ON THE CREATION (De Opificio Mundi)

by Philo of Alexandria

Excerpts from I-VI and XXI-XXVIII on Genesis 1

I. Philo, On the Creation of the World in Six Days [Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Excerpts from Sections I-VI]

I. (1) Of other lawgivers, some have set forth what they considered to be just and reasonable, in a naked and unadorned manner, while others, investing their ideas with an abundance of amplification, have sought to bewilder the people, by burying the truth under a heap of fabulous inventions. (2) But Moses, rejecting both of these methods, the one as inconsiderate, careless, and unphilosophical, and the other as mendacious and full of trickery, made the beginning of his laws entirely beautiful, and in all respects admirable, neither at once declaring what ought to be done or the contrary, nor (since it was necessary to mould beforehand the dispositions of those who were to use his laws) inventing fables himself or adopting those which had been invented by others. (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. . . .

II. (7) For some people, admiring the world (kosmos) itself rather than the Creator of the world (kosmopoios), have represented it as existing without any maker, and eternal; and as impiously as falsely have represented God as existing in a state of complete inactivity, while it would have been right on the other hand to marvel at the might of God as the Creator (poietos) and Father (pater) of all, and to admire the world in a degree not exceeding the bounds of moderation. (8) But Moses, who had early reached the very summits of philosophy, and who had learnt from the oracles of God the most numerous and important of the principles of nature, was well aware that it is indispensable that in all existing things there must be an active cause, and a passive subject; and that the active cause is the intellect (nous) of the universe (ho ton holon nous), thoroughly unadulterated and thoroughly unmixed, superior to virtue and superior to science, superior even to abstract good or abstract beauty; (9) while the passive subject is something inanimate and incapable of motion by any intrinsic power of its own, but having been set in motion, and fashioned, and endowed with life by the intellect, became transformed into that most perfect work, this world (kosmos). . . . (12) But the great Moses, thinking that a thing which has not been uncreated is as alien as possible from that which is visible before our eyes. . . has attributed eternity to that which is invisible and discerned only by our intellect (noetos) as a kinsman and a brother, while of that which is the object of our external senses (aisthetos) he had predicated generation (genesis) as an appropriate description. Since, then, this world (kosmos) is visible and the object of our external senses, it follows of necessity that it must have been created (genetos); on which account it was not without a wise purpose that he recorded its creation, giving a very venerable account of God.

III. (13) And he says that the world was made in six days, not because the Creator stood in need of a length of time (for it is natural that God should do everything at once, not merely by uttering a command, but by even thinking of it); but because the things created required arrangement; and number is akin to arrangement; and, of all numbers, six is, by the laws of nature, the most productive: for of all the numbers, from the unit upwards, it is the first perfect one, being made equal to its parts, and being made complete by them; the number three being half of it, and the number two a third of it, and the unit a sixth of it, and, so to say, it is formed so as to be both male and female (arren te kai thelus), and is made up of the power of both natures; for in existing things the odd number is the male (arren), and the even number is the female (thelu); accordingly, of odd numbers the first is the number three, and of even numbers the first is two, and the two numbers multiplied together make six. (14) It was fitting therefore, that the world (kosmos), being the most perfect (teleiotatos) of created things, should be made according to the perfect number, namely, six: and, as it was to have in it the causes of both, which arise from combination, that it should be formed according to a mixed number, the first combination of odd and even numbers, since it was to embrace the character both of the male who sows the seed (ten tou speirontos arrenos idean), and of the female who receives it. . . .

IV. We must mention as much as we can of the matters contained in his account, since to enumerate them all is impossible; for he embraces that beautiful world which is perceptible only by the intellect (ho noetos kosmos), as the account of the first day will show: (16) for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation (mimema kalon) without a good model (kalou paradeigmatos), and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which wax not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect (archetypon kai noeten idean) , when he had determined to create (demiourgesai) this visible world (ton horaton kosmon), previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect (ton noeton {kosmon}), in order that so using an incorporeal model (paradeigma) formed as far as possible on the image of God, he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect. . . .

(17) When any city is founded through the exceeding ambition of some king or leader who lays claim to absolute authority, and is at the same time a man of brilliant imagination, eager to display his good fortune, then it happens at times that some man coming up who, from his education, is skilful in architecture (architektonikos), and he, seeing the advantageous character and beauty of the situation, first of all sketches out in his own mind nearly all the parts of the city which is about to be completed--the temples, the gymnasia, the prytanea, and markets, the harbour, the docks, the streets, the arrangement of the walls, the situations of the dwelling houses, and of the public and other buildings. (18) Then, having received in his own mind, as on a waxen tablet, the form of each building, he carries in his heart the image of a city, perceptible as yet only by the intellect, the images of which he stirs up in memory which is innate in him, and, still further, engraving them in his mind like a good workman (demiourgos agathos), keeping his eyes fixed on his model (paradeigma), he begins to raise the city of stones and wood, making the corporeal substances to resemble each of the incorporeal ideas. (19) Now we must form a somewhat similar opinion of God, who, having determined to found a mighty state, first of all conceived its form in his mind, according to which form he made a world perceptible only by the intellect (kosmos noetos), and then completed one visible to the external senses (aisthetos kosmos), using the first one as a model. . . .

VI. (23) And God, not being urged on by any prompter (for who else could there have been to prompt him?) but guided by his own sole will, decided that it was fitting to benefit with unlimited and abundant favours a nature which, without the divine gift, was unable to itself to partake of any good thing; but he benefits it, not according to the greatness of his own graces, for they are illimitable and eternal, but according to the power of that which is benefited to receive his graces. . . .(24) And if any one were to desire to use more undisguised terms, he would not call the world, which is perceptible only to the intellect (kosmos noetos), any thing else but the reason (logos) of God, already occupied in the creation of the world (kosmopoiountos); for neither is a city, while only perceptible to the intellect, anything else but the reasoning faculty (logismos) of the architect, who is already designing to build one perceptible to the external senses, on the model of that which is so only to the intellect--(25) this is the doctrine of Moses, not mine. Accordingly he, when recording the creation of man (anthropou genesis), in words which follow, asserts expressly, that he was made in the image (kat' eikona - Gen. 1:27) of God--and if the image be a part of the image, then manifestly so is the entire form, namely, the whole of this world perceptible by the external senses, which is a greater imitation of the divine image than the human form (anthropines) is. It is manifest also, that the archetypal seal (sphragis), which we call that world which is perceptible only to the intellect (noetos kosmos), must itself be the archetypal model (paradeigma), the idea of ideas, the Reason (logos) of God.

II. Philo, On The Creation of Humankind in God's Image, Male and Female [Genesis 1:26-27; Exc. from XXI-XXVIII]

XXI. (64) So now when the air and the water had received their appropriate races of animals as an allotment that was their due, God again summoned the earth for the creation of that share which still remained: and after the production of plants, the terrestrial animals still remained. And God said, "Let the earth bring forth cattle and beasts, and creeping things of each kind." And the earth did as it was commanded, and immediately sent forth animals differing in their formation and in their strength, and in the injurious or beneficial powers that were implanted in them. (65) And after all He made man/humankind (anthropos) . . . . to whom he gave that admirable endowment of mind (nous)--the soul, if I may so call it, of the soul (psyches tina psyche), as being like the pupil to the eye; for those who most accurately investigate the natures of things affirm, that it is the pupil which is the eye of the eye. . . .

XXIII. (69) So then after all the other things, as has been said before, Moses says that man/humankind (anthropos) was made in the image (kat' eikona) and likeness (kath' homoiosin) of God (theou) (Gen 1:26). And he says well; for nothing that is born on the earth is more resembling God than man. And let no one think that he is able to judge of this likeness from the characters of the body: for neither is God a being with the form of a man, nor is the human body like the form of God; but the resemblance is spoken of with reference to the most important part of the soul (psyche), namely, the mind (nous): for the mind which exists in each individual has been created after the likeness of that one mind which is in the universe as its primitive model, being in some sort the God of that body which carries it about and bears its image within it. In the same rank that the great Governor occupies in the universal world, that same as it seems does the mind of man occupy in man; for it is invisible, though it sees everything itself; and it has an essence which is undiscernible, though it can discern the essences of all other things, and making for itself by art and science all sorts of roads leading in divers directions, and all plain; it traverses land and sea, investigating everything which is contained in either element. (70) And again, being raised up on wings, and so surveying and contemplating the air, and all the commotions to which it is subject, it is borne upwards to the higher firmament, and to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies. And also being itself involved in the revolutions of the planets and fixed stars according to the perfect laws of music, and being led on by love, which is the guide of wisdom, it proceeds onwards till, having surmounted all essence intelligible by the external senses, it comes to aspire to such as is perceptible only by the intellect: (71) and perceiving in that, the original models and ideas of those things intelligible by the external senses which it saw here full of surpassing beauty, it becomes seized with a sort of sober intoxication like the zealots engaged in the Corybantian festivals, and yields to enthusiasm, becoming filled with another desire, and a more excellent longing, by which it is conducted onwards to the very summit of such things as are perceptible only to the intellect, till it appears to be reaching the great King himself. And while it is eagerly longing to behold him pure and unmingled, rays of divine light are poured forth upon it like a torrent, so as to bewilder the eyes of its intelligence by their splendour. But as it is not every image (eikon) that resembles its archetypal model (paradeigma), since many are unlike, Moses has shown this by adding to the words "after his image (kat' eikona), " the expression, "in his likeness," to prove that it means an accurate impression, having a clear and evident resemblance in form.

XXIV. (72) And he would not err who should raise the question why Moses attributed the creation of man alone not to one creator, as he did that of other animals, but to several. For he introduces the Father of the universe using this language: "Let us make man after our image, and in our likeness." Had he then, shall I say, need of any one whatever to help him, He to whom all things are subject? Or, when he was making the heaven and the earth and the sea, was he in need of no one to co-operate with him; and yet was he unable himself by his own power to make man an animal so short-lived and so exposed to the assaults of fate without the assistance of others? It is plain that the real cause of his so acting is known to God alone, but one which to a reasonable conjecture appears probable and credible, I think I should not conceal; and it is this. (73) Of existing things, there are some which partake neither of virtue nor of vice; as for instance, plants and irrational animals; the one, because they are destitute of soul, and are regulated by a nature void of sense; and the other, because they are not endowed with mind of reason. But mind and reason may be looked upon as the abode of virtue and vice; as it is in them that they seem to dwell. Some things again partake of virtue alone, being without any participation in any kind of vice; as for instance, the stars, for they are said to be animals, and animals endowed with intelligence; or I might rather say, the mind of each of them is wholly and entirely virtuous, and unsusceptible of every kind of evil. Some things again are of a mixed nature, like man, who is capable of opposite qualities, of wisdom and folly, of temperance and dissoluteness, of courage and cowardice, of justice and injustice, in short of good and evil, of what is honourable and what is disgraceful, of virtue and vice. (74) Now it was a very appropriate task for God the Father of all to create by himself alone, those things which were wholly good, on account of their kindred with himself. And it was not inconsistent with his dignity to create those which were indifferent since they too are devoid of evil, which is hateful to him. To create the beings of a mixed nature, was partly consistent and partly inconsistent with his dignity; consistent by reason of the more excellent idea which is mingled in them; inconsistent because of the opposite and worse one. (75) It is on this account that Moses says, at the creation of man alone that God said, "Let us make man," which expression shows an assumption of other beings to himself as assistants, in order that God, the governor of all things, might have all the blameless intentions and actions of man, when he does right attributed to him; and that his other assistants might bear the imputation of his contrary actions. For it was fitting that the Father should in the eyes of his children be free from all imputation of evil; and vice and energy in accordance with vice are evil. (76) And very beautifully after he had called the whole race "man," did he distinguish between the sexes, saying, that "they were created male and female (arren te kai thelu);" although all the individuals of the race had not yet assumed their distinctive form; since the extreme species are contained in the genus, and are beheld, as in a mirror, by those who are able to discern acutely.

XXV. (77) And some one may inquire the cause why it was that man was the last work in the creation of the world. For the Creator and Father created him after every thing else as the sacred scriptures inform us. Accordingly, they who have gone most deeply into the laws, and who to the best of their power have investigated everything that is contained in them with all diligence, say that God, when he had given to man to partake of kindred with himself, grudged him neither reason, which is the most excellent of all gifts, nor anything else that is good; but before his creation, provided for him every thing in the world, as for the animal most resembling himself, and dearest to him, being desirous that when he was born, he should be in want of nothing requisite for living, and for living well. . . .

XXVII. (82) . . . God, intending to adapt the beginning and the end of all created things together, as being all necessary and dear to one another, made heaven the beginning, and man the end: the one being the most perfect of incorruptible things, among those things which are perceptible by the external senses; and the other, the best of all earthborn and perishable productions--a short-lived heaven if one were to speak the truth, bearing within himself many starlike natures, by means of certain arts and sciences, and illustrious speculations, according to every kind of virtue. For since the corruptible and the incorruptible, are by nature opposite, he has allotted the best thing of each species to the beginning and to the end. Heaven, as I before said, to the beginning, and man to the end.

XXVIII. (83) And besides all this, another is also mentioned among the necessary causes. It was necessary that man should be the last of all created beings; in order that being so, and appearing suddenly, he might strike terror into the other animals. For it was fitting that they, as soon as they first saw him should admire and worship him, as their natural ruler and master; on which account, they all, as soon as they saw him, became tame before him; even those, who by nature were most savage, becoming at once most manageable at the first sight of him; displaying their unbridled ferocity to one another, and being tame to man alone. (84) For which reason the Father who made him to be a being dominant over them by nature not merely in fact, but also by express verbal appointment, established him as the king of all the animals, beneath the moon, whether terrestrial or aquatic, or such as traverse the air. . . .