A Treatise

On the Festival of the Basket of First-Fruits.

Philo Judaeus

I. There is, besides all these, another festival [Deuteronomy 26:1] sacred to God, and a solemn assembly on the day of the festival which they call castallus [castallus is interpreted "a basket with a pointed bottom"], from the event that takes place in it, as we shall show presently. Now that this festival is not in the same rank, nor of the same importance with the other festivals, is plain from many considerations. For, first of all, it is not one to be observed by the whole population of the nation as each of the others is. Secondly, none of the things that are brought or offered are laid upon the altar as holy, or committed to the unextinguishable and holy fire. Thirdly, the very number of days which are to be observed in the festival are not expressly stated.

II. Nevertheless, any one may easily see that it has about it some of the characteristics of a sacred festival, and that it comes very near to having the privileges of a solemn assembly. For every one of those men who had lands and possessions, having filled vessels with every different species of fruit borne by fruit-bearing trees; which vessels, as I have said before, are called castalli, brings with great joy the first fruits of his abundant crop into the temple, and standing in front of the altar gives the basket to the priest, uttering at the same time the very beautiful and admirable hymn prescribed for the occasion; and if he does not happen to remember it, he listens to it with all attention while the priest recites it. And the hymn is as follows:-- "The leaders of our nation renounced Syria, and migrated to Egypt. Being but few in number, they increased till they became a populous nation. Their descendants being oppressed in innumerable ways by the natives of the land, when no assistance did any longer appear to be expected from men, became the supplicants of God, having fled for refuge to entreat his assistance. Therefore he, who is merciful to all who are unjustly treated, having received their supplication, smote those who oppressed them with signs and wonders, and prodigies, and with all the marvellous works which he wrought at that time. And he delivered those who were being insulted and enduring every kind of perfidious oppression, not only leading them forth to freedom, but even giving them in addition a most fertile land; for it is from the fruits of this land, O bounteous God! that we now bring you the first fruits; if indeed it is a proper expression to say that he who receives them from you brings them to you. For, O Master! they are all your favors and your gifts, of which you have thought us worthy, and so enabled us to live comfortably and to rejoice in unexpected blessings which thou hast given to us, who did not expect them."

III. This hymn is sung from the beginning of summer to the end of autumn, by two choruses replying to one another uninterruptedly, on two separate occasions, each at the end of one complete half of ten years; because men cannot all at once bring the fruits of the seasons to God in accordance with his express command, but different men bring them at different seasons; and sometimes even the same persons bring first fruits from the same lands at different times; for since some fruits become ripe more speedily, and others more slowly, either on account of the differences of the situations in which they are grown, as being hotter or colder, or from innumerable other reasons, it follows that the time for offering the first fruits of such productions is undefined and uncertain, being extended over a great space. And the use of these first fruits is permitted to the priests, since they had no portion of the land themselves, and had no possessions from which they could derive revenue; but their inheritance is the first fruits from all the nation as the wages of their holy ministrations, which they perform day and night.

IV. I have now said thus much respecting the number seven, and the things referring to it among the days, and the months, and the years; and about the festivals which are connected with this number seven, following the regular connection of the heads of the subject, which I proposed to myself according to the order in which they are mentioned in the sacred history. And I shall now proceed in regular order to consider the commandment which comes next, which is entitled the one about the honor due to parents.


A Treatise

On the

Honor Commanded To Be Paid to Parents.

I. Having already spoken of four commandments which, both as to the order in which they are placed and as to their importance, are truly the first; namely, the commandment about the lenity of that sovereign authority by which the world is governed, and that which commands that man should not look upon any representation or figure of anything as God, and that which forbids the swearing falsely, or indeed the swearing carelessly and vainly at all, and that concerning the sacred seventh day -- all which commandments tend to piety and holiness. I now proceed to the fifth commandment, relating to the honor due to parents; which is, as I showed in the mention I made of it separately before, on the borders between those which relate to the affairs of men and those which relate to God.

For parents themselves are something between divine and human nature, partaking of both; of human nature, inasmuch as it is plain that they have been born and that they will die; and of divine nature, because they have engendered other beings, and have brought what did not exist into existence: for, in my opinion, what God is to the world, that parents are to their children; since, just as God gave existence to that which had no existence, they also, in imitation of his power, as far at least as they were able, make the race of mankind everlasting.

II. And this is not the only reason why a man's father and mother are deserving of honor, but here are also several other reasons. For among all those nations who have any regard for virtue, the older men are esteemed above the younger, and teachers above their pupils, and benefactors above those who have received kindnesses from them, and rulers above their subjects, and masters above their slaves. Accordingly, parents are placed in the higher and superior class; for they are the elders, and the teachers, and the benefactors, and the rulers, and the masters. And sons and daughters are placed in the inferior class; for they are the younger, and the pupils, and the persons who have received kindnesses, and subjects, and slaves. And that every one of these assertions is correct is plain from the circumstances that take place, and proofs derived from reason will establish the truth of them yet more undeniably.

III. I affirm, therefore, that that which produces is always older than that which is produced, and that that which causes anything is older than that of which it is the cause; but those who beget or bring forth a child are in some sense the causes and producers of the child which is begotten or brought forth, and they stand in the light of teachers, inasmuch as all that they know themselves they teach to their children from their earliest infancy, and they not only exercise and train them in the supernumerary accomplishments, impressing reasonings on the minds of their children when they come to their prime, but they also teach them those most necessary lessons which refer to choice and avoidance, the choice, that is to say, of virtues, and the avoidance of vices, and of all the energies in accordance with them. For who can be more completely the benefactors of their children than parents, who have not only caused them to exist, but have afterwards thought them worthy of food, and after that again of education both in body and soul, and have enabled them not only to live, but also to live well; training their body by gymnastic and athletic rules so as to bring it into a vigorous and healthy state, and giving it an easy way of standing and moving not without elegance and becoming grace, and educating the soul by letters, and numbers, and geometry, and music, and every kind of philosophy which may elevate the mind which is lodged in the mortal body and conduct it up to heaven, and can display to advantage the blessed and happy qualities that are in it, producing an admiration of and a desire for an unchangeable and harmonious system, which they will afterwards never leave if they preserve their obedience to their captain.

And in addition to the benefits which they heap upon them, they have likewise authority over the children of whom they are the parents, not as is the case in cities, in consequence of some drawing of lots or election, so that any one can find fault with his governor as having become so either by some blunder of fortune and not by reason, or it may be by the impetuosity of the multitude, the most inconsiderate and foolish of all things, but being established in this post by the most excellent and perfect wisdom of the sublime nature, which regulates all divine and human affairs in accordance with justice.

IV. For these reasons it is allowable for parents even to accuse their children, and to reprove them with considerable severity, and even, if they do not submit to the threats which are uttered to them by word of mouth, to beat them, and inflict personal punishment on them, and to imprison them; and if they behave with obstinacy and resist this treatment, becoming stiff-necked through the greatness of their incurable wickedness, the law permits them to chastise them even to the extent of putting them to death. [Deuteronomy 21:18.] But still this permission is not given to either the father by himself, or to the mother by herself, by reason of the greatness of the punishment, which it is not fitting should be determined by one, but by both together, for it is not probable that both the parents will agree about putting their child to death unless his iniquities are very grievous, and weigh down by a certain undoubted preponderance that firm affection which is firmly implanted in the parents by nature.

But parents have received not only the power of a ruler and governor over their children, but also that of a master, according to both the very highest characteristics of the possession of servants, namely, possessing them as born in the house, and also as purchased with money, for they expend a price many times greater than their real value on their children and for the sake of their children, in wages to nurses, and instructors, and teachers, besides all the expenses which they incur for their dress and their food, and their other care of them when well and when sick, from their earliest infancy till the time that they are full grown. And not only are those looked upon as servants born in the house who have actually been brought forth within the walls, but those also are so regarded who by the laws of nature receive from the masters of the house a sufficient support to maintain them in life after they are born.

V. Since this, then, is the case, those who do honor their parents are not doing anything worthy of praise, since even any single one of the commandments already mentioned is sufficient to invite them to regard their parents with reverence. But are not those men worthy of blame, and accusation, and the very extremity of punishment, who neither respect them as older than themselves, nor listen to them as their teachers, nor think them worthy of any requital as their benefactors, nor obey them as their rulers, nor fear them as their masters? Therefore the law says, "Honor thy father and thy mother next after God [Deuteronomy 5:16];" assigning to them the second place in honor, on the same principle as nature herself has ranked them in her decision of their proper place and duties.

And you will not honor them more by any line of conduct than by endeavoring and appearing to be virtuous persons. As the being such is a seeking of virtue without pride and without guile, and appearing such aims at virtue in connection with a good reputation and praise from one's associates; for parents, thinking but little of their own advantage, think the virtue and excellence of their children the perfection of their own happiness, for which reason it is that they are anxious that they should obey the injunctions which are laid upon them, and that they should be obedient to all just and beneficial commands; for a father will never teach his child anything which is inconsistent with virtue or with truth.

VI. And any one may conjecture that pious respect is due to parents, not only from what has been said above, but also from the manner in which persons behave to those who are of the same age with their parents; for the man who shows respect to an old man, or to an old woman, who is no relation to him, must appear in some degree to be remembering his own father and mother, and, out of this consideration, to be looking upon them as the images of his parents, who are the real models. On which account, in the sacred scriptures, it is not only commanded that young men should rise up and give the best seats to their elders, but also that they should rise up before them when they pass by [Leviticus 19:32]; showing honor to the grey hairs of old age, to which there is a hope that they may come themselves if they now yield precedence to them.

And this commandment also seems to me to have been enacted with exceeding beauty and propriety; for the law says, "Let each man fear his father and his mother [Leviticus 19:3]," enjoining fear rather than affection, not as being better in every respect or for every purpose, but as being more advantageous and profitable with reference to the present occasion, for the first of these feelings affects foolish persons when they are being instructed or reproved, and folly cannot be cured by any other means than fear. But the second feeling, namely, affection towards their parents, it is not fitting should be inculcated on children by the injunctions of a lawgiver, for nature requires that that should be spontaneous. For it has implanted it so deeply from very infancy in the souls of those who are so completely united by blood, and by the services done by the parents to the children, that it is always self-taught and spontaneous, and has no need of commandments to enforce it.

But the law has enjoined fear, because children are accustomed to feel an easy indifference. For though parents attend to their children with an exceeding violence of affection, providing them with necessary things from all quarters, and bestowing all good things upon them, and shrinking from no labor and from no danger, being bound to them by love stronger than any oaths, still some persons do not receive their affection as if it aimed solely at their good, being full of luxury and arrogance; and coveting a luxurious life, and becoming effeminate both in body and soul, permitting them in no respect to entertain proper dispositions as through the native powers of their minds, which they are not ashamed to overthrow, and to enervate, and to deprive of each separate energy, and so they come not to fear their natural correctors, their fathers and mothers yielding to and indulging their own private passions and desires. But we must also urge on the parents of such persons that they employ more weighty and severe admonitions in order to cure this impetuous obstinacy of their children, and we must warn the children to reverence their parents, fearing them as their rulers and natural masters; for it is with difficulty even by these considerations that they will be brought to hesitate to act unjustly.

VII. I have now then gone through all the five heads of laws in the first table, and have noticed also all the particular points which had any reference to any individual. I must also now point out the punishments affixed to the transgression of these laws.

Now there is one common penalty affixed to them all, namely, death, through which all such offenses have a kind of relationship to one another. But the causes of this sentence being pronounced in such cases are different, and we must begin with the last, the one that relates to parents, since it is in reference to this one that the words are still ringing in our ears, "If any one shall beat his father or his mother, let him be stoned." [Exodus 21:15.]

And very justly, for it is not fit that that man should live who insults those who are the causes of his living; but some of the men of high rank, and some of the lawgivers, looking rather at the vain opinions of men than at the truth, have softened this commandment, and instituted as a penalty, for those who beat their fathers, that their hands should be cut off; and for the sake of bearing a good reputation in the eyes of hasty and inconsiderate persons, they profess to them that it is becoming, that the parts with which such men have struck their parents should be cut off; but it is a piece of folly to be angry with the servants rather than with those who are the causes of such folly; for it is not the hands that behave with such insolence, but insolent men perform their actions with their hands, and it is the men who must be punished, unless indeed it can be called fitting to let men go who have committed murder with the sword, and to content one's self with throwing away the sword; and unless, on the contrary, one ought not to give honor to those who have shown pre-eminent valor in war, but to the inanimate coats of armor, by means of which they have behaved themselves valiantly; and unless again it is reasonable, in the case of those who have gained the victory in the gymnastic games, in the stadium, or the double race, or the long straight course, or in the contest of boxing, or in the pancratium, to attempt to crown only the legs and arms of the conquerors, and to let the whole of their bodies remain unhonored.

Surely it would be a ridiculous thing to lay down such principles as these, and to abstain in consequence from punishing or honoring those who were the real causes of the results in question; for we do not pass over a man who has given a splendid exhibition of musical skill, playing exquisitely on the flute or the lyre, and think the instruments themselves worthy of proclamations and honors. Why, then, should we deprive of their hands men who beat their fathers, O you most noble lawgivers? Is it that they may for the future be wholly useless for any purpose whatever, and that they may exact as a tribute, not once a year but every day, from those whom they have treated with iniquity, compelling them to supply them with necessary food, as being unable to provide for themselves? For their father is not so wholly hard-hearted as to endure to see even a son who has so grievously offended against him dying of hunger, after his anger has been blunted by time. And even if he has not laid hands upon his parents, but has only spoken ill of those whom he was bound to praise and bless, or if he has in any other manner done anything which can tend to bring his parents into disrepute, still let him die. [Exodus 21:17.] For since he is a common enemy, and if one may tell the plain truth, he is a public enemy of all men, to whom else can he be kind and favorable when he is not so to the authors of his being, by whose means he came into this world, and of whom he is a sort of supplement?

VIII. Again, let the man who has profaned the sacred seventh day as far as it may have lain in his power, be liable to the punishment of death. For, on the contrary, it is proper rather to provide whatever is profane, be it a thing or be it a person, with means of purification, in order to induce a change for the better, since "envy," as some one has said, "goes forth out of the divine company." But to dare to adulterate or to deface the holy coinage is an act which displays an extraordinary degree of impiety.

In that ancient migration which took place when the people of Israel left Egypt, and when the whole multitude was travelling through the pathless wilderness, when the seventh day came all those myriads of men which I have described before rested in their tents in perfect tranquillity; but one man, and he not one of the most despised or lowest class of the people, disregarding the commands which were laid upon the nation, and ridiculing those who attended to them, went forth to pick up sticks, but in reality to show his contempt for and violation of the law. And he indeed came back bearing with him a faggot in his arm, but the men who remained in their tents although inflamed with anger and exasperated by his conduct, nevertheless did not at once proceed to very harsh measures against him that day by reason of the holy reverence due to the day, but they led him before the ruler of the people, and made known his impious action, and he having committed him to prison, after a command had been given to put him to death, gave the man up to those who had originally seen him to execute. As therefore, in my opinion, it was not permitted to kindle a fire on the seventh day for the reason which I have already mentioned, so likewise it was not lawful to collect any fuel for a fire.

IX. Against those who call God as a witness in favor of assertions which are not true, the punishment of death is ordained in the law [Deuteronomy 19:19]; and very properly, for even a man of moderate respectability will never endure to be cited as a witness, and to have his name registered in support of a lie. But it seems to me that he would look upon any one who proposed such a thing to him as a thoroughly faithless enemy; on which account we must say this, that him, who swears rashly and falsely, calling God to witness an unjust oath, God, although he is merciful by nature, will yet never release, inasmuch as he is thoroughly defiled and infamous from guilt, even though he may escape punishment at the hands of men. And such a man will never entirely escape, for there are innumerable beings looking on, zealots for and keepers of the national laws, of rigid justice, prompt to stone such a criminal, and visiting without pity all such as work wickedness, unless, indeed, we are prepared to say that a man who acts in such a way as to dishonor his father or his mother is worthy of death, but that he who behaves with impiety towards a name more glorious than even the respect due to one's parents, is to be borne with as but a moderate offender.

But the lawgiver of our nation is not so foolish as, after putting to death men who are guilty of minor offenses, then to treat those who are guilty of heavier crimes with mildness, since surely it is a greater iniquity than even to speak disparagingly or to insult one's parents, to show a contempt for the sacred name of God by means of perjury. And if even he who swears in an unbecoming manner is guilty and blameable, of what punishment is that man worthy who denies the one only true and living God and who honors the creature above the Creator, and chooses to honor not only the earth and the water, or the air, or the fire, the elements of the universe, or again the sun and moon, and the planets and fixed stars, and the whole of heaven, and the universal world, but even stocks and stones, which mortal workmen have fashioned, and which by them have been shaped into human figures?

Therefore, let such a man be himself likened to images carved by the hand; for it ought not to be that that man should have any soul himself who honors things destitute of soul or life, and especially after he has been a disciple of Moses, whom he has often heard announcing to him and under the influence of divine inspiration declaring those most sacred and holy admonitions, "Take not the name of any other gods into thy soul for a remembrance of them, and utter not their names with thy voice, but keep both thy mind and thy speech far from all other interpositions, and turn them wholly to the Father and Creator of the universe, that thus thou mayest cherish the most virtuous and godly thoughts about his single government, and mayest speak words that are becoming and most profitable both to thyself and to those that hear thee." [Exodus 23:13.]

X. We have now then mentioned the punishments which are ordained against those who neglect the five commandments. But the rewards which are offered to those who keep them, even though the law has not set them forth in express words of injunction, are nevertheless figuratively intimated. Therefore the fact of not thinking that there are any other gods but the true God, nor imagining that things made by the hand of man are gods, and the fact of not committing perjury, are things which have no need of any other reward, for the mere fact, in my opinion, of practicing these virtues is itself a most excellent and most perfect reward. For at what circumstance can a lover of truth feel more really delighted than at the devotion of himself to one God, and attending in a guileless and pure manner to his service? And when I speak of witnesses, I mean not such persons as are slaves to pride, but such as are devoted to an admiration of goodness free from all error, by whom the truth is honored.

For wisdom itself is the reward of wisdom; and justice, and each of the other virtues, is its own reward. And truth, as being the most beautiful in the whole company, and as being the chief of all the holy virtues, is in much greater degree its own recompense and reward, affording as it does happiness to all who practice it, and blessings of which they cannot be deprived to their children and descendants.

XI. Again, those who properly keep the sacred sabbath are benefited in two most important particulars, both body and soul; as to their body, by a rest from their continual and incessant labors; and as to their soul, by forming most excellent conceptions respecting God as the Creator of the universe and the careful protector of all the things and beings which and whom he has made. And he made the whole universe in one week. It is plain, therefore, from these things that the man who honors the seventh day will himself find honor.

In the same way let not him who honors his parents dutifully seek for any further advantage, for if he considers the matter he will find his reward in his own conduct. Not but what, since this commandment is inferior in importance to the first five commandments, which have a more divine character, inasmuch as this is concerned with mortal subjects, God has given an inducement to obey this one, saying, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long in the land [Exodus 20:12];" affixing thus two rewards to this injunction, one being in fact the participation in virtue, for "well" means virtue, or at least cannot subsist without virtue; while the other is, if one is to say the truth, immortality by length of days, and a life of long duration, which thou wilt preserve even in the body living with thy soul, purified with a perfect purification.

These things have now been discussed at sufficient length. Let us after this, since the opportunity offers, consider the commandments in the second table.

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