Plato’s Good and the Olive Leaf Revelation

By October 25, 2016

Scholars have noted the Neoplatonic nature of some of Joseph Smith’s revelations.  The beginning of D&C 88 (The Olive Leaf) sounds particularly so.  In fact, it has numerous striking similarities to Plato’s description of the Good from his allegory of the cave.  The following is Thomas Taylor’s 1804 translation of the Republic 571b-c.[1] Like DC 88:6-13, it mentions ascent and says that the Good (like Christ) is the source of light, the light of the sun, and of human understanding.

If you compare this region … to the soul’s ascent into the intelligible place; you will apprehend my meaning…. In the intelligible place, the idea of the good is the last object of vision, and is scarcely to be seen; but if it be seen, we must collect by reasoning that it is the cause to all of everything right and beautiful, generating in the visible place, light, and its lord the sun; and in the intelligible place, it is itself the lord, producing truth and intellect.

In my dissertation, I argue that Smith seemed aware of Plato and may have used his Timaeus.[2] The above quote suggests Smith may have been aware of Plato even earlier.[3]

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[1] The Works of Plato, viz. His Fifty –Five Dialogues, trans. Thomas Taylor, 5 vols (1804, reprint; AMS, 1979), 1:360-61.

[2] Stephen J. Fleming, “The Fulness of the Gospel: Christian Platonism and the Origins of Mormonism,” chapter 6. See here and the comments.

[3] Since I see Plato as rather Mormon, I quite like the idea. “Study it out” (DC 9:8) suggests such a process.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Out of curiosity Steve, have you looked at early 19th century translations of any of the hermetic works Joseph might have been exposed to?

    Comment by Clark — October 26, 2016 @ 11:15 am

  2. Clark, no I haven’t. Do you mean the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius? Just plugged it into Google books and I’m not seeing much.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 26, 2016 @ 11:38 am

  3. Looks like there were translations in the 1650s, but I hadn’t seen the a lot of big similarities in those texts (other than “God is an immortal man, man is a mortal God”), so I had spent much time there. But maybe I should try to check all the boxes. (Lots of boxes!).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 26, 2016 @ 11:42 am

  4. I find Book 15 has interesting parallels to D&C 93, although the rhetorical phrasing isn’t the same.

    Comment by Clark — October 28, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

  5. Thanks, Clark, I’ll take a look. Charles Buck’s entry on Origen has some similar wording–Christ and “fulness” etc–and so does one of Jane Lead’s revelations.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 28, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

  6. Great fun, Steve. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — October 29, 2016 @ 10:04 pm

  7. […] I’m no expert on this esoteric and long debated topic, but in the posts that follow, I’m going to put up some musings on Plato’s secret teaching and some interesting similarities to Christianity, ones that Joseph Smith may have been aware of. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Plato’s Unwritten Doctrines and Christianity, Part 1: Introduction — November 29, 2016 @ 12:12 pm

  8. For what it’s worth, here’s the list of books Joseph would have had access to in the early years/Palmyra era. Of course by Nauvoo he would have had some more options, it’s interesting to wonder what English translations were available of those early philosophers on the frontier: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2129&context=byusq

    Comment by acw — November 29, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

  9. Thanks for posting that, acw. Taylor’s Plato translation was published in London in 1804 and while not on the Manchester list, the list did have quite a few titles of books published in London before and after that date, indicating that such books did cross the Atlantic.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — November 30, 2016 @ 9:16 am


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