Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Philo's Most Important Discussion of Moses as 'the Man of God'

Therefore he is exhibited as the Lord of the foolish, holding over them the terrors appropriate to him as Ruler. But of those who are making progress he is described as God in the Scriptures, as in the present passage, 'I am thy God', or 'I am thy God, increase and multiply' [Gen. 35: 11]. And in the case of those who are perfect he is both Lord and God, as in the Decalogue, 'I am thy Lord God' [Exod. 20: 2], and in another passage, 'The Lord God of your fathers' [Deut. 4:1], for he thinks it is right for the wicked man to be subject to him as his Lord, so that being in a state of awe and groaning he should be afraid of his Master; that the man who is making progress should receive benefits from him as God so that by means of these benefits he should arrive at perfection; that the perfect man should be guided by him as Lord and receive benefits from him as God. For by means of the one he endures without lapsing, and by means of the other he is wholly a man of God. This is shown best of all in Moses' case. 'This is the blessing', we read, 'which Moses, the man of God, gave' [Deut. 33: 1]. Oh! Of what an all-lovely and sacred exchange is he found worthy, to give himself in return for God's providential care. But do not suppose that God becomes man's in the same way that man becomes God's, for as a man he is God's as his possession, whereas God becomes man's to be his glory and helper, whom he boasts in and from whom he receives assistance. If, then, you wish to have God as the inheritance of your mind, work first of all to become an inheritance worthy of him to receive, and you will achieve that if you avoid all acts of folly which are your own handiwork and the result of free-will.

But we should not forget either that the statement, 'I am thy God', is made by a certain figurative misuse of language rather than with strict propriety, for the nature of the Existent, in so far as he is the Existent is not relative to anything else. He is full of himself and is sufficient for himself, and it was so both before the creation of the world and will be after it. He cannot change or alter, having no need of any other thing or being whatever, so that while all things are his, he, properly speaking, does not belong to anyone or anything. But the Powers which he has extended into the created order to be of benefit to the world he has constructed are sometimes referred to as being in a certain sense relative: for instance his kingly and beneficial Powers, for as King he is the King of someone and as a benefactor he is the benefactor of someone, while the king's subject and the receiver of the benefit is wholly distinct from him. Akin to these Powers is the creative Power which is called God, because by means of this Power the Father, who is the begetter and Artificer of all things, made the whole universe, so that 'I am thy God' is equivalent in meaning to 'I am the Maker and Artificer." And the greatest gift we can receive is to have him for our Architect, who is also the Architect of the whole world, for he did not make the soul of the wicked man, since wickedness involves hostility to God, and he was not acting on his own when he made the intermediate soul, since, according to Moses the sacred historian, such a soul was liable, like wax, to receive the divergent impressions of good and evil.

(23) both Lord and God: Philo regards the passage from Exodus which he has cited as proof that God is both the Lord of the foolish, of whom he is the awe-inspiring Sovereign, and God of those who are making progress in their lives, the earnest strivers. Gen. 35:11 as well as the words I am thy God, supports this. But, for the perfect God is both Lord and God, and for proof of this Philo turns to the Decalogue (Exod. 20: 2) and Deut. 4: 1 in particular. God, then, is Lord and God of mankind, but especially is he the good man's God.
(24) wholly a man of God: this is what the perfect man can become, for while the wicked are subject to God as Lord and face him with awe and fear, the man who is striving to make progress is helped by the kindnesses of God to reach perfection, while the perfect man, both guided by God as his Lord and helped by him as his God, remains, on the one hand, free from lapses, and, on the other, becomes a man of God (anthropos theou). Progress towards a state in which God is man's God is more rapidly made by him who perseveres in living as God's man.
(25) Moses' case: Philo claims that what he has been saying about God is best demonstrated in Moses' case, for Scripture (Deut. 33:1) refers to a blessing given by Moses, the man of God (anthropos theou). Philo comments on the glorious and holy exchange which took place when, in return for God's protecting care, Moses gave himself to God. That is what it means to be a man of God. Philo means his readers to appreciate that anyone who dedicates his life to God can receive in return his protecting care (theiapronoia). God becomes a man's God when a man becomes God's man. [Ronald Williamson, Jews in the Hellenistic World Vol 2, Philo, p. 97 - 99]

Runia's translation of the essential section within the passage:

For He determines that the worthless man should be ruled by Him as Lord and with awe and groaning feel the fear of the Master hanging over him, that the man of progress should be benefited by Him as God, so that through such acts of kindness he may reach perfection, and that the perfect man should be directed by Him as Lord and benefited by Him as God; for God remains wholly unalterable, while the perfect man is above all a man of God. 25. This is especially shown in the case of Moses. 'This', he says, 'is the blessing which Moses gave, the man of God.' What a splendid and holy exchange is he deemed worthy of, that instead of divine providence he should offer himself (as blessing)! 26. But do not think that being a man and a man of God amounts to the same: you are a man as God's possession, a man of God as a boast (for yourself) and an instrument of service (for others). So if you wish to have God as the portion of your mind, first you yourself become a portion worthy of him (Moses). This will happen if you abandon all handmade and arbitrary laws. [God and Man in Philo of Alexandria Journal of Theological Studies 39 Oxford Press] 

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.