Philo of Alexandria

ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION, II[1] 

The Second Book of the Treatise on The Allegories of the Sacred Laws, after the Work of the Six Days of Creation.

I. (1) "And the Lord God said, It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help meet for him." Why, O prophet, is it not good for man to be alone? Because, says he, it is good, that he who is alone should be alone. But God is alone, and by himself, being one; and there is nothing like unto God. So that, since it is good that he who only has a real existence should be alone (for that which is about itself alone is good), it cannot be good for man to be alone. (2) But the fact of God being alone one may receive in this sense; that neither before the creation was there anything with God, nor, since the world has been created, is anything placed in the same rank with him; for he is in need of absolutely nothing whatever. But the better way of understanding this passage is the following: God is alone: a single being: not a combination: a single nature: but each of us, and every other animal in the world, are compound beings: for instance, I myself am made up of many things, of soul and body. Again, the soul is made up of a rational part and an irrational part: also of the body, there is one part hot, another cold; one heavy, another light; one dry, another moist. But God is not a compound being, nor one which is made up of many parts, but one which has no mixture with anything else; (3) for whatever could be combined with God must be either superior to him, or inferior to him, or equal to him. But there is nothing equal to God, and nothing superior to him, and nothing is combined with him which is worse than himself; for if it were, he himself would be deteriorated; and if he were to suffer deterioration, he would also become perishable, which it is impious even to imagine. Therefore God exists according to oneness and unity; or we should rather say, that oneness exists according to the one God, for all number is more recent than the world, as is also time. But God is older than the world, and is its Creator.

II. (4) But it is not good for any man to be alone. For there are two kinds of men, the one made according to the image of God, the other fashioned out of the earth; for it longs for its own likeness. For the image of God is the antitype of all other things, and every imitation aims at this of which it is the imitation, and is placed in the same class with it. And it is not good for either the man, who was made according to the image of God, to be alone: nor is it any more desirable for the factitious man to be alone, and indeed it is impossible. For the external senses, and the passions, and the vices, and innumerable other things, are combined with and adapted to the mind of this man. (5) But the second kind of man has a helpmeet for him, who, in the first place, is created; "For I will make him," says God, "a help-meet for him." And, in the second place, is younger than the object to be helped; for, first of all, God created the mind, and subsequently he prepares to make its helper. But all this is spoken allegorically, in accordance with the principles of natural philosophy; for external sensation and the passions of the soul are all younger than the soul, and how they help it we shall see hereafter, but at present we will consider the fact of their being helpers younger than the object helped.

III. (6) As, according to the most skilful physicians and natural philosophers, the heart appears to be formed before the rest of the body, after the manner of the foundation of a house or the keel of a ship, and then the rest of the body is built upon it; on which account, even after death, the physicians say, that the heart still quivers, as having been created before the rest of the body, and being destroyed after it; so also does the dominant portion of the soul appear to be older than the whole of the soul, and the irrational part to be younger; the formation of which Moses has not yet mentioned, but he is about to give a sketch of it, how the irrational part of the soul is the external sensation, and the passions which spring from it, especially if the judgments are our own. And this assistant of God is younger, and created, being thus described with perfect propriety. (7) But now let us see how that part, which was postponed before, acts as an assistant: how does our mind comprehend that such and such a thing is black or white, unless it employs sight as its assistant? and how does it know that the voice of the man who is singing to his harp is sweet, or, on the contrary, out of tune, if it has not the assistance of the faculty of hearing to guide it? And how can it tell that exhalations are fragrant or foulsmelling, unless it makes use of the sense of smell as its ally? How again does it judge of the different flavours, except through the instrumentality of its assistant, taste? (8) How can it distinguish between what is rough and what is smooth, except by touch? There is also another class of assistants, as I have already said, namely, the passions: for pleasure also is an assistant, co-operating towards the durability of our race, and in like manner concupiscence, and pain, and fear, biting the soul, lead it to treat nothing with indifference. Anger, again, is a defensive weapon, which has been of great service to many people, and so too have the other passions in the same manner. On which account Moses has said, with great felicity, "that he was an assistant to himself:" for he is in reality an assistant to the mind, as if he were its brother and near kinsman: for the external sensations and the passions are parts of one soul, and are its offspring.

IV. (9) Now of assistants there are two kinds, the one consisting in the passions and the other in the sensations. But the prior kind is that of generation, for Moses says, "And God proceeded and made all the beasts of the field out of the earth, and all the birds of heaven; and he brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and whatever Adam called any living soul that became its name." You see here who are our assistants, the beasts of the soul, the passions. For after God had said, "I will make him a helpmeet for him," Moses adds subsequently, "He made the beasts," as if the beasts also were assistants to us. (10) But these are not, properly speaking, assistants, but are called so only in a catachrestic manner, by a kind of abuse of language, for they are found in reality to be enemies to man. . . .

V. (14) This therefore he denominated the species of assistants, but the other part of the creation, the description, that is, of the formation of the external sensations, was postponed till he began to form the woman; and having put off this he then gives an account of the distribution of names; and this is an explanation, partly figurative and partly literal, which is worthy of our admiration. It is literal, inasmuch as the Lawgiver has attributed the imposition of names to the firstborn man; (15) for those also among the Greeks, who study philosophy, say that they were wise men who first gave names to things: but Moses speaks more correctly in the first place, because he attributes this giving of names, not to some of those men who lived in early times, but to the first man who was created upon the earth; so that, just as he himself was created to be the beginning of creation to all other animals, he might also be considered the beginning of conversation and language. . . .

VII. (19) "And God cast a deep trance upon Adam, and sent him to sleep; and he took one of his ribs," and so on. The literal statement conveyed in these words is a fabulous one; for how can any one believe that a woman was made of a rib of a man, or, in short, that any human being was made out of another? And what hindered God, as he had made man out of the earth, from making woman in the same manner? For the Creator was the same, and the material was almost interminable, from which every distinctive quality whatever was made. And why, when there were so many parts of a man, did not God make the woman out of some other part rather than out of one of his ribs? Again, of which rib did he make her? . . . . Again, the power of comprehension is a peculiar property of the mind; and the reasoning power is perhaps common to the more divine natures, but is especially the property of the mortal nature of man: and this is a twofold power, one kind being that in accordance with which we are rational creatures, partaking of mind; and the other kind being that faculty by which we converse. (24) There is also another power in the soul akin to these, the power of sensation, of which we are now speaking; for Moses is describing nothing else on this occasion except the formation of the external sense, according to energy and according to reason.

VIII. For immediately after the creation of the mind it was necessary that the external sense should be created, as an assistant and ally of the mind; therefore God having entirely perfected the first, proceeded to make the second, both in rank and power, being a certain created form, an external sense according to energy, created for the perfection and completion of the whole soul, and for the proper comprehension of such subject matter as might be brought before it. (25) How then was this second thing created? As Moses himself says in a subsequent passage, when the mind was gone to sleep: for, in real fact, the external sense then comes forward when the mind is asleep. And again, when the mind is awake the outward sense is extinguished; and the proof of this is, that when we desire to form an accurate conception of anything, we retreat to a desert place, we shut our eyes, we stop up our ears, we discard the exercise of our senses; and so, when the mind rises up again and awakens, the outward sense is put an end to. . . .Moses, being alarmed lest some day or other the mind might not merely go to sleep, but might become absolutely dead, says in another place, "And it shall be to you a peg in your girdle; and it shall be, that when you sit down you shall dig in it, and, heaping up earth, shall cover your Shame." Speaking symbolically, and giving the name of peg to reason which digs up secret affairs; (28) and he bids him to bear it upon the affection with which he ought to be birded, and not to allow it to slacken and become loosened; and this must be done when the mind, departing from the intense consideration of objects perceptible by the intellect, is brought down to the passions, and sits down, yielding to, and being guided by, the necessities of the body: (29) and this is the case when the mind, being absorbed in luxurious associations, forgets itself, being subdued by the things which conduct it to pleasure, and so we become enslaved, and yield ourselves up to unconcealed impurity. But if reason be able to purify the passion, then neither when we drink do we become intoxicated, nor when we eat do we become indolent through satiety, but we feast soberly without indulging in folly. (30) Therefore, the awakening of the outward senses is the sleep of the mind; and the awakening of the mind is the discharge of the outward senses from all occupation. Just as when the sun arises the brightness of all the rest of the stars becomes invisible; but when the sun sets, they are seen. And so, like the sun, the mind, when it is awakened, overshadows the outward senses, but when it goes to sleep it permits them to shine.

IX. (31) After this preface we must now proceed to explain the words: "The Lord God," says Moses, "cast a deep trance upon Adam, and sent him to sleep." He speaks here with great correctness, for a trance and perversion of the mind is its sleep. And the mind is rendered beside itself when it ceases to be occupied about the things perceptible only by the intellect which present themselves to it. And when it is not energizing with respect to them it is asleep. And the expression, "it is in a trance," is very well employed, as it means that it is perverted and changed, not by itself, but by God, who presents to it, and brings before it, and sends upon it the change which occurs to it. . . .

X. (35) "He took one of his ribs." He took one of the many powers of the mind, namely, that power which dwells in the outward senses. And when he uses the expression, "He took," we are not to understand it as if he had said, "He took away," but rather as equivalent to "He counted, He examined;" . . .

XI. (38) "And he filled the space with flesh instead of it." That is to say, he filled up that external sense which exists according to habit, leading it on to energy and extending it as far as the flesh and the whole outward and visible surface of the body. In reference to which Moses adds that "he built it up into a woman:" showing by this expression that woman is the most natural and felicitously given name for the external sense. For as the man is seen in action, and the woman in being the subject of action, so also is the mind seen in action, and the external sense, like the woman, is discerned by suffering or being the subject of action. (39) And it is easy to learn this from the way in which it is affected in practice. . . .

XII. (40) "And he brought her to Adam. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." God leads the external sense, existing according to energy, to the mind; knowing that its motion and apprehension must turn back to the mind. But the mind, perceiving the power which it previously had (and which, while it was existing according to habit was in a state of tranquillity), now have to become a complete operation and energy, and to be in a state of motion, marvels at it, and utters an exclamation, saying that it is not unconnected with it, but very closely akin to it. (41) For Adam says, "This now is bone of my bone;" that is to say, This is power of my power; for bone is here to be understood as a symbol of strength and power. And it is, he adds, suffering of my sufferings; that is, it is flesh of my flesh. For every thing which the external sense suffers, it endures not without the support of the mind; for the mind is its fountain, and the foundation on which it is supported. . . .

XIII. (44) "And she shall be called woman." This is equivalent to saying, On this account the outward sensation shall be called woman, because it is derived from man who sets it in motion. He says "she;" why, then, is the expression "she" used? Why, because there is also another kind of outward sensation, not derived from the mind, but having been created, at the same moment with it. For there are, as I have said before, two different kinds of outward sensation; the one kind existing according to habit, and the other according to energy. . . .

XIV. (49) "On this account a man will leave his father and his mother and will cleave to his wife; and they two shall become one flesh." 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. (50) And here you must observe that it is not the woman who cleaves to the man, but on the contrary, the man who cleaves to the woman; that is to say, the mind cleaves to the external sensations. For when that which is the better, namely, the mind, is united to that which is the rose, namely, the external sensation, it is then dissolved into the nature of flesh, which is worse, and into outward sensation, which is the cause of the passions. But when that which is the inferior, namely, the outward sensation, follows the better part, that is the mind, then there will no longer be flesh, but both will become one, namely, mind. And this is a thing of such a nature that it prefers the affections to piety. . . .

XV. (53) "And they were both naked, both Adam and his wife, and they were not ashamed; but the serpent was the most subtle of all the beasts that were upon the earth, which the Lord God had Made:" --the mind is naked, which is clothed neither with vice nor with virtue, but which is really stripped of both: just as the soul of an infant child, which has no share in either virtue or vice, is stripped of all coverings, and is completely naked: for these things are the coverings of the soul, by which it is enveloped and concealed, good being the garment of the virtuous soul, and evil the robe of the wicked soul. (54) And the soul is made naked in these ways. Once, when it is in an unchangeable state, and is entirely free from all vices, and has discarded and laid aside the covering of all the passions. . . .

XVI. (60) This is the most excellent nakedness, but the other nakedness is of a contrary nature, being a change which involves a deprivation of virtue, when the soul becomes foolish and goes astray. . . . (64) The third description of stripping naked is the middle one, according to which the mind is destitute of reason, having no share in either virtue or vice; and it is with reference to this kind of nakedness which an infant also is partaker of, that the expression is used which says, "And the two were naked, both Adam and his wife;" and the meaning of it is this, neither did their intellect understand, nor did their outward senses perceive this nakedness; but the former was devoid of all power of understanding, and naked; and the latter was destitute of all perception.

XVII. (65) And the expression, "they were not ashamed," we will examine hereafter: for there are three ideas brought forward in this passage. Shamelessness, modesty, and a state of indifference, in which one is neither shameless nor modest. . . .(70) As long as they are both naked, the mind naked of its power of exciting the intellect, and the outward sense of its power of sensation, they have nothing disgraceful in them; but the moment that they begin to display any comprehension, they become masked in shame and insolence: for they will often be found behaving with simplicity and folly rather than with any sound knowledge, and this not only in particular acts of covetousness, or spleen, or folly, but also in the general conduct of life: for when the outward sense has the dominion the mind is enslaved, giving its attention to no one proper object of its intellect, and when the mind is predominant, the untoward sense is seen to be without employment, having no comprehension of any proper object of its own exercise.

XVIII. (71) "Now the serpent was the most subtle of all the beasts which are upon the earth, which the Lord God Made." Two things having been previously created, that is, mind and outward sense, and these also having been stripped naked in the manner which has already been shown, it follows of necessity that pleasure, which brings these two together, must be the third, for the purpose of facilitating the comprehension of the objects of intellect and of outward sense: for neither could the mind, without the outward sense, be able to comprehend the nature of any animal or of any plant, or of a stone or of a piece of wood, or, in short, of any substance whatever; nor could the outward sense exercise its proper faculties without the mind. (72) Since, therefore, it was necessary for both these things to come together for the due comprehension of these objects, what was it which brought them together except a third something which acted as a bond between them, the two first representing love and desire, and pleasure not obtaining the dominion and mastery, which pleasure Moses here speaks of symbolically, under the emblem of the serpent. (73) God, who created all the animals on the earth, arranged this order very admirably, for he placed the mind first, that is to say, man, for the mind is the most important part in man; then outward sense, that is the woman; and then proceeding in regular order he came to the third, pleasure. But the powers of these three, and their ages, are different only in the night, for in point of time they are equal; for the soul brings forward everything at the same moment with itself: but some things it brings forward in their actuality, and others in their power of existing, even if they have not yet arrived at the end. (74) And pleasure has been represented under the form of the serpent, for this reason, as the motion of the serpent is full of many windings and varied, so also is the motion of pleasure. At first it folds itself round a man in five ways, for the pleasures consist both in seeing, and in hearing, and in taste, and in smell, and in touch. But the most vehement and intense are those which arise from connection with woman, through which the generation of similar beings is appointed by nature to be effected. (75) And yet this is not the only reason why we say that pleasure is various in appearance, namely, because it folds itself around all the divisions of the irrational part of the soul, but because it also folds itself with many windings around each separate part.



[1] F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker write (Philo, vol. 1, pp. 220-223):

This treatise deals with Genesis ii. 18-iii. 1. Let us mark its mode of dealing with the Sacred Text in salient instances.The story of the creation of Eve, we are told, is not meant to be taken literally. It is a "Myth," showing forth the origin of Sense-perception, which becomes active when Mind is asleep (Gen. ii. 21). The bringing of Woman to Man is the introduction of Sense-perception to Mind, which hails it as its own (ii. 22 f.). (19 ff., 40 ff.)

That Adam and Eve were both naked (ii. 25) means that they were without either good or evil; for nakedness of soul can show itself as (a) freedom from passions; (b) loss of virtue; (c) neutrality. Adam and Eve were inactive both in mind and sense-perception, and were "unashamed," i.e. without either the shamelessness of the worthless man, or the shamefastness of the man of worth. (53 ff.)

The entry of the Serpent (Gen. iii. 1) is due to the need of some means of uniting Mind and Sense-perception for their joint apprehension of objects, and of eliciting their activities. (71 ff.)

Let us notice next the extent to which Philo dwells on single words.

The word "alone" in Gen. ii. 18 draws out the reminder that God only is alone, self-contained, needing naught, not composite; while the heavenly Man ever yearns to be with God, and the earthy man always is with his passions. (1-4.)

The word "help" or "helper" suggests to him the created, later-born helpers given to the earthy man. These "wild beasts" are the senses and passions, such as desire, fear, anger, given to Mind (Gen. ii. 19)our helpers, but often our foes. (5 ff.)

The word "moreover" (in the Greek version of Gen. ii. 19) is taken by Philo to mean a second creation of senses and passions; and this further creation is accounted for by the observation that evils are numerous, and by the suggestion that Gen. i. 24 refers to genera, and Gen. ii. 19 to species, a suggestion in support of which evidence is adduced. (11 f.)

In the account of the giving of names to the creatures, the words "what he would call" are taken as meaning "why he would invite." (14 f.)

In the story of the creation of Eve, "ribs" or "sides" are understood as "strength"; "took" as meaning "entered on the roll," "registered," i.e. brought into active service (this on the strength of Numb. xxxi. 26, "take the sum"); "filled up flesh in its stead" means "fulfilled" sense-perception, and "filled" the body "with it"; and woman is "builded" (Gen. ii. 22, R.V. margin) because she is moved to activity from without. (19 f., 35, 38 f.)

A striking example of single words pressed into the service of allegory is Adam's welcome to Eve, "This is now bone of my bones." "This" is Sense-perception no longer passive but become active; and "now" is indicative of Sense-perception being affected only by the present. (42 f.)

We pass on to observe the examples afforded by this treatise of Philo's fondness for drawing illustrations and adducing parallels from the story of the patriarchs and the early history of Israel.

In 46 f. Philo maintains that, though active Sense-perception, being an extension of the potential Sense-perception inherent in Mind, may be said to come from Mind, yet to suppose that anything whatever is, in the strict sense of the word, derived from Mind is to be guilty of shallow thinking, and illustrates the truth of what he says by the contrast between Rachel addressing to Jacob the appeal "Give me children," and "the Lord opening Leah's womb" (Gen. xxix. 31 and xxx. 1 f.).

In 51 f. the danger of the drawing down of Mind from the love of God by its cleaving to Sense-perception is brought out by a reference to Levi's noble choice (Deut. xxxiii. 9) making the Lord his portion (x. 9), and to the two goats of Lev. xvi. 8.

Freedom from passions (one of the meanings of "nakedness") is illustrated by Moses setting up the Tent of Witness outside the Camp (Exod. xxxiii. 7); by Aaron entering unrobed (!) into the Holy of Holies (cf. Lev. xvi. 1 ff.); by Nadab and Abihu leaving their coats (or irrational parts) for Mishael and Elzaphan (Lev. x. 5); by Abraham leaving his country (Gen. xii. 1); by Isaac being forbidden to go down into Egypt (i.e. the body, Gen. xxvi. 2); and by Jacob's smoothness (Gen. xxvii. 11). (54 ff.)

Loss of virtue (another meaning given to "nakedness") is illustrated by Noah's lapse (Gen. ix. 21). And the indications which Philo finds in the narrative that the lapse was not irretrievable are illustrated by the provision in the Law that vows made only in intent may be rescinded (Numb. xxx. 10). (60 ff.)

The assaults of pleasure and the healing virtue of Self-mastery are illustrated by the deadly serpents and the brazen serpent of the wilderness journey (Numb. xxi.). Distraction, Pleasure's agent, is like the scorpion (="scattering") of the desert. The soul-thirst of "Egypt" is quenched by the Wisdom ("Water") as is hunger by the Word ("Manna") of God. A sign of the great daring of Pleasure, in attacking even Moses, is found in the story of his rod. Like Jacob's, it is "discipline." Shrinking from this, Moses casts it away, and is then bidden to grasp it by its tail (Exod. iv. 1 ff.). (78 ff., 87 ff.)

Pleasure is again pointed at in the Prayer of Jacob (Gen. xlix. 16-18), where Dan (="distinguishing") is the principle of self-mastery, who is to become a serpent biting the horse (sc. passions), and saving from them Mind (the "horseman"), who "waits for" God's "salvation"; and in the Song of Moses (Exod. xv. 1), where horse and rider, i.e. the four passions with Mind mounted on them, are cast into the sea..