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Philo was a Jewish philosopher who lived before Christ but had an enormous influence on early Christians. Here are some notes about Philo and one of his critics.


S. Sandmel: "Philo's Environment and Philo's Exegesis"

Summary of Philo's works: Allegory discusses specific chapters, Exposition discusses specific themes. There are also Q&A texts.

Allegorical interpretation allows Philo to rise above the sometimes simple and unenlightening stories of the Old Testament. Allegorical scripture can be more logical and philosophical than literal interpretation. But most people are stupid and can only understand literal "Aaron" readings; so the perfect "Moses" level of understanding is for the elite only. Philo's philosophy, though, is secondary to his goal of moral preaching. Philo's bildungsroman: we are born neither good nor evil, but are blanks. But Eve causes us to have desire, which can tempt us into evil. To rise above desire we successively go through stages of hope, repentance, and rest. Exegesis such as Philo's gives us a strong idea of religious beliefs that merely discarding their "bad" interpretations of Scripture cannot.

Legum Allegoriae I

  1. Philo interprets "heaven and earth" as a dualism, specifically, the abstract mind and the concrete senses.
  2. A literal "six day creation" does not make sense because the heavens (i.e. days) were created along with everything else. Rather, says Philo, the number six has mortal properties, being the number of directions of movement in three dimensions, and seven is the number of divine things.
  3. When God finishes his creation, the creation churns on and on leading to other things in the mortal realm, the end of a day being the beginning of the night and so forth.
  4. In the heavens there are many sevens: seven planets, seven stars in Ursa Major, seven days in a week of the lunar month. Humans take seven years to acquire speech, and another seven to acquire sex. And the body has many sets of sevens. The senses are called the "irrational portion of the soul."
  5. Arts and music affected by seven. Seven a unique number because it neither produces nor is produced by other numbers less than or equal to ten.
  6. The meaning of the phrase "caused to rest" on the seventh day means that the number seven infiltrated the mortal beings, and arrested their animal, sextuple nature.
  7. The seventh day alone is holy; therefore, the "seventh" or divine light alone is holy, and people who follow it are following a divine nature.
  8. "This is the book of the generation of heaven and earth." Heaven and earth, again, meaning the mind and senses.
  9. On that day of generation all the herbs and grass that will ever sprout were created by God, to prepare for infinite future springtimes. Philo says these represent preexisting abstracts of the mind and senses, which were the whole sort of general mish-mash that made up the universe. These universal abstracts will give rise to specific thoughts and perceptions, respectively, once Man is created. Herbs spring straight from the field, so ideas will spring straight from the mind.
  10. Grass springs from the field, so observations will spring from the senses. God did not "rain upon the earth" nor did man "cultivate it" because before the general mish-mash of the physical universe became specific conglomerations, there was nothing specific to perceive.
  11. Object, sensation, and mind are like a train track with two stops. God has to run the "object" stop for us and "water" the object so the mind has something to perceive; and we operate the "mind" stop and push the train back to make observations; and sensation connects our minds to the objects. Imagination and curiosity power continued observation.
  12. There are two human races: the heavenly race, which has nothing to do with Earth, and the earthly race made from clay. Without the spirit of genuine life, the mind of man would be corruptible, but the breath God put into Adam gave him a heavenly soul.
  13. So, God gave Adam a heavenly soul but didn't give his heavenly race any soul. With Adam's soul came knowledge of good and evil. The only reason humans have any knowledge of God is because our spirit was instilled in us by God. And our "irrational" bits of our soul are instilled in us by our mind; we are the god of our own thoughts. Our thoughts were created by God, but not through God. Our fragile spirits are just a toned-down material version of God's infinite Spirit.
  14. God is not a gardener and does not create actual paradises for his own amusement. Eden is a metaphor for virtue, which is our paradise, and it is in the "east" because it is always being born and is never extinguished.
  15. You cannot plant your own virtues. Only God does that. Cut away your vanity and your God-given virtues will flower.
  16. The guardian of Eden is the heavenly man. The earthly man was cast out for lack of remberance of God and perseverance.
  17. Trees planted in Eden represent virtues.
  18. Tree of Life is the tree of general virtue whence arises the particular virtues. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is actually both inside and outside of Eden. The essence of something can be in your body while its power goes out and applies itself to Italy, Sicily, the moon, Heaven, etc. So the essence of this tree may be in Eden, but its power cannot because Evil cannot exist anywhere in the divine company.
  19. Rivers come out of God's Eden and water the paradise of virtues. They are separated in order to be used separately.
  20. The first river is prudence.
  21. The second river is courage; the third temperance.
  22. Our soul has three parts: reason, passion, and desire. Reason is in the head, passion in the chest, and desire in the stomach. The virtue of reason is prudence; of passion is courage; of desire is temperance.
  23. The fourth river is fertility, which is (Philo claims) justice, a highly productive virtue. Justice is a balance between reason, passion, and desire, with reason winning out.
  24. Prudence encircles folly, which is always striving after some unattainable thing.
  25. Universal virtues never perish, because they are God's own stuff. Only our particular virtues are transient.
  26. You cannot yield to God if you believe you are producing your own virtues.
  27. These rivers may encircle something, or they go around something which cannot be overcome entirely. Justice does neither because it does not aim to attack any particular thing, but defend all.
  28. The pure mind cultivates these virtues.
  29. Adam an allegory for the mind. The mind can comprehend other things but not itself. So how then could we ever understand God?
  30. Adam is not perfect but a blank slate that requires commands.
  31. God recommends that Adam eat freely from the trees of virtue, so as not just to imitate virtue thoughtlessly, but to act mindfully.
  32. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil should not be eaten from because its power is not in Eden. This command is in the plural: it is to the whole human race.
  33. Adam doesn't die when he eats the fruit, but his soul dies and admits vice.

De Gigantibus

  1. 90% of everything is crap. Women are the root of wickedness and passions, so it is only fitting that as Noah's generation produced more and more people, you had a lot of women.
  2. The universe must be filled with living things, including the fire and the stars, so the air has angels. Since the air has life the angels must be vivacious.
  3. Men who disregard wisdom and pursue temporal things like money and honor descend into the body. Men who look upwards and comprehend death ascend to the incorporeal soul.
  4. There are indeed evil angels. They are the angels of material fortune, and they activate the pleasures of the belly and the penis.
  5. The spirit of God cannot remain forever among beings of flesh (actual Bible quote). The spirit of God is a type of air.
  6. Knowledge, like fire, spreads without being diminished. Conversation with others lights fires but does not dilute them.
  7. Our connection with the flesh prevents us from being permanently connected to God. It presses our heads to the ground, preventing us from looking up at the revolutions of heaven.
  8. Men should hate the flesh ("nakedness") and try to separate himself from it. Don't indulge yourself in worldly pleasures; be frugal.
  9. Riches, glory, and strength are the greatest of evils. People who pursue these things abandon their souls. If you pursue these things and try to talk philosophy you "uncover your nakedness".
  10. God: "I am the Lord." All created things are in union and connected, but God is uncreated and does not suffer, whereas created things always suffer. If you're in the ranks of God you will suffer less. Don't be temped by false beauty, but look at the true beauty of virtue.
  11. The Lord is perfect, incorruptible, but also the king and master. Don't disobey your master. He may punish us. Moses didn't change his mind or direction a lot, but stood with God. The safest thing to do is to avoid battles national and domestic, but contemplate God in solitude.
  12. Divine spirit remains only with holy men.
  13. When Moses says "giants" he means to remind us about the people who follow the rule of heaven, and people who follow the rule of earth.
  14. Abraham followed rule of heaven. God of earth is the only God.
  15. Nimrod became a giant because he shirked the rule of heaven and became an earthly person.

De Vita Contemplativa

Vices of modern day Greeks: athletic competitions, excessive drinking, violence, pleasure in food. Plato and Xenophon weren't really talking about love but man-boy love which is an abomination. Greeks in general are base and immoral people. Compare the rituals that pious Jews do. Those are good and God likes them. Jews have no slaves. Men divided from women. No wine, no meat. They sing hymns together.

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