In -399 Socrates was made to drink poison to expiate his crimes by the verdict of an Athenian court. Following his death, Plato, his disciple then about twenty-eight years old, left Athens for a short sojourn at Megara, followed by a longer stay in Italy and Sicily (Syrause); he also traveled to the Middle East. Only very little is known of this travel.

When a boy of about ten, Plato heard the story of Atlantis from his friend and playmate Critias the younger, what the latter was told by his grandfather, Critias the older, who in his turn had heard it from his friend Solon, who came to Sais in Egypt to learn wisdom and hear the ancient lore. From a very old priest he learned that in the past there had occurred several global catastrophes; in one of them Atlantis was swallowed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean; in another—the one which the Greeks associated with Phaethon—there was a great conflagration caused by “a deviation of the bodies that revolve in heaven round the earth.” (1)

On his travels, Plato, too, endeavored to learn wisdom from the wise men of the East. But since the time of Solon’s visit in Egypt that country went through a spiritual debasement and it is questionable whether anyone of the priesterly class there could be counted as a spiritual peer of Ezra, or a worthy teacher of Plato in search of wisdom.

Later Greek philosophers regarded Plato as influenced by Mosaic teaching. “Plato derived his idea of God from the Pentateuch. Plato is Moses translated into the language of the Athenians,” wrote Numenius and was quoted by Eusebius.(2)

If one considers Plato’s monotheism, his concept of an invisible and supreme spiritual Being, so different from the prevalent polytheism of other Greek philosophers and so remote from the pantheon of Homer and its scandalous Olympians with their permanent strife and marital and extra-marital affairs with mortal women, one is inclined to think that Plato, at the time of his travel to Egypt thirty years old, happened to sit at the feet of Ezra. A late Greek tradition has it that Aristotle on his travel to the lands of the eastern Mediterranean met a very wise Jew from whom he learned much wisdom.(3) However, it is not known whether Aristotle ever went to Palestine and Egypt. Besides, in Aristotle, a pupil of Plato, one feels a return to a polytheistic astral religion. Could it be that the indebtedness of Greek thought in the days of Plato to the Semitic idea of one and single invisible Creator stemmed from Ezra? We also don’t know of any “wise and knowledgeable man” approximating Ezra’s stature in the next few generations. All this belongs to the realm of the possible but unproven, and the probable presence of Ezra in Jerusalem after -398 (in the days of Artaxerxes II) is of interest for this intriguing problem.(4)


  1. Plato, Timaeus 22 C-D, 25 A, D.

  2. Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel (transl. Gifford), XIII, 12.

  3. Clearchus of Soli, quoted in Theodore Reinach, Textes d’auteurs grecs et romains relatifs au Judaisme (Paris, 1895), pp. 10-11.

  4. See Peoples of the Sea, “Ezra.”