Sovereignty

(Specialibus Legibus – Book I.3-26)
by Philo Judaeus, translated by C. D. Yonge
(vol. 3, pp. 177-204)

[Book I]  [Book II]

BOOK I

Yonge's translation includes a separate treatise title at this point: On the Monarchy, Book I. Accordingly, his next paragraph begins with roman numeral I (= III in Loeb). Yonge's "treatise" concludes with number IX (= XI in the Loeb). The publisher has elected to follow the Loeb numbering.

III. (13) Some persons have conceived that the sun, and the moon, and the other stars are independent gods, to whom they have attributed the causes of all things that exist. But Moses was well aware that the world was created, and was like a very large city, having rulers and subjects in it; the rulers being all the bodies which are in heaven, such as planets and fixed stars; (14) and the subjects being all the natures beneath the moon, hovering in the air and adjacent to the earth. But that the rulers aforesaid are not independent and absolute, but are the viceroys of one supreme Being, the Father of all, in imitation of whom they administer with propriety and success the charge committed to their care, as he also presides over all created things in strict accordance with justice and with law.

Others, on the contrary, who have not discovered the supreme Governor, who thus rules everything, have attributed the causes of the different things which exist in the world to the subordinate powers, as if they had brought them to pass by their own independent act. (15) But the most sacred lawgiver changes their ignorance into knowledge, speaking in the following manner: "Thou shalt not, when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and all the host of heaven, be led astray and fall down and worship them" (Deut. 4:19). With great felicity and propriety has he here called the reception of these bodies as gods, an error; (16) for they who see that the different seasons of the year owe their existence to the advances and retreats of the sun, in which periods also the generation of animals, and plants, and fruits, are perfected according to well-defined times, and who see also that the moon is the servant and successor of the sun, taking that care and superintendence of the world by night which the sun takes by day; and also that the other stars, in accordance with their sympathy with things on earth, labour continually and do ten thousand things which contribute to the duration of the existing state of things, have been led into an inextricable error, imagining that these bodies are the only gods.

(17) But if they had taken pains to travel along the straight and true road, they would soon have known that just as the outward sense is the subordinate minister of the mind, so in the same manner all the objects of the outward senses are servants of that which is appreciable only by intellect, being well contented if they can attain to the second place in honour. (18) But it is altogether ridiculous to imagine that the mind, which is the smallest thing in us, being in fact invisible, is the ruler of those organs which belong to the external senses, but that the greatest and most perfect ruler of the whole universe is not the King of kings; that the being who sees, is not the ruler of those who do not see.

(19) We must, therefore, look on all those bodies in the heaven, which the outward sense regards as gods, not as independent rulers, since they are assigned the work of lieutenants, being by their intrinsic nature responsible to a higher power, but by reason of their virtue not actually called to render in an account of their doings. (20) So that, transcending all visible essence by means of our reason, let us press forward to the honour of that everlasting and invisible Being who can be comprehended and appreciated by the mind alone; who is not only the God of all gods, whether appreciable only by the intellect or visible to the outward senses, but is also the creator of them all. And if any one gives up the service due to the everlasting and uncreated God, transferring it to any more modern and created being, let him be set down as mad and as liable to the charge of the greatest impiety.

IV. (21) But there are some persons who have given gold and silver to sculptors and statuaries, as people able to fashion gods for them. And they, taking the lifeless materials and using a mortal model, have (which is a most extraordinary thing) made gods, as far as appearance went, and have built temples and erected altars, and dedicated them to them, honouring them with excessive pains and diligence, with sacrifices and processions, and all kinds of other sacred ceremonies and purifications; the priests and priestesses exciting themselves to the very extremity of their power to extend this kind of pride and vanity. (22) To whom the Father of the universe thus speaks, saying: "You shall not make to yourselves gods of silver and gold" (Exod. 20:20); all but teaching them in express words, "You shall not make to yourselves any gods whatever of this or of any other material, nor shall you worship anything made with hands," being forbidden expressly with respect to the two most excellent materials; for silver and gold are esteemed the most honourable of all materials.

(23) And, besides this distinct prohibition, there is another meaning which appears to me to be intended to be figuratively conveyed under these words, which is one of very great influence as contributing to the formation of the moral character, and which convicts in no slight degree those who are covetous of money and who seek to procure silver and gold from all quarters, and when they have acquired it treasure it up, as though it were some divine image, in their inmost shrines, looking upon it as the cause of all good things and of all happiness. (24) And all the poor men that are possessed of that terrible disease, the love of money, but who, from not having any riches of their own which they can think worthy of their attention, fix their admiration on the wealth of their neighbours, and, for the purpose of offering adoration to it, come the first thing in the morning to the houses of those who have abundance, as if they were noble temples at which they were going to offer prayers, and to entreat blessings from their owners as if from the gods.

(25) And to these men, Moses says, in another passage, "You shall not follow images, and you shall not make to yourselves molten gods" (Lev. 19:4). Teaching them, by figurative language, that it is not right to pay such honours to wealth as one would pay to the gods; for those celebrated materials of wealth, silver and gold, are made to be used, which, however, the multitude follows, looking upon them as the only causes of wealth which is proverbially called blind, and the especial sources of happiness. (26) These are the things which Moses calls idols, resembling shadows and phantoms, and having about them nothing strong, or trustworthy, or lasting; for they are tossed about like the unstable wind, and are subject to all kinds of variations and changes. And the greatest possible proof of this is that, when people have not at all expected it, it suddenly has descended upon them; and, again, when they fancied that they had taken firm hold of it, it has flown away.

And when, indeed, it is present, then images appear as in a mirror, deceiving the outward senses and imposing upon them with traps, and appearing as if they would last for a long time, while in reality they do not endure. (27) And why need I explain how unstable the wealth and pride of men are, which vain opinions decorate with showy colours? For, before now, some men have existed who have affirmed that all other animals and plants, of which there is any birth or any decay, are in one continual and incessant state of transition, and that the external sense of this transition is somewhat indistinct, inasmuch as the swiftness of nature surpasses the very quickest and most precise glance of the vision.

V. (28) But not only are wealth, and glory, and all other such things, mere phantoms and unsubstantial images, but also all the other deceits which the inventors of fables have devised, puffing themselves up by reason of their ingenuity, while they have been raising a fortification of false opinion in opposition to the truth, bringing in God as if by some theatrical machine, in order to prevent the everlasting and only true existing God from being consigned to oblivion, are so likewise. But such men have adapted their falsehood to melodies, and rhythm, and metres, with a reference to what is persuasive, thinking that by these means they should easily cajole all who read their works.

(29) Not but what they have also joined to themselves the arts of statuary and painting as copartners in their system of deceit, in order that, bringing over the spectators by well-fabricated appearances of colours, and forms, and distinctive qualities, and having won over by their allurements those principal outward senses of sight and hearing, the one by the exquisite beauty of lifeless forms, and the other by a poetical harmony of numbers--they may ravish the unstable soul and render it feeble, and deprive it of any settled foundation.

(30) On this account, Moses, being well aware that pride had by that time advanced to a very high pitch of power, and that it was well guarded by the greater part of mankind, and that too not from compulsion but of their own accord, and fearing lest those men who are admirers of uncorrupted and genuine piety may be carried away as by a torrent, stamped a deep impression on the minds of men, engraving piety on them, in order that the impression he thus made might not become confused or weakened, so as at last to become wholly effaced by time. And he is constantly prophesying and telling his people that there is one God, the creator and maker of the universe; and at other time he teaches them that he is the Lord of all created things, since all that is firm, and solid, and really stable and sure, is by nature so framed as to be connected with him alone. (31) And it is said in the scriptures that, "Those that are attached to the living God do all live" (Deut. 4:4).

Is not this, then, a thrice happy life, a thrice blessed existence, to be contented with performing due service to the most venerable Cause of all things, and not to think fit to serve his subordinate ministers and door-keepers in preference to the King himself? And this life is an immortal one, and is recorded as one of great duration in the pillars of nature. And it is inevitably necessary that these writings should last to all eternity with the world itself.

VI. (32) But the Father and Ruler of the universe is a being whose character it is difficult to arrive at by conjecture and hard to comprehend; but still we must not on that account shrink from an investigation of it. Now, in the investigations which are made into the nature of God, there are two things of the greatest importance, about which the intellect of the man who devotes himself to philosophy in a genuine spirit is perplexed. One is, whether there is any Deity at all? this question arises from the atheism (which is the greatest of all vices) of those men who study philosophy. The other question is, supposing there to be a God, what he is as to his essence?

Now the former question it is not very difficult to determine; but the second is not only difficult, but perhaps impossible. We must, however, consider both these matters.

(33) It has invariably happened that the works which they have made have been, in some degree, the proofs of the character of the workmen; for who is there who, when he looks upon statues or pictures, does not at once form an idea of the statuary or painter himself? And who, when he beholds a garment, or a ship, or a house, does not in a moment conceive a notion of the weaver, or shipbuilder, or architect, who has made them?

And if any one comes into a well-ordered city, in which all parts of the constitution are exceedingly well arranged and regulated, what other idea will he entertain but that this city is governed by wise and virtuous rulers? (34) He, therefore, who comes into that which is truly the greatest of cities, namely, this world, and who beholds all the land, both the mountain and the champaign district full of animals, and plants, and the streams of rivers, both overflowing and depending on the wintry floods, and the steady flow of the sea, and the admirable temperature of the air, and the varieties and regular revolutions of the seasons of the year; and then too the sun and moon, the rulers of day and night, and the revolutions and regular motions of all the other planets and fixed stars, and of the whole heaven; would he not naturally, or I should rather say, of necessity, conceive a notion of the Father, and creator, and governor of all this system; (35) for there is no artificial work whatever which exists of its own accord? And the world is the most artificial and skilfully made of all works, as if it had been put together by some one who was altogether accomplished and most perfect in knowledge.

It is in this way that we have received an idea of the existence of God.

VII. (36) Again, even if it is very difficult to ascertain and very hard properly to comprehend, we must still, as far as it is possible, investigate the nature of his essence; for there is no employment more excellent than that of searching out the nature of the true God, even though the discovery may transcend all human ability, since the very desire and endeavour to comprehend it is able by itself to furnish indescribable pleasures and delights. (37) And the witnesses of this fact are those who have not merely tasted philosophy with their outermost lips, but who have abundantly feasted on its reasonings and its doctrines; for the reasoning of these men, being raised on high far above the earth, roams in the air, and soaring aloft with the sun, and moon, and all the firmament of heaven, being eager to behold all the things that exist therein, finds its power of vision somewhat indistinct from a vast quantity of unalloyed light being poured over it, so that the eye of his soul becomes dazzled and confused by the splendour.

(38) But he does not on that account faint and renounce the task which he has undertaken, but goes on with invincible determination towards the sight which he considers attainable, as if he were a competitor at the games, and were striving for the second prize, though he has missed the first. And guess and conjecture are inferior to true perception, as are all those notions which are classed under the description of reasonable and plausible opinions.

(39) Though, therefore, we do not know and cannot accurately ascertain what each of the stars is as to its pure and real essence, still we are eager to investigate the subject, delighting in probable reasonings, because of the fondness for learning which is implanted in our nature. (40) And so in the same way, though we cannot attain to a distinct conception of the truly living God, we still ought not to renounce the task of investigating his character, because even if we fail to make the discovery, the very search itself is intrinsically useful and an object of deserved ambition; since no one ever blames the eyes of the body because they are unable to look upon the sun itself, and therefore shrink from the brilliancy which is poured upon them from its beams, and therefore look down upon the earth, shrinking from the extreme brilliancy of the rays of the sun.

VIII. (41) Which that interpreter of the divine word, Moses, the man most beloved by God, having a regard to, besought God and said, "Show me thyself"--all but urging him, and crying out in loud and distinct words--"that thou hast a real being and existence the whole world is my teacher, assuring me of the fact and instructing me as a son might of the existence of his father, or the work of the existence of the workman. But, though I am very desirous to know what thou art as to thy essence, I can find no one who is able to explain to me anything relating to this branch of learning in any part of the universe whatever. (42) On which account, I beg and entreat of thee to receive the supplication of a man who is thy suppliant and devoted to God's service, and desirous to serve thee alone; for as the light is not known by the agency of anything else, but is itself its own manifestation, so also thou must alone be able to manifest thyself. For which reason I hope to receive pardon, if, from want of any one to teach me, I am so bold as to flee to thee, desiring to receive instruction from thyself."

(43) But God replied, "I receive, indeed, your eagerness, inasmuch as it is praiseworthy; but the request which you make is not fitting to be granted to any created being. And I only bestow such gifts as are appropriate to him who receives them; for it is not possible for a man to receive all that it is easy for me to give. On which account I give to him who is deserving of my favour all the gifts which he is able to receive. (44) But not only is the nature of mankind, but even the whole heaven and the whole world is unable to attain to an adequate comprehension of me. So know yourself, and be not carried away with impulses and desires beyond your power; and let not a desire of unattainable objects carry you away and keep you in suspense. For you shall not lack anything which may be possessed by you."

(45) When Moses heard this he betook himself to a second supplication, and said, "I am persuaded by thy explanations that I should not have been able to receive the visible appearance of thy form. But I beseech thee that I may, at all events, behold the glory that is around thee. And I look upon thy glory to be the powers which attend thee as thy guards, the comprehension of which having escaped me up to the present time, worketh in me no slight desire of a thorough understanding of it."

(46) But God replied and said, "The powers which you seek to behold are altogether invisible, and appreciable only by the intellect; since I myself am invisible and only appreciable by the intellect. And what I call appreciable only by the intellect are not those which are already comprehended by the mind, but those which, even if they could be so comprehended, are still such that the outward senses could not at all attain to them, but only the very purest intellect. (47) And though they are by nature incomprehensible in their essence, still they show a kind of impression or copy of their energy and operation; as seals among you, when any wax or similar kind of material is applied to them, make an innumerable quantity of figures and impressions, without being impaired as to any portion of themselves, but still remaining unaltered and as they were before; so also you must conceive that the powers which are around me invest those things which have no distinctive qualities with such qualities, and those which have no forms with precise forms, and that without having any portion of their own everlasting nature dismembered or weakened. (48) And some of your race, speaking with sufficient correctness, call them ideas (ideai), since they give a peculiar character (idiopoiousi) to every existing thing, arranging what had previously no order, and limiting, and defining, and fashioning what was before destitute of all limitation, and defination, and fashion; and, in short, in all respects changing what was bad into a better condition.

(49) "Do not, then, ever expect to be able to comprehend me nor any one of my powers, in respect of our essence. But, as I have said, I willingly and cheerfully grant unto you such things as you may receive. And this gift is to call you to the beholding of the world and all the things that are in it, which must be comprehended, not indeed by the eyes of the body, but by the sleepless vision of the soul. (50) The desire of wisdom alone is continual and incessant, and it fills all its pupils and disciples with famous and most beautiful doctrines."

When Moses heard this he did not cease from his desire, but he still burned with a longing for the understanding of invisible things. [...][ 1 ]

IX. (51) And he receives all persons of a similar character and disposition, whether they were originally born so, or whether they have become so through any change of conduct, having become better people, and as such entitled to be ranked in a superior class; approving of the one body because they have not defaced their nobility of birth, and of the other because they have thought fit to alter their lives so as to come over to nobleness of conduct. And these last he calls proselytes (prosêlutous), from the fact of their having come over (proselêluthenai) to a new and God-fearing constitution, learning to disregard the fabulous inventions of other nations, and clinging to unalloyed truth.

(52) Accordingly, having given equal rank and honour to all those who come over, and having granted to them the same favours that were bestowed on the native Jews, he recommends those who are ennobled by truth not only to treat them with respect, but even with especial friendship and excessive benevolence. And is not this a reasonable recommendation? What he says is this.

"Those men, who have left their country, and their friends, and their relations for the sake of virtue and holiness, ought not to be left destitute of some other cities, and houses, and friends, but there ought to be places of refuge always ready for those who come over to religion; for the most effectual allurement and the most indissoluble bond of affectionate good will is the mutual honouring of the one God." (53) Moreover, he also enjoins his people that, after they have given the proselytes an equal share in all their laws, and privileges, and immunities, on their forsaking the pride of their fathers and forefathers, they must not give a license to their jealous language and unbridled tongues, blaspheming those beings whom the other body looks upon as gods, lest the proselytes should be exasperated at such treatment, and in return utter impious language against the true and holy God; for from ignorance of the difference between them, and by reason of their having from their infancy learnt to look upon what was false as if it had been true, and having been bred up with it, they would be likely to err.

(54) And there are some of the Gentiles, who, not attending to the honour due to the one God alone, deserve to be punished with extreme severity of punishment, as having forsaken the most important classification of piety and holiness, and as having chosen darkness in preference to the most brilliant light, and having rendered their own intellect blind when it might have seen clearly. (55) And it is well that a charge should be given to all those who have any admiration for virtue to inflict all such punishment out of hand without any delay, not bringing them before either any judgment seat, or any council, or any bench of magistrates, but giving vent to their own disposition which hates evil and loves God, so as to chastise the impious with implacable rigour, looking upon themselves as everything for the time being, counsellors, and judges, and generals, and members of the assembly, and accusers, and witnesses, and laws, and the people; that so, since there is no conceivable hindrance, they may with all their company put themselves forward fearlessly to fight as the champions of holiness.

X. (56) There is, in the history of the law, a record of one man who ventured on this exploit of noble daring, for when he saw some men connecting themselves with foreign women, and by reason of their allurements neglecting all their national customs and laws, and practising fabulous ceremonies, he was seized with a sudden enthusiasm in the presence of the whole multitude; and driving away all those on each side who were collected to see the sight, he slew one man who was so daring as to put himself forward as the leader and chief of this transgression of the law (for the impious deed had been already displayed and made a public exhibition of), and while he was openly performing sacrifices to images and unholy idols, he, I say, without being influenced by any fear, slew him, together with the woman who was with him; the one on account of his inclination to learn those things which it would have been more advantageous for him not to have learnt, and the woman because she was his preceptress in evil.

(57) This action being done of a sudden, in the warm impetuosity of the moment, admonished a vast multitude of those who were prepared to commit similar follies; therefore God, having praised this virtuous exploit done in this manner, out of a voluntary and spontaneous zeal, recompensed the doer with two rewards, namely, peace and the priesthood. With the one, because he judged him who had thus voluntarily encountered a contest for the sake of the honour of his God worthy to enjoy a life safe from war; and with the other, because the priesthood is the most fitting honour for a pious man, who professes an eagerness for the service of the Father of all, to serve whom is not only better than all freedom, but even than royal authority.

(58) But some men have gone to such a pitch of extravagant madness, that they have left themselves no retreat or way to repentance, but hasten onwards to the slavery and service of images made by hands, confessing it in distinct characters, not written on paper, as is the custom in the case of slaves, but branding the characters deep on their persons with a burning iron, in order that they may remain ineffacebly, for these things are not dimmed or weakened by time.

XI. (59) And the most sacred Moses appears to have preserved the same object and intention in all other cases whatever, being a lover and also a teacher of truth, which he desires to stamp and to impress upon all his disciples, expelling all false opinions, and compelling them to settle far from their minds. (60) At all events, knowing that the act of divination co-operates in no slight degree with the errors of the lives of the multitude, so as to lead them out of the right way, he did not suffer his disciples to use any species of it whatever, but drove all who paid it any observance far from his everlasting constitution, and banished all sacrificers and purifiers, and augurs, and soothsayers, and enchanters, and men who applied themselves to the art of prophesying from sounds; (61) for all these men are but guessers at what is probable and likely, at different times adopting different notions from the same appearances, because the subjects of their art have no stable and constant character, and because the intellect has never devised any accurate test by which those opinions which are approved may be examined.

(62) And all these things are but the furniture of impiety. How so? Because he who attends to them, and who allows himself to be influenced by them, disregards the cause of all things, looking upon those things alone as the causes of all things, whether good or evil; and he does not perceive that he is making all the cares of life to depend upon the most unstable supports, upon the motion of birds and feathers in the air, in this and that direction; and upon the paths of reptiles, crawling along the ground, which creep forth out of their holes in quest of food; and even upon entrails, and blood, and dead corpses, which, the moment that they are deprived of life, fall to pieces and become confused; and being deprived of their original nature which belonged to them, are changed, and subjected to a transformation for the worse.

(63) For he thinks it right, that the man who is legally enrolled as a citizen of his constitution must be perfect, not indeed in those things in which the multitude is educated, such as divination, and augury, and plausible conjectures, but in the observances due to God, which have nothing doubtful or uncertain about them, but only indubitable and naked truth.

(64) And since there is implanted in all men a desire of the knowledge of future events, and as, on account of this desire, they have recourse to sacrifices and to other species of divination, as if by these means they would be able to search out and discover the truth (but these things are, in reality, full of indistinctness and uncertainty, and are continually being convicted by themselves). He, with great energy, forbids his disciples to apply themselves to such sources of knowledge; and he says, that if they are truly pious they shall not be deprived of a proper knowledge of the future; (65) but that some other prophet[ 2 ] will appear to them on a sudden, inspired like himself, who will preach and prophesy among them, saying nothing of his own (for he who is truly possessed and inspired, even when he speaks, is unable to comprehend what he is himself saying), but that all the words that he should utter would proceed from him as if another was prompting him; for the prophets are interpreters of God, who is only using their voices as instruments, in order to explain what he chooses.

Having now then said this, and other things like this, concerning the proper idea to be entertained of the one real, and true, and living God; he proceeds to express in what manner one ought to pay him the honours that are his due. [TOP]

BOOK II

Yonge's translation includes a separate treatise title at this point: On the Monarchy, Book II. Accordingly, his next paragraph begins with roman numeral I (= XII in the Loeb). Yonge's "treatise" concludes with number XV (= XXVI in the Loeb). The publisher has elected to follow the Loeb numbering.

XII. (66) We ought to look upon the universal world as the highest and truest temple of God, having for its most holy place that most sacred part of the essence of all existing things, namely, the heaven; and for ornaments, the stars; and for priests, the subordinate ministers of his power, namely, the angels, incorporeal souls, not beings compounded of irrational and rational natures, such as our bodies are, but such as have the irrational parts wholly cut out, being absolutely and wholly intellectual, pure reasonings, resembling the unit.

(67) But the other temple is made with hands; for it was desirable not to cut short the impulses of men who were eager to bring in contributions for the objects of piety, and desirous either to show their gratitude by sacrifices for such good fortune as had befallen them, or else to implore pardon and forgiveness for whatever errors they might have committed. He moreover foresaw that there could not be any great number of temples built either in many different places, or in the same place, thinking it fitting that as God is one, his temple also should be one.

(68) In the next place, he does not permit those who desire to perform sacrifices in their own houses to do so, but he orders all men to rise up, even from the furthest boundaries of the earth, and to come to this temple, by which command he is at the same time testing their dispositions most severely; for he who was not about to offer sacrifice in a pure and holy spirit would never endure to quit his country, and his friends, and relations, and emigrate into a distant land, but would be likely, being under the influence of a more powerful attraction than that towards piety, to continue attached to the society of his most intimate friends and relations as portions of himself, to which he was most closely attached. (69) And the most evident proof of this may be found in the events which actually took place.

For innumerable companies of men from a countless variety of cities, some by land and some by sea, from east and from west, from the north and from the south, came to the temple at every festival, as if to some common refuge and safe asylum from the troubles of this most busy and painful life, seeking to find tranquillity, and to procure a remission of and respite from those cares by which from their earliest infancy they had been hampered and weighed down, (70) and so, by getting breath as it were, to pass a brief time in cheerful festivities, being filled with good hopes and enjoying the leisure of that most important and necessary vacation which consists in forming a friendship with those hitherto unknown, but now initiated by boldness and a desire to honour God, and forming a combination of actions and a union of dispositions so as to join in sacrifices and libations to the most complete confirmation of mutual good will.

XIII. (71) Of this temple the outer circuit, being the most extensive both in length and width, was fortified by fortifications adorned in a most costly manner. And each of them is a double portico, built and adorned with the finest materials of wood and stone, and with abundant supplies of all kinds, and with the greatest skill of the workmen, and the most diligent care on the part of the superintendants. But the inner circuits were less extensive, and the fashion of their building and adorning was more simple. (72) And in the centre was the temple itself, beautiful beyond all possible description, as one may conjecture from what is now seen around on the outside; for what is innermost is invisible to every human creature except the high priest alone, and even he is enjoined only to enter that holy place once in each year.

Everything then is invisible. For he carries in a brasier full of coals and frankincense; and then, when a great smoke proceeds from it, as is natural, and when everything all around is enveloped in it, then the sight of men is clouded, and checked, and prevented from penetrating in, being wholly unable to pierce the cloud. (73) But, being very large and very lofty, although built in a very low situation, it is not inferior to any of the greatest mountains around. The buildings of it are of most exceeding beauty and magnificence, so as to be universal objects of admiration to all who behold them, and especially to all foreigners who travel to those parts, and who, comparing them with their own public edifices, marvel both at the beauty and sumptuousness of this one.

(74) But there is no grove or plantation in the space which surrounds it, in accordance with the prohibitions of the law, which for many reasons forbid this. In the first place, because a building which is truly a temple does not aim at pleasure and seductive allurements, but at a rigid and austere sanctity. Secondly, because it is not proper that those things which conduce to the verdure of trees should be introduced, such as the dung of irrational animals and of men. Thirdly, because those trees which do not admit of cultivation are of no use, but are as the poets say, the burden of the earth; while those which do admit of cultivation, and which are productive of wholesome fruit, draw off the attention of the fickle-minded from the thoughts of the respect due to the holy place itself, and to the ceremonies in which they are engaged. (75) And besides these reasons, shady places and dense thickets are places of refuge for evil doers, since by their enveloping them in darkness they give them safety and enable them, as from an ambuscade, suddenly to fall upon any whom they choose to attack. But wide spaces, open and uncovered in every direction, where there is nothing which can hinder the sight, are the most suitable for the distinct sight of all those who enter and remain in the temple.

XIV. (76) But the temple has for its revenues not only portions of land, but also other possessions of much greater extent and importance, which will never be destroyed or diminished; for as long as the race of mankind shall last, the revenues likewise of the temple will always be preserved, being coeval in their duration with the universal world. (77) For it is commanded that all men shall every year bring their first fruits to the temple, from twenty years old and upwards; and this contribution is called their ransom. On which account they bring in the first fruits with exceeding cheerfulness, being joyful and delighted, inasmuch as simultaneously with their making the offering they are sure to find either a relaxation from slavery, or a relief from disease, and to receive in all respects a most sure freedom and safety for the future.

(78) And since the nation is the most numerous of all peoples, it follows naturally that the first fruits contributed by them must also be most abundant. Accordingly there is in almost every city a storehouse for the sacred things to which it is customary for the people to come and there to deposit their first fruits, and at certain seasons there are sacred ambassadors selected on account of their virtue, who convey the offerings to the temple. And the most eminent men of each tribe are elected to this office, that they may conduct the hopes of each individual safe to their destination; for in the lawful offering of the first fruits are the hopes of the pious.

XV. (79) Now there are twelve tribes of the nation, and one of them having been selected from the others for its excellence has received the priesthood, receiving this honour as a reward for its virtue, and fidelity, and its devout soul, which it displayed when the multitude appeared to be running into sin, following the foolish choices of some persons who persuaded their countrymen to imitate the vanity of the Egyptians, and the pride of the nations of the land, who had invented fables about irrational animals, and especially about bulls, making gods of them. For this tribe did of its own accord go forth and slay all the leaders of this apostacy from the youth upwards, in which they appeared to have done a holy action, encountering thus a contest and a labour for the sake of piety.

XVI. (80) Now these are the laws which relate to the priests. It is enjoined that the priest shall be entire and unmutilated, having no blemish on his body, no part being deficient, either naturally or through mutilation; and on the other hand, nothing having been superfluous either from his birth or having grown out subsequently from disease; his skin, also, must never have changed from leprosy, or wild lichen, or scab, or any other eruption or breaking out; all which things appear to me to be designed to be symbols of the purity of his soul. (81) For if it was necessary to examine the mortal body of the priest that it ought not be imperfect through any misfortune, much more was it necessary to look into his immortal soul, which they say is fashioned in the form of the living God.

Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made. (82) And after enjoining that the priest is to be of pure blood, and sprung from fathers of noble birth, and that he must be perfect in body and soul, laws are enacted also respecting the garments which the priest must wear when he is about to offer the sacred sacrifices and to perform the sacred ceremonies. (83) And this dress is a linen tunic and a girdle, the latter to cover those parts which must not be displayed in their nakedness near the altar of sacrifice. And the tunic is for the sake of promptness in performing the requisite ministrations; for they are but lightly clad, only in their tunics, when they bring their victims, and the libations, and the other requisite offerings for sacrifice, being apparelled so as to admit of unhesitating celerity.

(84) But the high priest is commanded to wear a similar dress when he goes into the holy of holies to offer incense, because linen is not made of any animal that dies, as woollen garments are. He is also commanded to wear another robe also, having very beautiful embroidery and ornament upon it, so that it may seem to be a copy and representation of the world. And the description of the ornament is a clear proof of this; (85) for in the first place the whole of the round robe is of hyacinthine colour, a tunic reaching to the feet, being an emblem of the air, since the air also is by nature black, and in a manner may be said to be reaching to the feet, as it is extended from above from the regions about the moon, to the lowest places of the earth. (86) Next there was a woven garment in the form of a breastplate upon it, and this was a symbol of the heaven; for on the points of the shoulders are two emerald stones of most exceeding value, one on one side and one on the other, each perfectly round and single on each side, as emblems of the hemispheres, one of which is above the earth and the other under the earth. (87) Then on his chest there are twelve precious stones of different colours, arranged in four rows of three stones in each row, being fashioned so as an emblem of the zodiac. For the zodiac also consists of twelve animals, and so divides the four seasons of the year, allotting three animals to each season.

(88) And the whole place is very correctly called the logeum (logeion), since every thing in heaven has been created and arranged in accordance with right reason (logois) and proportion; for there is absolutely nothing there which is devoid of reason. And on the logeum he embroiders two woven pieces of cloth, calling the one manifestation and the other truth. (89) And by the one which he calls truth he expresses figuratively that it is absolutely impossible for falsehood to enter any part of heaven, but that it is entirely banished to the parts around the earth, dwelling among the souls of impious men. And by that which he calls manifestation he implies that the natures in heaven make manifest every thing that takes place among us, which of themselves would be perfectly and universally unknown.

(90) And the clearest proof of this is that if there were no light, and if the sun did not shine, it would be impossible for the indescribable variety of qualities of bodies to be seen, and for all the manifold differences of colours and forms to be distinguished from one another. And what else could exhibit to us the days and the nights, and the months and the years, and in short the divisions of time, but the harmonious and inconceivable revolutions of the sun, and moon, and other stars? (91) And what could exhibit the true nature of number, except those same bodies just mentioned in accordance with the observation of the combination of the parts of time? And what else could have cut the paths through the ocean and through such numerous and vast seas, and shown them to navigators, except the changes and periodical appearances of the stars? And wise men have observed, (92) also, an innumerable quantity of other circumstances, and have recorded them, conjecturing from the heavenly bodies the advent of calm weather and of violent storms, and the fertility or barrenness of crops, and the mild or violently hot summers, and whether the winters will be severe or spring-like, whether there will be droughts or abundance of rain, whether the flocks and trees will be fruitful, or on the contrary barren, and all such matters as these. For the signs of every thing on earth are engraved and firmly fixed in heaven.

XVII. (93) And besides this, golden pomegranates are attached to the lower parts of the tunic, reaching to the feet, and bells and borders embroidered with flowers.

And these things are the emblems of earth and of water; the flowers are the emblems of the earth, inasmuch as it is out of it that they all rise and derive strength to bloom. And the pomegranates[ 3 ] as above mentioned are the emblems of water, being so named from the flowing of the stream. And the harmony, and concord, and unison of sound of the different parts of the world is betokened by the bells. (94) And the arrangement is a very excellent one; for the upper garment, on which the stones are placed, which is called the breast-plate, is a representation of heaven, because the heaven also is the highest of all things.

And the tunic that reaches to the feet is in every part of a hyacinthine colour, since the air also is black, and is placed in the second classification next in honour to the heaven. And the embroidered flowers and pomegranates are on the hem, because the earth and water have been assigned the lowest situation in the universe.

(95) This is the arrangement of the sacred dress of the high priest, being a representation of the universe, a marvellous work to be beheld or to be contemplated. For it has an appearance thoroughly calculated to excite astonishment, such as no embroidered work conceived by man ever was for variety and costly magnificence; (96) and it also attracts the intellect of philosophers to examine its different parts. For God intends that the high priest should in the first place have a visible representation of the universe about him, in order that from the continual sight of it he may be reminded to make his own life worthy of the nature of the universe, and secondly, in order that the whole world may co-operate with him in the performance of his sacred rites.

And it is exceedingly becoming that the man who is consecrated to the service of the Father of the world should also bring his son to the service of him who has begotten him.

(97) There is also a third symbol contained in this sacred dress, which it is important not to pass over in silence. For the priests of other deities are accustomed to offer up prayers and sacrifices solely for their own relations, and friends, and fellow citizens. But the high priest of the Jews offers them up not only on behalf of the whole race of mankind, but also on behalf of the different parts of nature, of the earth, of water, of air, and of fire; and pours forth his prayers and thanksgivings for them all, looking upon the world (as indeed it really is) as his country, for which, therefore, he is accustomed to implore and propitiate its governor by supplications and prayers, beseeching him to give a portion of his own merciful and humane nature to the things which he has created.

XVIII. (98) After he has given these precepts, he issues additional commandments, and orders him, whenever he approaches the altar and touches the sacrifices, at the time when it is appointed for him to perform his sacred ministrations, not to drink wine or any other strong drink, on account of four most important reasons, hesitation, and forgetfulness, and sleep, and folly. (99) For the intemperate man relaxes the powers of his body, and renders his limbs more slow of motion, and makes his whole body more inclined to hesitation, and compels it by force to become drowsy. And he also relaxes the energies of his soul, and so becomes the cause to it of forgetfulness and folly. But in the case of abstemious men all the parts of the body are lighter, and as such more active and moveable, and the outer senses are more pure and unalloyed, and the mind is gifted with a more acute sight, so that it is able to see things beforehand, and never forgets what it has previously seen; (100) in short, therefore, we must look upon the use of wine to be a most unprofitable thing for all the purposes of life, inasmuch as by it the soul is weighed down, the outward senses are dimmed, and the body is enervated.

For it does not leave any one of our faculties free and unembarrassed, but is a hindrance to every one of them, so as to impede its attaining that object to which it is by nature fitted. But in sacred ceremonies and holy rites the mischief is most grievous of all, in proportion as it is worse and more intolerable to sin with respect to God than with respect to man. On which account it probably is that it is commanded to the priest to offer up sacrifices without wine, in order to make a difference and distinction between sacred and profane things, and pure and impure things, and lawful and unlawful things.

XIX. (101) But since the priest was a man before he was a priest, and since he is of necessity desirous to indulge the appetites which prompt him to seek for the connections of love, he procures for him a marriage with a pure virgin, and one who is born of pure parents, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, selected for their excellency with reference both to their virtue and to their noble birth. (102) For God does not allow him even to look upon a harlot, or a profane body or soul, or upon any one who, having put away her pursuit of gain, now wears an elegant and modest appearance, because such a one is unholy in respect of her former profession and way of life; though in other respects she may be looked upon as honourable, by reason of her having purified herself of her former evil courses. For repentance for past sins is a thing to be praised; and no one else need be forbidden to marry her, only let her not come near a priest. For the especial property of the priesthood is justice and purity, which from the first beginning of its creation to the end, seeks a concord utterly irreproachable.

(103) For it would be mere folly that some men should be excluded from the priesthood by reason of the scars which exist on their bodies from ancient wounds, which are the emblem of misfortune indeed, but not of wickedness; but that those persons who, not at all out of necessity but from their own deliberate choice, have made a market of their beauty, when at last they slowly repent, should at once after leaving their lovers become united to priests, and should come from brothels and be admitted into the sacred precincts. For the scars and impressions of their old offences remain not the less in the souls of those who repent. (104) On which account it is wisely and truly said in another passage, that "One may not bring the hire of a harlot into the temple" (Deut. 23:18). And yet the money is not in itself liable to any reproach, except by reason of the woman who received it, and the action for which it was given to her. How then could one possibly admit those women to consort with priests whose very money is looked upon as profane and base, even though as to its material and stamp it may be good and lawful money?

XX. (105) The regulations, therefore, are laid down with precision in this manner for the high priest, so that he is not allowed either to marry a widow, nor one who is left desolate after the death of the man to whom she has been espoused, nor one who has been divorced from a husband who is still alive, in order that the sacred seed may be sown for the first time in a field which is hitherto untrodden and pure, and that his offspring may have no admixture of the blood of any other house. And in the second place, in order that the pair coming together with souls which have as yet known no defilement or perversion, may easily form their dispositions and characters in a virtuous manner. For the minds of virgins are easily attracted and drawn over to virtue, being exceedingly ready to be taught.

(106) But the woman who has had experience of another husband is very naturally less inclined to obedience and to instruction, inasmuch as she has not a soul perfectly pure, like thoroughly smooth wax, so as to receive distinctly the doctrines which are to be impressed upon it, but one which is to a certain degree rough from the impressions which have been already stamped upon it, which are difficult to be effaced, and so remain, and do not easily receive any other impression, or if they do they render it confused by the irregularity of their own surface. (107) Let the high priest, therefore, take a pure virgin to be his wife; I say a virgin, meaning not only one with whom no other man has even been connected, but one in connection with whom no other man has ever been named in reference to the agreement of marriage, even though her body may be pure.

XXI. (108) But besides this, injunctions are given to the particular and inferior priests concerning their marriages, which are the very same in most points, which are given to those who have the supreme priesthood. But they are permitted with impunity to marry not only maidens but widows also; not, indeed, all widows, but those whose husbands are dead. For the law thinks it fitting to remove all quarrels and disputes from the life of the priests. And if they had husbands living there very likely might be disputes from the jealousy which is caused by the love of men for women. But when the first husband is dead, then with him the hostility which could be felt towards the second husband dies also. (109) And even on other accounts he might have thought that the high priest ought to be of superior purity and holiness, as in other matters so also in the connection of marriage, and on this account it may have been that God only allowed the high priest to marry a virgin.

But to the priests of the second rank he remitted something of the rigour of his regulations concerning the connection with women, permitting them to marry women who have made trials of other husbands.

XXII. (110) And besides these commands, he also defined precisely the family of the women who might be married by the high priest, commanding him to marry not merely a woman who was a virgin, but also one who was a priestess, the daughter of a priest, that so both bridegroom and bride might be of one house, and in a manner of one blood, so as to display a most lasting harmony and union of disposition during the whole of their lives. (111) The others also were permitted to marry women who were not the daughters of priests, partly because their purificatory sacrifices are of but small importance, and partly because he was not willing entirely to disunite and separate the whole nation from the order of the priesthood; for which reason he did not prevent the other priests from making intermarriages with any of their countrywomen, as that is relationship in the second degree; for sons-in-law are in the place of sons to their fathersin-law, and fathers-in-law instead of fathers to their sons-in-law.

XXIII. (112) These, then, are the ordinances which were established respecting marriage, and respecting what greatly resembles marriage, the procreation of children. But since destruction follows creation, Moses also gave the priests laws relating to death (Lev. 23:1), commanding them not to permit themselves to be defiled in respect of all people whatsoever, who might happen to die, and who might be connected with them through some bond of friendship, or distant relationship: but allowing them to mourn for six classes only, their fathers or their mothers, their sons of their daughters, their brothers or their sisters, provided that these last were virgins; (113) but the high priest he absolutely forbade to mourn in any case whatever; and may we not say that this was rightly done? For as to the ministrations which belong to the other priests, one individual can perform them instead of another, so that, even if some be in mourning, still none of the usual observances need be omitted; but there is no one besides the high priest himself, who is permitted to perform his duties instead of him; for which reason, he must always be kept free from all defilement, never touching any dead body, in order that, being always ready to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the whole world at suitable seasons, he may continue to fulfil the duties of his office without hindrance.

(114) And otherwise too, besides this consideration, the man who has been assigned to God, and who has become the leader of his sacred band of worshippers, ought to be disconnected with, and alienated from, all things of creation, not being so much the slave of the love of either parents, or children, or brothers, as either to omit or to delay any one of those holy actions, which it is by all means better should be done at once; (115) and God commands the high priest neither to rend his clothes over his very nearest relations when they die, nor to take from his head the ensign of the priesthood, nor in short to depart from the holy place on any plea of mourning, that, showing proper respect to the place, and to the sacred ornaments with which he himself is crowned, he may show himself superior to pity, and pass the whole of his life exempt from all sorrow.

(116) For the law designs that he should be the partaker of a nature superior to that of man; inasmuch as he approaches more nearly to that of the Deity; being, if one must say the plain truth, on the borders between the two, in order that men may propitiate God by some mediator, and that God may have some subordinate minister by whom he may offer and give his mercies and kindnesses to mankind.

XXIV. (117) After he has said this, he immediately proceeds to lay down laws, concerning those who are to use the first fruits, "If therefore, any one" (Lev. 21:17), says he, "should mutilate the priests as to their eyes, or their feet, or any part of their bodies, or if he should have received any blemish, let him not partake of the sacred ministrations by reason of the defects which exist in him, but still let him enjoy those honours which are common to all the priests, because of his irreproachable nobility of birth." (118) "Moreover, if any leprosies break out and attack him or if any one of the priests he afflicted with any flux, let him not touch the sacred table, nor any of the duties which are set apart for his race, until the flux stop, or the leprosy change, so that he become again resembling the complexion of sound flesh" (Lev. 22:4).

(119) And, if any priest do by any chance whatever touch anything that is unclean, or if he should have impure dreams by night, as is very often apt to be the case, let him during all that day touch nothing that has been consecrated, but let him wash himself and the ensuing evening, and after that let him not be hindered from touching them. (120) And let the sojourner in the priest's house, and the hireling, be prevented from approaching the first fruits; the sojourner, because it is not every one who is a neighbour who shares a man's hearth and eats at his table (Lev. 22:10); for there is reason to fear that some such person may cast away what is hallowed, using as a cloak for his impiety the pretence of some unseasonable humanity; for one might not give all men a share of all things, but only of such as are adapted to those who are to receive them; otherwise, that which is the most beautiful and most beneficial of all the things in this life, namely order, will be wasted away and destroyed by that which is the most mischievous of all things, namely, confusion.

(121) For if in merchant vessels the sailors were to receive an equal share with the pilot of the ship, and if in ships of war the rowers and the mariners were to receive an equal share with the captain, and if in military camps the cavalry of the line were to receive an equal share with their officers, the heavy armed infantry with their colonels, and the colonels with the generals; again, if in cities the parties before the court were to be placed on the same footing with the judges, the committeemen with the ministers, and in short private individuals with the magistrates, there would be incessant troubles and seditions, and the equality in words would produce inequality in fact; for it is an unequal measure to give equal honour to persons who are unequal in rank or desert; and inequality is the root of all evil. (122) On which account one must not give the honours of the priests to sojourners, just as one must not give them to any one else, who in that case, because of their proximity, would be meddling with what they have no business; for the honour does not belong to the house, but to the race.

XXV. (123) In like manner, no one must give this sacred honour to a hireling, as his wages, or as a recompense for his service; for sometimes he who receives it being unholy will employ it for illegitimate purposes, making the honours due to purity of birth common, and profaning all the sacred ceremonies and observances relating to the temple; (124) on which account the law altogether forbids any foreigner to partake in any degree of the holy things, even if he be a man of the noblest birth among the natives of the land, and irreproachable as respects both men and women, in order that the sacred honours may not be adulterated, but may remain carefully guarded in the family of the priests; (125) for it would be absurd that the sacrifices and holy ordinances, and all the other sacred observances pertaining to the altar, should be entrusted not to all men but to the priests alone; but that the rewards for the performance of those things should be common and liable to fall to the share of any chance persons, as if it were reasonable that the priests should be worn out with labours and toils, and nightly and daily cares, but that the rewards for such pains should be common and open to those who do nothing.

(126) But, he proceeds, let the priest who is his master give to the slave who is born in his house, and to him who has been purchased with money, a share of meat and drink from the first fruits. In the first place, because the master is the only source of supply to the servant, and the inheritance of the master are the sacred offices of humanity, by which the slave must necessarily be supported. (127) In the second place, because it is by all means necessary that they should not do what is to be done unwillingly; and servants, even though we may not like it, since they are always about us and living with us, preparing meat, and drink, and delicacies for their masters beforehand, and standing at their tables, and carrying away the fragments that are left, even though they may not take any openly, will at all events secretly appropriate some of the victuals, being compelled by necessity to steal, so that instead of one injury (if indeed it is an injury to their masters that they should be supported at their expense), they are compelled to add a second to it, namely, theft; in order that, like thieves, they may enjoy what has been consecrated by their masters who live irreproachably themselves; which is the most unreasonable thing possible.

(128) Thirdly, one ought to take this also into consideration, that share of the first fruits will not be neglected merely because they are distributed to the servants, through their fear of their masters; for this is sufficient to stop their mouths, preventing the arrogance of such persons from showing itself.

XXVI. (129) Having said thus much he proceeds next to put forth a law full of humanity. If, says he, the daughter of a priest, having married a man who is not a priest, becomes a widow by the death of her husband, or if she be left childless while he is still alive, let her return again to her father's house, to receive her share of the first fruits which she enjoyed when she was a virgin (Lev. 22:12); for in some degree and in effect she is now also a virgin, since she has neither husband nor children, and has no other refuge but her father; (130) but if she has sons or daughters, then the mother must of necessity be classed with the children; and the sons and daughters, being ranked as of the family of their father, draw their mother also with them into his house. [TOP]


Note 1. Mangey thinks that there is a considerable hiatus here. What follows relates to the regulations respecting proselytes, which as the text stands is in no way connected with what has gone before about the worship of God. [ « ]

Note 2. This prophecy, Deut. 18:18, is always looked upon as one of the most remarkable of the early prophecies of our Saviour. [ « ]

Note 3. The Greek for a pomegranate is rhoia, or rhoiskos, which Philo imagines to be derived from rheô, "to flow." [ « ]

[Index to Philo]  [Jewish Literature]

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  1. The Works of Philo (Newly updated edition of Yonge's translation)
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