Thursday, July 11, 2013

Philo's Interpretation of איש Passages in Genesis 9 [Part Two]

Therefore, the all wise Moses attributes to the just man a knowledge of the husbandry of the soul, as an act consistent with his character, and thoroughly suited to him, saying, "Noah began to be a husbandman." But to the unjust man he attributes the task of tilling the ground, which is an employment bearing the heaviest burdens without any knowledge.  For "Cain," says he, "was a tiller of the ground;" and a little afterwards, when he is detected in having contracted the pollution of fratricide, it is said, "Cursed art thou by the earth, which opened her mouth to receive the word of thy brother from thy hand, with which thou tillest the earth, and it shall not put forth its strength to give unto thee."  How then could any one show more manifestly, that the lawgiver looks upon the wicked man as a tiller of the earth, and not as a husbandman, than by such language as we here see used? [De Agricultura 20 - 25]

Let us consider whether Philo was unaware that the Hebrew word איש was behind the descriptions of Cain and Noah here. In contrast with Abel the shepherd (ro'eh), Cain is the 'obhedh 'a- dhamah, "tiller of the ground," (Gen. 4:2).  But Noah is 'ish ha adhamah, lit. "man of the ground."  It is amazing to see how not only Philo but all translations misreport what is actually here.  Philo has been misled by the LXX Gen 9:20 ('And Noah was the first man cultivating the earth').  The original text describes Noah as a second Adam.  But the LXX is by no means alone here.  The targumim on Gen 9:20 read: Tg O ('And Noah began [to be] a man working on the soil'), Tg N ('And Noah, a just man, began to till the earth'), and Tg Ps-J ('Noah began to be a man tilling the earth').

It would appear then that Philo's distinction - how "the occupation of tilling the ground differs from husbandry, and a tiller of the ground from a husbandman" (26)- is entirely without foundation.   Nevertheless it cannot be said because of this that Philo develops this understanding because of he unaware of the original Hebrew text underlying his Greek translation.   Indeed he says in the very next line quite specifically "therefore, as we found a tiller of the earth and a husbandman, though there did not appear to be any difference between them (till we came to investigate the allegorical meaning concealed under each name), nevertheless very far removed from one another in fact." (27)  To this end, we must push to the side the notion that Philo's forced interpretation of the material comes about solely because of his alienation from the original language of Genesis.

Indeed it would appear that with Philo's repeated acknowledgement that Noah is only described by the narrative as 'perfect' against the standard of the wicked generation in which he lived, that Noah is only a redeemed type of the same 'man of the earth' as Cain.  Just why Philo doesn't say this is at first puzzling - until we notice that it is κύριος (= 'the Lord,' Yahweh) the lowest of the heavenly powers according to Philo and the being whose authority is placed over 'earthly' bad men in various formulations in his writings.  We must remember that Jacob is said to 'change' powers at Bethel from κύριος to θεός as a result of witnessing what he saw on the heavenly ladder.  It wasn't only Philo who mentions this but his 'student' Clement demonstrates that the same teaching was passed on to the mysteries of earliest Christianity so it was at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition in Alexandria. 

The point then is that Philo goes on to pay very close attention to the parallel between the 'ish ha adhamah (man of the earth) and his Lord as 'planters.'  It would seem that Philo is very careful to avoid making the point explicit - owing to its overarching 'heretical' implications - that κύριος and θεός represent two different types of men or 'species' on the earth each with different purposes and activities.  κύριος is a 'planter' in Eden just as θεός is described as a shepherd.  To this end, Cain and Abel are mirrors of their respective lords and - importantly - Noah represents the surviving portion of the 'men of the earth' typology who survive into the new age.

As such it would stand to reason that Philo is not so much a victim of his dependence on Greek as he is of obscuring the implications of his tradition.  Rather than acknowledge the implicit polytheistic implications of 'two powers' in heaven - i.e. κύριος the 'planter,' θεός the 'shepherd' - Philo muddies the water seeking to distinguish Noah from Cain even though it is plain that in the original system both were different types of 'men of the earth.'

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