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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Alice C. Linsley

Plato studied in Egypt for thirteen years under the Horite priest Sechnuphis. Many Greek philosophers had studied at Egyptian schools. Iamblichus wrote that Thales of Miletus insisted that Pythagoras had to go to Memphis to study because the Egyptian priests were a veritable source of knowledge and wisdom, especially when it came to the natural sciences, medicine and astronomy.


Judaism and Christianity draw from ancient Nilotic beliefs, religious practice, and cosmology. [1] The ancient Greeks were also influenced by Egyptian-Sudanese ideas, especially their observation of sidereal astronomy.

The Egyptians regarded the Sun as the symbol of the Creator because it was the source of light and life. [2] They observed that whereas the Sun is the source of light, the Moon merely reflects light. This is why the Bible criticizes Mesopotamian moon worship and why Abraham's father was regarded as an idol-worshipper (Joshua 24:2) since he maintained households in Ur and Haran, cities dedicated to the moon god Sin.

Note the binary distinction between the source of light (Sun) and the reflection of light (Moon). This observation is the basis for Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave. Those in the cave are able to see only passing shadows, not the true objects that cast those shadows. Yet they believe that the shadows are the real objects. They continue to do so until they turn toward the cave's opening and walk out of the cave.

Plato believed that the soul is eternal. He believed that the soul existed before it entered the body in the realm of eternal Forms. He believed that we are able to recognize a tree as tree or a mountain as mountain because our souls knew the true Forms of tree and mountain in that place of eternal Forms. What we experience in this world is ony a reflection of the true Forms which are in that realm where body-less souls exist. This seems strange to us today because we think that something exists because we see, taste, touch, hear or smell it. But while our senses suggest that something exists in the temporal realm with us, the senses don't explain how we re-cognize the essence of that object. Plato argued that we are able to re-know (re-cognize) the essence of an object because the soul knew it first as an eternal Form.

Might Plato have borrowed these ideas? It certainly seems possible. The ancient Egyptians were concerned about the afterlife because they believed the soul or "Ba" to be eternal. To avoid being counted among the damned of the afterlife, one had to live by a high moral code and standard of righteousness. In the Egyptian view, the soul or personality, called "Ba", lives after the body dies. Ba is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the 'Ka' in the afterlife.

The unification of Ba and Ka happened after death by means of the proper offerings, prayers, and mummification. There was a risk of dying the second death if the unified soul and life force were condemned in the afterlife. Dying the second death meant not becoming an "akh." Only as an akh could one enjoy the resurrection life.

Ka is the life that animates the body. Ba is the eternal soul and Ankh is the Spirit of Life. The Ankh for the ancient Egyptians was the hieroglyphic sign of life. It is symbolic of the Sun's daily course from east to west, with the loop representing the Sun.

The horizontal crossbar symbolizes the path of the sun from east to west. To put this in terms more familiar to Christians, life is possible where the Sun, the Creator's emblem, sheds light and warmth. The ancient Egyptians believed that these elements - Ka, Ba and Ankh - became separated at death. By mummification, with prayers and sacrifices, they attempted to keep the KaBa together and prepared to receive Ankh in the afterlife. [3]

Plato’s Application of Egyptian Cosmology

Here is but one example of how Plato's thinking was informed by Egyptian cosmology. Another example involves the development of the Greek alphabet from the Pro-Canaanite alphabet which was based on Egyptian hieroglyphics. To understand how the alphabet expresses ancient Egyptian-Sudanese cosmology, consider the Teth (or Tau) below.

The sphere with the cross represents the precession of the equinoxes (see image below). This would have been observed by primitive peoples who studied the heavens carefully. The cycle takes between 25,000-28,000 years to complete and is called "Earth's Great Year." [4]

Plato regarded a complete cycle as the "perfect year" because it meant the return of the planets and the fixed stars to their original positions. He wrote: "And so people are all but ignorant of the fact that time really is the wanderings of these bodies, bewilderingly numerous as they are and astonishingly variegated. It is none the less possible, however, to discern that the perfect number of time brings to completion the perfect year at that moment when the relative speeds of all eight periods have been completed together and, measured by the circle of the Same that moves uniformly, have achieved their consummation."

According to Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend there are over 200 myths from ancient cultures that refer to a Great Year.

Paul’s Application of Plato

Saint Paul enjoyed a classical Greek education in his hometown of Tarsus, a recognized center of learning, with a famous university that the Greek geographer Strabo considered better than the academies of Athens and Alexandria. The Stoic philosopher Athenodorus lived and taught in Tarsus before Paul was born, and Paul likely was acquainted with his teachings on the conscience. Athenodorus said that, “Everyman's conscience is his god.” The conscience does not occur in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), which instead uses the word “heart”. Paul makes abundant use of the Greek word for conscience in his letters to the early churches, so it is evident that he was influenced by Greek philosophy.

Paul's training in Greek philosophy is evident also in his Platonic allegorical approach to Old Testament figures. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:20 and Romans 5:12 in which Paul speaks o the first man, Adam, as imperfect and the second Man, Jesus Christ, as the perfect and the true Form of humanity. God made humans in God’s image and likeness, but sin marred that image so that the first is imperfect. In Platonism, types are imperfect reflections of the true eternal Forms. Paul is using Platonic language to explain Jesus Christ to Corinthians and Romans who would have been familiar with this language. He wants them to see the pattern of revelation.

Platonism is a binary system of interpretation and evaluation of information. It regards the symbol or “Form” as more real than the its material reflection, so Adam as symbol concerns Paul where he teases out the pattern of revelation not only in reference to Adam, but also in reference to Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and David.

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses a platonic approach to explain the relationship of Grace and Law. Sarah represents imputed righteousness (grace) while the bondservant, Hagar, represents the law. Paul writes, “There is an allegory here: these women stand for the two covenants.” A covenant was accompanied by a sign of blood. In this case, we have familial blood in Sarah as opposed to a contractual relationship in Hagar. The familial bond is always the stronger. So Sarah who was both mother of Isaac and sister to Abraham is the closer blood relative. Hagar, the Egyptian, is more distant. Sarah, as wife and sister, cannot be put away, but Hagar, as bondservant, can be put away and is. St Paul uses this binary method of interpretation to show that grace is better than law.

Using this same method, we are able to discover that Noah, Abraham, Moses and David are all types of Christ. All fail to accomplish righteousness, yet point to the One who does fulfill righteousness. Both Abraham and Moses met their wives at wells. So Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well speaks volumes. She is the symbol of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

The relationship of type as mere reflection of the true Form is found throughout the Bible. Consider these examples:

Abraham and Moses were blessed by noble priests: Abraham by Melchizedek, and Moses by Jethro (his father-in-law). Jesus was blessed by Simeon, a man of great faith who had yearned to see the day of Israel’s deliverance.

Using the Platonic approach, we find that Christ is foreshadowed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This is what Paul, John, Peter and the early Church Fathers found in the Scriptures. As with Isaac, Jesus’ sacrificial journey required three days. As with Isaac, Jesus carried the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. As with Isaac, the sacrificed one was bound. As with Isaac, the Son was sacrificed on a mountain. Only with Jesus, no ram was substituted (contrary to what the Quran claims) because Jesus is not the type that points to the Form. He is the true Form, if we accept the Church's teaching.


1. Genesis 1-12 is a record of Abraham's ancestors who were African. Abraham's mother was a Horite from Canaan. The Horites were devotees of Horus, who was called "Son of God." Their totem was the falcon so the oldest altars were built in the shape of the falcon. These have been found wherever the Sudra (Sudanese) established themselves.

2. The Sun was often spoken of a the God's chariot. The Sun was also associated with Horus, who was called "son of God". Horus is a very ancient type of Jesus Christ. Notr that the cross is evident in this symbol of Horus:

  The image shows a cross atop the head of the "Son of God". The seeing eye of Horus is shown above in the sun, which was his emblem. Other images associated with Horus show him with the body of a man and the head of a falcon. The falcon was a symbol of divine kingship. Horus or Har is called "lord of the sky". "Har" in Egyptian probably means "the one on high". The name appears on Egyptian hieroglyphs at the beginning of dynastic civilization (c. 3000 BC).

For more on ancient symbols that speak of God's nature go here.

3. Much of the ancient Egyptian view is preserved in Jewish mystical thought, known as "Kabalah", a term derived from "Ka Ba Ankh." Kabalah develops out of the ancient Egyptian concern with the eternal soul awaiting a resurrection body in a place of blessing. That is where one hopes to dwell until the coming of the Day of the Lord which is symbolizes in Kabalah by the number 9.

4.The precession of the equinox is observed as the stars moving across the sky at the rate of about 50 arc seconds per year, relative to the equinox. Conventional theory holds that this phenomenon is due to the gravity of the sun and moon acting upon the oblate spheroid of the earth causing the axis to wobble (the lunisolar theory). The alternative binary model holds that most of the observable is due to solar system motion, causing a reorientation of the earth relative to the fixed stars as the solar system gradually curves through space. (Read about the binary model here and about the lunisolar model here.)

Related reading:  Ancient Wisdom, Science and TechnologyThe Impact of Ancient Egypt on Greek ThoughtPetra Reflects Horite Beliefs


  1. The better descriptors are "Proto-Saharan" or "Nilo-Saharan" as the roots of ancient Egyptian civilization are found among those earlier cattle-herding peoples.

  2. Joseph, we cannot assume that everyone who lived in ancient Africa was "black." There were red and black Nubians and every genetic type. Different hair types, eyes, jaw and head shapes; all that is found in modern humans today. Africa is the point of origin of all humans. From the beginning there was great genetic and linguistic diversity in Africa.