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1 Timothy 2:11-12 — Plato and Paul, Teaching Against Loud Men and Women

June 7, 2012

In this post, we’re going to consider Plato’s and Paul’s teachings against loud men and loud women.  We’ll be looking at Plato’s Republic (aka his Politeia, or his Πολιτεία).  And we’ll be looking at Paul’s first letter to Timothy.



Want some homework before you read the post?  Then I’d recommend Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato: History of the Greek Mind and Rachel Held Evans’s “For the sake of the gospel, let women speak.”

In the former, you’ll see, Havelock claims that, in the Republic, through the voice of Socrates, “Plato so often describes the non-philosophical [Homeric] state of mind as a kind of sleep-walking” as “truly a form of hypnosis in which emotional automatism played a large part, as doing leads to doing and image precipitates image.”  The Ideal Philosopher King [a male of course] would ideally wake the Greek people from this hypnotic [woman-like] state.  Now, just to be clear, I’m marking the gender here; and in a moment I’m just going to let Plato’s Socrates mark the differences he and other Greek men marked in women.  Do understand, nonetheless, that Havelock shows how Socrates is working against the Homeric state of mind, that he works against what is in “the Greek epic” of Homer.  This includes the following (all noted on page 190 of Havelock’s book):

[The hypnotic] aspects conferred on the Greek epic [noted by Plato’s Socrates in the Republic included] powers of evocation, of grandeur, of psychological fulfillment, unique after their kind.  They could not supply the descriptive and analytic discipline [that a Philosopher King could], but they could [merely] supply a complete emotional life.  It was a life without self-examination [so was the claim], but as a manipulation of the resources of the unconscious in harmony with the conscious it was unsurpassed.

In the latter bit of homework, you’ll find that Held Evans announces the following … with the following, sure conclusion:

It’s time! Today we discuss one of the most controversial passages of Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where the apostle Paul writes that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”….  No one seems to know for sure what this passages means, and frankly, I’ve just about given up on figuring out exactly what’s going on with it. But here’s the thing: Anyone who says that Paul’s instructions regarding the women at Ephesus are universally binding because he appeals to the creation narrative to make his point can be consistent in that position only if they also require women in their church to cover their heads, as Paul uses a very similar line of argumentation to advocate that.

Held Evans is writing on these two difficult Pauline verses in the context of her weeklong blogging on mutuality, in which she’s invited others to “synchroblog.” (One of you messaged me on facebook to ask if I’d post too, then.)  In my post, below, I think you’ll see that I agree with Havelock and Held Evans.  Plato seems to rail against Homer’s heroes who act unconsciously, unlearnedly, and un-self-reflectively (like loud women).  And Paul’s letters really are difficult to understand (and I’ve quoted C. S. Lewis, and George Steiner, and Simon Peter here and here to say that too, as loudly and as repetitively as a blogger can).




Paul, writing letters and speaking in Athens, sure seems to know his Greek.  I think he’s read the Septuagint.  I think he’s read Plato’s Republic.  The Septuagint is as difficult as Paul’s letters.  And Plato may be too (as the homework above suggested).  Let’s look.

In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures that Paul quotes from so often, there’s a woman who has learned to be quiet (ἐν ἡμέραις ἡσυχίας μου).  She’s Queen Esther, who, in the Old Greek version anyway, says, “16 You know my necessity, that I abominate the sign of my pride and glory, which is upon my head in the days of my public appearance, and detest it as a menstruous rag, and wear it not in the days of my silence.”  Esther is not your typical literary hero.  She’s not your typical monarch.  Then again, she’s not your typical, loud woman.

Socrates discusses the typical loud woman.  He does so in Plato’s Republic, (around Stephanus page 605 section d line 8).  Here that is in the English translation by Joe Sachs [with Plato’s Greek in Socrates’s mouth put back in]:

“Listen on and consider.  Presumably, when the best of us [men] hear Homer or any of the others, the tragic poets, imitating one of the heroes when he’s in grief and indulging in a long extended speech of lamentations, or even singing a lament and beating his chest, you know that we [men] enjoy it, give ourselves up to it, and follow along in empathy, taking it seriously, and we praise as a good [male] poet whoever puts us [male listeners or readers of this poetry] in this [emotional] position the most.”

“I do know that; how could I not?”

“But whenever sorrow comes to any of us [men] personally, you realize [man] that we [men] pride ourselves, on the contrary, if we’re able to stay calm [ἡσυχίαν] and bear it, feeling this to be what belongs to a man [ἀνδρὸς], while the other response, which we were praising before [in Homer’s male heroes], is that of a woman [γυναικός].”

“I realize that,” he said.

“Well that’s a beautiful sort of praise, isn’t it,” I [Socrates] said, “for anyone [who’s a man] not to be disgusted but to enjoy it and praise it when he sees a man of that sort [who’s responding with outspoken emotion, as a woman], when he’d consider it unworthy of himself to be like such a person [such a calm, quiet man] but would be ashamed?”

What Paul, reading Plato, clearly would see in Socrates’s analysis of male Homeric heroes is that these men act like women.  In other words, the Homeric heroic men do not stay calm, but they grieve loudly and indulge in long extended speech.  Such womanly men of the Greek epic literature are not like the heroine Queen Esther in Greek, who does stay unusually calm and quiet.  The philosopher [male] King, also in contrast to the Homeric heroes and any other man of Greek manhood, is able to stay quiet and calm.

Being familiar with Esther’s strange manly quietness and with Socrates’s ideal man who is quiet, Paul would have no trouble writing to the Jewish-Greek man Timothy.  He’d have no trouble asserting, in a letter:

“Let the woman [γυνὴ] learn in silence [ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ] with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman [γυναικὶ] to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man [ἀνδρός], but to be in silence [ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ].”

Paul, to Timothy, in his letter, writes more.  Paul himself has read more.  So Timothy and Paul’s other readers too would do well to read widely:  Homer, Esther in Hebrew, Esther in Greek, Plato, Aristotle, Sappho, Havelock, Held Evans, other Synchrobloggers, those who oppose them without much quietness either.

In summary, then, my post is loudly indulging in a long extended assertion that Plato and Paul (and whoever added Addition C to the Greek version of the story of Queen Esther) are promoting that men and women stay calm, that they mutually learn in quietness.  Timothy, reading Paul’s letter, might have struggled with it as much as Simon Peter, or C. S. Lewis, or George Steiner, or Rachel Held Evans, or you, or I should.  Dogmatists, who would say the only good woman is a silent one in a church and home position under all men who can be loud, haven’t yet learned what Paul wrote Timothy.  They’ve not yet learned and have actually stopped reading.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012 5:58 pm

    Paul, writing letters and speaking in Athens, sure seems to know his Greek. I think he’s read the Septuagint. I think he’s read Plato’s Republic. The Septuagint is as difficult as Paul’s letters.

    Well, it is certain that Paul would have at least read or heard a Greek translation of the Pentateuch; certainly if his claim in Acts 23:6 is true. It seems somewhat disingenuous to make an equivalent statement about Paul reading Republic. The links between Paul and Plato would not emerge until Christian interest in Neoplatonism starting in the 3rd century. Certainly, there is no extant direct quotation or mention from Paul of Plato.

    Paul certainly read Greek scriptures. It is possible, but by no means certain, that he read some of Plato.


    I also think that there is some problem here with the equating of the difficulty of the Septuagint and the Pauline epistles. Assuming Paul really was a student of Gamliel, Paul would have learned a specific interpretive system for understanding the Jewish law. So, to Paul, the Pentateuch (whether he learned it in Greek, or in Aramaic, or in Hebrew) would not have the interpretive problems that Paul’s letters have to the modern reader. Because Paul’s letters are largely rhetorical and attempting to make an argument, they are of a completely different literary genre than what is found in the Hebrew Bible.

    When one approaches Paul’s letters fresh — without a specific theological framework, such as Lutheran interpretation — the works are quite difficult to understand on a conceptual level — separate from issues of grammar or speech level. Thus, we can have real debates about what Paul really meant. It is also the case that in many places, Paul appears to contradict himself. (It does not help that there is significant academic debate about which of the epistles are actually authored by Paul.)

    My point here is that comparing the difficulty of the Pauline epistles and the Septuagint is an apples and oranges type of comparison.


    Now the point here that I do think is significant and appropriate is that in reading both Plato and Paul, one needs a fair amount of cultural background to understand their message. This is certainly underappreciated by many readers of Plato. The question of the appropriate background for understanding Paul, on the other hand, has been arguably the major topic in Pauline studies since the second half of the last century.


    Finally, like many readers, I have difficulty reconciling Plato’s Socrates with Xenophon’s Socrates. Turning in particular to Xenophon’s Symposium, it seems that Socrates married an unusually outspoken, lively, energetic, and exciting woman, Xanthippe. Hardly a quiet gal at all.

  2. June 7, 2012 6:20 pm

    Points well made, Theophrastus! I think the difficulties in reading Paul and the difficulties of the Septuagint are indeed apples and oranges.

    You’re reminding me of George Steiner’s wonderful essay “On Difficulty” in his wonderful book On Difficulty, neither easy reads themselves. And yet he does make very clear that there are different sorts of readerly / writerly difficulties. When you say “that in reading both Plato and Paul, one needs a fair amount of cultural background to understand their message,” then I’m reminded how this is precisely the kind of thing Steiner gets at. One class of difficulty he mentions is what he calls “epiphenomenal” or “contingency” in which the understanding of the material written is contingent upon background knowledge. Readers of Homer and perhaps of the Septuagint might encounter something quite different, if still difficult. They might have a “tactical” or “strategic” difficulty or a “modal” difficulty or an “ontological” difficulty. I’m getting into too much, and too much off the top of my head, but there it is.

    And you are absolutely correct that Plato’s Socrates and Xenophon’s are two different men. Which might Xanthippe like the most? And how would Plato like Xanthippe?

  3. June 7, 2012 7:52 pm

    Paul certainly read Greek scriptures. It is possible, but by no means certain, that he read some of Plato.

    It may be safer to speculate that Paul was influenced by Plato’s writings, whether he read them directly or indirectly valued Plato’s style, rhetoric, and philosophical arguments manifested in the Greece of the first century. Willis Barnstone, in The Restored New Testament (pages 114 – 115), makes these observations:

    The letters to the Romans (probably his last letter) and the Corinthians show Paul at the peak of [Greek] thought and rhetorical magic. He achieves language magic in a demotic Greek (Koine), with a flare of the classical period while keeping to the simplified syntax and virtues of the vernacular. He has the high flow of Plato, who wrote in Attic Greek, his own less inflected tongue. To repeat my argument about the glory of Mark’s Greek, Paul’s work is not less effective for being composed in a vernacular development of Attic Greek any more than Michel de Montaigne is less for writing in French, the regional vernacular of Cicero’s Latin. Indeed, in terms of change, Paul’s Greek is closer to Plato than E. M. Forester’s English is to Shakespeare.

    George A. Kennedy compares the rhetorics of Plato, Aristotle, and Paul, finding similarities, in his New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism . And Ann Nyland, in her Source New Testament With Extensive Notes On Greek Word Meaning, finds numerous influences of Plato in and on the language of the New Testament. (I have not yet read it, but there’s also Plato and Paul: Or, Philosophy and Christianity, an Examination of the Two (1886) by James William Mendenhall to consider.)

  4. June 7, 2012 9:45 pm

    I think the question of genre-analysis of Paul is fraught with danger. For example, I have heard claims that he was influenced by Rabbinic writings (which ultimately became the Mishnah and Tosefta — somewhat plausible assuming Paul studied with Gamaliel); that he was influenced by Greek poets including Aratus (a plausible theory since Paul quotes Aratus in Acts 17:28); that he was influenced by Aesop; etc. Each of these theories has its support and there is doubtlessly some truth in all of that.

    But I think that the shadow of Augustine hangs heavy over reading Plato into Paul (particularly with regard to Paul’s mysticism). While there is also some truth as to limited parallels of Platonic mysticism (in the Republic, for example) and Paul, I think that point of view can be taken too far. Rather I think that it is more likely to be the case that there are some universals to all sorts of mysticism.

    For example, at a gross stylistic level, we can certainly say that Paul did not write like Plato (we have no dialogues from Paul) nor like Aratus (we have no hexameter from Paul) nor like the Rabbis (we have no records of carefully argued debates with all views represented). And, as the most obvious indicator, Paul was far more emotional in his expression than any of these writers. (One wonders, for example, given Paul’s rhetorical excesses, whether he might not be sort of person that you criticize. I can hardly imagine Plato’s Socrates, for example, screaming that he wishes his opponents would cut off their genitals.)

    I think that Paul was a sui generis religious genius — one of the most creative minds of Western civilization. His immense influence over the subsequent development of Christianity is testimony to the sheer power of his ideas. Nonetheless, I think it is his ideas rather than the expression of his ideas that attracts our attention. Is Paul really a master of Greek writing style — that should attract us ahead of Homer or Sophocles or Herodotus or Euripides or Aristophanes or Plato or Euclid or Sappho or Menander? Perhaps the argument can be made for Paul the stylist, but it seems to be a a minority argument.

    I can even make give a strong counter-argument against Paul as a Greek stylist: were Paul really a unique writer, would there be such a heated dispute against the authentic Pauline vs. the pseudo-Pauline writings? Notice, for example, that there is relatively good consensus on the authentic Shakespeare vs. the apocryphal Shakespeare — and that is the case even though we know for a fact that Shakespeare frequently collaborated in writing his plays.

  5. June 8, 2012 1:59 am

    I am impressed, when it comes to Paul, as to how much he reflects the teaching that is in the Psalms. Notably the pattern of Psalm 50 (Hebrew) is reflected in the shape of Romans 1 and 2.

    I think the reason for Paul’s impact is expressed in Acts 9:15-16 directly by a word from on high – that he is a chosen vessel, to bear the name, to suffer … Is this religious genius or madness? David escapes by feigning madness (Psalm 34:1) and invites us to taste and see (34:9, taste and madness are the same letters).

    I think there are many who teach us to read. Paul is one who teaches us how to engage the teaching and the Teacher. We were taught this same lesson in Torah and Psalms. These Scriptures ‘for our learning’ somehow have to be entered – but it is not by genius as if our wits could unveil … – rather by an obedience, a hearing, which cannot be explained, but can be invited.

    The muzzling of the oxen is something we too easily do and the Church has muzzled its women among many. I am grateful that Kurk and Suzanne so delve into things as to unfasten such muzzles.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 8, 2012 2:04 am

    There would very likely also be a consensus on which epistles were not written by Paul if there were not so much at stake. It is not possible to compare scholarship on Shakespeare and scholarship on Paul. There is so much emotional involvement in whether the epistles are of apostolic authorship or not. The discussion is simply not rational.

  7. June 8, 2012 11:37 am

    His immense influence over the subsequent development of Christianity is testimony to the sheer power of his ideas.

    Theophrastus, The stylistic distinctions you make between Paul’s (and the pseudo Pauls’) writings and the works of Plato, Aratus, and the Rabbis are clear. The influences of Plato (and perhaps Platonisms) are indeed the universalism of his philosophy/theology and of his global project of Christianizing his known world, which somewhat parallels the Pan-Hellenist project of Plato (through his Socrates). And Paul seems to play off of the Greek poets and playwrights to some extent, in the way(s) Plato’s Socrates does, although the former writes epistles and the later speaks in Dialektik.

    By far, the biggest Greek influence on Paul’s view of rhetoric, of logic, of the household, of oiko-nomiks, of men in hierarchy over women, of masters in hierarchy over slaves is Aristotle. And yet there are letters such as those to the Galatians and to Philemon that seem to re-vise, up-set, and over-turn the Greek orders of things with respect to gender, race, and class in the ekklesia and oikos.

    Notably the pattern of Psalm 50 (Hebrew) is reflected in the shape of Romans 1 and 2.

    Bob, Thanks for the kind words!

    Do you think that Paul — writing in Greek, not in Latin, not in Hebrew — prefers the pattern of the Hebrew Psalms (over the variant pattern of the Greek Septuagint Psalms)? Do you think he saw the pattern to be the same? His letter sent to Rome, in Greek, is to his fellow Jews (first) and then Greeks (if he’s “indebted” to both Greeks and to Barbarian Romans). He certainly seems to quote directly from LXX Psalms (five different ones? more?) and from LXX Habakkuk (or ΑΜΒΑΚΟΥΜ), LXX Isaiah, LXX Jeremiah, and LXX Ezekiel all in what we count now as the 1st 2 chapters of this letter.

    As far as unmuzzling of people goes, Paul ties his own successes to women, whom he publicly in this same letter acknowledges by name – Phoebe, Prisca, Miriam, Junia; and he greets many as fellows — the mother of Rufus, the sister of Nereus, and Julia.

    The discussion is simply not rational.

    Suzanne, Prooftexting one’s dogma, one’s positional hierarchy over another, is not rational. Flying in the face of the dogmatists, who would deny women power, is the history recorded in pages of the New Testament. Willis Barnstone, in his introduction of Paul as he translates the Greek into restored Hebraic English, reminds all:

    Paul, like Walt Whitman, loved to contradict himself…. Paul speaks frequently of many women as his founding companions in the churches, his most trusted collaborators; he appoints women to keep new missions in order; and in Romans he notes that he has asked Phoebe (Rom. 16.1) a deacon (an ordained minister) in the church located in Cenchrea, an eastern port of Corinth, to carry his letter to the Romans to Rome. Deacon Priscilla (Rom. 16.3) is associated with the same [Corinthian, Cenchrean] church, and he promotes one of his colleagues to his own missionary status, saying about Junia, later Saint Junia, that she and her companion Andronikos are “outstanding among the messengers [apostles]”:

    Greet Andronikos and Iounias,

    Who were in prison with me, Outstanding
    Among the messengers, even before me
    They were working furiously for the Mashiah.
    –ROM 16.7

    From Paul’s time, and in large part because of Paul, women were ordained to preach and hold high administrative offices. Those were his [pro-woman Jewish] actions nearly two thousand years before anything like them was beginning to be permitted in Protestant churches, and more frequently in Jewish synagogues. But insofar as Paul contributed to silencing and separating women, he was following the practice of not only earlier Jewish temple customs but also Hindu, Buddhist, and later Muslim hierarchies….

    [Elaine] Pagels elaborates how women were essential creators, not the poor creatures of the pseudo-Pauline letters. Whatever the ultimate messages are from the many-sided apostle angel of the new sect, Paul’s own voice is unmistakable. For those who love him, as this translator [Willis Barnstone himself] does, he [Paul] is the author of Milton’s Paradise Regained. For those who hear sick bombast [instead], well, Paul is too human to be all the time in tune. The big horns like Milton, Beethoven, Melville do break the rafters on occasion with their volume, but what incomparable beauty they possess. Paul’s authentic letters speak with authorial veracity and sing with verbal majesty.

  8. June 8, 2012 1:04 pm

    Hi Kurk, re Paul and pattern, I could not speak directly to his preference for Greek or Hebrew, but as to pattern, it is very clear that his own style is similar to the thinking behind Hebrew writing (whether or not it is represented in that first translation, the LXX). Romans can be read in the same patterned way I have learned to read the Psalms (on the instruction of R. Jonathan Magonet), with attention to word repetition and grammatical form. Pace those who say there are multiple endings, Romans is framed by the phrase ‘the obedience of faith’. They say Paul was trained in Greek rhetoric – for his 55 consecutive questions in 10 sections in Romans – but perhaps rhetoric is more than just the Greek mind, though it act as a fair whetstone.

    Barrett (1957, 1991) has a nice note on Romans 16:26: φανερωθέντος δὲ νῦν διά τε γραφῶν προφητικῶν κατ᾽ ἐπιταγὴν τοῦ αἰωνίου θεοῦ εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη γνωρισθέντος. I had never noticed the reference to the prophetic Scriptures. Granted that all Scripture (including the Psalms) in Greek or Hebrew was considered prophetic, this phrase ties the interpretation of the Anointed Jesus to the TNK. Manifestation is through these Scriptures. While such a note may be considered anti-Marcion and therefore late, it is more likely illustrative of Paul’s dependence by the Spirit on what we know today as the OT of the Bible or TNK. How vital it is then that Christians should learn how to read them, with the same Teacher, so that they might knowe the Spirit that Anoints in TNK and provides us with that pattern, the history of Israel in its extended conversation about God, the good, and governance, through which we can learn the same love as is shown to the elect.

    Sorry – it is too large a meal for one sentence.

  9. June 8, 2012 2:51 pm

    By far, the biggest Greek influence on Paul’s view of rhetoric, of logic, of the household, of oiko-nomiks, of men in hierarchy over women, of masters in hierarchy over slaves is Aristotle.

    It is a bit tricky to assert this — let me break it into two parts:

    logic/rhetoric — Development of logic/rhetoric took place at many time and many places independently — some major examples include India, China, etc. Turning to the Hellenistic world, certainly pre-Socratics such as Zeno and Pythagoras developed logic; and rhetoric was in full form as early as Pericles Funeral Oration and Homer. Similarly, there was a full development of Rabbinic logic (we can fairly ask how influenced this was by Greek logic, but it did develop in certain ways) and there are a large number of Hellenistic Jewish writings that seem to have primary influences other than Aristotle (Josephus, for example, was arguably influenced more by Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and other Greek historians than by Aristotle.)

    So, I am not quite sure that your claim here is precise: if you say Paul was influenced by Greek cultural generally, and Aristotle was part of that mix, then I would heartily agree with you. If you say that Paul was influenced by Aristotle particularly, I think you need to demonstrate it.

    societal attitudes — Acceptance of female inferiority and slavery were widespread throughout the ancient world, and certainly in the Ancient Mediterranean. Here, I do not think you have given evidence of specific influence of Aristotle — indeed, one can argue that in this area, Aristotle himself was arguably not an innovator but merely a chronicler of general social prejudices. (We do not regard Shakespeare, for example, as an innovator in developing misogyny [Taming of the Shrew], anti-semitism [Merchant of Venice], or racism [Othello]; rather we regard him as a chronicler of Elizabethan prejudices.) Paul could have just been a man of his age; and not necessarily specifically drawn to his views by Aristotle.

    And yet there are letters such as those to the Galatians and to Philemon that seem to re-vise, up-set, and over-turn the Greek orders of things with respect to gender, race, and class in the ekklesia and oikos.

    This is one of the most interesting parts of Paul — that he seems to in some places he transcends the current social order.


    You also mentioned universalism as something that Paul picked up from Aristotelian pan-Hellenism. It is true that Paul is a universalist, and Alexander was also a universalist. But universalism is a widely held tenet (one could point out that universalism is universal).

    Certainly universalism seems to be an underlying tenet held by every conqueror from ancient times to modern; and an element of many different religions and philosophical systems. If one thinks that his philosophy is best, one often wants everyone to adopt it. Paul’s universalism, it seems to me, is quite different from Alexandrian universalism, since Alexander was interested in universalism by force — subjugation.

    While Paul sometimes uses imagery of being a slave to God or Jesus, his emphasis seems to fall more within the scope of אור לגויים, Light Unto All Nations, following the conception of the prophet Isaiah. While Paul sometimes uses the language of subjugation, the actual content of his words are more about a type of freedom offered through his messiah.

    Furthermore, even here things are muddled. In places, Paul seems to embrace esotericism (and he himself seemed to have a mystical experience on the road to Damascus), so I have to wonder whether Paul was a through-and-through universalist or whether he was a hybrid universalist-mystic — holding that some aspects of his religion were universal while others were remained esoteric. This latter reading is of course quite close to the Calvinist idea of election — which certainly remains one of the major ways that Paul is read today.

    So, yes, Paul was a universalist. Was he an Aristotelian-Alexandrian universalist? I am not sure.

  10. June 8, 2012 3:13 pm

    re Esoteric Paul // ‘mystical’ experience.
    Paul’s experience seems extensive and continuing per 1 Cor 12-14 and 2 Cor – the boasting section. In this I think he is like the poet of Psalm 139, but he has a precise form of words to further the Light to the Nations (e.g. Rom 8:13) to let them enter the same continuous praise (1 Thess 5:16-18).

    I wonder if I can count it failure or pragmatism that his writing or his scribe’s writing in Ephesians and Colossians references and reinforces the household code.

  11. June 8, 2012 5:40 pm

    It’s always a good thing not to confuse logic/rhetoric with attitudes of society, and you’re right in this discuss to treat them separately. Nonetheless, the logic (and rhetoric) of Aristotle cannot be so easily treated apart from his sexism. Sister Prudence Allen carefully studies the impact of Aristotle’s epistemology on his concept of female, and she concludes:

    Aristotle stands out from his predecessors in that he gave a complete rationale for his theory of sex polarity. He developed reasons and arguments for the philosophically significant differentiation of the sexes and for the superiority of man over woman. Therefore, he is correctly identified as the founder of the sex polarity position. . . . [H]e also laid the groundwork for another theory of sex identity in his philosophy of definition.

    Similarly, in his review of Greek literature from Homer to Aristotle, F. A. Wright determines that Aristotle was not just a product of his day, but that his logic, his reasoned judgement led to and then produced a novel sort of prejudice against females:

    In every department of civilized existence the influence of Aristotle must still be taken into account, and his judgment of women’s positions in society–a view sincerely held and on the whole most temperately expressed–has had far more effect on the world than have the idealist theories of Plato. . . . In Aristotle’s time, for reasons which this brief survey of Greek literature has, perhaps, made plain, the facts of women’s nature were certainly not sufficiently comprehended. . . [A]ny true appreciation of a woman’s real qualities, . . . Aristotle, by the whole trend of his prejudices, was opposed. His mistake was that he failed to realise the moral aspects of feminism. A nation that degrades its women will inevitably suffer degradation itself. Aristotle lent the weight of his name to a profound error, and helped to perpetuate the malady which had already been the chief cause of the destruction of Greece.

    When one reads Aristotle’s Πολιτικά (even in comparison with and contrast to) Plato’s Πολιτεία, then one finds a man-over-woman hierarchy born out of syllogistic logic. Wright spells this out in detail, but also summarizes generally, saying: “… Aristotle never hesitates
    to criticise his former teacher [Plato], and it is a curious point how far his low estimate of women is not the result of the pupil’s unconscious reaction against a master’s enthusiasm. A great part of the Politics is, in fact, a criticism of the Republic… ”

    When you read Aristotle’s Περὶ Ρ’ητορική (in comparison with and contrast to) Plato’s Μενέξενоς, then you see how the logician classes mere rhetoric as a counterpart of mere dialectic (both lesser than logic) and how he treats and classes women (with respect to both rhetoric and dialectic) as inherently lesser than men. Wright does not treat the differences between Aristotle’s Rhetoric and the rhetorical dialogues of Plato. Nonetheless, as we all know, Plato’s Socrates in the dialectical Menexenus pokes fun at the woman rhetorician Aspasia, at first, but praises her ultimately and gives her voice equal to men’s.

    My point, then, is that Paul both uses logic (even the word λογικὴν) and rhetoric, and we find him setting men over women in political (ekklesiatical) position and in knowledge and in speech. Pauline literature ends up sounding much more influenced by Aristotle’s logic/rhetoric/social-attitude than by Plato’s.

    (In my readings of the differences between the pan-Hellenisms of Plato’s Socrates and of Aristotle, and of the ultimate conquests of Alexander, I have trouble distinguishing them other than by their respective politics. Plato stomachs the Spartans far more than Aristotle can, but they share a universal disdain for the Persians and other barbarians. Paul is hardly so forceful and is much more rhetorical in his world-wide gospel spreading, church building mission. One of the most interesting evidences of his universalist rhetoric is his public quotation of a line of Aratus, while in Athens; there he also seems to quote a line from Epimenides. One of the most curious contradictions of such universalism is Paul’s quotation of another line of the same poem by Epimenides, in his letter to Titus, where he seems to bash the men of Crete.)

    I really like how Barnstone gives Paul humanness (or forgives Paul for it). He says, “Paul is too human to be all the time in tune.” And “Paul, like Walt Whitman, loved to contradict himself.” (This is a particularly funny thing for Barnstone to say, given how Jorge Luis Borges praised Barnstone earlier, comparing him to Whitman: “Four of the best things in America are Walt Whitman’s Leaves, Herman Melville’s Whales, the sonnets of Barnstone’s The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets, and my daily corn flakes–that rough poetry of morning.”) If these literary figures were not so powerful, with their allure of perfection and with their many readers using them to prooftext awful dogma, then I think it’d be easier more regularly to call them contradictory humans, like some of us.

  12. June 8, 2012 7:03 pm

    JK: I am quite fond of the Epimenides quote, which in my opinion is the single most interesting logical point (now, speaking of logic as a discipline) in the entire New Testament.

    As you may know, it is that that quote — the so-called liar’s paradox — that caused Russell to bring Frege’s brilliant system of foundational logic (in Begriffsschrift) to a crushing halt (Russell asked Frege to consider the set of all sets that do not contain themselves as members.) This is arguably the most important demarcation point in classical logic versus modern logic.

    And that line has been a source of amusement for writers from Callimachus to Augustine, from Cervantes to Chaucer, from Robert Burton (of Anatomy of Melancholy fame) to Lewis Carroll, from Borges to Beckett.

    How much poorer our world would have been if the Cretan poet had not exclaimed that all Cretans are liars.


    I fear that time is creeping up on me fast, and I will need to wait until later to address the more substantive issues you raise in your latest comment.

  13. JKG permalink
    June 9, 2012 10:15 am

    Thanks for the wonderful comment. I think you should expand your thoughts on this poem and that line into a blogpost.

    (Here’s the fun and funny treatment Held Evans gives the quoted line in her blogpost, linked to above:

    We forget sometimes that the epistles are just that: letters.

    In our rush to find proof texts to support our various positions, we tend to skip past the initial greetings that designate the recipients of the message— “to the church of God in Corinth,” “to the churches in Galatia,” “to God’s holy people in Ephesus,” “to Timothy,” “to Titus”—or those odd little details that remind us that we are essentially listening in on someone else’s conversation–“I have made a fool of myself,” “I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else,” “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus in Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” (You don’t see that last one on many desk calendars.)

    I’ve never once heard a sermon preached on the passage in which Paul tells Titus “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12–13), and yet, if these words are truly the inerrant and unchanging words of God intended as universal commands for all people in all places at all times, then the Christian community needs to do a better job of mobilizing against the Cretan people, perhaps constructing some “God Hates Cretans” signs!

  14. June 11, 2012 1:44 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion that I write a longer post on the Epimenides paradox. Maybe I will.


    As you know, Menexenus is an odd Socratic dialogue in many ways (and is also oft-cited by Aristotle, so it is probably authentic.) I think of Menexenus as more of a literary work than an actual statement of philosophy.


    But I’m still not convinced by the claim of a link between the Pauline epistles and Plato-Aristotle. There was simply too much rhetoric by that time period (including rhetoric from Palestinian and Hellenistic Jewish sources) to draw a distinct connection. Similarly, in Paul’s attitude for women — I am not sure I find anything new here. For example, the head-covering rule was fairly common in Jewish practice at the time.

    And while Paul appeals to logic, Aristotle would find Paul’s logic faulty in a number of places. (Paul’s attempt to find proof-texts, for example, is hardly a move that either Plato or Aristotle would make.)

    Contrast Paul with Philo, for example. Philo directly references and quotes Plato, calling him “the most holy Plato.” Or, compare Paul with Justin Martyr, who extensively quoted Plato (and considered himself a Platonist prior to his conversion to Christianity). Each of these are near in time and culture with Paul, and show a more typical indication of influence by Plato.

    But for me, the claim that Paul was influenced by Plato or Aristotle is — like the claim that the Fourth Gospel is influenced by Plato — an intriguing hypothesis. We don’t really have sufficient evidence to put it to the test.

    Nonetheless, it is certainly the case that Christianity would be deeply affected by both Plato and Aristotle — through such influential philosophers as Augustine, Anselm, Peter Abelard, and Aquinas, (And that is just the ones whose name starts with an A.) So, regardless of whether Paul was actually influenced by Plato and Aristotle, the lens through which we read Paul is inextricably tied to Plato and Aristotle.

  15. June 11, 2012 2:12 pm

    f these literary figures were not so powerful, with their allure of perfection and with their many readers using them to prooftext awful dogma

    Thanks for the conversaation

    Re perfection and awful doctrine, would that the perpetrators would read the text with love and the referee

  16. June 11, 2012 5:44 pm

    We don’t really have sufficient evidence to put [the intriguing hypothesis that Paul was influenced by Plato or Aristotle] to the test.

    You’re right, of course. But I’m not sure what “sufficient” has to look like. Let me reassert my claim that Paul seems far more Aristotelian than he is Platonic. Paul does seem to follow Aristotle in his sexist use of sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη] differently for men and women. Paul does concern himself with what Nature would tell men about hair length, as does Aristotle. Natural born race and family purity for the men, Paul and Aristotle, seem to be a similar concern. Maybe the evidence isn’t what we need or want it to be, but Paul’s approaches to men (vs women), to logic (vs rhetoric and dialectic and such), and to elitist centricism (vs feminisms and pluralisms and multiculuralisms) seem suspiciously like Aristotle’s.

    These things I’ll probably continue to harp on, too much, from time to time. But I really do hope you’ll find the time and the inclination to post on the Epimenides paradox!

    (On whether to read the Menexenus “as more of a literary work than an actual statement of philosophy,” I’ll have to ponder more. It is one of the few treatises by any writer to get at the voice of Aspasia. When compared with writings about her by Aristophanes and Xenophon, there’s little, I think, that would make Plato’s less philosophical. All, of course, are historiography to an extent. How we know of Socrates, we know of Aspasia, for neither rhetor/rhetorician wrote anything that’s extant.)

    Thank you.


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