Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Philo – First Plague: Nile Turns to Blood

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Over the next few days, a series of posts will consider the allegorical meaning (psychological, anagogical, mystical) of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, described in Exodus.  Basically these will relate relevant comments made by Philo of Alexandria throughout his various commentaries on the Old Testament.  Philo didn’t devote much attention to the Ten Plagues however, and his comments are to be seen more as suggestive than definitive.

Nile Turns to Blood (Exodus 7:14–24)

[14] And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
[15] Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.
[16] And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.
[17] Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.
[18] And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.
[19] And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.
[20] And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
[21] And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
[22] And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.
[23] And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
[24] And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
[25] And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.

Philo, On Dreams (De Somniis) 2.259–259

(2.259) Thus, therefore, by tracing it out diligently, we have found that praiseworthy speech [logos] is likened to a river; but speech which is deserving of blame is the very river of Egypt itself, untractable, unwilling to learn, as one may say in a word, lifeless speech [apsuchos logos]; for which reason it is also changed into blood, as not being able to afford sustenance. For the speech of ignorance is not wholesome, and it is productive of bloodless and lifeless frogs, which utter only a novel and harsh sound, a noise painful to the ear. (2.260) And it is said, likewise, that all the fish in that river were destroyed. And by the fish are here figuratively meant the conceptions [noemata]; for these things float about and exist in speech as in a river, resembling living things and filling the river with life. But in uninstructed speech all conceptions die; for it is not possible to find any thing intelligent in it, but only, as some one has said, some disorderly and unmusical voices of jackdaws.

Source: Yonge, Charles Duke.  The Works of Philo. Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. David M. Scholer, editor. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0943575931.

Written by John Uebersax

March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

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