Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Philo's Interpretation of איש Passages in Genesis Chapter 6

"And there were giants on the earth in those Days." [Gen 6:4.] 

Perhaps some one may here think, that the lawgiver is speaking enigmatically and alluding to the fables handed down by the poets about giants, though he is a man as far removed as possible from any invention of fables, and one who thinks fit only to walk in the paths of truth itself; in consequence of which principle, he has banished from the constitution, which he has established, those celebrated and beautiful arts of statuary and painting, because they, falsely imitating the nature of the truth, contrive deceits and snares, in order, through the medium of the eyes, to beguile the souls which are liable to be easily won over.

Therefore he utters no fable whatever respecting the giants; but he wishes to set this fact before your eyes, that some men are born of the earth, and some are born of heaven, and some are born of God: those are born of the earth, who are hunters after the pleasures of the body, devoting themselves to the enjoyment and fruition of them, and being eager to provide themselves with all things that tend to each of them. Those again are born of heaven who are men of skill and science and devoted to learning; for the heavenly portion of us is our mind, and the mind of every one of those persons who are born of heaven studies the encyclical branches of education and every other art of every description, sharpening, and exercising, and practising itself, and rendering itself acute in all those matters which are the objects of intellect.  Lastly, those who are born of God are priests and prophets, who have not thought fit to mix themselves up in the constitutions of this world, and to become cosmopolites, but who having raised themselves above all the objects of the mere outward senses, have departed and fixed their views on that world which is perceptible only by the intellect, and have settled there, being inscribed in the state of incorruptible incorporeal ideas.

Accordingly, Abraham, as long as he was abiding in the land of the Chaldaeans, that is to say, in opinion, before he received his new name, and while he was still called Abram, was a man born of heaven, investigating the sublime nature of things on high, and all that took place in these regions, and the causes of them, and studying everything of that kind in the true spirit of philosophy; on which account he received an appellation corresponding to the pursuits to which he devoted himself: for the name Abram, being interpreted, signifies the sublime father, and is a name very fitting for the paternal mind, which in every direction contemplates sublime and heavenly things: for the mind is the father of our composite being, reaching as high as the sky and even farther.  But when he became improved, and was about to have his name changed, he then became a man born of God, according to the oracle which was delivered to him, "I am thy God, take care that thou art approved before me, and be thou Blameless." (Gen 17:1).

But if the God of the world, being the only God, is also by especial favour the peculiar God of this individual man, then of necessity the man must also be a man of God; for the name Abraham, being interpreted, signifies, "the elect father of sound," the reason of the good man: for he is chosen out of all, and purified, and the father of the voice by which we speak; and being such a character as this, he is assigned to the one only God, whose minister he becomes, and so makes the path of his whole life straight, using in real truth the royal road, the road of the only king who governs all things, turning aside and deviating neither to the left hand nor to the right.

But the sons of earth removing their minds from contemplation, and becoming deserters so as to fly to the lifeless and immovable nature of the flesh, "for they two became one Flesh," (Gen 2:24) as the lawgiver says, adulterated the excellent coinage, and abandoned the better rank which had been allotted to them as their own, and deserted to the worse rank, which was contrary to their original nature, Nimrod being the first to set the example of this desertion; for the lawgiver says, "that this man began to be a giant upon the Earth:" (Gen 10:29) and the name Nimrod, being interpreted, means, desertion; for it was not enough for the thoroughly miserable soul to stand on neither side, but having gone over to its enemies, it took up arms against its friends, and resisted them, and made open war upon them; in reference to which fact it is that, Moses calls the seat of Nimrod's kingdom Babylon, and the interpretation of the word Babylon is "change;" a thing nearly akin to desertion, the name, too, being akin to the name, and the one action to the other; for the first step of every deserter is a change and alteration of mind, and it would be consistent in the truth to say that, according to the most holy Moses, the bad man, as being one destitute of a home and of a city, without any settled habitation, and a fugitive, is naturally a deserter also; but the good man is the firmest of allies. Having said thus much at present, and dwelt sufficiently on the subject of the giants, we will now proceed to what comes next in our subject, which is this.[De gigantibus 58 - 67]

There certainly does appear to be a pattern emerging.  Philo clearly reinforces that there is some special meaning to the term איש which was known to contemporary exegesis and which only survives in part to day in the Samaritan identification of איש as a specific name of an angel.

Not surprisingly Philo indicates that there are three classes of 'men' - going beyond Paul's distinction in 1 Corinthians of an 'earthly' and a 'heavenly' man.  Indeed it is curious that the Valentinians in particular emphasize a similar threefold nature of humanity and - more significantly - that a like manner to heretical exegesis, there is a fundamental notion that the 'heavenly man' undergoes transformation or initiation to 'rise up the chain' of classes of being.  We see this with Philo's treatment of Jacob's visit to Bethel - i.e. he is said to 'change' loyalty from the Lord to God.  Now we understand that there is a two step process for a 'bad man' like Jacob (Philo's words not mine).

The order of rank apparently is:

man of God
man of heaven
man of earth

Most of the איש references in the Pentateuch are assumed to be to 'men of earth.'  These men have the Lord as their God (like Jacob).  Jacob encountered God at Bethel and made him his Lord and then the visitation at Peniel transformed him into a man of God.  Abraham was already prophetic (= a man born from heaven) so he reached the highest rung by his change of name.  It is unclear at the moment how this should change our interpretation of 1 Corinthians chapter 15.  But clearly 'a man seeing God' (= Israel) is somehow related to the concept of 'man of God' and איש is certainly at the core of both terms. 

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