Thursday, July 4, 2013

Philo: Jacob's 'Strength' and the Name of God

But it has also happened that Jacob had his name changed to Israel; and this, too, was a felicitous alteration. Why so? Because the name Jacob means "a supplanter," but the name Israel signifies "the man who sees God." Now it is the employment of a supplanter, who practices virtue, to move, and disturb, and upset the foundations of passion on which it is established, and whatever there is of any strength which is founded on them. But these things are not brought about without a struggle or without severe labour; but only when any one, having gone through all the labours of prudence, then proceeds to practise himself in the exercises of the soul and to wrestle against the reasonings which are hostile to it, and which seek to torment it; but it is the part of him who sees God not to depart from the sacred contest without the crown of victory, but rather to carry off the prize of triumph. And what more flourishing and more suitable crown could be woven for the victorious soul than one by which it will be able acutely and clearly to behold the living God? At least a beautiful prize is thus proposed for the soul which delights in the practice of virtue, namely, the being endowed with sight adequate to the clear comprehension of the only thing which is really worth beholding. [Philo, De mutatione nominum, 83, BECKAERT A., Les oeuvres de Philon d'Alexandrie, 27, Paris 1961 p.70, l.2, BP8]

Now it is well that we should know, that the divine place and the sacred region are full of incorporeal intelligences; and these intelligences are immortal souls. Taking then one of these intelligences, and selecting one of them according as it appears to be the most excellent, this lover of virtue, of whom we are speaking, applies it to our own mind, to it as to the head of a united body; for, indeed, the mind is in a manner the head of the soul; and he does this, using the pretext indeed as if he were going to sleep, but, in reality, as being about to rest upon the word of God, and to place the whole of his life as the lightest possible burden upon it; and it listens to him gladly, and receives the labourer in the paths of virtue at first, as if he were going to become a disciple; then when he has shown his approbation of the dexterity of his nature, he gives him his hand, like a gymnastic trainer, and invites him to the gymnasia, and standing firmly, compels him to wrestle with him, until he has rendered his strength so great as to be irresistible, changing his ears by the divine influences into eyes, and calling this newly-modelled disposition Israel, that is, the man who Sees. Then also he crowns him with the garland of victory. But this garland has a singular and foreign, and, perhaps, not altogether a wellomened name, for it is called by the president of the games torpor, for it is said, that the breadth became Torpid (Gen 32:25) of all the rewards and of the proclamations of the heralds, and of all those most wonderful prizes for pre-eminent excellence which are had in honour;  for the soul which has received a share of irresistible power, and which has been made perfect in the contests of virtue, and which has arrived at the very furthest limit of what is honourable, will never be unduly elated or puffed up by arrogance, nor stand upon tiptoes, and boast as if it were well to make vast strides with bare feet; but the breadth which was extended wide by opinion, will become torpid and contracted, and then will voluntarily succumb and yield to tameness, so as being classed in an inferior order to that of the incorporeal natures, it may carry off the victory while appearing to be defeated [ibid, De somniis 1.130, SAVINEL P., Les oeuvres de Philon d'Alexandrie, 19, Paris 1962p.78, l.18, BP8]

Moreover, he assumes a ring, a royal gift which is no gift, a pledge devoid of good faith, the very contrary gift to that which was given to the same Thamar by Judah the son of the seeing king, Israel; for God gives to the soul a seal, a very beautiful gift, to show that he has invested with shape the essence of all things which was previously devoid of shape, and has stamped with a particular character that which previously had no character, and has endowed with form that which had previously no distinctive form, and having perfected the entire world, he has impressed upon it an image and appearance, namely, his own word. [ibid, 2.44 (p.150, l.10) BP8]

Email with comments or questions.

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