Numenius of Apamea
|Part of a series on|
Plato from The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509
|Allegories and metaphors|
Numenius of Apamea (Ancient Greek: Νουμήνιος ὁ ἐξ Ἀπαμείας) was a Greek philosopher, who lived in Apamea in Syria and flourished during the latter half of the 2nd century AD. He was a Neopythagorean and forerunner of the Neoplatonists.
Statements and fragments of his apparently very numerous works have been preserved by Origen, Theodoret, and especially by Eusebius, and from them we may with learn the nature of his Platonist-Pythagorean philosophy, and its approximation to the doctrines of Plato.
Numenius was a Neopythagorean, but his object was to trace the doctrines of Plato up to Pythagoras, and at the same time to show that they were not at variance with the dogmas and mysteries of the Brahmins, Jews, Magi and Egyptians. His intention was to restore the philosophy of Plato, the genuine Pythagorean and mediator between Socrates and Pythagoras in its original purity, cleared from the Aristotelian and Stoic doctrines, and purified from the unsatisfactory and perverse explanations, which he said were found even in Speusippus and Xenocrates, and which, through the influence of Arcesilaus and Carneades had led to a bottomless skepticism. His work on the apostasy of the Academy from Plato, to judge from its rather numerous fragments, contained a minute and wearisome account of the outward circumstances of those men, and was full of fabulous tales about their lives, without entering into the nature of their skepticism.
His books On the Good (Peri Tagathou - Περὶ Τἀγαθοῦ) seem to have been of a better kind; in them he had minutely explained, mainly in opposition to the Stoics, that existence could neither be found in the elements because they were in a perpetual state of change and transition, nor in matter because it is vague, inconstant, lifeless, and in itself not an object of our knowledge; and that, on the contrary, existence, in order to resist the annihilation and decay of matter, must itself rather be incorporeal and removed from all mutability, in eternal presence, without being subject to the variation of time, simple and imperturbable in its nature by its own will as well as by influence from without. True existence is identical with the first god existing in and by itself, that is, with good, and is defined as spirit (nous). But as the first (absolute) god existing in itself and being undisturbed in its motion, could not be creative (demiurgikos - δημιουργικός), he thought that we must assume a second god, who keeps matter together, directs its energy to it and to intelligible essences, and imparts its spirit to all creatures; its mind is directed to the first god, in whom it beholds the ideas according to which it arranges the world harmoniously, being seized with a desire to create the world. The first god communicates its ideas to the second, without losing them itself, just as we communicate knowledge to one another, without depriving ourselves of it. In regard to the relation existing between the third and second god, and to the manner in which they also are to be conceived as one (probably in opposition to the vague duration of matter), no information can be derived from the fragments which have come down to us.
Numenius and Judaism and Christianity
Numenius called Plato the "Atticizing Moses," i.e., that Plato was the Hellenic Moses. However the factuality of this statement is disputed since the quote comes from the Church Fathers who had motive to connect Greek and Biblical wisdom; this would justify the superiority of Christianity over Hellenism because Moses predates Plato - thus the original source of this wisdom is the root of Christianity and not Hellenistic culture.
His chief divergence from Plato is the distinction between the "first god" and the "demiurge." This is probably due to the influence of Jewish-Alexandrian philosophers (especially Philo and his theory of the Logos). According to Proclus, Numenius held that there was a kind of trinity of gods, the members of which he designated as "father," "maker," and "that which is made," i.e. the world. The first is the supreme deity or pure intelligence, the second the creator of the world, the third the world. Numenius also claimed that the three gods, the "Father", the "Creator" and "Creation" were actually one. His works were highly esteemed by the Neoplatonists, and Plotinus' student Amelius (who was critical of Gnosticism, see Neoplatonism and Gnosticism) is said to have composed nearly two books of commentaries upon them. Contrary to orthodox Judeo-Christian teaching (and more in line with the teachings of Gnosticism), like Orpheus and Plato Numenius wrote of the human body as a prison of the soul. Numenius, according to Professor Michael Wagner showed gnostic tendencies in viewing matter as coeval with God.
Interpretation of Genesis
Much of Numenius’s interpretation of Genesis I:2 is drawn from the philosophy of Plato’s forms. Numenius also draws much from Plato’s Timaeus which presents a story of a great creator called the Demiurge who created everything in the likeness of Platonic Forms.
However, Numenius’s interpretation can cause some confusion because according to classic interpretation of Genesis, God creates everything and before that moment it did not exist (ex nihilo). It is unclear where exactly Numenius stands with this part of Genesis. In the Timaeus, Plato includes in the story that creation had a beginning in time. Numenius may have tried answering this by proposing that the cosmos cycle through destruction and creation. While it is difficult to determine how Numenius would account for these discrepancies, it is possible that he would consider the original creation of the cosmos the beginning of such cycles.
Fragments of his treatises on the points of divergence between the Academicians and Plato, on the Good (in which according to Origen, Contra Celsum, iv. 51, he makes allusion to Jesus Christ), and on the mystical sayings in Plato, are preserved in the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius. The fragments are collected in F. W. A. Mullach, Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum iii.; see also F. Thedinga, De Numenio philosopho Platonico (Bonn, 1875); Ritter and Preller, Hist. Phil. Graecae (ed. E. Wellmann, 1898), 624-7; T. Whittaker, The Neo-Platonists (1901), E.-A. Leemans, Studie over den Wijsgeer Numenius van Apamea met Uitgave der Fragmenten, Brussels 1937, and E. Des Places, Numénius, Fragments, Collection Budé, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1973.
- See the Fragments of the 1st book Peri Tagathou, in Eusebius, Praep. Evang., ix. 7.
- See especially Eusebius, Praep. Ev. xiv. 5.
- Euseb. Praep. Ev. xiv. 5-9
- Eusebius, Praep. Ev., xv. 17
- Eusebius, Praep. Ev., xi. 10.
- Eusebius, Praep. Ev., xi. 18, ix. 22
- Eusebius, Praep. Ev., xi. 18.
- Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, i. 22; Eusebius, Praep. Evang., xi. 10; Suda, Numenius
- Bezalel Bar-Kochva The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period 2009
- see Treatise of the Good First book, Practical Questions 13 Plato as a Greek Moses
- God the Creator, God the Creation: Numenius' Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 (frg. 30) by Robbert M. Van Den Berg
- Proclus, Comment. in Timaeum, 93
- Professor John D Turner considers Plotinus, Porphyry, and Amelius all to be Neoplatonic philosophers who were critical of Gnosticism. Professor Turner is quoted "In the late third century, Sethianism also became estranged from orthodox (Neo)Platonism under the impetus of attacks and refutations from the circle of Plotinus and other Neoplatonists which were just as effective as those of the Christian heresiologists. At this time, whatever Sethianism was left became increasingly fragmented into various derivative and other sectarian gnostic groups such as the Archontics, Audians, Borborites, Phibionites and others, some of which survived into the Middle Ages."
- Book three the Initiate (or the Hoopoe, the bird of prognostication) pg 43 The soul is retained in the body as in a Prison , by the impulsive passion. The Neoplatonic Writings of Numenius Translated by Kenneth Guthrie Selene Books ISDN 0-933601-03-4
- Introduction to the writing of Numenius by Michael Wagner The Neoplatonic Writings of Numenius Translated by Kenneth Guthrie Selene Books ISDN 0-933601-03-4
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press 
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1867). "Numenius". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
- The Neoplatonic Writings of Numenius Translated by Kenneth Guthrie Selene Books ISBN 0-933601-03-4
- Fuentes González, Pedro Pablo, “Nouménios d’Apamée”, in R. Goulet (ed.), Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques, vol. IV, Paris, CNRS, 2005, p. 724-740.
- Marian Hillar, From Logos to Trinity. The Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian. (Cambridge University Press, 2012).