Pythagoras (6th. century BCE)  is credited with being the "father of philosophy". He is said to have been born on Samos, an island off the coast of Turkey, and to have spent a large part of his life learning esoteric traditions in the Orient and Egypt. There are even traditions that he may have met Hebrew prophets. The details of his life and influence are remote, and it is difficult to disentangle fact from fiction and legend, but the following traditions associated with him are important:
  • that mathematics reveals a realm of eternal truth.
  • the mysticism of numbers.
  • that the universe is rationally comprehensible, and that the rational faculty in human kind is akin to godliness.
  • that by cultivating the intellectual faculty, one is transferring awareness into that part of the soul most close to the divine.
These ideas were more fully developed by Plato and his followers, and for a thousand years the Pythagorean and Platonic traditions were so intertwined they are difficult to tease apart - for example, the influential Neoplatonist Iamblichus wrote a biography of Pythagoras, a book on the theology of numbers, and a collection of Pythagorean doctrines.

The idea that a realm of absolute truth is accessible to the intellectual faculty (nous), and that intellectual contemplation is a way to approach the divine is an amazing idea - that godliness is less about cultic practices, it is a matter of cognition.

See Apollonius of Tyana (~40 - 120 CE) for details of a wonder-working Pythagorean mystic who was contemporary with the first generation of Christians.

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