Monday, July 8, 2013

Philo's Interpretation of איש Passages in Genesis Chapter 2 and 3

In my previous post, I listed every single איש passage in Genesis.  At first glance it seemed to me at least that most of them could not have been used to support the idea that איש - or  for that matter - was being used in some mystical sense, i.e. to mean 'heavenly man.'  But it is quite fascinating to go through Philo's interpretation of the material.  He seems to know that 'man' can be used in two ways - i.e. in the sense of 'earthly' and 'heavenly' being even in passages which don't seem to allow a mystical interpretation.

Take for instance:

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]

It doesn't seem to allow for anything other than the plain meaning of the material - i.e. 'getting married.'  But Philo notes that what Genesis is describing is something bad.  Moses is describing the process of corruption or the 'fall from grace' as Christian would have it:

On account of the external sensation, the mind, when it has become enslaved to it, shall leave both its father, the God of the universe, and the mother of all things, namely, the virtue and wisdom of God, and cleaves to and becomes united to the external sensations, and is dissolved into external sensation, so that the two become one flesh and one passion.  [Alleg. 2.49]

According to Philo the female should be cleaving to the male not the other way around - "the man who cleaves to the woman; that is to say, the mind cleaves to the external sensations." [ibid]

As Philo notes elsewhere 'mind' (νοῦς) is the heavenly Man. He describes the human being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) as the “mind in each of us,” which “in turn, was copied.” He is clearly referencing the rational nous within empirical humanity and not ideal humanity or even the ideal human mind. For Philo, the ideal or archetypal nous is the Logos, which both images God and serves as the model for the human mind.  But as we have already noted one can intimate that there existed here originally the idea of a 'hidden' heavenly man who stands behind the Logos (= νοῦς).

Thus even though it would seem as if each one of these  references in Genesis can have little to do with a god called 'Man,' Philo strangely manages to turn the conversation around to him almost with each one of them.  Take the example what follows in Genesis:

"And thy desire shall be to thy Husband (= איש)." [Gen 3:16]

Philo recycles the idea that "there are two husbands of the outward senses" where indeed according to him:

the one a legal one, the other a destroyer. For the object of sight, acting upon it like a husband, puts the sense of sight in motion; and so does sound affect the sense of hearing, flavour the sense of taste, and so on with each of the outward senses respectively ... Behold the man who is devoted to the study of music, how he is governed by the harp, or the flute, or by any one who is able to sing. But the sense which turns itself to its legitimate husband, that is to say, to the mind, derives the greatest possible advantage from that object. [Alleg. 221]

Philo ultimately goes back to pointing out again that man cleaving to woman is inherently bad.  'Outward sense' should cleave to 'mind' because it "is better should rule, and that that which is worse should be ruled.  And the mind is better than the outward senses." [ibid 222]

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