Nazarene Space

Philo of Alexandria on Shavuot
By
Philo of Alexandria

 (176) The solemn assembly on the occasion of the festival of the sheaf having such great privileges, is the prelude to another festival of still greater importance; for from this day the fiftieth day is reckoned, making up the sacred number of seven sevens, with the addition of a unit as a seal to the whole; and this festival, being that of the first fruits of the corn, has derived its name of pentecost from the number of fifty, (penteµkostos). And on it it is the custom to offer up two leavened loaves made of wheat, as a first fruit of the best kind of food made of corn; either because, before the fruit of the year is converted to the use of man, the first produce of the new crop, the first gathered corn that appears is offered as a first fruit, in order that by an insignificant emblem the people may display their grateful disposition;  (177) We must disclose another reason. Its nature is wondrous and highly prized for numerous reasons including the fact that it consists of the most elemental and oldest of the things which are encased in substances, as the mathematicians tell us, the right angled triangle. For its sides, which exist in lengths of three and four and five, combine to make up the sum twelve, the pattern of the zodiac cycle, the doubling of the most fecund number six which is the beginning of perfection since it is the sum of the same numbers of which it is also the Product.{23}{literally, "being the sum of its own parts to which it is equal." In mathematical notation: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6 = 1 x 2 x 3.} To the second power, it seems, they produce fifty, through the addition of 3 x 3 and 4 x 4 and 5 x 5. The result is that it is necessary to say that to the same degree that fifty is better than twelve, the second power is better than the first power. (178) If the image of the lesser is the most beautiful sphere of those which are in heaven, the zodiac, then of what would the better, the number fifty, be a pattern than a completely better nature? This is not the occasion to speak about this. It is sufficient for the present that the difference has been noted so that a principal point is not considered to be subordinate. (179)the feast which takes place on the basis of the number fifty has received the name "the feast of the first produce" since during the feast it is customary to offer two leavened loaves made from wheat as the first fruit of grain, the best food. It is named "the feast of the first produce" Either{24}{the "or" is in section 181.} because before the annual crop has proceeded to human use, the first produce of the new grain and the first fruit which has appeared are offered as first fruit. (180) For it is just and religiously correct that those who have received the greatest gift from God, the abundance of the most necessary as well as most beneficial and even the sweetest food, should not enjoy it or have any use of it at all before they offer the first fruits to the Supplier. They are giving him nothing since all things and possessions and gifts are his, but through a small symbol demonstrate a thankful and God-loving character to the one who needs no favors but showers continuous and ever-flowing favors. (181) Or else because the fruit of wheat is most especially the first and most excellent of all productions. (182) And the bread is leavened because the law forbids any one to offer unleavened bread upon the altar; not in order that there should be any contradiction in the injunctions given, but that in a manner the giving and receiving may be of one sort; the receiving being gratitude from those who offer it, and the giving an unhesitating bestowal of the customary blessings on those who offer. [...]{25}{the whole of this passage appears corrupt and unintelligible. Mangey especially points out that what was forbidden was not to offer unleavened bread, but leavened bread upon the altar. See Exodus 28.23:18.} Not indeed to that [...]{26}{part of section 183 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.} (183) For those for whom it is lawful and permissible will use what has once been consecrated; and it is lawful for those who are consecrated to the priesthood, who have received the right given by the humaneness of the law to share in the things offered on the altar which are not consumed by the unquenchable fire, either as a wage for their services or as a prize for contests in which they compete on behalf of piety or as a sacred allotment in view of the fact that with regard to the land they have not acquired their appropriate part in the same way as the other tribes. (184) And it is permitted to the priests; and the leaven is also an emblem of two others things; first of all of that most perfect and entire food, than which one cannot, among all the things of daily use, find any which is better and more advantageous; and the fruit of wheat is the best of all the things that are sown; so that it is fitting, that that should be offered as the most excellent of first fruits, for the most excellent gift. (185) The second is a more figurative meaning, implying that every thing which is leavened is apt to inflate and elate; and joy is an irrational elation of the soul. Now man is not by nature disposed to rejoice at anything that exists more than at an abundant and sufficient supply of necessaries; for which it is very proper to give thanks joyfully, making a display of gratitude, for the invisible happiness affecting the mind, which shall be perceptible to the outward senses through the medium of the leavened loaves; (186) and these first fruits are loaves, not corn, because when there is corn there is no longer anything wanting for the enjoyment of food, for it is said that the wheat is the last of all the grains which are sown to ripen and to come to harvest. (187) And there are thus two most excellent acts of thanksgiving having a reference to two distinct times; to the past, in which we have been saved from experiencing the evils of scarcity and hunger while living in happiness and plenty; and to the future, because we have provided ourselves with supplies and abundant preparations for it.

(Special Laws 2 176-187)

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