Socrates and Jesus
Recently I came upon a wonderful essay concerning what is called ‘The Socratic Problem.’ Quickly stated, historians and scholars to this day don’t really know much about the actual, historical Socrates. There are two dominant sources for Socratic scholarship; Platonic Dialogues and Xenophon’s Memorabilia. This same problem seems to exist within the historical scholarship of Jesus. As Donald Morrison comments:
‘What do we know about the real, historical Socrates who lies behind the varying literary evidence? The “the problem of the historical Socrates” is a famous scholarly crux, akin to the problem of the historical Jesus.” (Cambridge Companion to Socrates, pg. xiv)
Now, as far people to admire from ancient times, I doubt there are two figures worthy of more consideration than Jesus and Socrates, and yet, we know very little of their actual lives. Now, within the context of Jesus, the Bible of course serves as the dominant source for learning about Jesus’ and his teachings. However, any honest person can see some of the blaring contradictions within just the Synoptic Gospels themselves.
Well, the first question that arises is, does it really even matter? As of now, Socratic scholarship has more/ less accepted what Aristotle termed the ‘logoi sokratikoi,’ which is a certain level of literary freedom behind the writers of Socrates, representing him in ‘their own way.’ Yet, even though this is now the accepted status of Socratic scholarship, the problem in understanding who the real Socrates (and perhaps the historical Jesus) shall ever remain. I honestly don’t feel that this is such a terrible thing, for perhaps it is the lack of the clear cut history of such figures that helps not only our own investigation in to these people have merit, but our own heart, our own ideals enter into the discussion. These two sources of inspiration, then, may be alive within us through the transcendence of their teachings. The fact that we really don’t know all that much about these figures historically, nor that we can verify the testimonies of their acts, to me, signifies really nothing other than that period of time in certain historical writings. And the liveliness of these two figures today can stand as testament to the power these figures still have on people.