Today's reading in the Office of Readings: the beginning of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, starting with
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins?
But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”
I never noticed that bit about the shadow and the "very (I.e., true) image." Quite like Plato and the cave. I googled around a bit this morning to see if scholars thought that Plato had actually influenced the epistle (though obviously many people, including presumably translators, have been influenced by both), and I came upon a Google Books reference on the subject.
I can't copy the whole piece, or even read it all online, but at least part of the discussion touched on the nuances in the Greek of the relationship between the "shadow" and the "true form." Does it suggest that the "shadow" is an inferior, flat sort of copy of an original "true image" that precedes it, or does it suggest that the "shadow" is a preliminary sketch or draft version of a perfected form that is yet to come?
I just thought I would like to draw attention to this specific kind of distinction between two ways of viewing the same sort of concept, that the material world is an inferior or "flat" version of a higher reality. I have always thought of Plato's cave as a proto-Christian concept; but I really like the notion that one kind of inferior-image-of-a-greater-reality is a shadow or copy cast by an original, and another kind is a prefiguration or draft that is to be fulfilled by its perfected form.
We can, of course, go all meta on the subject by suggesting that Plato's concept was itself a shadow of the Christian version. And that the directionality of that relationship gives us a hint, embedded in the universe of human culture, to the direction we should assign to the relationship of image-and-reality.
Now I feel like rereading Anathem and Flatland and The Last Battle and drawing directed graphs.