Numbers 21:6-9, 'which Plato read, and clearly not understanding nor realising that it was a type of the cross, but thinking that it was a placing crosswise, said that the power next to the first god was placed crosswise in the universe' (60.5). Justin then goes on to assert that Plato also spoke of a third god:
And as to his speaking of a third, he did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, that 'the spirit of God moved over the waters' [Gen 1:2]. For [Plato] gives the second place to the logos which is with God, whom he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the spirit, who was said to be borne upon the waters, saying 'And the third things around the third' (60.6-7).
This cryptic statement about 'the third' comes not from the Timaeus, as Justin seems to imply, but from the Pseudo-Platonic Second epistle 3i2e, a passage notoriously difficult to construe. It purports to be Plato's secret doctrine explaining 'the nature ofthe First': 'Related to the King of All are all things, and for his sake they exist, and of all things beautiful he is the cause. And related to the Second are the second things; and related to the Third, the third.' Whatever this obscure passage may mean, it exercised considerable fascination in later times, particularly in Pythagorean and Platonist circles. Justin is interested in this passage, however, as proof that Plato taught a triad of gods - that is to say, was in some sense a 'trinitarian' - based on his reading of Moses.
The point of drawing of these parallels was not to reconcile Christianity and Greek philosophy (pace Harnack),10 but to demonstrate Christianity's priority and superiority to Greek philosophy. This becomes clear from a passage in the Dialogue with Trypho, where Justin criticises the various philosophical schools and denies that they embody the true and original philosophy.
What philosophy really is and why it was sent down to humans have escaped the observation of most. Otherwise there would be no Platonists, Stoics, Peripatetics, Theoreticians and Pythagoreans, for philosophy is one science. I will tell you why [philosophy] has become many-headed. It happened that those who first handled it, and who were therefore esteemed illustrious individuals, were succeeded by those who made no investigation concerning truth, but... each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher. Then, moreover, the latter persons handed down to their successors such things and others similar to them; and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine. (Dial. 2.1-2)
Justin contends, in other words, that Greek philosophy as it presently exists, divided up into different schools, each contradicting the other, cannot carry out its proper function of leading people to God. Only the philosophy contained
10 Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 1.
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