Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Philo – Tree of Life (1)

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Philo – Tree of Life (1)

Philo of Alexandria (Philo Judaeus; c. 20 BC – c. 50 AD)

Questions and Answers on Genesis 1.10

Question: What is meant by the tree of life, and why it was placed in the middle of the Paradise? (Genesis 2:9).

Some people have believed that, if there were really plants of a corporeal and deadly nature, there are also some which are causes of life and immortality, because, they say, life and death are opposed to one another, and because some plants are ascertained to be unwholesome, therefore of necessity there must be others from which health may be derived. But what these are which are wholesome they know not; for generation, as the opinion of the wise has it, is the beginning of corruption. But perhaps we ought to look on these things as spoken in an allegorical sense; for some say the tree of life belongs to the earth, inasmuch as it is the earth which produces everything which is of use for life, whether it be the life of mankind or of any other animal; since God has appointed the situation in the centre for this plant, and the centre of the universe is the earth. There are others who assert that what is meant by the tree of life is the centre between the seven circles of heaven; but some affirm that it is the sun which is meant, as that is nearly in the centre, between the different planets, and is likewise the cause of the four seasons, and since it is owing to him that every thing which exists is called into existence. Others again understand by the tree of life the direction of the soul,

[i.e., the guiding or orchestration of the soul]

for this it is which renders the sense nervous and solid, so as to produce actions corresponding to its nature, and to the community of the parts of the body. But whatever is in the middle is in a manner the primary cause and beginning of things, like the leader of a chorus.

But still, the best and wisest authorities have considered that by the tree of life is indicated the best of all the virtues of man, piety, by which alone the mind attains to immortality.

Yonge, Charles Duke. The Works of Philo Judaeus, the Contemporary of Josephus, translated from the Greek, 4 volumes. London: Bohn, 1854-55. (Reprinted in a single volume, Peabody Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993.)

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Written by John Uebersax

January 3, 2009 at 6:35 pm

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