Philo Judaeus

I. Now there are ten festivals in number, as the law sets them down. The first is that which any one will perhaps be astonished to hear called a festival. This festival is every day.

The second festival is the seventh day, which the Hebrews in their native language call the sabbath.

The third is that which comes after the conjunction, which happens on the day of the new moon in each month.

The fourth is that of the passover which is called the pascha.

The fifth is the first fruits of the corn -- the sacred sheaf.

The sixth is the feast of unleavened bread, after which that festival is celebrated, which is really the seventh day of seventh days.

The eighth is the festival of the sacred moon, or the feast of trumpets.

The ninth is the fast.

The tenth is the feast of tabernacles, which is the last of all the annual festivals, ending so as to make the perfect number of ten. We must now begin with the first festival.


I. The law sets down every day as a festival, adapting itself to an irreproachable life, as if men continually obeyed nature and her injunctions. And if wickedness did not prosper, subduing by their predominant influence all those reasonings about what things might be expedient, which they have driven out of the soul of each individual, but if all the powers of the virtues remained in all respects unsubdued, then the whole time from a man’s birth to his death would be one uninterrupted festival, and all houses and every city would pass their time in continual fearlessness and peace, being full of every imaginable blessing, enjoying perfect tranquillity. But, as it is at present, covetousness and the system of mutual hostility and retaliation with which both men and women are continually forming designs against one another, and even against themselves, have destroyed the continuity of cheerfulness and happiness.

And the proof of what I have just asserted is visible to all men; for all those men, whether among the Greeks or among the barbarians, who are practicers of wisdom, living in a blameless and irreproachable manner, determining not to do any injustice, nor even to retaliate it when done to them, shunning all association with busy-bodies, in all the cities which they inhabit, avoid all courts of justice, and council halls, and market­places, and places of assembly, and, in short, every spot where any band or company of precipitate headstrong men is collected, admiring, as it were, a life of peace and tranquillity, being the most devoted contemplators of nature and of all the things in it. Investigating earth and sea, and the air, and the heaven, and all the different natures in each of them; dwelling, if one may so say, in their minds, at least, with the moon, and the sun, and the whole company of the rest of the stars, both planets and fixed stars. Having their bodies, indeed, firmly planted on the earth, but having their souls furnished with wings, in order that thus hovering in the air they may closely survey all the powers above, looking upon them as in reality the most excellent of cosmopolites, who consider the whole world as their native city, and all the devotees of wisdom as their fellow citizens, virtue herself having enrolled them as such, to whom it has been entrusted to frame a constitution for their common city.

II. Being, therefore, full of all kinds of excellence, and being accustomed to disregard all those good things which affect the body and external circumstances, and being inured to look upon things indifferent as really indifferent, and being armed by study against the pleasures and appetites, and, in short, being always laboring to raise themselves above the passions, and being instructed to exert all their power to pull down the fortification which those appetites have built up, and being insensible to any impression which the attacks of fortune might make upon them, because they have previously estimated the power of its attacks in their anticipations (for anticipation makes even those things light which would be most terrible if unexpected), their minds in this manner calculating that nothing that happens is wholly strange, but having a kind of faint perception of everything as old and in some degree blunted. These men, being very naturally rendered cheerful by their virtues, pass the whole of their lives as a festival.

These men, however, are therefore but a small number, kindling in their different cities a sort of spark of wisdom, in order that virtue may not become utterly extinguished, and so be entirely extirpated from our race. But if men everywhere agreed with this small number, and became, as nature originally designed that they should, all blameless and irreproachable, lovers of wisdom, delighting in all that is virtuous and honorable, and thinking that and that alone good, and looking on everything else as subordinate and slaves, as if they themselves were the masters of them, then all the cities would be full of happiness, being wholly free from all the things which are the causes of pain or fear, and full of all those which produce joy and cheerfulness. So that no time would ever cease to be the time of a happy life, but that the whole circle of the year would be one festival.

III. Wherefore, if truth were to be the judge, no wicked or worthless man can pass a time of festival, no not even for the briefest period, inasmuch as he must be continually pained by the consciousness of his own iniquities, even though, with his soul, and his voice, and his countenance, he may pretend to smile; for how can a man who is full of the most evil counsels, and who lives with folly, have any period of genuine joy? A man who is in every respect unfortunate and miserable, in his tongue, and his belly, and all his other members, since he uses the first for the utterance of things which ought to be secret and buried in silence, and the second he fills full of abundance of strong wine and immoderate quantities of food out of gluttony, and the rest of his members he uses for the indulgence of unlawful desires and illicit connections, not only seeking to violate the marriage bed of others, but lusting unnaturally, and seeking to deface the manly character of the nature of man, and to change it into a womanlike appearance, for the sake of the gratification of his own polluted and accursed passions.

On which account the all-great Moses, seeing the pre­eminence of the beauty of that which is the real festival, looked upon it as too perfect for human nature and dedicated it to God himself, speaking thus, in these very words: “The feast of the Lord.” [Leviticus xxiii. 2.] In considering the melancholy and fearful condition of the human race, and how full it is of innumerable evils, which the covetousness of the soul begets, which the defects of the body produce, and which all the inequalities of the soul inflict upon us, and which the retaliations of those among whom we live, both doing and suffering innumerable evils, are continually causing us, he then wondered whether any one being tossed about in such a sea of troubles, some brought on deliberately and others unintentionally, and never being able to rest in peace nor to cast anchor in the safe haven of a life free from danger, could by any possibility really keep a feast, not one in name, but one which should really be so, enjoying himself and being happy in the contemplation of the world and all the things in it, and in obedience to nature, and in a perfect harmony between his words and his actions, between his actions and his words.

On which account he necessarily said that the feasts belonged to God alone; for he alone is happy and blessed, having no participation in any evil whatever, but being full of all perfect blessings. Or rather, if one is to say the exact truth, being himself the good, who has showered all particular good things over the heaven and earth. In reference to which fact, a certain pre-eminently virtuous mind among the people of old [Genesis xviii. 10], when all its passions were tranquil, smiled, being full of and completely penetrated with joy, and reasoning with itself whether perhaps to rejoice was not a peculiar attribute of God, and whether it might not itself miss this joy by pursuing what are thought delights by men, was timorous, and denied the laughter of her soul until she was comforted.

For the merciful God lightened her fear, bidding her by his holy word confess that she did laugh, in order to teach us that the creature is not wholly and entirely deprived of joy; but that joy is unmingled and the purest of all which can receive nothing of an opposite nature, the chosen peculiar joy of God. But the joy which flows from that is a mingled one, being alloyed, being that of a man who is already wise, and who has received as the most valuable gift possible such a mixture as that in which the pleasant are far more numerous than the unpleasant ingredients. And this is enough to say on this subject.


I. But after this continued and uninterrupted festival which thus lasts through all time, there is another celebrated, namely, that of the sacred seventh day after each recurring interval of six days, which some have denominated the virgin, looking at its exceeding sanctity and purity. And others have called the motherless, as being produced by the Father of the universe alone, as a specimen of the male kind unconnected with the sex of women; for the number seven is a most brave and valiant number, well adapted by nature for government and authority. Some, again, have called it the occasion, forming their conjectures of that part of its essence which is appreciable only by the intellect, from the objects intelligible to their outward senses. For whatever is best among the objects of the external senses, the things by means of which the seasons of the year and the revolutions of time are brought to perfection in their appointed order, partake of the number seven. I mean that there are seven planets; that the stars of the Bear are seven, that the Pleiads are seven, and the revolutions of the moon when increasing and waning, and the orderly well-regulated circuits of the other bodies, the beauty of which exceeds all description.

But Moses, from a most honorable cause, called it consummation and perfection; attributing to the number six the origination of all the parts of the world, and to the number seven their perfection; for the number six is an odd-even number, being composed of twice three, having the odd number for the male and the even number for the female, from the union of which, production takes place in accordance with the unalterable laws of nature. But the number seven is free from all such commixture, and is, if one must speak plainly, the light of the number six; for what the number six engendered, that the number seven displayed when brought to perfection. In reference to which fact it may properly be called the birthday of the world, as the day in which the work of the Father, being exhibited as perfect with all its parts perfect, was commanded to rest and abstain from all works.

Not that the law is the adviser of idleness, for it is always accustoming its followers to submit to hardships, and training them to labor, and it hates those who desire to be indolent and idle; at all events, it expressly commands us to labor diligently for six days [Exodus xx. 9], but in order to give some remission from uninterrupted and incessant toil, it refreshes the body with seasons of moderate relaxation exactly measured out, so as to renew it again for fresh works. For those who take breath in this way, I am speaking not merely about private individuals but even about athletes, collect fresh strength, and with more vigorous power, without any shrinking and with great endurance, encounter everything that must be done. And the works meant are those enjoined by precepts and doctrines in accordance with virtue.

And in the day he exhorts us to apply ourselves to philosophy, improving our souls and the dominant part of us, our mind. Accordingly, on the seventh day there are spread before the people in every city innumerable lessons of prudence, and temperance, and courage, and justice, and all other virtues; during the giving of which the common people sit down, keeping silence and pricking up their ears, with all possible attention, from their thirst for wholesome instruction; but some of those who are very learned explain to them what is of great importance and use, lessons by which the whole of their lives may be improved.

And there are, as we may say, two most especially important heads of all the innumerable particular lessons and doctrines; the regulating of one’s conduct towards God by the rules of piety and holiness, and of one’s conduct towards men by the rules of humanity and justice; each of which is subdivided into a great number of subordinate ideas, all praiseworthy. From which considerations it is plain that Moses does not leave those persons at any time idle who submit to be guided by his sacred admonitions; but since we are composed of both soul and body, he has allotted to the body such work as is suited to it, and to the soul also such tasks as are good for that. And he has taken care that the one shall succeed the other, so that while the body is laboring the soul may be at rest, and when the body is enjoying relaxation the soul may be laboring; and so the best lives with the contemplative and the active life, succeed to one another in regular alternations. The active life having received the number six, according to the service appointed for the body; and the contemplative life the number seven, as tending to knowledge and to the perfecting of the intellect.

II. It is forbidden also on this day to kindle a fire [Exodus xxxv. 3], as being the beginning and seed of all the business of life; since without fire it is not possible to make any of the things which are indispensably necessary for life, so that men in the absence of one single element, the highest and most ancient of all, are cut off from all works and employments of art, especially from all handicraft trades, and also from all particular services. But it seems likely that it was on account of those who were less obedient, and who were the least inclined to attend to what was done, that Moses gave additional laws, besides, thinking it right, not only that those who were free should abstain from all works on the seventh day, but also that their servants and handmaids should have a respite from their tasks, proclaiming a day of freedom to them also after every space of six days, in order to teach both classes this most admirable lesson; so that the masters should be accustomed to do some things with their own hands, not waiting for the services and ministrations of their servants, in order that if any unforeseen necessities came upon them, according to the changes which take place in human affairs, they might not, from being wholly unaccustomed to do anything for themselves, faint at what they had to do; but, finding the different parts of the body active and handy, might work with ease and cheerfulness; and teaching the servants not to despair of better prospects, but having a relaxation every six days as a kind of spark and kindling of freedom, to look forward to a complete relaxation hereafter, if they continued faithful and attached to their masters.

And from the occurrence of the free men at times submitting to the tasks of servants, and of the servants enjoying a respite and holiday, it will arise that the life of mankind advances in improvement towards perfect virtue, from their being thus reminded of the principles of equality, and repaying each other with necessary services, both those of high and those of obscure rank.

But the law has given a relaxation, not to servants only on the seventh day, but also to the cattle. And yet by nature the servants are born free; for no man is by nature a slave. But other animals are expressly made for the use and service of man, and are therefore ranked as slaves; but, nevertheless, those that ought to bear burdens, and to endure toil and labor on behalf of their owners, do all find a respite on the seventh day. And why need I mention other particulars? The ox, the animal who is born for the most important and most useful of all the purposes of life, namely, for the plough, when the earth is already prepared for seed; and again, when the sheaves are brought into the barn, for threshing in order to the purification of the crop, is on this day unharnessed, keeping as a festival that day which is the birthday of the year. And thus its holiness pervades every thing and affects every creature.

III. And Moses thinks the number seven worthy of such reverence that even all other things which at all partake of it are honored by him; at all events, on every seventh year he ordains a remission of debts, assisting the poor, and inviting the rich to humanity [Deuteronomy xv. 1]; that so they, from their abundance, giving to those that are in want, may also look forward to receiving services from them in the case of any disaster happening to them. For the accidents of human life are numerous, and life is not always anchored on the same bottom, but is apt to change like the fickle wind which blows in different directions at different times. It is well, therefore, that the kindness shown by the creditors should extend to all the debtors. But since all men are not naturally inclined to magnanimity, but some men are the slaves of money, or perhaps not very rich, the law has appointed that they should contribute what will not inconvenience them when parted with.

For while it does not permit them to lend on usury to their fellow countrymen, it has allowed them to receive interest from foreigners; calling the former, with great felicity of expression, their brothers, in order to prevent any one’s grudging to give of his possessions to those who are as if by nature joint inheritors with themselves; but those who are not their fellow countrymen are called strangers, as is very natural. For the being a stranger shows that a person has no right to a participation in any thing, unless, indeed, any one out of an excess of virtue should treat even those in the conditions of strangers as kindred and related, from having been bred up under a virtuous state of things, and under virtuous laws which look upon what is virtuous alone as good.

But the action of lending on usury is blameable; for a man who lends on usury has not abundant means of living, but is clearly in some want; and he does so as being compelled to add the interest to his principal in order to subsist, and so he at last becomes of necessity very poor; and while he thinks that he is deriving advantage he is in reality injured, just as foolish animals are when they are deceived by a present bait. But I should say to such persons, “O you who lend on usury, why do you seek to disguise your unsociable disposition by an apparent pretense of good fellowship? And why do you in words, indeed, pretend to be a humane and considerate person, while in your actions you exhibit a want of humanity and a terrible hardness of heart, exacting more than you gave, and sometimes even doubling your original loan, so as to make the poor man an absolute beggar? Therefore no one sympathizes with you in your distress, when, having endeavored to obtain more, you fail to do so, and besides lose even what you had before. But, on the contrary, all men are glad of your misfortunes, calling you a usurer, and a skinflint, and all kinds of names like those, looking on you as one who lies in wait for human misfortunes, and who esteems the misfortunes of others his own prosperity.”

But, as some have said, wickedness is a most laborious thing; and he who lends on usury is blind, not seeing the time of repayment, in which he will scarcely, or perhaps not at all, receive the things which in his covetousness he had hoped to gain. Let such a man pay the penalty of his avaricious disposition, not recovering back what he has expended, so as to make a gain of the misfortunes of men, deriving a revenue from unbecoming sources. But let the debtors be thought worthy of a humanity enjoined by the law, not paying back their loans and usurious interest upon them, but paying back merely the original sum lent. For again, at a proper season, they will give the same assistance to those who have aided them, requiting those who set the example of kindness with equal services.

IV. After having given these commandments, Moses proceeds in regular order to establish a law full of all gentleness and humanity. “If,” says this law, “one of thy brethren be sold to thee, let him serve thee for six years; and in the seventh year let him be set free without any payment,” [Deuteronomy xv. 12.] Here again Moses calls their fellow countrymen their brothers, implanting in the soul of the owner by this appellation an idea of relationship to his servant, that he may not neglect him as a stranger, towards whom he has no bond of goodwill. But that, yielding to a feeling of affection for him as a relation, in consequence of the lesson which the holy scripture thus suggests, he may not feel indignant when his servant is about to recover his freedom. For it has come to pass that such men are called slaves ('douloi'), but they are in reality only servants ('thetes'), serving their masters for the sake of their necessities. And even though they had a thousand times over given their masters absolute power and authority over them, still their masters ought to be gentle to them, considering these beautiful injunctions of the law. O man, he is a hireling who is called a slave, and he also is a man, having a most sublime relationship to you, inasmuch as he is of the same nation as yourself; and perhaps he is even of the same tribe and the same borough as yourself, and is now reduced to this condition through want. Do you, therefore, casting out of your soul that treacherous evil, insolence, behave to him as if he were a hireling, giving some things and receiving others. And so he will, with all energy and cheerfulness perform the services due to you, at all times and in all places, never delaying, but by his speed and willingness anticipating your commands. And do you, in return, provide him with food and raiment, and take all other necessary care of him; not yoking him to the plough like a brute beast, and not oppressing him with heavy burdens beyond his power to bear, nor treating him with insolence, nor reducing him to painful despondency by threats and infliction of punishment; but giving him proper relaxation and well-regulated periods of rest; for the precept, “Let nothing be too much,” applies to every case, and especially to the conduct of masters to their servants.

Therefore, when he has served you for a very sufficient time, for six years, then, when the most sacred number, the seventh year is about to arrive, let him who is free by nature depart in freedom; and grant him this kindness without hesitating as to your part, my good man, but joyfully, because you have now an opportunity of doing a service to that most excellent of all animals, man, in the most important of all matters; for there is no blessing to a slave greater than freedom. Do you, therefore, set him free joyfully; and, moreover, make him a present from your own property, from each portion of your possessions, giving to him who has served you faithfully means to support himself on his journey. For it will tend to your credit if he does not leave your house in poverty but having a plentiful supply for all his necessities, so that he may not again, through want, fall into his previous calamity, namely, slavery, being compelled through want of his daily food to sell himself, and so your kindness will be lost. This, then, is enough to say about the poor.

V. In the next place Moses commands the people to leave the land fallow and untilled every seventh year, for many reasons [Leviticus xxv. 4]; first of all, that they may honor the number seven, or each period of days, and months, and years; for every seventh day is sacred, which is called by the Hebrews the sabbath; and the seventh month in every year has the greatest of the festivals allotted to it, so that very naturally the seventh year also has a share of the veneration paid to this number, and receives especial honor.

And the second reason is this, “Be not,” says the lawgiver, “wholly devoted to gain, but even willingly submit to some loss,” that so you may bear with the more indifference involuntary calamity if it should ever fall upon you, and not grieve and despond, as if at some new and strange occurrence; for there are some rich men so unfortunate in their dispositions, as, when want comes upon them, to groan and despond no less than they might do if they were deprived of all their substance. But of the followers of Moses, all who are true disciples, being practiced in good laws, are accustomed, from their earliest age, to bear want with patience, by the custom of leaving their fertile land fallow; and being also taught magnanimity, and one may almost say, to let slip out of their hands, from deliberate intention, revenues of admitted certainty.

The third reason appears to me to be thus, which is intimated in a somewhat figurative manner, namely, to show that it does not become any one whatever to weigh down and oppress men with burdens; for if one is to allow a period of rest to the portions of the earth which cannot by nature have any share in the feelings of pleasure or of pain, how much the more must men be entitled to a similar relaxation, who have not only these outward senses, which are common to the brute beasts, but also the especial gift of reason, by which the painful feelings which arise from toil and fatigue, are more vividly imprinted on their imaginations?

Cease, therefore, ye who are called masters, from imposing harsh and intolerable commands on your slaves, which break the strength of the body by their compulsion, and compel the souls to faint even before the bodies; for there is no objection to your exerting a moderate degree of authority, giving orders by which you will receive the services to which you are entitled, and in consequence of which your servants will cheerfully do what they are desired; and then they will discharge their duties but for a short period, as if early exhausted, and, if one must say the truth, brought by their labors to old age before their time; but like athletes, preserving their youthful vigor for a long time, who do not become fat and corpulent, but who are accustomed, by exertion and sweat, to train themselves, so as to be able to acquire the things which are necessary and useful for life.

Moreover let the governors of cities cease to oppress them with continual and excessive taxes and tributes, filling their own stores with money, and in preserving as a treasure the illiberal vices which defile their whole lives; for they do, on purpose, select as collectors of their revenues the most pitiless of men, persons full of all kinds of inhumanity, giving them abundant opportunity for the exercise of their covetousness; and they, in addition to their own innate severity of temper, receiving free license from the commands of their masters, and having determined to do everything so as to please them, practice all the harshest measures which they can imagine, having no notion of gentleness or humanity, not even in their dreams; therefore they throw everything into disorder and confusion, levying their exactions, not only on the possessions of the citizens, but also on their persons, with insults and violence, and the invention of new and unprecedented torture.

And before now I have heard of some persons who, in their ferocity and unequalled fury, have not spared even the dead; but have been so brutal as even to venture to beat the dead corpses with goads; and when some one blamed their brutality, in that not even death, that relief and real end of all miseries, could prevent their victims from being insulted by them, but that, instead of a grave and the customary funeral rites, they were exposed to continued insult, they made a defense worse even than the accusation brought against them, saying that they were insulting the dead, not for the sake of abusing the dumb and senseless dust, for there was no advantage in that, but for the sake of making those who through ties of blood or of friendship were nearly connected with them feel compassion for them, and so inducing them to pay a ransom for their bodies, thus doing them the last service in their power.

VI. Then, O you most worthless of all men! I would say to them, have you not first learnt what you are now teaching? or do you know how to invite other people to compassion even by the most inhuman actions, and yet have you eradicated all merciful and humane feelings from your own souls? And do you act in this way in spite of not being in want of good advisers, and especially of our laws, which have released even the earth from its yearly burdens, giving it a relaxation and a respite? and it, although it seems to be inanimate, is nevertheless fully prepared to make a requital and to recompense favors, hastening to pay back any gift which it has received; for as it receives an exemption every seventh year, and is not forced to exert itself that year, but is set wholly free for the whole circle of the year, in the subsequent year produces double, or sometimes, many times, larger crops than usual from its great productiveness.

And in like manner you may see the trainers acting in the same way towards the athletes; for when they are exercising them with continual and uninterrupted practice, before they are wholly knocked up, they refresh them, giving a respite not only from their exertions in training, but also from their strict regimen of eating and drinking, relaxing the severity of their diet so as to produce a cheerfulness of soul and good condition of body. And yet they are not to be looked upon as teachers of indolence and luxury, inasmuch as their professed business is to train men to the endurance of labors, but by a certain method and artificial system they add to their natural strength a strength more powerful still, and to their innate vigor a more energetic vigor still, increasing their previous powers by reciprocal remission and exertion, as by a well-regulated harmony.

And I have learnt all this from all-wise nature, which, knowing the industrious and laborious condition of our race, has distributed them into day and night, giving to us the one for wakefulness, and the other for sleep: for she felt a natural anxiety, like a careful mother, that her offspring should not be worn out with toil; for by day she excites our bodies, and rouses them up to all the necessities and duties belonging to life, compelling those to work who would gladly be accustomed to cultivate the leisure of idleness, and an effeminate and luxurious life. But by night, as if she were sounding a retreat in time of war, she invites us to rest, and to take care of our bodies. And those men who have laid aside a heavy weight of business, which has lasted from morning till evening, do now lay their burdens aside and return home and devote themselves to ease, and indulging in profound sleep, refresh themselves after the labors of the day. This long interval between sleeping and waking nature has allotted to men, that they may by turns labor diligently and by turns rest, so as to have all the parts of their bodies more ready for action, and more active and powerful.

VII. And the lawgiver, who is a prophetic spirit, gave us our laws, having a regard to these things, and proclaimed a holiday to the whole country, restraining the farmers from cultivating the land after each six years’ incessant industry. But it was not only on account of the motives which I have mentioned that he gave these injunctions, but also because of his innate humanity, which he thinks fit to weave in with every part of his legislation, stamping on all who study the holy scriptures a sociable and humane disposition.

For he commands his people every seventh year to forbear to enclose any piece of land, but to let all the olive gardens and vineyards remain open, and all their other possessions, whether they be seed-land or trees, that so the poor may be able to enjoy the spontaneously growing crops without fear, in a greater, or at all events not in a less degree than the owners themselves. On which account he does not allow the masters to cultivate the land, having in view the object of not causing them any annoyance from the feeling that they are at all the expense, but that they do not receive any revenue from their lands to make up for the expense, while the poor enjoy all the crops as their own; and he permits those who appear to be strangers to enjoy all these things, raising them from their apparent lowly condition, and from the reproach of being beggars.

Is it not then fit to love these laws which are full of such abundant humanity? by which the rich men are taught to share the blessings which they have with and to communicate them to others: and the poor are comforted, not being for ever compelled to frequent the houses of the indigent to supply the deficiencies by which they themselves are oppressed; but there are times when the widows and orphan children, as if they had been deriving a revenue from their own properties, namely the spontaneously growing crops, as I have said before, and all other classes of persons who are disregarded from not being wealthy, do at last find themselves in the possession of plenty, being on a sudden enriched by the gift of God, who has called them to share with the possessors themselves in the number of the sacred seven.

And all those who breed flocks and herds lend their own cattle with fearlessness and impunity to graze on the land of others, choosing the most fertile plains, and the lands most suitable for the feeding of their cattle, availing themselves of the license of the jubilee; and they are not met by any ill-will or illiberality on the part of the masters, as having the property in these lands by old custom, which having prevailed for a very long time, so as to become familiar, has now prevailed even over nature.

VIII. Having laid down these principles as a kind of foundation of gentleness and humanity, he then puts together seven sevens of years, and so makes the fiftieth year an entirely sacred year, enacting with reference to it some ordinances of especial honor beyond those which relate to the ordinary years of communication of property.

In the first place he gives this commandment. He thinks it fitting that all property that has been alienated should now be restored to its original masters in order that the inheritances originally apportioned to the different tribes may be preserved, and that no one who originally received an allotment may be wholly deprived of his possessions. Since it often happens that unforeseen circumstances come upon men by which they are compelled to sell what belongs to them. And so he provided in a suitable manner for their necessities, and prevented those who purchased the lands from being deceived, allowing the one to sell their lands, and teaching the others very plainly the conditions on which they are going to purchase. For the law says, Do not give a price as if for an everlasting possession, but only for a definite number of years, which must be less than fifty; for the sale effected ought not to be a sale of the lands owned, but a sale of the crops, for two most weighty reasons; one, that the whole country is called the possession of God, and it is impious for any one else to be recorded as the masters of the possessions of God; and secondly, because a separate allotment has been assigned to each land-owner, of which the law does not choose the man who originally received the allotment to be deprived. Therefore, the law invites the man who is able to recover his original property within the period of fifty years, or any one of his nearest relations, to use every exertion to repay the price which he received, and not to be the cause of loss to the man who purchased it, and who served him at a time when he was in need of assistance. And at the same time it sympathizes with the man who is in too great a state of indigence to do so, and bestows its compassion on him, giving him back his former property with the exception of any fields which have been consecrated by a vow, and are so placed in the class of offerings to God. And it is contrary to divine law that any thing which has been offered to God should ever by lapse of time become profane. On which account it is commanded that the accurate value of those fields shall be fully exacted, without showing any favor to the man who dedicated the offering.

IX. These are the commandments which are given with respect to the divisions of the land and the inheritances so portioned out. There are others also enacted with respect to houses. And since of houses some are in cities, being within walls; while others are open abodes in the country, and not within any walls; the law has directed that those in the country shall always be redeemed with money, and that those which are not redeemed before the fiftieth year shall be restored without any payment to their original owners, just as their other possessions [Leviticus xxv. 31]; for the houses are a portion of the man’s possessions. But those which are within walls shall be liable to be redeemed by those who have sold them for a full year [Leviticus xxv. 19]; but if they be not redeemed within that year, then after that year they shall be confirmed to those who had bought them, the jubilee of the fiftieth year not injuring the claim of the purchasers.

And the reason of these enactments is that God wills to give even to strangers an opportunity of becoming firmly established in the land. For since they have no participation in the land, inasmuch as they are not numbered among those to whom the inheritances have been apportioned, the law has allotted to them a property in houses, being desirous that they who have come as suppliants to the laws, and who have taken refuge under their protection, should not be homeless wanderers in the land. For the cities, when the land was originally portioned out in inheritances, were not divided among the tribes, nor indeed were they originally built together in streets, but the inhabitants of the land preferred to make their abode in their open houses in the fields. But afterwards they quitted these houses and came together, the feeling of a love of fellowship and communication, as was natural, becoming stronger after a lapse of time, and so they build houses in the same place, and cities, of which they allowed a share also to the strangers, that they might not be destitute of every thing both in the country and in the cities.

X. And concerning the tribe which was set apart as consecrated for the priesthood, the following laws are established. The law did not bestow upon the keepers of the temple any portion of the land, considering the first fruits of it a sufficient revenue for them. But it allotted them eight and forty cities to dwell in, and a suburb of two thousand cubits around each city. [Leviticus xxxv. 5.] Therefore, it did not confirm the houses in these cities in the same manner that it did those in the other cities which are built within walls, to the purchasers, if those who had sold them were not able to redeem them within the year, but it permitted them to be redeemed at any time, like the open houses in the country taken from the gentiles, to which they corresponded. Since the Levites had received only houses in this district, of which the lawgiver did not think it fit that those who received them should be deprived any more than those to whom the allotments of the open houses in the country had fallen. And this is enough to say about the houses.

XI. But the laws established with respect to those who owed money to usurers, and to those who had become servants to masters, resemble those already mentioned; that the usurers shall not exact usurers’ interest from their fellow countrymen, but shall be contented to receive back only what they lent; and that the masters shall behave to those whom they have bought with their money not as if they were by nature slaves, but only hirelings, giving them immunity and liberty, at once, indeed, to those who can pay down a ransom for themselves, and at a subsequent period to the indigent, either when the seventh year from the beginning of their slavery arrives, or when the fiftieth year comes, even if a man happen to have fallen into slavery only the day before. For this year both is and is looked upon as a year of remission; every one retracing his steps and turning back again to his previous state of prosperity.

But the law permits the people to acquire a property in slaves who are not of their own countrymen, but who are of different nations; intending in the first place that there should be a difference between one’s own countrymen and strangers, and secondly, not desiring completely to exclude from the constitution that most entirely indispensable property of slaves; for there are an innumerable host of circumstances in life which require the ministrations of servants.


Following the order which we have adopted, we proceed to speak of the third festival, that of the new moon. First of all, because it is the beginning of the month, and the beginning, whether of number or of time, is honorable. Secondly, because at this time there is nothing in the whole of heaven destitute of light. Thirdly, because at that period the more powerful and important body gives a portion of necessary assistance to the less important and weaker body; for, at the time of the new moon, the sun begins to illuminate the moon with a light which is visible to the outward senses, and then she displays her own beauty to the beholders. And this is, as it seems, an evident lesson of kindness and humanity to men, to teach them that they should never grudge to impart their own good things to others, but, imitating the heavenly bodies, should drive envy away and banish it from the soul.


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 noon-day and continuing till evening. 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 practicing every kind of inhospitality, and (what was worst of all) giving the honor 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. 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 practicing anything else except a passing over from the body and the passions. 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 fulfill their hereditary custom with prayer and songs of praise. 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 honor may be separated from the number seven. But this number is the beginning of brilliancy and dignity to everything.


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; 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; 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. [Exodus xii. 1.] 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.

And, again, the feast is celebrated for seven days, on account of the honor 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. And of the seven days, Moses pronounces two, the first and the last, holy; giving, as is natural, a pre-eminence 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.

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 which 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 the 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.

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. 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.


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.

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; 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 honored with the second place, namely, barley, was ordered by the law to be offered as first fruits; for the first honors were assigned to wheat, of which it has deferred the offering of the first fruits, as being more honorable, to a more suitable season.


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, ('pentecostos'). 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; or else because the fruit of wheat is most especially the first and most excellent of all productions.

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. Not indeed to that [...]

For those to whom such an action is permitted will use the offerings when they have once been consecrated: and it is permitted to the priests; and the leaven is also an emblem of two other 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. 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; 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. 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.


Immediately after comes the festival of the sacred moon; in which it is the custom to play the trumpet in the temple at the same moment that the sacrifices are offered. From which practice this is called the true feast of trumpets, and there are two reasons for it, one peculiar to the nation, and the other common to all mankind. Peculiar to the nation, as being a commemoration of that most marvellous, wonderful, and miraculous event that took place when the holy oracles of the law were given; for then the voice of a trumpet sounded from heaven, which it is natural to suppose reached to the very extremities of the universe, so that so wondrous a sound attracted all who were present, making them consider, as it is probable, that such mighty events were signs betokening some great things to be accomplished. And what more great or more beneficial thing could come to men than laws affecting the whole race?

And what was common to all mankind was this: the trumpet is the instrument of war, sounding both when commanding the charge and the retreat...

There is also another kind of war, ordained of God, when nature is at variance with itself, its different parts attacking one another. And by both these kinds of war the things on earth are injured. They are injured by the enemies, by the cutting down of trees, and by conflagrations; and also by natural injuries, such as droughts, heavy rains, lightning from heaven, snow and cold; the usual harmony of the seasons of the year being transformed into a want of all concord.

On this account it is that the law has given this festival the name of a warlike instrument, in order to show the proper gratitude to God as the giver of peace, who has abolished all seditions in cities, and in all parts of the universe, and has produced plenty and prosperity, not allowing a single spark that could tend to the destruction of the crops to be kindled into flame.


And after the feast of trumpets the solemnity of the fast is celebrated, and this Moses has called the greatest of the festivals, denominating it in his national language the sabbath of sabbaths, or, as the Greeks would style it, the week of weeks, the most holy of all holy times. And it has this title for many reasons.

The first reason is the temperance which the lawgiver is continually exhorting men to display at all times, both in their language and in their appetites, both in and below the belly. And he most especially enjoins them to display it now, when he devotes a day to the particular observances of it. For when a person has once learnt to be indifferent to meat and drink, those very necessary things, what can there be of things which are superfluous that he would find any difficulty in disregarding?

The second reason is, that every one is at this time occupied in prayers and supplications, and since they all devote their entire leisure to nothing else from morning till evening, except to most acceptable prayers by which they endeavor to gain the favor of God, entreating pardon for their sins and hoping for his mercy, not for their own merits but through the compassionate nature of that Being who will have forgiveness rather than punishment.

The third is an account of the time at which this fast is fixed to take place; for by this season all the fruits which the earth has produced during the whole year are gathered in. And therefore to proceed at once to devour what has been produced Moses looked upon as an act of greediness; but to fast, and to abstain from touching food, he considered a mark of perfect piety which teaches the mind not to trust to the food which it may have prepared as the cause of health or life. Therefore those who, after the gathering in of the harvest, abstain from the food, do almost declare in express words, “We have with joy received, and we shall cheerfully store up the bounteous gifts of nature; but we do not ascribe to any corruptible thing the cause of our own durable existence, but we attribute that to the Savior, to the God who rules in the world, and who is able, either by means of these things or without them, to nourish and to preserve us. At all events, behold, he nourished our forefathers even in the desert for forty years.” [Deuteronomy viii. 2.]

And this day of the fast is celebrated in the tenth month, because the number ten is a perfect number. Therefore God has ordained that abstinence from food should take place in accordance with the perfect number, for the sake of affording the best nourishment to the best thing which is in us; that no one may suppose that the interpreter of God’s word is enjoining hunger, the most intolerable of all evils, but only a brief cutting off of the stream which flows into the channels of the body. For thus the clear stream which proceeds from the fountain of reason was likely to be borne smoothly and evenly to the soul, since the uninterrupted use of food inundating the body contributes also to confuse the reason. But if the supply of food be checked, then the reason getting a firm footing as if in a dry road, will be able to proceed in safety without stumbling; and besides it was fitting that when the supply of all things had turned out according to the wishes of the people and become completed, they should, amid the abundance of their harvest, preserve a commemoration of their previous want by abstinence from food, and should offer up prayers, in order that they might never come to a real experience of a want of necessary food.


The last of all the annual festivals is that which is called the feast of tabernacles, which is fixed for the season of the autumnal equinox. And by this festival the lawgiver teaches two lessons, both that it is necessary to honor equality, the first principle and beginning of justice, the principle akin to unshadowed light; and that it is becoming also, after witnessing the perfection of all the fruits of the year, to give thanks to that Being who has made them perfect. For the autumn ('metoporon'), as its very name shows is the season which comes after ('meta') the fruits of the year ('ten oporan') are now gathered into the granaries, on account of the providence of nature which loves the living creatures upon the earth.

And, indeed, the people are commanded to pass the whole period of the feast under tents, either because there is no longer any necessity for remaining in the open air laboring at the cultivation of the land, since there is nothing left in the land, but all . . . is stored up in the barns, on account of the injuries which otherwise might be likely to visit it from the burning of the sun or the violence of the rains.

It is also intended as a commemoration of the long journeying of their ancestors, while making which through the desert they lodged in numerous tents for many years, while stopping at each halting place. And it is proper in the time of riches to remember one’s poverty, and in an hour of glory to recollect the days of one’s disgrace, and at a season of peace to think upon the dangers that are past.

Again, the beginning of this festival is appointed for the fifteenth day of the month, on account of the reason which has already been mentioned respecting the spring season, also that the world may be full, not by day only but also by night, of the most beautiful light, the sun and moon on their rising opposite to one another with uninterrupted light, without any darkness interposing itself between so as to divide them. And after the festival has lasted seven days, he adds an eighth as a seal, calling it a kind of crowning feast, not only as it would seem to this festival, but also to all the feasts of the year which we have enumerated; for it is the last feast of the year, and is a very stable and holy sort of conclusion, befitting men who have now received all the produce from the land, and who are no longer in perplexity and apprehension respecting any barrenness or scarcity.

I have spoken in this way about the sacred week and the sacred number seven at more than usual length, wishing to show that all the feasts of the year are, as it were, the offspring of the number seven, which stands in the relation of a mother.

[...] Follies and joys; and because in such assemblies and in a cheerful course of life there are thus established seasons of delight unconnected with any sorrow or depression supporting both the body and the soul; the one by the pleasure and the other by the opportunities for philosophical study which they afford.

Holy, Holy, HolyThe Philo LibraryHypatia's Bookshelf