Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Philo – Tree of Life (2)

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Philo – Tree of Life (2)

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

On The Migration Of Abraham 8.36-42

VIII. (36) That then which is shown is that thing so worthy of being beheld, so worthy of being contemplated, so worthy of being beloved, the perfect good, the nature of which is to change and sweeten the bitternesses of the soul, the most beautiful additional seasoning, full of all kinds of sweetnesses, by the addition of which, even those things which are not nutritious become salutary food; for it is said, that the Lord showed him (Moses) a tree, and he cast it into the Water [Exodus 15:25], that is to say, into the mind dissolved, and relaxed, and full of bitterness, that it might become sweetened and serviceable. (37) But this tree promises not only food but likewise immortality; for Moses tells us, that the tree of life was planted in the midst of the paradise, being, in fact, goodness surrounded as by a body-guard by all the particular virtues, and by the actions in accordance with them; for it is virtue which received the inheritance of the most central and excellent place in the soul. (38) And he who sees is the wise man; for the foolish are blind, or at best dim sighted. On this account I have before mentioned, that the then prophets were called seers [1Samuel 9:9.]; and Jacob, the practicer of virtue, was desirous to give his ears in exchange for his eyes, if he could only see what he had previously heard described, and accordingly he receives an inheritance according to sight, having passed over that which was derived from hearing; (39) for the coin of learning and instruction, which is synonymous with Jacob, is re-coined into the seeing Israel, in consequence of which he, the faculty of seeing, beholds the divine light, which is in no respect different from knowledge, which opens the eye of the soul, and leads it on to embrace the most conspicuous and and manifest comprehension of existing Things:  for as it is through music that the principles of music are understood, and through each separate art that its principles are comprehended, so also it is owing to wisdom that what is contemplated: (40) but not only is wisdom like light, the instrument of seeing, but it does also behold itself. This, in God, is the light which is the archetypal model of the sun, and the sun itself is only its image and copy; and he who shows each thing is the only allknowing being, God; for men are called knowing only because they appear to know; but God, who really does know, is spoken of, as to his knowledge, in a manner inferior to its real nature, for everything that is ever spoken in his praise comes short of the real power of the living God. (41) And he recommends his wisdom, not merely by the fact that it was he who created the world, but also by that of his having established the knowledge of everything that has happened, or that has been created in the firmest manner close to himself; (42) for it is said, that God saw all the things that he had Made [Genesis 1:31], which is an expression equivalent not to, He directed his sight towards each thing, but to, He conceived a knowledge, and understanding, and comprehension, of all the things that he had made. It was very proper, therefore, to teach and to instruct, and to point out to the ignorant, each separate thing, but it was unnecessary to do so to the all-knowing God, who is not like man, benefited by art, but who is himself confessed to be the beginning and source of all arts and sciences.

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 7:00 pm

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