In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it is claimed that

Before Philo there was no explicit theory of creation ex nihilo ever postulated in Jewish or Greek traditions.

Is this correct? Were there implicit theories of creatio ex nihilo? Were there traditions other than Jewish or Greek that had creatio ex nihilo earlier, for example roman?

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    Ancient Greeks took ex nihilo nihil fit as a dogma. Philo based his idea on 2 Maccabees 7:28 ("look at the heaven and the earth... and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed"). However, "American philosopher-theologian Robert Neville... argues consistently that implications of creation ex nihilo can be found in traditional Chinese philosophy, especially in Daoism, where wu (often translated as ‘non-being’) is considered the origin of all things". See Ge, Creatio ex nihilo and ancient Chinese philosophy for commentary.
    – Conifold
    Feb 27, 2023 at 12:01
  • @Conifold Not quite so. In Hesiod's theogony, there is a process that orders a pre-existing Chaos as the origin myth, rather than a creation ex nihilo. sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm
    – Frank
    Feb 27, 2023 at 16:29
  • @Frank What is not quite so then? Ex nihilo nihil fit translates as nothing comes from nothing.
    – Conifold
    Feb 27, 2023 at 21:20
  • @Conifold My apologies, I misread.
    – Frank
    Feb 27, 2023 at 23:07

1 Answer 1


Very nice question! Some theologians argue that it is implicitly contained in the Bible at 2 Maccabees and would therefore depend on its dating, but others disagree:

I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.

It is difficult to have Romans dealing with it before Greeks, since their intellectual work comes after. Regarding the latter, note that even Philo didn't exactly differentiated very clearly creation ex nihilo from creation from an undefined matter:

The De opificio was often defined as a Jewish version of the Timaeus [..] Philo proclaims [..] that God is the unique Creator both of the models for the world and of the world itself. [..] The evaluation of the most common model of cosmological creation in the De opificio, that of an active power acting on unqualified matter, is difficult since Philo seems to affirm that God created the world ex nihilo in some passages. It is probable that there was no significant difference between unqualified matter and pure void for him.

The topic of unqualified matter is popular among all ancient Greek philosophy, starting with Hesiod and his Theogony around 6th-7th century BCE:

The initial state of the universe is chaos, a dark indefinite void considered a divine primordial condition from which everything else appeared.

Note that Hesiod's theogony is described as (implicitly) ex-nihilo when compared to Pherecydes' Cosmogony:

The sequence of Pherecydes' cosmogony begins with the eternal gods Zas (Zeus), Chthoniê (Gê) and Chronos (Kronos), who "always existed." The first creation is an act of ordering in the cosmos through niches and division of the world. [..] This is opposed to the older cosmogony of Hesiod [..] where the initial state of the universe is Chaos, a dark void considered as a divine primordial condition and the creation is ex nihilo (out of nothing).

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