Socrates more prophet than philosopher?
Damien F. Mackey
“… the ‘historical problem of Socrates’ is a major one, about which much has been written and debated. Statues of Socrates,
for instance, can be found in post-Christian Roman contexts, such as at Pompeii”.
Previously I have written of what I have considered to have been:
The Evolution of ‘Socrates’
Though both the prototypal Socrates and Mohammed are (according to my view) grounded historically in the above-mentioned “Axial Age”, in which era the conventional Socrates – but not Mohammed – is considered to have existed, the two underwent a literary-historical evolution thereby picking up aspects of other characters and eras not truly belonging to them.
Striking Christian aspects, for instance, such as Mohammed’s supposed ascension from Jerusalem into the seventh heaven. Frequent claims that the Prophet Mohammed copied from Judaïsm and Christianity – such as e.g. the Christian Apocryphal source “The Infancy Gospel” and Gnostic Christians about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ – would need to be modified substantially, according to my reconstructions, so as not to include the “Axial Age” Mohammed as a copier. ….
For likenesses between Jesus Christ and Socrates, see my next section [not given here].
Socrates and Jeremiah were also alike in many ways. Both, called to special work by oracular or divine power, reacted with great humility and self-distrust. And, whenever Socrates or Jeremiah encountered any who would smugly claim to have been well instructed, and who would boast of their own sufficiency, they never failed to chastise the vanity of such persons.
Again, the Book of Jeremiah can at times employ a method of teaching known as ‘Socratic’: www.sermonindex.net/modules/mydownloads/scr_index.php?act=book
“… Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:26, 27. THIS method of questioning the person to be instructed is known to teachers as the Socratic method. Socrates was wont, not so much to state a fact, as to ask a question and draw out thoughts from those whom he taught.
Similarly in the case of Zechariah, as we read in another place, “God used what we today call the Socratic method to teach Zechariah and the readers of this book” (http://www.muslimhope.com/BibleAnswers/zech.htm)
And perhaps to none of the Old Testament prophets more than Jeremiah would apply the description ‘gadfly’, for which Socrates the truth-loving philosopher is so famous (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_gadfly):
The term “gadfly” (Ancient Greek: μύωψ, mýops) was used by Plato in the Apology to describe Socrates‘s relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse.
The Book of Jeremiah uses a similar analogy as a political metaphor. “Egypt is a very fair heifer; the gad-fly cometh, it cometh from the north.” (46:20, Darby Bible)
Could this last be the actual prompt for the ‘Socratic’ concept?
But, as we are going to read in the last section of this article, the ‘historical problem of Socrates’ is a major one, about which much has been written and debated. Statues of Socrates, for instance, can be found in post-Christian Roman contexts, such as at Pompeii (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/solomon-socrates-and-aristotle/).
Socrates and Jeremiah were very humane individuals – Jeremiah’s constant concern for the widow and orphan – men of profound righteousness, always trying to do all that was good for the people.
Both Socrates and Jeremiah were hated for having challenged the gods of the society; Jeremiah, of course, being a loyal Yahwist.
Socrates, like Jeremiah, had followers or disciples who also were inspired by him and were willing to go into exile and defy the government for him. ….
[End of quote]
“Is Socrates a Prophet?” is a question commonly asked.
According to Hossein Ghaffari: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11841-011-0266-0
Everybody acknowledges the importance of Socrates’ role and influence on the history of philosophy, as well as on the culture of humanity. He is also considered to be the first martyr of virtue and wisdom in human history. In spite of this, even though most Western commentators recognize the elevated meanings and high level of Socratic wisdom, they refuse to consider it to have a supra-human source and to be divine prophecy. In this article and through the analysis of Socrates’ words and speeches, which can be found in authentic sources such as some of Plato’s writings, the author aims to prove the truth of Socrates’ claim according to which he had the gift of prophecy. By putting together rational proofs and historical clues from his life, we will underline the veracity of such a claim. A part of the article will be dedicated to underlining the fact that our reasoning is based on authentic and historical references of Socrates’ speeches, which are mainly mentioned in Plato’s Apology. By quoting the main and most important commentators’ views in this field, we will therefore endeavor to show that there is a sort of general consensus among most commentators to consider this treatise to be an historical document. The importance as well as main outcome of this article is that if we accept this theory, the general outlook of the history of philosophy will change radically. In addition, the claim that wisdom has a divine source, which is mentioned repeatedly in the content of divine wise men’s words and in some Islamic traditions, will be confirmed. Moreover, the link between spiritual truths and human reasoning will be corroborated and underlined. ….
[End of quote]
Amongst the Ahmadi Moslems, Socrates is indeed considered a prophet:
The Holy Quran proclaims that God has sent messengers to all peoples in the world. In Islamic traditions 124,000 thousand is the number that is given for prophets that were sent by God to guide people. While some of them are mentioned by name in the Quran, Ahmadi Muslims believe that Socrates was one of the prophets of God. Islam literally means surrender to God’s Will. As a Prophet of God Socrates was devoted to this and is therefore a “Muslim” (in meaning) in his heart.
In keeping with the universal and inclusive character of Islam this means that Greek people are also brothers in faith and must be respected.
[End of quote]
Socrates was, I believe, like Mohammed, a non-historical composite character based largely upon biblical persons.
As to the manner of his death, Socrates, I think, may mostly resemble the fearless teacher, Eleazer, of the Maccabean period.
Part Two: Forced to eat pig’s flesh
“There was an elderly and highly respected teacher of the Law by the name of Eleazar, whose mouth was being forced open to make him eat pork. But he preferred an honorable death rather than a life of disgrace”.
2 Maccabees 6:18-19
Previously I had written: “Perhaps the death by martyrdom in the Old Testament (Catholic) Scriptures that most resembles that of Socrates, is that of the venerable and aged Eleazer in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31”.
I then proceeded to elaborate a little on this, whilst also including certain likenesses to the death of Jesus Christ:
…. There is something anomalous about the callous slaying of Socrates at that particular era of Greek ‘history’, when conditions would not really seem to have favoured it.
Glover calls it “almost unintelligible” ….
- Thomas has written an entire book on The Trial [The Trial, Bantam Press, NY, 1987, p. 175], in which he seems to be at a loss to account for many things, not least of which was why poor old Socrates was martyred, and why they waited until he was 70 years of age to do this.
The supposed trial and death of Socrates may be something of a composite event; a mix of the ‘martyrdom’ of Jeremiah; death of the aged Maccabean hero, Eleazer (2 Maccabees 6:18-31); and the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.
Eleazer, for instance, has the Socrates-like aspects of being,
(i) during Greek rule (as the Macedonian Greeks were ruling Palestine in Maccabean times);
(ii) “advanced in age”;
(iii) a witness to “the young”. Socrates was actually accused of ‘corrupting youth’.
(iv) Socrates’ death by swallowing (viz. the ‘hemlock’) may be an echo of Eleazer’s refusal to swallow the pig’s flesh.
(v) Eleazer’s acquaintances of long-standing begged him to feign compliance by substituting meat of his own, to save himself. Likewise, Crito begged Socrates to escape, even to using bribery if necessary (Apologia, Scene II); but
(vi) Eleazer refused to do this out of honour, and instead faced death with courage; as did Socrates.
Folklore has sensed the similarity between the demise of Socrates and the end of the earthly life of Jesus, and thus has Socrates warning Pontius Pilate’s wife, Claudia Procula, to save Jesus: “… in her premonitory dream Socrates appeared to Pilate’s wife and urged her to intercede on behalf of Jesus” [ibid.]. (Cf. Matthew 27:19).
According to H. Tredennick [trans. Plato. The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Books, 1969), p. 43]: “The first part of the charge [against Socrates] – heresy – was no doubt primarily intended to inflame prejudice. … The prosecution relied mainly on a powerful conjunction of religious and political hostility”. The same combination that Jesus had to face. Anytus, the moving spirit in the prosecution of Socrates, has a name a bit similar to Annas, father-in-law of the high-priest Caiaphas at the time of Jesus’ death.
Jesus’ disciple John “was known to the high priest” (John 18:13, 15). Meno 90b. Socrates: “Please help us, Anytus – Meno, who is a friend of your family, and myself – to find out …”. St. John was known to Caiaphas”.
…. even the cock chanting to a new day figures in Plato’s Symposium (223c), connected by J. Pepple to Socrates’ death [“The Order of Plato’s Dialogues” (February 14, 1995) (www.uni-heidelberg.de/subject/hd/fak7/hist/o1/logs/sophia/log.started941201/mail-50.html)]. (Cf. John 18:27).
Socrates, in good Greek fashion will – as we just saw – drink hemlock. He does not die on a cross. Still, even that terrible death is depicted in Plato’s The Republic, Intro., # 362]: “The just man … will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned … and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified”.
I submit that this statement would not likely have been written before the Gospels.
[End of quotes]
Whilst it is quite common for scholars to detect similarities between Eleazer and Socrates, some of these will do inevitably – as scholars invariably do – and that is attribute to the pagans (in this case the Greeks) the original upon which supposed ‘model’ the biblical account 9is based. Typical of this approach is that by Lacey Baldwin Smith (Fools, Martyrs, Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World, p. 56), who writes:
The Maccabean martyrs, of course, did not stand historically alone as the inspiration for later martyrdoms. Eleazar in particular owed much to Socrates [sic] for the style of his performance, especially in Maccabees IV, where he is pictured as an overly verbose philosopher, sensitive to God’s good opinion and to his reputation in this world. Like his classical counterpart, he not only disdained all avenues of escape but also made it almost impossible for the state to do anything except go through with the grisly execution. Moreover, he also sought to thwart his opponents by maintaining firm control over himself and the proceedings leading up to his execution, and he was set upon demonstrating the truth of Socrates’ own dictum that it is better to suffer a wrong than commit one ….
In somewhat similar fashion, Marie-Françoise Baslez will describe Eleazer as a “New Socrates”
The author of 4 Maccabees considers Eleazar as a “New Socrates,” … the archetype of the semi-voluntary intellectual martyr: he is a [νομικός] … in the royal Court (4 Macc 5:5) … he is implicitly compared with Socrates by the metaphor of the pilot (4 Macc 7:6) … young people regard him as their “teacher” (4 Macc 9:7).