely is it?

  • Some relevant sources based on Googling "Timaeous 'original sin'": "Plato’s Timaeus and Catholic Metaphysics" by Joseph W. Moloney. And, original sin seems to be an Augustine Christian doctrine, and there seems to be a connection between Augustine and Plato. Dec 6, 2020 at 16:32
  • In "Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History", Russell Gmirkin (another relevant source in light of this question) starts: "This opens up the possibility that the cosmogony in Genesis 1 drew directly on Plato’s Timaeus (as proposed in Niesiolowski-Spanò 2007; Wajdenbaum 2011: 92-96), ..." Dec 6, 2020 at 16:53
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    The doctrine of original sin was established by Augustine, who was heavily influenced by neo-Platonism, which expanded mythological tendencies in Plato concentrated in Timaeus especially. Parallels with the original sin in particular have also been noted, see Pane's comparative study. However, platonist "sin" can be "repaired" unlike the original sin, and is intellectual rather than sexual in nature. That turn had more to do with Augustine's personal issues.
    – Conifold
    Dec 6, 2020 at 19:41
  • I'm finding the book by Russell Gmirkin as the most relevant source so far, which makes the argument that the Book of Genesis (so even before Augustine's original sin) was likely inspired by the Timaeus and written in Alexandria ca. 270 BC (much later than commonly attributed). He also observes the use of the imagery "Eating from the fruit of the tree" in Timaeus 91c and Gen. 3:2-3, 6 as I did. This definitely forms the basis of a suitable answer. Dec 6, 2020 at 20:35
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    This is interesting, but the Old Testament does not have the doctrine of the original sin as the root of all evil. Even St. Paul, Augustine's primary "source" in the Gospels, only talks of "death" as inherited from Adam, not sin. Even if the (very disputable) late attribution of Genesis language is correct it is not the real source of the doctrine. And Augustine's obsession with sex (after overexposure in his youth) was surely his own, see e.g. How St. Augustine Invented Sex.
    – Conifold
    Dec 6, 2020 at 20:50


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