Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Biblical Wisdom or Greek Common Sense

I was listening to a reading of Plato's symposium and heard two interesting passages that precede similar Biblical passages. Here, first, is a quote from the Symposium (in the dialogue between Socrates and Diotima).
...but I say that they are seeking neither for the half of themselves, nor for the whole, unless the half or the whole be also a good. And they will cut off their own hands and feet and cast them away, if they are evil; for they love not what is their own, unless perchance there be some one who calls what belongs to him the good, and what belongs to another the evil. For there is nothing which men love but the good.
And the Biblical passage that creates an echo of it.
"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire." - Matthew 18:8

Again from the Symposium.
Diotima answered me as follows: "There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex; and manifold. All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and the processes of all art are creative; and the masters of arts are all poets or makers." "Very true." "Still," she said, "you know that they are not called poets, but have other names; only that portion of the art which is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and metre, is termed poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are called poets." "Very true," I said.

With the following from the letter to the Ephesians (noting that the word for workmanship is derived from the same root as for poem).
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10

Now, what can we conclude? I think there is a lot that can be speculated, but the key conclusion is that the Bible certainly isn't unique in the wisdom sayings and proverbs it communicates. In fact, some of these sayings are better thought of as plain old common sense. Although there is wisdom in the Bible, these sayings do not make it unique, or the source of all wisdom. I find myself agreeing with Paul (through Badiou) that what is central to the Christian message is not a collection of proverbs or aphorisms, but Resurrection.
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