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King David (c. 1040-960 B.C.)

King David was the second king of the united kingdom of Israel and successor to King Saul. His life and rule are recorded in the Bible's books of First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings and Second Kings. The book of First Chronicles gives further stories of David, mingled with lists and genealogies. He is depicted as the most righteous of all the ancient kings of Israel, although not without fault, and also as an acclaimed warrior, musician and poet (he is traditionally credited with the authorship of many of the Psalms). Second Samuel 7:12-16 states that God was so pleased with David that He promised that the Davidic line would endure forever; Jews therefore believe that the Jewish Messiah will be a direct descendant of King David, and Christians trace the lineage of Jesus back to him through both Mary and Joseph.

Plato (427-347 B.C.)

Plato was an influential ancient Greek philosopher, a student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens where Aristotle studied. He was born in Athens or Aegina, and raised in a moderately wealthy aristocratic family. His family claimed descent from the ancient Athenian kings, and he was related to the prominent politician Critias. According to a late Hellenistic account by Diogenes Laertius, Plato's given name was Aristocles, whereas his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him "Platon", meaning "broad" on account of his robust figure. Diogenes mentions alternative accounts that Plato derived his name from the breadth (platutęs) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (platus) across the forehead. According to Dicaearchus, Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games. Such was his learning and ability that the ancient Greeks declared him to be the son of Apollo and told how, in his infancy, bees had settled on his lips, as prophecy of the honeyed words which were to flow from them.

Plato became a pupil of Socrates in his youth, and he attended his master's trial, though not his execution. He was deeply affected by the city's treatment of Socrates, and much of his early work records his memories of his teacher. It is suggested that much of his ethical writing is in pursuit of a society where similar injustices could not occur. During the twelve years following the death of Socrates, he traveled extensively in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and Cyrene in a quest for knowledge. After his return to Athens at the age of forty, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Academe. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.

Plato lectured extensively at the Academy, and wrote on many philosophical issues, dealing especially in politics, ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. The most important writings of Plato are his dialogues, although a handful of epigrams also survived, and some letters have come down under his name. It is believed that all of Plato's authentic dialogues survive. However, some dialogues ascribed to Plato by the Greeks are now considered by the consensus of scholars to be either suspect or probably spurious. The dialogues of Plato are lively, often humorous or ironic, full of memorable characters and humble detail. It is generally agreed that Plato is the most enjoyable of philosophers to read.

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher, who studied with Plato and taught Alexander the Great. He wrote books on many subjects, including physics, poetry, zoology, logic, rhetoric, government, and biology. Aristotle, along with Plato and Socrates, is generally considered one of the most influential of ancient Greek philosophers. They transformed Presocratic Greek philosophy into the foundations of Western philosophy as we know it. The writings of Plato and Aristotle founded two of the most important schools of Ancient philosophy.

Aristotle valued knowledge gained from the senses and in modern terms would be classed among the modern empiricists (see materialism and empiricism). He also achieved a "grounding" of dialectic in the Topics by allowing interlocutors to begin from commonly held beliefs (Endoxa); his goal being non-contradiction rather than Truth. He set the stage for what would eventually develop into the empiricist version of scientific method centuries later. Although he wrote dialogues early in his career, no more than fragments of these have survived. The works of Aristotle that still exist today are in treatise form and were, for the most part, unpublished texts. Among the most important ones are Physics, Metaphysics (or Ontology), Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima ("On the Soul") and Poetics. These works, although connected in many fundamental ways, are very different in both style and substance.

Jesus Christ (c. 2 B.C.-c. 31 A.D.)

Jesus Christ, also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity and the fulfillment of prophecies of a Messiah, or "Anointed One." As both the Son of God and God made incarnate, he was sent to provide salvation and reconciliation with God by atoning for the sins of humanity. The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, generally dated after 65 A.D. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy, which concur in asserting that he was the miraculously conceived son of Mary, the virgin wife of Joseph, and that he was born at Bethlehem in Judea. All four Gospels agree in dating his call to public ministry from the time of his baptism at the hands of John “the baptizer,” after which he took up the life of an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer, accompanied by a small band of disciples. The central theme of Jesus' teaching, often conveyed in the form of a parable, was the near advent of God's Kingdom. Some of his most famous teachings come from the Sermon on the Mount, which contained the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. His most famous parables include the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

At the height of his ministry, Jesus attracted huge crowds numbering in the thousands, primarily in the areas of Galilee (in modern-day northern Israel) and Perea (in modern-day western Jordan). Though many of his followers were considered disciples, the focus of his ministry was toward his closest adherents, the twelve disciples, later called the Twelve Apostles, who were commissioned by Jesus to continue the work of his ministry on Earth. According to the Gospels, Jesus also performed various miracles, including healings, exorcisms, walking on water, turning water into wine, and raising several people, such as Lazarus, from the dead. Jesus frequently put himself in opposition to the Jewish religious authorities, both in the synagogue (largely the domain of the Pharisees) and the Temple (largely the domain of the Sadducees). His teaching castigated the Pharisees primarily for their legalism and hypocrisy, although he also had followers among religious leaders such as Nicodemus.

After three years of ministry in Galilee, he went to Jerusalem to observe Passover. There he was received enthusiastically by the populace, but created a disturbance at the Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers there. He was subsequently arrested on the orders of the Sanhedrin and the high priest, Caiaphas, for blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Messiah and because, the Jews believed, he had made himself to be God. He was identified to the guards by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus by a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, after which another apostle (identified as Simon Peter), used a sword to attack one of the captors, cutting off his ear, which, according to Luke, Jesus immediately healed). With the cooperation of the Jewish authorities, Jesus was sentenced under Roman law by Governor Pontius Pilate to death by crucifixion for the perceived crime of sedition against Rome. After his crucifixion and burial, Jesus was resurrected on the third day of death and later appeared to Mary, Mary Magdalene and his his disciples as risen from the dead. The Acts of the Apostles tell of several appearances of Jesus to various people in various places over a period of forty days before he ascended into heaven. Hours after his resurrection, he appeared to two travelers on the road to Emmaus. To his assembled disciples, he showed himself on the evening after his resurrection. According to John, during one of these visits, Jesus' disciple Thomas initially doubted the resurrection, but after being invited to place his finger in Jesus's pierced side, said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Thereafter, Jesus went to Galilee and showed himself to several of his disciples by the lake and on the mountain. These disciples were present when he returned to Mount Olivet, between Bethany and Jerusalem, and was lifted up to heaven and a cloud concealed him from their sight. According to Acts, Paul of Tarsus also saw Jesus during his Road to Damascus experience.

St. Patrick (386-493)

Today, March 17 is celebrated across the globe as a commemoration of the life of Saint Patrick of Ireland, who was born in Wales in 386 A.D. Until the age of sixteen, Patrick (whose given name was Maewyn Succat) considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders who raided his village. During his captivity, he labored as a shepherd and began to draw closer to God. In his memoirs, he wrote: "I did not believe the living God, nor did I so from my childhood, but lived in death and unbelief... And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son." Patrick often heard the Lord speak to Him in dreams and visions.

Upon his escape six years later, Patrick entered Saint Martin's monastery in France to study the Scriptures under the guidance of Saint Germain of Auxerre. During his education at the monastery, he devoted his life to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In particular, Patrick had a vision that the Irish, especially the Druids and members of other pagan religions, were calling him back to his native country to share about God. After Patrick's appointment as second bishop to Ireland in 432 A.D. at nearly sixty years of age, his vision came to pass and Patrick returned to Ireland. His ministry brought many to salvation in Christ but also sparked conflict with Celtic Druids. Although Patrick was persecuted and arrested several times, he continued to travel throughout his native Ireland, establishing monasteries, schools, and churches for the sake of "the Gospel and its promises" so that "a great multitude and throng might be caught for God." Altogether, he founded over 300 churches and baptized over 120,000 people, including numerous warrior chiefs and princes of the Druid religion. He also wrote "The Confession" about his life of service to God, and "A Letter to Coroticus", which attacked slavery and denounced the British King Coroticus for kidnapping and enslaving his converts. Patrick's mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years, after which time he retired to County Down. The patron saint died on March 8 or 9 in 461 A.D. Historians could not resolve the exact date, so they added the two together, deciding to commerate St. Patrick's Day on the 17th instead.

After his death, legends about the saint abounded. One popular myth that has persisted throughout the centuries is that Saint Patrick once gave a sermon so powerful that he drove all of the snakes from Ireland. The myth is probably derived from the fact that the snake is a symbol for transcendence and was used as a metaphor for the Druids, whose spiritual beliefs were based on superstition and the supernatural, and that Saint Patrick is credited with driving out paganism and spreading Christianity in Ireland. In addition, as in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped by the Druids. In truth, there probably have never been snakes in Ireland, because the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. In spite of the mythology that has clouded his life, however, Patrick's personal motto still rings true: "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me."