Philo Judaeus (20 BCE–50 CE) – from “Every Virtuous Person is Free.” 75-91. Translated in Ginsburg, 32-36. Philo texts from: Philo of Alexandria, Opera Omnia, Collected and edited by Thomas Mangey
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Philo Judaeus (20 BCE–50 CE) – from “Every Virtuous Person is Free.” 75-91. Translated in Ginsburg, 32-36. Philo texts from: Philo of Alexandria, Opera Omnia, Collected and edited by Thomas Mangey,
“Palestine, and Syria too, which are inhabited by no slight portion of the numerous population of the Jews, are not barren of virtue. There are some among them called Essenes—in number more than four thousand—from, as I think, an incorrect derivation from the Greek homonym hosiotes, holiness, because they are above all others, worshippers of God. They do not sacrifice any animals, but rather endeavor to make their own minds fit for holy offering. They, in the first place, live in villages, avoiding cities on account of the habitual wickedness of the citizens, being sensible that as disease is contracted from breathing an impure atmosphere, so an incurable impression is made on the soul in such evil company.
“Some of them cultivate the earth, others are engaged in those diverse arts which promote peace, thus benefiting themselves and their neighbors. They do not lay up treasures of gold or silver, nor do they acquire large portions of land out of a desire for revenues, but provide themselves only with the absolute necessities of life. Although they are almost the only persons among humanity who are without wealth and possessions—and this by their own choice rather than want of success—yet they regard themselves as the richest, because they hold that the supply of our wants, and contentment of mind, are riches, as in truth they are.
No Weapons of War in the Community
“No maker of arrows, darts, spears, swords, helmets, breast-plates, or shields—no manufacturer of arms or engines of war, nor any person whatever who makes things belonging to war, or even such things as might lead to wickedness in times of peace, is to be found among them. Traffic, inn keeping, or navigation, they never so much as dream of, because they repudiate every inducement to covetousness. There is not a single slave to be found among them, for all are free, and mutually serve each other. They condemn owners of slaves, not only as unjust, inasmuch as they corrupt the principle of equality, but also as impious, because they destroy the law of nature, which like a mother brought forth and nourished all alike, and made them all legitimate brothers and sisters, not only in word but in deed; but this relationship, treacherous covetousness, rendered over-bearing by success, has destroyed by engendering enmity instead of cordiality, and hatred instead of love.
“They leave the logical part of philosophy, as in no respect necessary for the acquisition of virtue, to the word catchers; and the natural part, as being too difficult for human nature, to the astrological babblers, excepting that part of it which treats upon the existence of God and the origin of the universe; but the ethical part they thoroughly work out themselves, using as their guides the laws which their fathers inherited, and which it would have been impossible for the human mind to devise without divine inspiration. Herein they instruct themselves at all times but more especially on the seventh day.
“For the seventh day is held holy, on which they abstain from all other work, and go to the sacred places called synagogues, sit according to order, the younger below the elder, and listen with becoming attention. Then one takes the Bible and reads it, and another of those who have the most experience comes forward and expounds it, passing over that which is not generally known, for they philosophize on most things in symbols according to the ancient zeal.
The Love of God Is Made Manifest among Them
“They are instructed in piety, holiness, righteousness, economy, polities, in knowledge of what is truly good, bad and indifferent, to choose things that are necessary, and to avoid the contrary. They use therein a threefold rule and definition, viz.: love of God, love of virtue, and love of humanity. Of their love to God, they give innumerable demonstrations—e.g. their constant and unalterable holiness throughout the whole of their life; their avoidance of oaths and falsehoods, and their firm belief that God is the source of all good, but of nothing evil.
“Of their love of virtue they give proofs in their contempt for money, fame, and pleasures, their continence, endurance, in their satisfying their wants easily, simplicity, cheerfulness of temper, modesty, order, firmness, and every thing of the kind. As instances of their love of humanity, are to be mentioned their benevolence, equality, and their holding all things in common, which is beyond all description, and about which it will not be out of place to speak here a little.
The Essenes Hold All Things in Common
“First, then, no one has his or her own house, so that it also belongs to all. For, besides that, they all live together in sodalities; it is also open to those of the community who come from other places. Moreover, they all share one common treasury and store of provisions, common garments, and common food for all who eat together. Such a mode of sleeping together, living together, and eating together, could not be so easily established in fact among any other people; and indeed it would be impossible. For whatever they receive daily, if they work for wages, they do not retain it as their own, but give it to the common stock, and let everyone that likes make common use of it.
“Those that are sick are not neglected because they can earn nothing, but have what is necessary for their aid from the common stock, so that they ever fare richly without wanting anything. They manifest respect, reverence and care for the aged, just as children do for their parents, administering to them a thousand times with all plentifulness both with their hands and their counsels in their old age.
“Such champions of virtue are produced by a philosophy which is free from the subtlety of Greek word-splitting, and which deals with subjects tending to the exercise of praiseworthy actions, and giving rise to invincible freedom. This was seen in the fact that many tyrants have arisen from time to time in that country, differing in character and conduct…. But neither the cruel tyrant nor the wily hypocrite could get any advantage over the said community of Essenes or holy ones, but disarmed by the virtues of these people, all recognized them as independent and free by nature, praised their common meals and their community of goods, which surpasses all description, and is an evident proof of a perfect and very happy life.”