Friday, September 9, 2011

The Biblical Rooting of LGM 1 (= the First Reference to the Longer Gospel of Mark in the Letter to Theodore) in Deuteronomy 33

I am preparing a detailed study of Deuteronomy 33 but the reader should know at the outset that it is the narrative where Moses becomes both enthroned and transformed into a man-God according to the intimations of the Samaritan exegesis. It is also Philo's understanding as Peter Schäfer (Origins of Jewish Mysticism p. 167) summarizes the Alexandrian Jewish exegesis of Deuteronomy 33:

What De Vita Mosis describes is precisely the stage at which the soul liberates itself from its bodily prison and returns to its ideal and always longed-for state. That is to say, it captures the very moment at which Moses crosses the border from mortality to immortality. To be sure, he still prophesies, namely his very last blessings over the tribes (Deut. 33), but this prophecy is uttered at the threshold of immortality, immediately before his death, and hence just prior to his transformation into a monad.

In employing this vocabulary for Moses's ascent to Mount Sinai and his “coming near to God,” the Quaestiones in Exodum take an enormous and bold step. They transfer Moses's transformation from duality to unity – from body and soul to pure soul – from the realm of immortality to the realm of mortality: Moses attained this stage, which is usually reserved for the time after death, during his lifetime! He came as close as possible to God, because when God asked him to come near to him, he was still a human being with body and soul (and he would return to this human stage following this unique experience).

Moreover, the Quaestiones go further than De Vita Mosis in describing what precisely this transformation entails. Whereas the phrase that Moses is "resolved into the nature of unity” can be understood, with De Vita Mosis, as his transformation from the duality of body and soul to the unity of pure soul – and hence not as a unity/unification with God – further along the Quaestiones stress that Moses enters into a “kind of family relation” with God and, being “changed into the divine,” thus becomes “truly divine." Here, of course, it would be imperative to know the original Greek text (which we do not). The only other passage where Philo speaks of the “divinization” of the “holy soul” through its ascent to a region above the heavens – that is, to God – is in his commentary on Ex. 24:12 (“Come up to Me to the mountain and be there”), here within the same pericope. The translator from the Armenian remarks that the Armenian word for becoming divinized “usually renders theousthai, a word that seems not to occur elsewhere in Philo” and proposes theophoreisthai as the Greek Vorlage. But although this word is commonly used by Philo to signify being possessed or inspired by God (in QE, II, 29, Marcus translates it "filled with God," it does not necessarily take on the strong meaning of becoming divinized in the sense of becoming united with the divine. Altogether, therefore, although he goes very far in the exceptional case of Moses, Philo seems reluctant to overstate his case. We cannot preclude the possibility that the Armenian translator retains responsibility for the particular tone of our two passages in the Quaestiones, with their emphasis on Moses's “deification.

Ultimately, however, it is not only Moses's soul that can ascend to the heights of the divine during its lifetime but any human soul if it follows the proper procedure. Any mind (nous), “which has been perfectly cleansed and purified and which renounces all things pertaining to creation, is acquainted with One alone (hen monon) and knows the Uncreated (to agenēton), to Whom it has drawn nigh, by Whom also it has been taken to Himself." [Plant 64] That purified soul that has left behind the created world is drawn close to God, the Uncreated One. When Hannah says, “I will pour out my soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15), according to Philo this refers to the desire of the human soul to obtain a vision of God:

What else was meant by the words, "I will pour out my soul" (I Samuel 1:15) but "I will consecrate it all to Him, I will loosen all the chains that bound it tight, which the empty aims and desires of mortal life had fastened upon it. I will send it abroad, extend and diffuse it, so that it shall touch the bounds of the All (tōn tou pantos hapsasthai peratōn), and hasten to that most glorious and loveliest of visions (thean) – the vision of the Uncreated (tou agenētou)”? [Ebr. 152]

This is one of the rare cases in which Philo does not employ the philosophical pattern of the soul's transformation into pure soul and its being “overpowered” by the divine mind but resorts to the traditional (biblical and postbiblical) language of the vision of God. He does not explain what this vision entails, but there can be no doubt that for him it is precisely this: the transformation of the soul, and not the vision of God's shape in terms of the biblical and apocalyptic narratives.

In a number of passages Philo describes in greater detail what this ascent of the soul/mind involves. The mind of the sage (who is the perfect man) is in a kind of liminal state, “midway between mortal and immortal kind,” on the borderline between the created and the uncreated. When it directs itself to God, it is driven by its own desire as much as by God's overwhelming force:

When the mind is mastered by the love of the divine (erōtos theiou), when it strains its powers to reach the inmost shrine, when it puts forth every effort and ardor on its forward march, under the divine impelling force (theophoroumenos) it forgets all else, forgets itself, and fixes its thoughts and memories on Him alone whose attendant and servant it is, to whom it dedicates not a palpable offering, but incense, the incense of consecrated virtues. But when the inspiration (to enthousiōdes) is stayed, and the strong yearning abates, it hastens back from the divine and becomes a man. In other words, the divinely inspired mind is no longer a human mind but in some kind of intermediary stage between the human and the divine.[Som II 232 f]

In other words, the divinely inspired mind is no longer a human mind but in some kind of intermediate stage between the human and the divine, completely overwhelmed by the inspiration granted from above.

Who cannot see now that Clement of Alexandria's Egyptian Church has merely adopted the Philonic interpretation of Deuteronomy 33 - filled with its 'spiritualized' homoerotic Platonism - and applied it to a passage in Secret Mark about God (= Jesus) and his initiation of a chosen disciple who is at once the Marcionite apostle (= Paul) who in turn 'passes on what he received' to the early Church. I can't understand why I am the only one who sees this. How did Morton Smith know how to created a text that 'works' with Philonic thought on every possible level? Well for those who can't, the next week will be spent demonstrating this very proposition ...

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