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Philo of Alexandria on Passover
By
Philo of Alexandria

Philo on Passover

XXVII. (145) And after the feast of the new moon comes the fourth festival, that of the passover, which the Hebrews call pascha, on which the whole people offer sacrifice, beginning at noonday and continuing till evening. (146) And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks for, their great migration which they made from Egypt, with many myriads of people, in accordance with the commands of God given to them; leaving then, as it seems, a country full of all inhumanity and practising every kind of inhospitality, and (what was worst of all) giving the honour due to God to brute beasts; and, therefore, they sacrificed at that time themselves out of their exceeding joy, without waiting for priests. And what was then done the law enjoined to be repeated once every year, as a memorial of the gratitude due for their deliverance. These things are thus related in accordance with the ancient historic accounts. (147) But those who are in the habit of turning plain stories into allegory, argue that the passover figuratively represents the purification of the soul; for they say that the lover of wisdom is never practising anything else except a passing over from the body and the passions. (148) And each house is at that time invested with the character and dignity of a temple, the victim being sacrificed so as to make a suitable feast for the man who has provided it and of those who are collected to share in the feast, being all duly purified with holy ablutions. And those who are to share in the feast come together not as they do to other entertainments, to gratify their bellies with wine and meat, but to fulfil their hereditary custom with prayer and songs of praise. (149) And this universal sacrifice of the whole people is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month, which consists of two periods of seven, in order that nothing which is accounted worthy of honour may be separated from the number seven. But this number is the beginning of brilliancy and dignity to everything.

Philo on the Feast of Unleavened Bread

XXVIII. (150) And there is another festival combined with the feast of the passover, having a use of food different from the usual one, and not customary; the use, namely, of unleavened bread, from which it derives its name. And there are two accounts given of this festival, the one peculiar to the nation, on account of the migration already described; the other a common one, in accordance with conformity to nature and with the harmony of the whole world. And we must consider how accurate the hypothesis is. This month, being the seventh both in number and order, according to the revolutions of the sun, is the first in power; (151) on which account it is also called the first in the sacred scriptures. And the reason, as I imagine, is as follows. The vernal equinox is an imitation and representation of that beginning in accordance with which this world was created. Accordingly, every year, God reminds men of the creation of the world, and with this view puts forward the spring, in which season all plants flourish and bloom; (152) for which reason this is very correctly set down in the law as the first month, since, in a manner, it may be said to be an impression of the first beginning of all, being stamped by it as by an archetypal Seal.{18}{sections 153û154 were omitted in Yonge's translation because the edition on which Yonge based his translation, Mangey, lacked this material. These lines have been newly translated for this volume.} (153) Although the month in which the autumnal equinox occurs is first in sequence according to solar orbits, it is not considered first in the law. The reason is that at that time, after all the crops have been harvested, the trees lose their leaves and everything that springtime produced in the height of its glory is withering under dry winds after it has been made dry by the flaming heat of the sun. (154) Therefore he thought that to apply the name "first" to the month in which the hill country and the plain become barren and infertile, was incongruous and unfitting. For it is necessary that the most beautiful and desirable phenomena belong to those things which are first and have received the position of leadership, those phenomena through which the reproduction and growth of animals and fruit and crops take place, but not the ominous destructive forces. (155) And this feast is begun on the fifteenth day of the month, in the middle of the month, on the day on which the moon is full of light, in consequence of the providence of God taking care that there shall be no darkness on that day. (156) And, again, the feast is celebrated for seven days, on account of the honour due to that number, in order that nothing which tends to cheerfulness and to the giving of thanks to God may be separated from the holy number seven. (157) And of the seven days, Moses pronounces two, the first and the last, holy; giving, as is natural, a preeminence to the beginning and to the end; and wishing, as if in the case of a musical instrument, to unite the two extremities in harmony. (158) And the unleavened bread is ordained because their ancestors took unleavened bread with them when they went forth out of Egypt, under the guidance of the Deity; or else, because at that time (I mean at the spring season, during hich this festival is celebrated) the crop of wheat is not yet ripe, the plains being still loaded with the corn, and it not being as yet the harvest time, and therefore lawgiver has ordained the use of unleavened food with a view to assimilating it to the state of the crops. For unleavened food is also imperfect or unripe, as a memorial of the good hope which is entertained; since nature is by this time preparing her annual gifts for the race of mankind, with an abundance and plenteous pouring forth of necessaries. (159) The interpreters of the holy scriptures do also say that the unleavened food is a gift of nature, but that barmed bread is a work of art. (160) Since, therefore, the vernal festival is a commemoration of the creation of the world, and since that it was inevitable that the most ancient persons, those formed out of the earth, must have used the gifts of the world without alteration, pleasure not having as yet obtained the dominion, the lawgiver ordained that food which was the most suitable to the occasion, wishing to kindle every year a desire to walk in the paths of a holy and rigid way of Life.{19}{section 161 was omitted in Yonge's translation because the edition on which Yonge based his translation, Mangey, lacked this material. These lines have been newly translated for this volume.} (161) The setting out of twelve loaves--the same number as the tribes--on the sacred table especially guarantees the things which have been said. For they are all unleavened, the clearest example of an unmixed food which has been prepared not by human skill for pleasure but by nature for the most essential use. These things are sufficient for this topic.

Philo On Firstfruits

XXIX. (162) There is also a festival on the day of the paschal feast, which succeeds the first day, and this is named the sheaf, from what takes place on it; for the sheaf is brought to the altar as a first fruit both of the country which the nation has received for its own, and also of the whole land; so as to be an offering both for the nation separately, and also a common one for the whole race of mankind; and so that the people by it worship the living God, both for themselves and for all the rest of mankind, because they have received the fertile earth for their inheritance; for in the country there is no barren soil but even all those parts which appear to be stony and rugged are surrounded with soft veins of great depth, which, by reason of their richness, are very well suited for the production of living Things.{20}{sections 163û174 were omitted in Yonge's translation because the edition on which Yonge based his translation, Mangey, lacked this material. These lines have been newly translated for this volume.} (163) The reason is that a priest has the same relation to a city that the nation of the Jews has to the entire inhabited world. For it serves as a priest--to state the truth--through the use of all purificatory offerings and the guidance both for body and soul of divine laws which have checked the pleasures of the stomach and those under the stomach and [tamed] the mob [of the Senses]{21}{there is a clear problem with the text here, i.e., the noun ochlon lacks a verb.} by having appointed reason as charioteer over the irrational senses; they also have driven back and overturned the undiscriminating and excessive urges of the soul, some by rather gentle instructions and philosophical exhortations, others by rather weighty and forcible rebukes and by fear of punishment, the fear which they brandish threateningly. (164) Apart from the fact that the legislation is in a certain way teaching about the priesthood and that the one who lives by the laws is at once considered a priest, or rather a high priest, in the judgment of truth, the following point is also remarkable. The multitude of gods, both male and female, honored in individual cities happens to be undetermined and indefinite. The poetic clan and the great company of humans have spoken fabulously about them, people for whom the search for truth is impractical and beyond their capability of investigation. Yet all do not reverence and honor the same gods, but different people different gods. The reason is that they do not consider as gods those belonging to another land but make the acceptance of them the occasion for laughter and a joke. They charge those who honor them with great foolishness since they completely violate sound sense. (165) But if he is, whom all Greeks together with all barbarians acknowledge with one judgment, the highest Father of both gods and humans and the Maker of the entire cosmos, whose nature--although it is invisible and unfathomable not only to sight but also to perception--all who spend their time with mathematics and other philosophy long to discover, leaving aside none of the things which contribute to the discovery and service of him, then it was necessary for all people to cling to him and not as if through some mechanical device to introduce other gods into participation of equal honors. (166) Since they slipped in the most essential matter, the nation of the Jews--to speak most accurately--set aright the false step of others by having looked beyond everything which has come into existence through creation since it is generate and corruptible in nature, and chose only the service of the ungenerate and eternal. The first reason for this is because it is excellent; the second is because it is profitable to be dedicated and associated with the Older rather than those who are younger and with the Ruler rather than those who are ruled and with the Maker rather those things which come into existence. (167) For this reason it amazes me that some dare to charge the nation with an anti-social stance, a nation which has made such an extensive use of fellowship and goodwill toward all people everywhere that they offer up prayers and feasts and first fruits on behalf of the common race of human beings and serve the really self-existent God both on behalf of themselves and of others who have run from the services which they should have rendered. (168) These are the things they do for the entire race of human beings. On the other hand they give thanks for themselves for many things. The first is that they are not perpetually wandering here and there among islands and continents and like foreigners and those without a permanent abode who have settled the lands of others and occupy others' wealth are reproached since they have acquired no portion of land from lack of means, but have acquired a land and cities and for a long time have been in possession of their own inheritance, for which reason it has been a sacred duty for them to offer the first fruits. (169) The second is that they did not receive a worthless and common land, but a good and fertile land both for the breeding of domestic animals and the abundance of unspeakably great crops. For there is no poor soil in it, and even the parts that seem to be stony and hardened are broken up with soft and especially deep veins which because of their richness are good for crop production. (170) In addition to these things, they did not receive a desolate land, but one in which there was a populous nation and great cities abounding in men. Yet the cities were emptied of their inhabitants and the entire race disappeared except for a small part: some as a result of wars and others as a result of divinely sent attacks because of their new and strange practices of wrongs and all of the impieties they used to commit through their great efforts to demolish the laws of nature. These things happened so that those who replaced them might be sobered by the calamities of others, and learn from their deeds that those who become devotees of evil deeds will suffer the same fate but those who have honored a life of virtue will possess their assigned portion, numbered not among emigrants but among the native residents. (171) That the first fruit is a handful for their own land and for all lands, offered in thanksgiving for prosperity and a good season which the nation and the entire race of human beings were hoping to enjoy, has been demonstrated. We should not be unaware that many benefits have come by means of the first fruit: first, memory of God--it is not possible to find a more perfect good than this; then, the most just recompense to the real Cause of the fruitfulness. (172) For the things which occur as a result of agricultural skill are few or none at all: to build up furrows, to dig and spade all around a plant, to deepen a trench, to cut off excessive growths, or to perform any similar task. But the things which come from nature are all essential and useful: the most fertile ground, a land well-watered by springs and both spring-fed and seasonal rivers and sprinkled with annual rains, mild temperatures of air moved by breezes which are most conducive for life, countless types of crops and plants. For which of these has a human either discovered or engendered? (173) Nature which has engendered these things has not begrudged a man its own goods, but considered him to be the governing part of mortal animals because he has a share in reason and good sense. She therefore chose him on the basis of his merit and summoned him to participate in her own goods. For these things it is right that the host, God, be praised and admired since he sees to it that the truely hospitable earth, all of it, is always full of not only the necessities but even of the things which make for a luxurious life. (174) In addition to these things, we should not fail to pay our regard to benefactors. For the person who is thankful to God who needs nothing and is selfsufficient, will also make it a habit to be thankful to humans who are in need of how many countless things. And there are many meanings intended by this offering of the first fruits. In the first place they are a memorial of God; secondly, they are a most just requital to be offered to him who is the real cause of all fertility; (175) and the sheaf of the first fruits is barley, calculated for the innocent and blameless use of the inferior animals; for since it is not consistent with holiness to offer first fruits of everything, since most things are made rather for pleasure than for any actually indispensable use, it is also not consistent with holiness to enjoy and partake of any thing which is given for food, without first giving thanks to that being to whom it is becoming and pious to offer them. That portion of the food which was honoured with the second place, namely, barley, was ordered by the law to be offered as first fruits; for the first honours were assigned to wheat, of which it has deferred the offering of the first fruits, as being more honourable, to a more suitable season.

(Special Laws 2, 145-175)

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