The concept of the soul in Plato and in early Judeo-Christian thought
Newman, Lester I
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Chapter 1: Introduction The purpose of this thesis is to study two great historical concepts of the soul and to show them to be, not only in marked contrast to one another, but also in strong opposition to one another. These two important historical concepts of the soul are; the Platonic concept , as found in the writings of Plato; and the early Judeo-Christian concept, as recorded in the canons of the Old and New Testaments. They represent two entirely different religious and ethical worlds; yet have come into contact with one another, have mingled together freely, and have greatly influenced one another. Certain of the very early Church Fathers saw the tremendous distinction between the Platonic concept of the soul and the early Judeo-Christian concept, and expressed strong opposition to the encroachment of the Platonic concept of the "soul" into the life and teachings of the early Christian community. These men, however, were replaced by other Church Fathers who employed Platonic philosophy to interpret Christian theology to the early Christian Church, a process still going on in this modern era. This thesis is concerned with a careful study of all the writings of Plato and to seek out from the original sources; themselves, exactly what Plato taught concerning the soul. In order to ascertain the true Platonic concept of the "soul," in his writings have been studied according to the various periods of his writings. According to the eminent Platonic scholar, Lutoslawski, Plato's writings can be divided into four very definite periods: the Socratic period, the first Platonic period, the middle Platonic period, and the latest Platonic period. The purpose of this thesis has been to study the use of the term "soul" in each one of the periods of his writings to determine how he commonly uses the word "soul," how consistent he is in his use of the term, and how his use of "soul" in the latest of his writings compares with the earliest of his works. From this study, this thesis has sought to define the Platonic concept of "soul" from its most consistent, most common, and latest usage. This thesis has also been concerned with and equally meticulous study of the early Judeo-Christian concept of the term "soul." In order to get an understanding of its usage in the early writings of the Jews and Christians, the canons of both the Old and New testaments were studied book by book. In the canon of the Old Testament, every occurrence of the Hebrew world for "soul," nephesh, was studied in its context, and in the canon of the New Testament every occurrence of the Greek word for "soul," psuche, was studied within its context. Certain related Hebrew terms were also studied, such as, ruach, neshamah, and leb to see their relatedness to nephesh. Also studied were certain related Greek terms to psuche, such as pneuma and zoe to ascertain their usage and their relatedness to psuche. It was found that these terms cannot be used interchangeably, for their meanings are very different. Chapter II: The Platonic Concept of The Soul In the four periods of Platonic though: the Socratic Period, the early period, the middle period, and the latest period, a study of Plato's usage of the term "soul" reveals that he uses "soul" in at least six philosophical ways: (1) "soul" used in an ethical-moral-philosophical sense, 308 times; (2) "soul" used in a philosophical-religious sense, 66 times; (3) "soul" used in an epistemological sense, 36 times; (4) "soul" used in a socio-politico sense, 17 times; (5) "soul" used in a metaphysical sense, 354 times; (6) "soul" used in an aesthetic sense, 19 times. There were a number of times when "soul" was used in such an obscure sense it was impossible to classify its philosophical meaning. The frequent use of the term "soul" and the many philosophical uses that Plato has for it, indicates its importance to Platonic thought. In fact, this study reveals that the metaphysics, the ethics, and the epistemology of Plato are based squarely on his definition of psuche. In light of Plato's philosophical uses of the term "soul," it is possible to define the term from its most common, consistent, and latest usage. Plato defines the soul as a simple, pure, unorganized, uncompounded, invisible, rational entity. He says that the soul is simple in its true nature and cannot be composed of many elements, that the soul is pure in its original, divine state, and that any impurity in the soul is from its contact with the earth. The soul is not visible, only to mind. It is rational, for it is that which true knowledge is concerned. Plato describes the soul as divine intelligence nurtured upon true knowledge. Plato, through usage, also defines the soul as pre-existent, supreme, and self-moving. Plato's theory of knowledge is based upon the reminiscence of the soul of its former existence, for, to Plato, the soul is before all things and, has a first hand knowledge of the world of Pure Forms. Plato defines the soul, through usage, in still another way; as being immaterial, fixed, divine, indestructible, and immortal. Plato argues that the soul is of such and indestructible nature that not even evil can destroy the soul, for the soul, in its very essence, is immortal, and, hence, indestructible. Plato also maintains that souls are fixed, so that the number always remains the same; therefore, the soul must be immortal by nature. In this connection, he also stresses the simple, pure, uncompounded nature of this soul and its pre-existence before all things. Chapter III: The Biblio-Judeo Concept of the Soul The Hebrew word for "soul" is nephesh. This word is used over 700 times in the thirty-nine books of the canon of the Old Testament. Every occurrence of the word "soul in the Revised Standard Version is the Hebrew word nephesh, but with four exceptions: Psalm 57:8, 108:1, Proverbs 23:16, and Lamentations 1:20. The reader can know that he is reading the Hebrew word nephesh each time he reads the word "soul," outside of the four mentioned passages, but what he does not know is that the word nephesh in over three hundred occurrences, is not translated "soul" but is rendered by over thirty different words and phrases, such as "life," "breath of life," "person," "persons," "self," "heart," "mind," "creature," and a host of other such words and expressions. Within the same verse nephesh will often be translated two or three different ways, making it extremely difficult for the average reader to know that the same terms is being used each time. If the term were translated consistently each time by the word "soul," it would be possible for the English reader to come to a better understanding as to its definition by its usage, but, under the circumstances, this is very difficult, if not impossible. The careful reader of the Bible should have the right and privilege of coming to his own conclusions, determining his own definitions, and formulating his own doctrine as to the Biblical use of the term "soul." This opportunity afforded the interested reader in this thesis, through the listing of all the occurrences of the Hebrew word for "soul," nephesh, in the Old Testament of the Revised Standard Version. From a careful study of all 754 occurrences of nephesh in the Old Testament, the reader observes that the soul is to be defined by the following terms: (1) As being created a moving, living organism by God. This is in direct contrast to the uncreated, self-moving, unorganized Platonic soul. (2) As being the highest creation of God--the whole man. All moving, living organisms are souls, but the highest organism created by God is man. this created man, "soul," is spoken of as being created a complex, compounded, rational, organized entity, in direct contrast to the Platonic simple, uncompounded, unorganized soul. The Old Testament canon also defines the soul, through usage, as being material substance, mortal, and destructible in nature, but also a candidate for resurrection and eternal life. This is in direct contrast to the immaterial, immortal, indestructible soul of Plato's. The though of a bodily resurrection of life everlasting, through a might act of God, is also completely foreign to Platonic thinking. Chapter IV: The Biblio-Christian Concept of the Soul The Greek word for "soul" is psuche. The word is used 111 times in the canon of the New Testament, following the manuscript Codex Vaticanus. In Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible there is no other word, other than psuche, that is translated "soul." However, the words psuche is not always translated "soul," but, rather, in a great number of ways. Some of the words and phrases used to translate psuche, other than "soul," are: "life," "lives," "mind," "minds," "persons," "us," and "human being." Out of the 111 times that psuche is used in the New Testament, it is translated "soul" only forty times. The remaining seventy-one times the English reader is left uninformed that the word he is reading is the Greek word psuche. Since the translation of the Greek word, psuche, is done in so many different ways, it is of real help to the English reader to have a complete listing of each occurrence of psuche, as in this thesis. A study of them shows that psuche, from its usage, defines itself as being created a moving, living organism by God, the same as in the Old Testament. Usage also defines psuche as the highest creation of God--the whole man. This man is created, complex, compounded, material, organized, and rational. It is also mortal, subject to death, but is also a candidate for resurrection and eternal life through a mighty act of God. As can readily be seen, the definition of "soul" in both the Old and New Testaments are the same and in strong opposition to the Platonic soul. Chapter V: The Platonic and Early Judeo-Christian Concept of "Soul" Compared and Contrasted In the writings of the early Church Fathers, of the first two centuries of the Christian era, we find strong opposition to the Platonic concept of "soul" as it tried to creep into the theology of the early Christian church. They withstood the Platonic philosophy of the soul being subversive to the very essence of Christianity, with its doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul, as compared to the Christian belief of mortality of each soul and each soul in need of a bodily resurrection in order to obtain eternal life. Words and phrases which came into common use later in the history of the Christian church, were not used by the very early Church Father. We refer to such familiar terms as "the immortal soul," "the immortal man," "the never-dying soul," "the deathless being," "endless sin and misery," "unending torment," "the death that never dies," and other such familiar expressions that clearly have their roots in Platonic thought. It is thought by many that the Platonic doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul came into the teachings and theology of the early Christian church naturally and easily, but this is not so, for the opposition was great to begin with from the early Church Fathers, whose keen insight saw that it was subversive to the basic doctrines of the Christian Church and that its philosophy belonged to an entirely different religious and ethical world. The chief media, for the entrance of Platonism into Christianity, was through the voluminous writings and great preaching of the Bishop of Hippo, Aurelius Augustine, in the fourth century, Augustine took Plato's doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul, disengaged it from the metempsychosis and transmigration and gained for it that general credence which it has held to this day. Chapter VI: Conclusions When Plato speaks of the soul, the thought of the immortality of the soul is always present, immortality being the natural endowment of the soul, due to its divine origin having been eternally pre-existent. All that is required of the soul, once it has entered the prison of the body, is to purify itself and set itself free from its bondage of the sense world and return back to its divine origin in the super-sensible world. The world of natural immortality, then, is its true home and its normal condition. The natural immortality of the soul was also the basis upon which Plato based his metaphysics, ethics, and his theory of knowledge. It lay at the heart of the Platonic concept of the soul. This study has also shown that the idea of the natural immortality of the soul is completely foreign to the use of nephesh and psuche in the Bible. Here on reads that the soul was created out of dust by its Creator and returns to dust at its death. The very fact that God called the first man Adamah, "earth-made," indicates the earthly nature of the Biblical soul, as contrasted to the heavenly origin of the Platonic soul. If man was made a living soul by his Creator our of dust and the "breath of life," and if at death he returns to the ground from whence he was taken, and his "breath" (spirit) goes back to God from whence it came, then it must be necessary for the two to be reunited in order that man might live again. Not only resurrection, but resurrection of the body for life everlasting, is central to the teachings of the Christian faith. The thought of a bodily resurrection to life everlasting is completely foreign and unnecessary to Platonic thought. It is at this point that the two great concepts of "soul" meet and forever part company.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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