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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.

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Written by John Uebersax

December 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Philo – First Plague: Nile Turns to Blood

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plague-of-blood

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

Philo – Moses and Water from the Rock

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Gustave Dore - Moses and Water from the Rock

In two places (Exod 17 and Num 20) the Bible relates how Moses was instructed by God to strike a rock to obtain water for the complaining Israelites.  Many biblical scholars believe that these are two different versions of the same incident.  Note that both locations are called Meribah; one takes place in the Wilderness of Sin, the other in the Desert of Zin.  Philo doesn’t seem to distinguish between the two descriptions.

Meribah (Wilderness of Sin) –  Exod 17:1-7

[1] And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
[2] Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?
[3] And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
[4] And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.
[5] And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.
[6] Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
[7] And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

Meribah (Desert of Zin) – Num 20:1-13

[1] Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
[2] And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
[3] And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
[4] And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
[5] And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
[6] And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
[7] And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
[8] Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
[9] And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
[10] And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
[11] And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
[12] And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
[13] This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

Philo, Allegorical Interpretation (Legum Allegoriarum) 2.83-2.86

[Note: to make clearer Philo’s flow of thought, sections 85 and 86 are reversed below.]

(83) But many souls that have been in love with perseverance and temperance, when removed to a distance from the passions, have nevertheless withstood the power of God, and have undergone a change for the worse, while their Master has made a display of himself and of the work of creation; of himself, that he is always immovable, and of the work of creation, that it vibrates as if in a scale, and inclines opposite ways at different times.

(84) For Moses speaks to the Israelites of God, “Who led ye then through that great and terrible wilderness, where there were biting serpents, and scorpions, and thirst; where there was no water? who brought forth for thee out of the hard rock a fountain of water? who fed thee with manna in the desert, which thy fathers knew not?” Do you not see that not only did the soul, while longing for the passions which prevailed in Egypt, fall under the power of the serpents, but that, also, while it was in the wilderness, it was bitten by pleasure, that affection of varied and serpent-like appearance? And the work of pleasure has received a most appropriate name, for it is called a biting.

(86) Moreover, the soul falls in with a scorpion, that is to say, with dispersion in the wilderness; and the thirst, which is that of the passions, seizes on it until God sends forth upon it the stream of his own accurate wisdom, and causes the changed soul to drink of unchangeable health; for the abrupt rock is the wisdom of God, which being both sublime and the first of things he quarried out of his own powers, and of it he gives drink to the souls that love God; and they, when they have drunk, are also filled with the most universal manna; for manna is called something which is the primary genus of every thing. But the most universal of all things is God; and in the second place the word of God. But other things have an existence only in word, but in deed they are at times equivalent to that which has no existence.

(85) Moreover, not only they who were in the desert were bitten by serpents, but also they who were scattered abroad, for I, also, often having left the men who were my kinsmen and my friends, and my country, and having gone into the desert in order that I might perceive some of those things which are worthy of being beheld, have profited nothing. But my mind, being separated from me, or being bitten by passion, has withdrawn towards the things opposite to them. And there are times when in the midst of a multitude composed of infinite numbers of men, I can bring my mind into solitude, God having scattered for me the crowd which perplexes my soul, and having taught me that it is not the difference of place that is the cause of good and evil, but rather God, who moves and drives this vehicle of the soul wherever he pleases.

XXII. (87) See now the difference between him who turns to sin in the desert and him who sins in Egypt. For the one is bitten by serpents which cause death, that is to say by insatiable pleasures which inflict death; but the other, he who meditates in the wilderness, is only bitten by pleasure and driven astray, but is not killed. And the one, indeed, is healed by temperance, which is the brazen serpent which was made by the wise Moses; but the other is supplied by God with a most beautiful draught to drink, namely, wisdom, from the fountain which He himself has brought forth out of his own wisdom.

Written by John Uebersax

March 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Philo on the Wells and Palms of Elim

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The Israelites at Elim  – Exodus 15:26-27 (KJV)

[26] And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
[27] And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.

Philo, Life of Moses (De Vita Moses) 1.187-1.190.

XXXIV. (187) And so having appeased their thirst with double pleasure, since the blessing of enjoyment when it comes beyond one’s hopes delights one still more, and having also replenished their ewers, they departed as from a feast, as if they had been entertained at a luxurious banquet, and as if they were intoxicated not with the drunkenness which proceeds from wine, but with a sober joy which they had imbibed purely, while pledging and being pledged by the piety of the ruler who was leading them; (188) and so they arrive at a second halting place, well supplied with water, and well shaded with trees, called Aileem, irrigated with twelve fountains, near which were young and vigorous trunks of palm trees to the number of seventy, a visible indication and token of good to the whole nation, to all who were gifted with a clear-sighted intellect. (189) For the nation itself was divided into twelve tribes, each of which, if pious and religious, would be looked upon in the light of a fountain, since piety is continually pouring forth everlasting and unceasing springs of virtuous actions. And the elders and chiefs of the whole nation were seventy in number, being therefore very naturally likened to palm trees which are the most excellent of all trees, being both most beautiful to behold, and bearing the most exquisite fruit, which has also its vitality and power of existence, not buried in the roots like other trees, but situated high up like the heart of a man, and lodged in the centre of its highest branches, by which it is attended and guarded like a queen as it really is, they being spread all round it. (190) And the intellect too of those persons who have tasted of holiness has a similar nature; for it has learned to look upwards and to soar on high, and is continually keeping its eye fixed on sublime objects, and investigating divine things, and ridiculing, and scorning all earthly beauty, thinking the last only toys, and divine things the only real and proper objects worthy of its attention.

Source: Yonge, Charles Duke.  The Works of Philo. Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. David M. Scholer, editor. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0943575931. (pp. 476-77)

Written by John Uebersax

March 25, 2012 at 6:37 pm