Historical facts known about Socrates, some of the difficulties inherent in endeavouring to unravel the historical Socrates, and quotations from the Bahá'í Writings.
This is a message from the Research Dept. to an unidentified addressee, of which I was provided a copy. I was sent both an email version and a paper version, and I constructed an HTML version incorporating the formatting in the paper version and hypertext links to the footnotes and sources. The section numbering begins at 2 because another question was asked on which the Research Dept. had no information, so that part of the communication was not worth posting. [-R.W., 1998]
Socrates in History and the Bahá'í Writings
Extract from a Memorandum Prepared by the Research Department
at the Instruction of the Universal House of Justice
22 October 1995
1.1 Bahá'í Perspective
To provide a background for considering ...'s
question about whether the Universal House of Justice can confirm the statements
in the Bahá'í Writings about Socrates, we attach a compilation
of all the available extracts in the English language which pertain to
Socrates [online here] and which also serve to highlight some of the difficulties inherent
in endeavouring to unravel the historical Socrates. From a study
of the excerpts in this compilation, we call attention to the following
The Bahá'í Writings assert that the Greek philosophers were
influenced by religion, that they had contact with Hebrew sages.
With the flowering of the reign of Solomon, the Greek philosophers journeyed
to Jerusalem to learn from the sages and to acquire an understanding of
Israelite law. See, for example,  and
The Bahá'í Teachings indicate that Socrates travelled to
Palestine and Syria  
and, more generally, to the Holy Land  .
The information about Socrates is derived from what "is recorded in eastern
histories". It includes "many facts which are not included in Jewish
The histories of the times before Alexander the Great tend to be very confused
and unreliable, and even when the field of history "became an orderly and
systematized discipline", the problem of giving precise dates for events
in the remote past remained a difficulty  
In relation to the Tablet of Wisdom, the Universal House of Justice states
that, while Bahá'u'lláh is quoting "the historical accounts
familiar to the person He is addressing in the Tablet ... for the sake
of illustrating the spiritual principles that He wishes to convey", this
"does not necessarily mean that He is endorsing their historical
With regard to `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements concerning the visit of
Socrates to the Holy Land, letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi
"Historians cannot be sure Socrates did not visit the Holy Land" .
To date, we have no documentary evidence to support
the Master's statement concerning what is "recorded in eastern histories"
about Socrates' visiting the Holy Land
Bahá'ís accept the "authority [of `Abdu'l-Bahá] on
this matter" 
, since we believe that He had
"an intuitive knowledge" 
and since He affirmed
the source of the report
There is the possibility that historical "proof
may come to light through research in the future" 
The Research Department has been able neither
to document the sources of the statements referred to by `Abdu'l-Bahá
nor to identify the particular "eastern histories" from which He drew.
The task is potentially complicated by such factors as the antiquity of
the subject, the problems of chronology, the challenge of distinguishing
the historical Socrates from the legend, the difficulty of collecting and
assessing source materials, the possibility that important documents may
have been lost, the fragmentary nature of the historical evidence, and
the shifting of geographical and political borders.
While the Department lacks the resources and
time to undertake a detailed study, we offer the following information
from Jewish and Arab secondary sources. Although these sources do
not, immediately, appear to place Socrates in the Holy Land, they may well
serve as a possible contribution to a further consideration of this subject.
We have not attempted to resolve potential contradictions nor have we been
able to inspect all of the materials to which we refer.
1.21 Jewish Sources
Though `Abdu'l-Bahá indicates that the
Jewish histories provide a less complete treatment of the contact between
the Greek philosophers and the Jewish sages than the "eastern histories",
it is interesting to observe references to Socrates in two entries in the
1.22 Arab Sources
In the Aggadah, Socrates was said to have been the disciple of Ahithophel,
the adviser to King David (Moses Isserles, Torat ha-Olah 1:11, quoting
an old source).2
The Jewish Hellenistic philosopher, Aristobulus of Paneas, who lived
in the first half of the second century B.C.E., fragments of whose writings
are preserved in books and manuscripts, is reported to have claimed that
portions of the Pentateuch had been rendered into Greek before
it was translated in its entirety ... and that these portions reached Pythagoras,
Socrates, and Plato and formed the basis of their philosophical teachings.
In developing their philosophical systems these Greek philosophers were
influenced by the biblical account of creation.3
Aristobulus supported his contention that the source of Greek philosophy
lies in the Bible by citing in his work many passages from ancient Greek
literature which, to his mind, reflect biblical ideas. There are
indications that these citations were taken from a collection of quotations
which was used as a means for propagating the Jewish religion in the Hellenistic
Other sources indicate that as early as the third century B.C.E., Jewish
thinkers made use of the intellectual strategies provided by Hellenistic
philosophy to explain and defend the foundations of belief in one God.
A well-known model for the reasoned defence of belief and practice was
Socrates' address before the Athenian court in 399 B.C.E., which is preserved
in Plato's Apology.5
Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.E. - 50 C.E.), a Jewish thinker and author of
an elaborate synthesis of Jewish religious thought and Greek philosophy,
put Moses forward as the teacher of Pythagoras and of all Greek philosophers
and law-givers.6 Likewise, Josephus
(first century of the C.E.) claimed that the Greek philosophers were among
the first imitators of Mosaic law,7 and Maimonides
(1135-1204 C.E.) expressed the view that "Greek Philosophy was a derivative
from Hebraic inspiration".8
The original source materials concerning
Socrates are derived from the Greek works of Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle,
and later, from the life of Socrates by Diogenes Laertius. These
were later translated into Arabic and, in the process, additional details
were added. The recent book by Ilai Alon, entitled Socrates in
Mediaeval Arabic Literature (Leiden—Jerusalem: E. J. Brill, 1991) provides
a useful listing of Arabic sources and an analysis of some of the anecdotes,
sayings and evaluations of Socrates found in these sources. We attach,
for ...'s interest, information about the major books and authors mentioned
by Alon, together with his list of abbreviations. While we have not
had the opportunity to examine the individual texts referred to, these
references might well be worthy of further research.
We call attention to the following points derived
from Alon's Socrates in Mediaeval Arabic Literature:
Some of the early treatises which refer to Socrates, including those by
Al-Kindí, whose works were the source for most of the material reported
by Arab authors, have been lost.
The proliferation of sayings and anecdotes about Socrates and the other
Greek philosophers tends to be chaotic. The books differ in the number
of sayings reported and the degree of detail provided. No two texts
are fully identical.
In general, with the exception of his trial and death, few details appear
to be available about the life of Socrates. The material concentrates
more on his sayings and the quality of his life. Alon underlines
the fact that Socrates was very well-known among Arab historians, geographers,
poets and mystics, and hadíth scholars. He states:
"If they did not always know him by name, then they did by the contents
of his teaching" (p. 40).
According to the various Arabic sources, Alon notes that Pythagoras, who
received his education or part of it in Egypt, was one of Socrates' teachers.
He observes that "al-Suyútí mentions Socrates as having
himself spent some time in that country" (p. 55).9
It also appears that Socrates maintained contact with various groups of
people other than his compatriots. Alon states: "We learn from
Ibn al-Nadím that al-Kindí wrote a treatise in which he recounted
`What happened between Socrates and the Harraneans'" (p. 56).10
Harran, an important centre on the trade route and seat of the Assyrian
moon god, is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It was the home of
Abraham's family after the migration from Ur.
1. Concerning this Tablet, the following
footnote appears in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh
Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá'í
Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 144:
In many of the passages that follow concerning the Greek philosophers,
Bahá'u'lláh quotes verbatim from the works of such
Muslim historians as Abu'l-Fath-i-Shahristání
(1076-1153 A.D.) and Imádu'd-Dín Abu'l-Fidá (1273-1331
2. Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem:
Keter Publishing House, 1972), vol. 2, pp. 465-66.
3. ibid., vol. 3, p. 444.
4. ibid., vol. 3, pp. 443-45.
5. Mircea Eliade, editor in chief, The
Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987),
vol. 1, p. 349.
6. ibid., vol. 11, pp. 287-88.
7. ibid., vol. 1, p. 350.
8. David Yellin and Israel Abrahams,
His Life and Works, rev. ed. (New York: Hermon Press, 1972),
pp. 118-19. A footnote appearing on p. 169 of this work contains
the following additional information. For ease of reference we added
the complete citations, where available, in square brackets:
Philo, Josephus, Eusebius (Prep. Ev. ix.3 [La Préparation
Evangélique (Paris: Du Cerf, 1974), in 15 volumes]), and
Arab authors all repeat this theory. See the references in Buxtorff
(end of his edition of the Cusari [Liber Cosri (Farnborough, Hants.:
Gregg, 1971)]), Munk (Mélanges, p. 466 Mélanges
de Philosophie Juive et Arabe (Paris: S.N., 1859)]), and Jellinek (in
Contros Havichuach). These facts are collected by Harkavy, Appendix
to Hebrew Graetz, iv. p. 57 [Heinrich Graetz, Popular History of the
Jews (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1919), in 5 volumes].
9. See al-Suyútí, Jalál
al-Dín, Husn al-muhádarah fí
ta'rikh Misr wal-Qáhirah (Cairo, 1967), I 60, 7.
10. Ibn al-Nadím, al-Fihrist, 260,