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The Monomyth of Fall and Salvation

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The Monomyth of Fall and Salvation

Gustave Dore - Banishment of Adam and Eve

(A summary appears following the article.)

We address here what can be termed the monomyth of fall and salvation. By monomyth we mean a core myth that is expressed in different forms by different cultures. By fall and salvation here we do not mean so much the ultimate eternal destiny of a soul, but a cycle which recurs frequently within ones life — perhaps even on a daily basis.

We borrow the term monomyth from the writings of the noted mythographer, Joseph Campbell. Campbell (1949) explored in detail a different, but related and somewhat overlapping monomyth, which we might call the heroic quest. The heroic myth somewhat neglects the question of why the hero needs to go on a quest to begin with; it’s as though the quest is the result of someone else’s difficulties or negligence. The fall and salvation monomyth, on the other hand, pays much more attention to moral failing of the protagonist as causing the need for redemption.

In any case, it is vital to understand that our approach here is psychological more than religious in the traditional sense. That is, the goal here is to examine this myth in a way that would be of interest to religious and nonreligious readers alike. We take it as axiomatic, that is, that if there is such a thing as spiritual salvation in the sense of obtaining a propitious afterlife or immortality of soul, that this is congruent and consistent with the nearer task of obtaining psychological and moral well-being in this life. In short, then, it is the loss and re-attainment of an authentic psychological well-being that is our present concern.

We wish to be exceptionally brief here — and therefore extremely efficient — for the following reasons. First the present is not so much a self-contained work as much as one intended to serve as a reference or appendix for future articles that will discuss moral fall and salvation from a psychological viewpoint. Second, because it is likely this concept has appeared multiple times in the previous literature; unfortunately, partly due to its interdisciplinary nature, it is not immediately evident what the major touchstones of this literature are (besides those which are cited herein.) As new relevant references are encountered, they will be added to the References below.

Our initial premise is that myths express and communicate certain psychological and existential themes. These themes are of vital importance to individual welfare and to the integrity of society, but they either cannot be clearly stated in explicit, rationalistic terms or there is some reason not to, and they are instead expressed in metaphorical or symbolic terms via myth. In some sense, myths constitute a cultural ‘manual of life.’

A corollary is that in the degree to which the existential concerns of all human beings are the same, then the myths of different times and cultures reflect these common concerns and are structurally similar. This is helpful because our situation is then analogous to having multiple roadmaps of some terrain. Just as no single map is fully complete, accurate, and decipherable, neither is any single myth. Additional maps enable us to fill in gaps in some other map. The same principle applies to myths.

Structure of the Monomyth

The basic features of the monomyth of fall and salvation can be characterized as follows:

monomyth-fall-salvationFigure 1.  The Monomyth of Fall and Salvation

  1. In their interior life, human beings characteristically go through a recurring cycle — which we can call an ethical cycle. By ‘ethical’ here we mean in the broad sense of that which pertains to happiness and choices in ones way of life. We do not mean the narrower sense of ethical as pertaining only to proper or normative social actions (e.g., business or professional ethics).
  2.  At least initially we can define this cycle by four characteristic parts or landmarks. To begin we can imagine a person in a state of happiness. We will adopt provisionally and without much comment the widely accepted view of Abraham Maslow (1968, 1971) that the most significant moments of happiness correspond to certain peak (relatively short and intense) and plateau (somewhat more sustained, if less intense) experiences. Happiness here is not just emotional, but also implies feelings of fulfilment, satisfaction, and meaning, and enhanced cognitive function (including moral, intellectual, and aesthetic abilities). These states are the basis on which we could even imagine something like a paradise or Garden of Eden. Maslow and others have written extensively on characteristic features of these peak and plateau experiences. Of special interest to us here, however, are two features: (1) a sense of unity, such that one feels an absence of internal conflict, with all elements of oneself at peace, harmonized, and ‘pulling together'; and (2) feelings of reverence, piety, sacredness, humility, gratitude, and dependence on a higher power or something much greater than ones own ego. In the Christian tradition this is called the state of grace.
  3. These states, however, are impermanent. If we do attain such a ‘high’, the inevitable result is that we will eventually experience a fall or descent to a less happy and exalted condition. The fall may begin imperceptibly, but it typically progresses to such a point that we are not only aware of, but saddened by our lost paradise. Again, in Christianity this is sometimes called a fall from grace.
  4.  When the awareness and sadness over our lost happiness become sufficiently acute, and when the various life problems associated with being in an unhappy and conflicted state accumulate, there comes the turning point. We could call this, following St. Paul, the metanoia, literally, the change of mind. After this point our principle concern is to regain the state of lost happiness. Whereas before we were in the phase of the fall, now we are in the movement of ascent.
  5. Within the Platonic and the Christian traditions, three very broad phases or aspects of this ascent are called the (1) purification, (2) illumination, and (3) unitive phases. We can accept these as at least provisionally plausible, provided we don’t insist that these always occur in the same order and without overlapping. It might be more accurate to call these three aspects rather than stages of ethical ascent. Principles of process symmetry suggest a possible corresponding three-fold movement in the descending phase: progressive impurity, darkening or loss of illumination, and disunity and conflict.

That something like does in fact characterize the human condition can be deduced from many modern personality theories, the evidence of traditional religion, literature and art, common language and figurative expressions, and individual experience.

Jungian Personality Theory

The monomyth of fall and salvation is very similar to a model of cyclical personality dynamics advanced the Jungian writer Edward Edinger in a series books (e.g., 1986a, 1992, 1994); many of his works explicitly address this model in the context of myths and religion.

For Edinger (who is basically following Jung here) this cycle involves the relationship of the ego to a much greater entity, the Self. The ego is our empirical self, our conscious identify. The Self in Jungian psychology includes our conscious mind, the unconscious, our body, our social life, our spiritual soul, and all facets of our being. In many respects, the Self in Jungian theory has features which are customarily ascribed to God. It is mysterious, sacred, numinous, and very powerful.

 

edinger cycleFigure 2. Cycle of ego-Self separation and union (Edinger, 1992, p. 5)

Edinger describes a characteristic cyclical process of personality dynamics in which the ego alternates between phases of being more united with, and separate from the Self. The process, which recurs throughout life, could better be described as “spiral” rather than circular per se, because it allows for cumulative overall personality development.

  edinger ego-self axisFigure 3. Gradual separation of the ego from the Self (Edinger, 1992, p. 5)

The unitive state (leftmost panel in Figure 3) in the Jung/Edinger framework is one in which the ego subordinates itself to, and maintains an attitude of humility towards the Self. The ego receives direction from the Self by intuitions, inspirations, and perhaps dreams, and is guided by them.

The fall occurs, according to this view, when the ego no longer looks to the Self for guidance and direction. As it relies more and more on itself, the ego may become a virtual tyrant or dictator, seeking its own narrow interests and following a distorted view of reality. (Edinger calls this state ‘ego inflation’. ) Once headed in this direction, the person inevitably experiences progressively more unhappiness, accompanied by more pronounced, ineffective attempts by the ego to salvage things. In the later stages, the personality is marked by symptoms of conflict, neurosis, anxiety and neurosis, etc.   Eventually problems become sufficiently acute that the ego sees further progress along the same trajectory as impossible. A personality crisis ensues, which can be resolved only by the ego’s regaining a sense of proper humility (Edinger, 1986b). Thus chastised it must then begin the upward ascent.

We should, however, note peculiarities and potential biases of the Jungian framework, lest we too naively accept it in its entirety. Jung was much influenced by Nietzsche. To put the matter briefly, Jung (and Edinger) are Nietzschean in their reaction against the Apollonian elements of religious orthodoxy and classical philosophy, and in their overemphasizing the Dionysian elements of self-will and unrestrained personal freedom. As a result, it is hard to find much more than lip service paid by Jung or Edinger to any concept of virtue ethics. Instead they have a kind of neo-Gnostic orientation in which one is saved more by esoteric knowledge than by genuine moral reformation or renewal — or, for that matter, by any form of self-culture that requires work and discipline.

Nevertheless this example suffices to establish that there at least one plausible psychological basis for the fall/salvation monomyth, that it corresponds to something very basic and important in the human condition, and is something universal. We would therefore expect it to find expression in myths and religions across cultures.

Some examples will serve to illustrate the nature of the monomyth. We could look to virtually any culture or religion for suitable examples, but for brevity and convenience we will restrict attention to two here: the Bible, and ancient Greek myth, literature and philosophy.

The Bible

In the Bible the monomyth is presented continually and at many levels: in the lives of individuals, in the history of the Jews, and relative to all humankind. Indeed the Bible as a whole is, as it were, an epic portrayal of the monomyth that extends from the fall of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden to the restoration of the Tree of Life and a soul’s attainment of the New Jerusalem in the final book, Revelation. The monomyth is the essential message of the Bible: to live in union with God or with God’s will, once in the state not to fall, and if fallen, to regain it.

The clearest portrayal of the descending arc is of course the fall of Adam and Eve. The psychological significance of this story has long been known to religious writers. It was thoroughly explained even before the Christian era by the Jewish Platonist philosopher Philo of Alexandria (Uebersax, 2012), who influenced such major Christian exegetes as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in the West, and St. Gregory of Nyssa in the West (just to name a few figures).

We find in the story of Adam and Eve not simply a turning away from God, but a complex psychological process which also involves a deliberate turn towards self-will, and a re-ordering of interests which mistakenly places sensual concerns above pursuit of higher, spiritual, moral, and intellectual goods and pleasures. The motif of the fall is recapitulated frequently throughout Genesis — for example in the stories of Cain, the flood, and the tower of Babel.

The exodus and wandering of the Jews as they are liberated from bondage to the Egyptians (symbolizing a mind dominated by passions), their wandering in the desert, and their eventual arrival in the Promised Land represents the upward arc of the monomyth.

As the Old Testament continues, the Jews or individual figures are continually falling (e.g., worship of idols, David’s adultery), and being called back to the upward journey by prophets.

Again, the motif of fall and salvation permeates the New Testament. There the central concept of the kingdom of heaven can, at the psychological level, be understood as basically corresponding to the state of grace. Virtually all of Jesus’ parables address the monomyth and its phases or aspects. A particularly good example of the complete monomyth, including fall and restoration, is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32).

Greek Mythology, Literature and Philosophy

Similarly, the monomyth is found throughout Greek myth and literature. Its falling arc is symbolized by the ‘Ages of Man’ in Hesiod’s Works and Days (106–201), which describes a progression of historical epochs from a past Golden Age, through increasingly less noble Silver, Bronze, and ‘heroic’ ages, to the present, fallen, Iron Age. Here we see the characteristic Greek motif in which humility, union with God, and direction by God’s will is associated with happiness and harmony, but man’s pride (hubris) leads to a fall, conflict, and suffering. It seems universally agreed that Hesiod borrowed or adapted this myth from earlier Middle Eastern, Indian, or perhaps Egyptian sources (see e.g., Woodard, 2009). Just before this section Hesiod supplies another fall myth — that of Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Pandora (42–105).

The Iliad and the Odyssey taken together comprise a complete monomyth. The events of the Iliad begin with the famous Judgment of Paris, which thematically parallels fall of Adam and Eve. At the instigation of Strife (who assumes the devil’s role), and under circumstances involving a garden and apples, Paris, prince of Troy, is asked to judge who is fairest: the voluptuous Aphrodite, the domestic Hera, or the brave and wise Athena. Being bribed Aphrodite by the promise of a romance with the beautiful Helen, Paris chooses Aphrodite as fairest. He thus wins Helen. But since Helen is already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta, this leads to war between the Greeks and Trojans. In short, the story’s theme is that when Paris (symbolizing us), choose pleasure over virtue, the result is a war — and in fact a long, terrible one.

The upward arc of the Homeric cycle is symbolized by the Odyssey. There the protagonist, Odysseus, after the Trojan War ends, must undergo many difficult trials before finally returning to his homeland, where he is reunited with his wife, father, and countrymen, and lives in peace.

Amongst the tragic poets — Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides — the peril of hubris is, of course, is a staple motif.

Virtually all of Plato’s dialogues might be construed as, in one way or another, concerned with the monomyth — especially the upward movement (anagogy) of the soul brought about through philosophy (love of Wisdom), and moral and mental renewal. This is particularly clear in the many myths Plato employs, especially in the Cave Allegory of the Republic and the Chariot Myth of Phaedrus.

Similarly the hierarchical metaphysical system of the Neoplatonist, Plotinus, with its emphasis on the reciprocal movements of emanation and return, could be understood as a metaphor for the ethical/psychological monomyth (Fleet, 2112; Hadot, 1998, 2002).

Summary and Conclusions

The purpose of this article could be understood as to survey the vast and complex array of data which constitute the great myths of humanity, and to bring into focus one part: the portrayal of a core psychological dynamic which we may at least provisionally call the cyclical process of fall and salvation. We have proposed, based on the frequency with which this monomyth is encountered, that it must logically express some core existential concern of human nature. It is universal in that people in every culture and condition must grapple with it. Because it symbolizes something that is psychologically real, we should be able to understand it by studying it in terms of scientific cognitive and personality psychology.

To accept that the monomyth expresses core psychological concerns does not, per se, commit us to any particular theological or doctrinal position. It is fully compatible with a religious or a non-religious view of man. That is, what a religious person may call “following God’s will” is evidently some experiential and phenomenological reality. An atheist may accept the reality of this subjective experience and simply conclude that the person is ‘merely’ following their higher unconscious, or, say, their right brain hemisphere (McGilchrist, 2009).

But in any case, the cultural evidence of the monomyth suggests that human beings have traditionally associated such a state of pious humility as corresponding to perhaps the greatest happiness and psychic harmony obtainable. It is the height of hubris to disregard our myths and traditions simply because they originate in a religious climate that may no longer be fashionable amongst some segments of the intelligentsia.

Moral philosophers and cognitive scientists alike should scientifically study religious mythos — and in particular that concerning fall and salvation. By this the former will gain deeper understanding of man and the nature of religious salvation. The latter will gain insight into phenomenological realities that cannot be ignored if we are to have any effective science or technology of human happiness.

1st draft

References

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, 1949.

Edinger, Edward F. The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament. Toronto, 1986a.

Edinger, Edward F. Encounter With the Self: A Jungian Commentary on William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job. Toronto, 1986b.

Edinger, Edward F. Ego and Archetype. Boston, 1992.

Edinger, Edward F. The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology. Boston, 1994.

Fleet, Barrie. Plotinus: Ennead IV.8: On the Descent of the Soul into Bodies. Las Vegas, 2012.

Hadot, Pierre. Plotinus:The Simplicity of Vision. Trans. Michael Chase. Chicago, 1998.

Hadot, Pierre. What is Ancient Philosophy? Trans. Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA, 2002.

Jung, Carl G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. R.C.F. Hull, Trans. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, vol. 9, part 1. Princeton, 1959 (repr. 1969, 1981).

Jung, Carl G. (author); Segal, Robert Alan (editor). Jung on Mythology. London, 1998.

Maslow, Abraham H. Toward a Psychology of Being, 2nd edition. New York: Van Nostrand, 1968.

Maslow, Abraham H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking, 1971.

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven, 2009.

Uebersax, John S. Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible. Paso Robles, CA, 2012.

Woodard, Roger D. Hesiod and Greek Myth. In: Roger D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 83–165.

 

Philo – Moses Defends Jethro’s Daughters at the Well

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Moses_at_the_Well_-_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Moses_Botticelli

Exodus 2:16–21 (KJV)

[16] Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
[17] And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
[18] And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day?
[19] And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock.
[20] And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.
[21] And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.

Philo’s interpretation, below, is quite good and bears close reading.  However, in addition to his explanation, perhaps something can be made of the fact that these events occur at a well, a symbol often associated with inspiration.  Thus, the daughters of Jethro’s seven daughters may symbolize spiritual senses or the like, seeking to draw from the well of inspiration; but which are waylaid by robbers who seek to distract them with worldly thoughts, or to give false, self-interested meanings to the what the well of spiritual inspiration supplies.  Moses, then, would be a disposition of the mind which seeks to push aside the robbers and enable the pure thoughts to enter awareness and take root.

Philo, On the Change of Names (De mutatione nominum) 19.110–20.120

19. (110) This now is one of the things which are shown by the name of Midian; another is that more excellent and judicial species which by the affinity of marriage is connected with the prophetic race. The scripture then says, “The priest of judgment and justice” (that is to say, of Midian) “has seven daughters;” [Ex 2:16]

(111) by which seven daughters are frequently intimated the powers of the irrational part of the soul, the power of generation and the voice, and the five outward senses, tending the flocks of their father; for by means of these seven powers it is that all the progresses and increases of their father, the mind, exist in the perceptions which are produced from him. These, then, coming each to its appropriate object, the power of sight to colours and shapes, the sense of hearing to sounds, the faculty of smelling to scents, taste to flavours, and all the other faculties to those objects which are adapted for their exercise do in a manner imbibe some of the external objects of the outward senses, until they have filled all the channels of the soul, and from these channels they give drink to the sheep of their father; I mean by these sheep that most pure flock of the reason which bears safety and ornament at the same time.

(112) But the companions of envy and jealousy, the leaders of the wicked herd coming up, drive them away from that use of their powers which is in accordance with nature, for some conduct these things which are without, inwards to the mind as to a judge and a king, in order that they may do well from having the most excellent of governors;

(113) but others take the opposite side, pursuing and proclaiming the exact contrary, while it is possible for the mind to be drawn towards them, and to give up the flock which was entrusted to it to Feed.

[The meaning here is obscure, perhaps due to a manuscript problem.  Colson remarks: “the thought may be that while the mind holds its proper seat, it makes the right use of αισθητά, but if it is enticed out into the body-loving region, αίσθητά are used by it as slaves or prisoners.”]

Until the good disposition, devoted to virtue and inspired by God, which for awhile has appeared to be resting in inactivity, by name Moses, holds his shield over them and defends them from those who would attack them, nourishing the flock of his father on wholesome words,

(114) and they having escaped the attack of the enemies of intellect who admire only the external appendages, like people in tragedies, go no longer to Jother but to Raguel, for they have abandoned all connections with pride, and having connected themselves with lawful persuasion, choosing to become a portion of the sacred flock, of which the divine word is the leader, as his name shows, for it signifies the pastoral care of God.

20. (115) But while he is taking care of his own flock, all kinds of good things are given all at once to those of the sheep who are obedient, and who do not resist his will; and in the Psalms we find a song in these words, “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore shall I lack nothing;”[Psalm 23:1]

(116) therefore the mind which has had the royal shepherd, the divine word, for its instructor, will very naturally ask of his seven daughters, “Why is it that you have contended with such great haste to come hither this day?“[Ex 2:18] for formerly, when you met with the objects of the outward sense, remaining a long time outside, you were a long time in returning again by reason of the manner in which you were allured by them, but now I do not know what it is that has happened to you, but you are speedy in your return, contrary to your usual custom.

(117) Therefore they will say that there were not the same causes why they should run back with such exceeding speed, making the double course from the objects of the outward sense and to the objects of the outward sense, without stopping to take breath, and with excessive impetuosity; but that the cause was rather the man who delivered them from the shepherds of the wild flock. And they call Moses an Egyptian, a man who was not only a Hebrew, but even a Hebrew of the very purest race, of the only tribe which is consecrated, because they are unable to rise above their own nature;

(118) for the outward senses, being on the confines between the objects of the intellect and those of the outward senses, we must be content if they aim at both of them, and are not allured by the objects of the outward sense alone. And to think that they are inclined only to attend to the things which are purely objects of the intellect is great folly; on which account they give him both these names, since when they call him a man, they indicate the things which are within the province of reason alone to contemplate, and when they call him an Egyptian, they indicate the objects of the external senses.

(119) When they had heard this, he will again inquire, “Where is the man?” In what part of you is the reasonable species dwelling? Why have you left it so easily, and have not rather after having once met with it, preserved that which was the most beautiful of possessions, and the most advantageous for yourselves?

(120) But even if you have not done so before, at least call it to you now, that it may eat of and be supported by your improvement and your close connection with him; for perhaps he will even dwell with you, and will bring with him the winged, and divinely inspired, and prophetical race by name Zipporah.

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

December 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Philo on Exodus 4:1-5 — Moses’ Rod Becomes a Serpent

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moses_rod_serpent_hires

Moses’ Rod Becomes a Serpent (Exodus 4.1-5)

[1] And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.
[2] And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod.
[3] And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.
[4] And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:
[5] That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.

Philo of Alexandria, Allegorical Interpretation (Legum allegoriarum) 2.88-2.93

(88) Nor, indeed, does the pleasure which is in the form of a serpent, abstain from attacking that most sincere lover of God, Moses, for we read as follows; “If, therefore, they will not obey me, nor listen to my voice–for they will say, God has not been seen by you–what shall I say to them? And the Lord said unto Moses, What is that which is in thy hand? And he said, A rod. And God said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses fled from it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch forth thy hand, and take hold of it by the tail. And having stretched forth his hand, he took hold of it by the tail, and it became a rod in his hand. And the Lord said unto him, That they may believe Thee”. [Ex 4:3]

(89) How can any one believe God? If he has learnt that all other things are changed, but that he alone is unchangeable. Therefore, God asks of the wise Moses what there is in the practical life of his soul; for the hand is the symbol of action. And he answers, Instruction, which he calls a rod. On which account Jacob the supplanter of the passions, says, “For in my staff did I pass over this Jordan”. [Gen 32:10] But Jordan being interpreted means descent. And of the lower, and earthly, and perishable nature, vice and passion are component parts; and the mind of the ascetic passes over them in the course of its education. For it is too low a notion to explain his saying literally; as if it meant that he crossed the river, holding his staff in his hand.

XXIII. (90) Well, therefore, does the Godloving Moses answer. For truly the actions of the virtuous man are supported by education as by a rod, tranquillizing the disturbances and agitations of the mind. This rod, when cast away, becomes a serpent. Very appropriately. For if the soul casts away instruction, it becomes fond of pleasure [philhedonos] instead of being fond of virtue [philaretos]. On which account Moses fled from it, for the man who is fond of virtue does flee from passion and from pleasure.

(91) But God did not praise his flight. For it is fitting, indeed, for your mind, before you are made perfect, to meditate flight and escape from the passions; but Moses, that perfect man, ought rather to persevere in his war against them, and to resist them, and to strive against them, otherwise they, relying on their freedom from danger and on their power, will ascend up to the citadel of the soul, and take it by storm, and will plunder it entirely, like a tyrant.

(92) On which account God commanded Moses “to take hold of it by the tail,” that is to say, let not the hostile and untameable spirit of pleasure terrify you, but with all your power take hold of it, and seize it firmly, and master it. For it will again become a rod instead of a serpent, that is to say, instead of pleasure it will become instruction in your hand;

(93) but it will be in your hand, that is in the action of a wise man, which, indeed, is true. But it is impossible to take hold of and to master pleasure, unless the hand be first stretched out, that is to say, unless the soul confesses that all actions and all progress is derived from God; and attributes nothing to himself. Accordingly he, when he saw this serpent, decided to flee from it? But he prepared another principle, that of temperance, which is the brazen serpent: that whosoever was bitten by pleasure, when he looked on temperance, might live a real life.

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

February 27, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Philo – Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn

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plague-death

Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 11:1–7)

[4] And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:
[5] And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.
[6] And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.
[7] But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.

 Philo, On Dreams (De Somniis) 2.266–2.267

(2.266) And if you see the genuine offspring and the firstborn of Egypt destroyed, namely desire, and pleasures, and pain, and fear, and iniquity, and mirth [Note: aphraino; to be foolish, senseless], and intemperance, and all the other qualities which are similar and akin to these, then marvel and be silent, dreading the terrible power of God;

(2.267) for, say the scriptures, “Not a dog shall move his tongue, nor shall anything, man or beast, utter a sound” [Ex 11:7]; which is equivalent to saying, It does not become either the impudent tongue to bark and curse nor the man that is within us, that is to say, our dominant mind; nor the cattle-like beast which is within us, that is to say, the outward sense to boast, when all the evil that was in us has been utterly destroyed, and when an ally from without comes of his own accord to hold his shield over us.

Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 12:29–33)

[29] And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
[30] And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
[31] And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said.
[32] Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.
[33] And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men.

Philo, Life of Moses (De Vita Moses) 1.143–1.146

(143) Such, then, were the afflictions and punishments by which Egypt was corrected; not one of which ever touched the Hebrews, although they were dwelling in the same cities and villages, and even houses, as the Egyptians, and touching the same earth and water, and air and fire, which are all component parts of nature, and which it is impossible to escape from. And this is the most extraordinary and almost incredible thing, that, by the very same events happening in the same place and at the same time, one people was destroyed and the other people was preserved.

(144) The river was changed into blood, but not to the Hebrews; for when these latter went to draw water from it, it underwent another change and became drinkable. Frogs went up from the water upon the land, and filled all the market-places, and stables, and dwelling-houses; but they retreated from before the Hebrews alone, as if they had been able to distinguish between the two nations, and to know which people it was proper should be punished and which should be treated in the opposite manner.

(145) No lice, no dog-flies, no locusts, which greatly injured the plants, and the fruits, and the animals, and the human beings, ever descended upon the Hebrews. Those unceasing storms of rain and hail, and thunder and lightning, which continued so uninterruptedly, never reached them; they never felt, no not even in their dreams, that most terrible ulceration which caused the Egyptians so much suffering; when that most dense darkness descended upon the others, they were living in bright daylight, a brilliancy as of noon-day shining all around them; when, among the Egyptians, all the first-born were slain, not one of the Hebrews died; for it was not likely, since even that destruction of such countless flocks and herds of cattle never carried off or injured a single flock or a single beats belonging to the Hebrews.

(146) And it seems to me that if any one had been present to see all that happened at that time, he would not have conceived any other idea than that the Hebrews were there as spectators of the miseries which the other nation was enduring; and, not only that, but that they were also there for the purpose of being taught that most beautiful and beneficial of all lessons, namely, piety. For a distinction could otherwise have never been made so decidedly between the good and the bad, giving destruction to the one and salvation to the other.

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 31, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Philo – Ninth Plague: Darkness

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Plague of Darkness (Exodus 10:21–29)

[21] And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.
[22] And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days:
[23] They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.
[24] And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you.
[25] And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God.
[26] Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither.
[27] But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.
[28] And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.
[29] And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.

Philo, Life of Moses (De Vita Moses) 1.123–1.125

(123) And when they had been completely dispersed, and when the king was again obstinate respecting the allowing the nation to depart, a greater evil than the former ones was descended upon him. For while it was bright daylight, on a sudden, a thick darkness overspread the land, as if an eclipse of the sun more complete than any common one had taken place. And it continued with a long series of clouds and impenetrable density, all the course of the sun’s rays being cut off by the massive thickness of the veil which was interposed, so that day did not at all differ from night. For what indeed did it resemble, but one very long night equal in length to three days and an equal number of nights?

(124) And at this time they say that some persons threw themselves on their beds, and did not venture to rise up, and that some, when any of the necessities of nature overtook them, could only move with difficulty by feeling their way along the walls or whatever else they could lay hold of, like so many blind men; for even the light of the fire lit for necessary uses was either extinguished by the violence of the storm, or else it was made invisible and overwhelmed by the density of the darkness, so that that most indispensable of all the external senses, namely, sight, though unimpaired, was deprived of its office, not being able to discern any thing, and all the other senses were overthrown like subjects, the leader having fallen down.

(125) For neither was any one able to speak or to hear, nor could any one venture to take food, but they lay themselves down in quiet and hunger, not exercising any of the outward senses, but being wholly overwhelmed by the affliction, till Moses again had compassion on them, and besought God in their behalf. And he restored fine weather, and produced light instead of darkness, and day instead of night.

Philo, On Dreams (De Somniis) 1.117

(1.117) …. “For the children of Israel had light in all their dwellings,” [Ex 10:23] says the sacred historian in the book of Exodus, so that night and darkness were continually banished from them, though it is in night and darkness that those men live who have lost the eyes of the soul rather than those of the body, having no experience of the beams of virtue.

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 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Philo – Eighth Plague: Locusts

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Plague of Locusts (Exodus 10:12–20)

[12] And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land, even all that the hail hath left.
[13] And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.
[14] And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.
[15] For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.
[16] Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you.
[17] Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.
[18] And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD.
[19] And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.
[20] But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.

Philo, Life of Moses (De Vita Moses) 1.120–1.122

XXI. (120) And when this evil had abated, and when the king and his court had again resumed their confidence, Moses stretched forth his rod into the air, at the command of God. And then a south wind of an uncommon violence set in, which increased in intensity and vehemence the whole of that day and night, being of itself a very great affliction; for it is a drying wind, causing headaches, and terrible to bear, calculated to cause grief, and terror, and perplexity in Egypt above all countries, inasmuch as it lies to the south, in which part of the heaven the revolutions of the light-giving stars take place, so that whenever that wind is set in motion, the light of the sun and its fire is driven in that direction and scorches up every thing.

(121) And with this wind a countless number of animals was brought over the land, animals destroying all plants, locusts, which devoured every thing incessantly like a stream, consuming all that the thunderstorms and the hail had left, so that there was not a green shoot seen any longer in all that vast country.

(122) And then at length the men in authority came, though late, to an accurate perception of the evils that had come upon them, and came and said to the king, “How long wilt thou refuse to permit the men to depart? Dost thou not understand, from what has already taken place, that Egypt is destroyed?” And he agreed to all they said, yielding as far as appearances went at least; but again, when the evil was abated at the prayer of Moses, the wind came from the sea side, and took up the locusts and scattered them.

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 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Philo – Seventh Plague: Hail

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Plague of Hail (Exodus 9: 22–35)

[22] And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field, throughout the land of Egypt.
[23] And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.
[24] So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.
[25] And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.
[26] Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.
[27] And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.
[28] Intreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.
[29] And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’s.
[30] But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God.
[31] And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled.
[32] But the wheat and the rie were not smitten: for they were not grown up.
[33] And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto the LORD: and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth.
[34] And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
[35] And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

Philo, Life of Moses (De Vita Moses) 1.118–1.119

(118) … the air suddenly assumed a new appearance, so that all the things which are seen in the most stormy and wintry countries, come upon it all together; abundance of rain, and torrents of dense and ceaseless hail, and heavy winds met together and beat against one another with violence; and the clouds burst, and there were incessant lightnings, and thunders, and continued roarings, and flashes which made a most wonderful and fearful appearance. For though the lightning and the thunderbolts penetrated and descended through the hail, being quite a contrary substance, still they did not melt it, nor were the flashes extinguished by it, but they remained as they were before, and ran up and down in long lines, and even preserved the hail.

(119) And not only did the excessive violence of the storm drive all the inhabitants to excessive despair, but the unprecedented character of the visitation tended likewise to the same point. For they believed, as was indeed the case, that all these novel and fearful calamities were caused by the divine anger, the air having assumed a novel appearance, such as it had never worn before, to the destruction and overthrow of all trees and fruits, by which also great numbers of animals were destroyed, some in consequence of the exceeding cold, others though the weight of the hail which fell upon them, as if they had been stoned, while some again were destroyed by the fire of the lightning. And some remained half consumed, bearing the marks of the wounds caused by the thunderbolts, for the admonition and warning of all who saw them.

Philo, On Drunkenness (De Ebrietate) 101–102

(101) And he says in another passage that, “When I have gone out of the city I will stretch forth my hands unto the Lord, and the voices shall cease.” [Ex 9:29] Think not here that he who is speaking is a man, a contexture, or composition, or combination of soul and body, or whatever else you may choose to call this concrete animal; but rather the purest and most unalloyed mind, which, while contained in the city of the body and of mortal life is cramped and confined, and like a man who is bound in prison confesses plainly that he is unable to relish the free air. But as soon as it has escaped from this city, then being released, as to its thoughts and imaginations, as prisoners are loosened as to their hands and feet, it will put forth its energies in their free, and emancipated, and unrestrained strength, so that the commands of the passions will be at once put an end to.

(102) Are not the outcries of pleasure very loud with which she is accustomed to deliver such commands as please her? And is not the voice of appetite unwearied when she pours forth her bitter threats against those who do not serve her? And so again all the other passions have a voice of loud and varied sound.

(103) But even, if each one of the passions were to exert the ten thousand mouths and voices, and all the power of making an uproar spoken of by poets, it would not be able to perplex the ears of the perfect man, after he has already passed from them, and determined no longer to dwell in the same city with them.

Philo, On the Change of Names (De Mutatione Nominum) 21–23

(21) And Moses, in another place, says, “Behold, when I go forth out of the city I will spread out my hands unto the Lord, and the sounds shall cease, and the hail, and there shall be no more rain, that thou mayest know that the earth is the Lord’s;” that is to say, every thing that is made of body or of earth, “and that thou,” that is the mind which bears in itself the images of things, “and thy servants,” that is the particular reasonings which act as body-guards to the mind, “for I know that ye do not yet fear the Lord;” [Ex 9:29–30] by which he means not the Lord who is spoken of commonly and in different senses, but him who is truly the Master of all things.

(22) For there is in truth no created Lord, not even a king shall have extended his authority and spread it from one end of the world even to the other end, but only the uncreated God, the real governor, whose authority he who reverences and fears receives a most beneficial reward, namely, the admonitions of God, but utterly miserable destruction awaits the man who despises him;

(23) therefore he is held forth as the Lord of the foolish, striking them with a terror which is appropriate to him as ruler. But he is the God of those who are improved; as we read now, “I am thy God, I am thy God, be thou increased and multiplied.”[Gen 17:1, 35:2] And in the case of those who are perfect, he is both together, both Lord and God; as we read in the ten commandments, “I am the Lord thy God.”[Ex 20:2]

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 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm

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