Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Philo's Interpretation of איש Passages in Genesis Chapter 4

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten an איש from the Lord. [Genesis 4:1]
It is a curious passage.  Yes, it is true, it is said that Adam 'knew' (יָדַע) his wife but Eve's crediting 'the Lord' for the birth of Cain has puzzled commentators for generations.  What does it mean exactly when it is said Eve 'acquired' (קָנִ֥יתִי) Cain (קַ֔יִן) from Yahweh?  To be certain there is a play on words here with respect to the words for 'acquiring' and the name of the firstborn of Adam. Philo alludes to this in his analysis saying that Abel sees all things as belonging to God while Cain only thinks in terms of himself.  Nevertheless Philo's interpretation stumbles when it comes to explaining Eve's words - i.e. crediting 'the Lord' for her child.

Indeed Philo recounts other births in the Book of Genesis which had divine assistance and he does so in terms which echo - at least superficially - Christian discussions of the Virgin Birth.  Perhaps the most interesting is where Philo describes

And he teaches the same lesson more plainly in the case of Leah, where he says that "God opened her Womb."(Gen 29:13.)  But to open the womb is the especial business of the husband. And she having conceived, brought forth, not to God, for he alone is sufficient and all-abundant for himself, but to him who underwent labour for the sake of that which is good, namely, for Jacob; so that in this instance virtue received the divine seed from the great Cause of all things, but brought forth her offspring to one of her lovers, who deserved to be preferred to all her other Suitors.

Whereas Philo credits 'God' with opening her womb and receiving Joseph bur she asks 'the Lord' for Benjamin.  Is there something to this?  I don't know but it is important to note that Joseph is her firstborn.

Cain is so identified by virtually all the Church Fathers - Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Jacob of Serug etc - as the 'firstborn' of humanity.  While Jewish tradition is often said to be rooted in a twin tradition regarding the brothers it is inescapable to conclude that even here Cain is the firstborn.  Some heretics (= Origenists) said that Adam 'knowing' Eve as his wife, was the cause of the Fall.  This in many ways can be seen as an outgrowth of certain ideas of Philo mentioned in the last post.

The question which remains for us is whether the Marcionites were aware of this relationship between Yahweh and his firstborn איש Cain.  The reason we ask is that Polycarp's statement that Marcion was recognized as 'the firstborn of Satan' may well derive from an original Marcionite accusation against 'the Jewish god.'  Consider for a moment the statement by Tertullian that:

the heretic now give up borrowing poison from the Jew—the asp as they say, from the viper: let him from now on belch forth the slime of his own particular devices, as he maintains that Christ was a phantasm: except that this opinion too will have had other inventors, those so-to-speak premature and abortive Marcionites whom the apostle John pronounced antichrists, who denied that Christ was come in the flesh but not with the intention of setting up the law of a second god [alterius dens'] —else for this too they would have been censured (by the apostle)—but because they had assumed it incredible that God (should take to him human) flesh. [Adv. Marc. 3.8]

The point here clearly is that the title of 'firstborn of Satan' is intimately connected with the Marcionite interest in a heavenly איש with heavenly flesh.  Polycarp originally must have turned around a similar accusation leveled by the Marcionites against Cain as the firstborn of his Lord.

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