Wednesday, January 12

The Mythic City of Atlantis

The title may catch some off-guard. Understandably, when it comes to topics such as the fabled lost city of Atlantis, some turn their head the other way, believing it to be a mere myth, a legend. If you are a regular reader, you will know that whether something appears to be a myth or legend or not, I try to tackle it. Atlantis is the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles, poems, movies, the like. (Photo credit to: NASA)

Has there ever really been an Atlantis, and is there any Scriptural basis for it? In other words, does the Hebrew Bible provide any reference to the events? To begin, we ought to learn a bit about this fabled city. The earliest account of Atlantis is found in Plato's Timaeus and Critas, written some 350-400 years before the birth of Jesus. Plato wrote that this island was destroyed, having been swallowed up by the sea. Plato goes on to say that Atlantis was named for Atlas, the oldest twin of Poseidon, son of Cronus, within Greek Mythology. The account continues that Poseidon owned an island, and named it after his son, Atlas: Atlantis. These Atlantians (variant: Atlanteans) had conquered parts of what is now Italy and North Africa, and were a threat to Egypt and Greece. The account tells us that many Athenians could have died fighting the Atlantians shortly before the destruction of Atlantis.

Put simply, Atlantis either existed: or it did not. If it did exist, then we should still find historical and geological evidence of such. If not, then the search is over. Understandably, since the story was handed down from Egyptians to Solon, Plato's ancestor, to Plato himself, there was more than likely some inaccuracies. If Atlantis was biblical, then it could be one of two things: Atlantis was destroyed during a volcanic eruption or local flood, and we would not find remains. Or, Atlantis was destroyed - but not completely - and we could expect to find some remains of the city. Let us take a look at the account given in Critas.

"... which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside of the Pillars of Hercules and all who dwelt within them; this was I am going to describe. Of combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying, was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean."

Plato also refers to the Atlantic Ocean and the "pillars of Hercules." Most scholars believe Plato was referring to the Strait of Gibraltar - which is between modern-day Spain and Morocco. Plato, in referencing Libya and Asia, viewed them as a Greek in 500 BC - these post-Flood features and names are not what we think of today as Libya and Asia, but as how they view these places then. For example, Asia was originally viewed as part of modern-day Turkey.[1] In measurements called stadia, (about 600 ft each) Plato also gives the measurements for the island. The dimensions are given as 2000 x 3000 stadia. Modern-day measurement would show the island as 227 x 340 miles - an estimated 77,000 square-mile area. (About the size of Nebraska in the United States) This allows the "continent" to be much smaller than believed.

As put by Bodie Hodge of AiG, "descriptions given by Plato appear to place it outside of the Mediterranean in the Atlantic Ocean."[2] The latest it could have been destroyed was 400 BC, prior to Socrates, who had died around this time. However, taking into consideration that the account had been given to Solon, who had in turn gotten his account from the Egyptians, the latest date was likely a few hundred years before Socrates, say around 700/600 BC. Ranged at 1800's-600's BC. As put in Mystic Places, "Indeed, the very quantity and quality of information in Critas has given Plato's account much of its enduring plausibility. Critas's report is filled with architectural, engineering, and ceremonial detail that would hardly have been needed if all Plato had in mind was to create a parable or legend to help him make a philosophical point. Moreover, Plato laced the dialogue of Critas with uncharacteristic references to the tale as 'the realm of fact' and 'genuine history.' And Solon, who supposedly brought back the story to Greece, was a real person who had actually visited Egypt as a statesman. All in all, Plato took great pains to make his record of Atlantis seem credible to the readers of his time, and that tone of certainty has remained a challenge for more than 2,000 years."

The continent set beyond Atlantis that Timaeus refers to is likely the Americas, so it could be ruled out, and it sill exists - it has not sunk into the sea. Some believe that the islands of Azores, Madeira, or Canary may be Atlantis. In 1669, Athanasius Kircher drew a map, placing Atlantis between Africa/Europe and the Americas. If Atlantis did exist, it likely was a post-Flood island not far from the Strait of Gibraltar.

As Plato wrote, "But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal mud which the island created as it settled down."[3]

When we look at stories such as the Iliad that describes the city of Troy, up until 1873, the general concept of the story was believed to have been made up, when in fact, it was based on truth. Heinrich Schliemann, amateur archaeologist, set out to prove that the story described in the Iliad and the Odyssey, written by Homer around 700 BC, were based on some history. In the late 1860's, Schliemann decided that the town is Hissarlik in Turkey seemed to match the scene of the Iliad. He began to dig in 1871.[4] He found that there was truly a city beneath Hissarlik. The layers, which had been scorched by fire, seemed to depict Homer's Troy. One morning, in the summer of 1873, golden necklaces, earring, dishes, and more out of the ground was found. This discovery made Schliemann famous, and since then, archaeologists generally agree that the city he found is likely Troy. This find continues to fuel the search for Atlantis, showing that sometimes, stories do have some truth to him.

If Atlantis really did exist, why was it destroyed? "It was not long before Atlantis - gifted with wealth, strength, and internal harmony, began to extend its power outward. But at the same time, the divine and virtuous character of its populace had begun to weaken with the passage of years. 'Human nature,' Critas reported, 'got the upper hand.' The Atlanteans began to exhibit less seemly qualities: Uncurbed ambition, greed and ugliness grew among the citizens and their rulers as well. Perceiving that an 'honorable race was n a woeful plight,' Critas said, Zeus summoned the gods to determine what punishment to inflict on Atlantis. 'And when he had called them together he spoke as follows:' And this is where Critas breaks off. For unknown reasons, Plato ended his chronicle of Atlantis before he had given the details - only touched upon in the earlier dialogue of Timaeus."[5]

There is another point to consider. "It is known that the volcanic island of Thera, in the Aegan Sea, exploded in about 1470 BC. [A few decades before the Exodus in Israel] The 4,900-foot mountain erupted with such violence that the central portion of the island collapsed into the rapidly emptied chamber 1,200 feet below the sea. The surrounding area, now known as the island of Santorini, was covered in a 100-foot-thick layer of volcanic ash, and it is beneath this layer that relics of the Minoan Empire have been found."[6] 

Could Thera have been Atlantis? No, some argue. Yes, others insist. What if Plato had misinterpreted Solon's writings to mean that the destruction had actually occurred 900 years before the birth of Solon - not 9,000? This would place the event closer to the destruction of Thera. An island about 80,000 sq. miles would neatly fit into the Aegan Sea. Also, the Greek word for "greater than" is similar to their word, "midway." Was Atlantis actually midway between Libya and Asia, and not "greater than?" If this is true, and Atlantis is actually the island of Thera, then the mystery is solved.[9] Yet, doubt remains. Perhaps Atlantis was another story to tell around the campfire. Perhaps it was just a myth. However, if there is any truth to Atlantis, research seems to show that it is highly possible. Now, some may argue that because Plato's account states that Atlantis was swallowed up by the sea, that Thera could not possibly be Atlantis. Yet, if Atlantis was located in the central portion of the island, it would have sunk when the volcano erupted, around 1470 BC. Regardless of how many different angles we look at Atlantis, there seems to be a "reasonable doubt," allowing for further investigation, yet we may never know if Atlantis ever actually did exist. In short, is there a Scriptural basis for Atlantis? Atlantis itself is not mentioned in the Bible, but it may have existed as a civilization near the Strait of Gibraltar, and the story has served in some ways as a cautionary tale, similar to the the Genesis pericope of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Troy Hillman

[1] Hodge, Bodie. "Did Atlantis Exist?" Web. 11 Jan 2011. < >Ibid.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Timaeus 25c–d, Bury translation.
[4] Various Authors. "Mystic Places". 2nd ed. TIME-LIFE, 1987. 14-19. Print.
[5] Various Authors. "Strange Stores, Amazing Facts." 4th ed. Reader's Digest, 1976.60-61. Print.
[6] Ibid. 


  1. Ezekiel 27
    -->This would add to your explanation.

  2. Atlantis was nothing magical, it was merely and advanced maritime,(sea-faring) island-country. The ancient Phoenicians had established secret trade routes to points unknown in the near eastern Atlantic just beyond the "Pillar's of Hercules". Also, history records an invasion of counties in the Mediterranean by the"Sea peoples" who came from points unknown from outside the Mediterranean. I believe these two were one and the same and their homeland, somewhere near Spain, was destroyed by a natural catastrophe that caused the survivors to migrate and try to conquer their neighbors in the Mediterranean as well as the coast of Spain and possibly the British isles.