Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Philo's Interpretation of איש Passages in Genesis Chapter 7 and 9

Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male (אִ֣ישׁ) and his female (וְאִשְׁתּ֑וֹ), and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male (אִ֣ישׁ) and his female (וְאִשְׁתּ֑וֹ) [Genesis 7:2]

At all events, when the Creator determined to purify the earth by means of water, and that the soul should receive purification of all its unspeakable offences, having washed off and effaced its pollutions after the fashion of a holy purification, he recommended him who was found to be a just man, who was not borne away the violence of the deluge, to enter into the ark, that is to say, into the vessel containing the soul, namely, the body, and to lead into it "seven of all clean beasts, male and Female," (Gen 7:2.) thinking it proper that virtuous reason should employ all the pure parts of the irrational portion of man.

And this injunction which the lawgiver laid down, is of necessity applicable to all wise men; for they have their sense of sight purified, their sense of hearing thoroughly examined, and so on with all the rest of their outward senses. Accordingly, they have the faculty of speech free from all spot or stain, and their appetites which prompt them to indulge the passions in a state of due subjection to the law.  And every one of the seven outward senses is in one respect male, and in another, female. For when they are stationary, or when it is in motion, they are stationary while quiescent in sleep, and they are in motion while they are energising in their waking state; and the one in accordance with habit and tranquillity, as being subject to passion, is called the female; and the one which exists according to motion and energy, as one that is only conceived in action, is called the male. [Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat 170 - 172]

It is interesting to note that the terms Ish and Ishah are even applied to mated animals here. And it is man as actual or potential sexual mate that is signified by Ish in these further passages: Gen. 19:8, 31; 24:16; 26:10; 29:19; 34:14; 38:25.   This seems to reinforce Philo's original notion that Gen 2:24 and its 'two shall become one flesh' is a reference to the most base kind of man (= 'earthly man').  The closer we go up the ladder to perfection, 'the man of God' is probably conceived as androgynous.

This idea - that the earthly  is no better than beasts - is reinforced in our next reference in Gen 9:5:

What is the meaning of the expression, "The blood of your souls will I require from every beast, and from the hand of man's brother will I require the life of man?" (Gen 9:5). The multitude of creatures which do injury is twofold; some being beasts, and others men. But beasts are rather the least injurious of the two, because they have no actual familiarity with those whom they wish to injure, principally because they do not fall under their power, but destroy those who have properly power over them. But when he speaks of brothers, he means men who are murderers, intimating these three things. First of all, that all we men are akin to one another, and are brothers, being connected with one another according to the relation of the highest kind of kindred; for we have received a lot, as being the children of one and the same mother, rational nature. In the second place, he intimates that very commonly numerous and terrible quarrels arise, and acts of treachery take place, between relations, and rather between brothers, on account of the division of their inheritance, or on account of some superiority of dignity in the household; since a quarrel between those of the same family is worse and altogether unseemly, because brothers who are really so by the ties of nature meet in contest with a great knowledge of one another's internal circumstances; being therefore well aware what kind of attack they must employ in their present warfare. But, in the third place, as it appears to me, he employs the appellation of brothers in order to warn men of the implacable and severe punishment which is reserved for murderers; that they, without meeting any compassion, shall suffer what they have inflicted; for they have not slain strangers, but their own brothers in blood. It is with exceeding great propriety that he calls God the protector and overseer of those who are slain by man; for although men despise the revenge, yet let them not behave negligently, but although impure men of savage disposition escape for the moment from danger, still let them know that they are already caught and brought before the greater tribunal of justice, namely, before the divine judgment-seat, which rises up to inflict vengeance on the wicked for the defence of those who have received shameful and unworthy treatment. This is the literal meaning of the words; but if we look to the inward sense of them they have a regard to the merit of the purity of the soul, to which it is suitable to avoid unceasing destruction brought in from outward parts; which merit, that propitious and beneficent being, the most merciful and only Saviour, does not despise; but he expels and destroys all its enemies who stand around it, calling them beasts, and men brothers; for beasts are a symbolical expression for furious men threatening calamitous death; but men and brothers are both separate individual thoughts, and words uttered by mouth and tongue, because they are akin to them, and, by consequence, they bring on great and destructive evils, leaving no stone unturned, no work or word omitted to do injury. [Quaestiones in Genesim 2.60]

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.