DID JESUS READ PLATO? a phantasy
D. R. Khashaba
Did Jesus read Plato? This is not very likely but it is not impossible. Palestine was under Roman rule. Greek was the official language for the Roman Empire then and continued to be so for some more time. All of the Roman officials read Greek and some of them were immersed in Greek literature. All Hebrews of some rank must have known at least enough Greek to commune with the Roman officials. The odd one here and there may have mastered Greek and read Homer and Sophocles and Plato. What I have written in these lines stands to reason and is in harmony with historical records. What follows is purely imaginary.
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The boy Jesus passes by the house of a Roman official. Through the open window he hears the Roman reading a Greek text, then translating, sentence by sentence, into Aramaic for the benefit of a companion. The boy makes a habit of loitering by the Roman official’s open window. One day he listens, intrigued, to the Roman reading a Greek text, translating sentence by sentence, then again repeating the Aramaic translation continuously. He listens attentively:
Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonour to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that?
Soc. Then we must do no wrong?
Cr. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all?
Cr. Clearly not.
Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil?
Cr. Surely not, Socrates.
Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many-is that just or not?
Cr. Not just.
Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?
Cr. Very true.
Soc. Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him. [Plato, Crito. tr. Jowett.]
On another occasion Jesus hears the Roman translating into Aramaic a text affirming that it is better to suffer wrong than to perpetrate wrong. [Plato, Gprgias.] The words fill Jesus with a marvellous elation. The words sink deep into the boy’s soul, strike root, and bear fruit, until one day as a young man he sits on a rock with a gathering of peasants crouched on the ground before him, and a curious Pharisee standing aside, and the young man speaks:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Many hear the words and wonder what they may mean. But the words sink deep into the heart of one or two. A few decades later someone writes the words in what has come to us as the Gospel according to Matthew. But Matthew, or the one that Matthew followed was too clever to stop there. He collected some more clever sayings filled with fire and brimstone and appended them to yhe words of Jesus.
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Cairo, 20 October 2014.