Monday, July 8, 2013

Philo Identifies the איש Who Meets Joseph in the Field As God

We have already seen the Samaritans identify the איש as an angel of this name.  Now the Alexandrian tradition goes one step further.  I wish I had a better text to work with than Yonge's pathetic translation.  Nevertheless here goes:

But some say that the proper name of the man who found him wandering in the plain is not mentioned, and they themselves are in some degree mistaken here, because they are unable clearly to discover the true way of this business, for if they had not been mutilated as to the eye of the soul, they would have known that of one who is truly a man, the most proper, and appropriate, and felicitous name is this very name of man, being the most appropriate appelation of a well regulated and rational mind.

This man, dwelling in the soul of each individual, is found at one time to be a ruler and monarch, and at another time to be a judge and umpire of the contest which take place in life. At times also he takes the place of a witness and accuser, and without being seen he corrects us from within, not suffering us to open our mouths, but taking up, and restraining, and birdling, with the reins of conscience the self-satisfied and restive course of the tongue.  This convicting feeling it is which inquires of the soul when it sees it wandering about, What seekest thou? Is it wisdom? why then do you go after wickedness? Or is it temperance? but this path of your leads to niggardliness. Or is courage? by this path you will only arrive at rashness. Or are you in pursuit of piety? this is the road to superstition.

But if it should say that it is seeking words of wisdom, and that it is longing for them, as for what is nearest akin to its own race, we must not give implicit belief to this, for the question was not, Where are they feeding their flocks? but Where are they tending them? for they who feed their flocks supply nourishment, and all the objects of the outward senses to the animal of the outward senses devoid of reason and insatiable; by means of which outward senses and their indulgence, we become unable to govern ourselves and fall into misfortune; but they who tend their flocks, having the power of rulers and governors, make those gentle which were fierce before, checking the mighty power of the appetites.  If, therefore, he was in all sincerity seeking the practices of virtue, he would have sought for them among kings, and not among cup-bearers, or cooks, or confectioners, for these last prepare things which have reference to pleasure, but the former are masters of pleasure.

Therefore the man, who saw the deceit, answered rightly, "They are departed hence." And he shows here the mass of the body; clearly proving that all those by whom labour is practised for the sake of the acquisition of virtue, having left the regions of earth, have determined on contemplating only what is sublime, dragging with them no stain of the body. For he says, too, that he had heard them say,

"Let us go to Dotham:" and the name Dotham, being interpreted, means "a sufficient leaving;" showing that it was with no moderate resolution, but with extreme determination that they had decided on leaving and abandoning all those things which do not co-operate towards virtue, just as the customs of women had ceased any longer to affect Sarah. But the passions are female by nature, and we must study to quit them, showing our preference for the masculine characters of the good dispositions. Therefore the interpreter of divers opinions, the wandering Joseph, is found in the plain, that is to say, in a contention of words, having reference to political considerations rather than to useful truth; but there are some adversaries who, by reason of their vigorous body, their antagonists having succumbed, have gained the prize of victory without a struggle, not having even had, to descend into the arena to contend for it, but obtaining the chief honours on account of their incomparable strength. Using such a power as this with reference to the most divine thing that is in us, namely, our mind, "Isaac goes forth into the Plain;" (Gen 24:63) not for the purpose of contending with any body, since all those who might have been his antagonists, are terrified at the greatness and exceeding excellence of his nature in all things; but only washing to meet in private, and to converse in private with the fellow traveller and guide of his path and of his soul, namely God.

And the clearest possible proof of this is, that no one who conversed with Isaac was a mere mortal. Rebecca, that is perseverance, asks her servant, seeing but one person, and having no conception but of one only, "Who is this man who is coming to meet us?" For the soul which perseveres in what is good, is able to comprehend all self-taught wisdom, which is named Isaac, but is not yet able to see God, who is the guide of wisdom. Therefore, also, the servant confirming the fact that he cannot be comprehended who is invisible, and who converses with man invisibly, says, "He is my lord," pointing to Isaac alone. For it is not natural that, if two persons were in sight, he should point to one alone; but the person whom he did not point to, he did not see, inasmuch as he was invisible to all persons of intermediate character. [Philo, Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat 23 - 31]

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