Dissertation Introduction, Part 4: Plato and the Apostasy

By September 3, 2014

Just as Allen had condemned Kabbalah as Platonic, Mosheim and the encyclopedias also condemned Ammonius and Origen.  These sources went so far as to claim that these thinkers had corrupted Christianity.  Mosheim began the passage by declaring, ?A new sect of philosophers arose of a sudden, spread with amazing rapidity throughout the greatest part of the Roman empire ? and was extremely detrimental to the cause of Christianity.?  Mosheim then asserted, ?This new species of philosophy imprudently adopted by Origen and many other Christians, was extremely prejudicial to the cause of the gospel, and to the beautiful simplicity of its celestial doctrines.?  Ultimately, said Mosheim, this philosophy led to ?an unseemly mixture of platonism and Christianity.?[1]  Those who reprinted this passage reprinted these denunciations and Alexander Campbell in his introduction to Mosheim?s passage declared, ?Mosheim ? satisfactorily shows, that the first ?Theological Seminary? established at Alexandria in Egypt, in the second century, was the grave of primitive Christianity.?  Such, said Campbell, ?was the fountain, the streams whereof polluted the great mass of Christian professors, and completed the establishment of a paganized Christianity, in the room of the religion of the New Testament.?[2]  Mosheim and Campbell were repeating the popular notion that Platonism had corrupted primitive Christianity, a notion that Protestants had developed to attack both Catholics and Christian Platonists in their day (Chapters One and Three).[3]

As I argue in Chapter Three, Smith, though he promoted the notion that early Christianity had become corrupt, never adopted what I call here ?the Platonic-corruption model.?  Smith, like other Christian Platonists, embraced ideas that orthodox Protestants condemned.  The Protestants? condemnation of these ideas likely added to Smith?s belief that Protestant churches were lacking the full truth and were thus seriously flawed: the Protestants had rejected the higher truth that was staring them in the face.

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord predicts that when the Book of Mormon came forth, ?Many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.?  The passage then seemed to particularly condemn those who rejected additional truth from the Jews: ?Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible.  Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews??  Again, John Allen rejected the Jewish oral tradition and the Book of Mormon, and Mormonism generally, contained many similarities to Allen?s description of that tradition.  Finally, the passage condemned those who rejected truth outside the Bible: ?Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.?[4]  Again, as quoted above, Smith told Isaac Galland, ?We believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men? and Smith later declared in a speech that ?the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.?which I cannot subscribe to.?  Smith was not going to be cut off from the truth by Protestant proscriptions.

All of these descriptions said that these modes of thought?Kabbalah and Alexandrian Christianity?were fundamentally Platonic.  Mosheim said that Ammonius taught that the ancient philosophy was ?preserved in its original purity by Plato.?[5]  As I argue in Chapter Six, the evidence strongly suggests that Smith used Plato?s Timaeus in translating a portion of Egyptian papyri into what is now chapter three of his Book of Abraham.   This chapter has a number of passages that align very closely to Thomas Taylor?s translation of the Timaeus and Smith even used very similar language to Taylor?s Timaeus when describing the creation in his Nauvoo speeches.  Both Allen?s Modern Judaism and Ramsay?s Travels of Cyrus told myths of pre-mortal souls being sent to earth that had several elements from the Timaeus.[6]  Many of the mentioned encyclopedic sources referred to the Timaeus, and Dobson?s encyclopedia?s entry on the mysteries, a description that had much in common with Smith?s endowment ritual, said that the Timaeus was the cosmogony of the most ancient Egyptians.[7]  The Book of Abraham claimed that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians and a handful of early modern thinkers said that there were ancient divine accounts of the creation that were not included in the Bible.  If the Timaeus was the cosmogony of the most ancient Egyptians and Smith was seeking to discover what Abraham had taught those Egyptians, then it made sense to study the Timaeus for clues to know what God had originally told Abraham.  Again, the Book of Mormon said that plain and precious truths were missing from the Bible and Smith said he was willing to embrace truth from any source.  Such a willingness apparently included Plato himself.

 

[1] Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, 138, 143-44.

[2] Campbell, ?Essays on Ecclesiastical Characters,? 229.

[3] Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy, 77-113.

[4] 2 Nephi 29:3, 6, 10.

[5] Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, 141.

[6] Allen, Modern Judaism, 195-97; Ramsay, Travels of Cyrus, 254-59.

[7] ?Mysteries? in Encyclopaedia; or, a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature (Philadelphia, 1798), 12:593.

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