Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Philo: On Bezalel's Name ("In the Shadow of God")

Philo of Alexandria
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's post, I wondered if Philo had commented on the meaning of Bezalel's name, i.e., "in the shadow of God," and indeed he had, as Professor Brandon Watson notes in a comment. Brandon's comment led me to an online source, The Works of Philo Judaeus, translated from the Greek by Charles Duke Yonge (London, H. G. Bohn, 1854-1890), where I found the two passages Brandon had located, plus a third. Here's one from Allegorical Interpretation, III, presented by Philo as a case in which God predisposes the character of some individuals to their divinely appointed tasks, in this instance the craftsman Bezalel to his job of constructing the holy tabernacle according to God's design:
XXXI. (95) On which account God also calls Bezaleel by name, and says that "He will give him wisdom and knowledge, and that He will make him the builder and the architect of all the things which are in his Tabernacle" [Exodus 31:2]; that is to say, of all the works of the soul, when he had up to this time done no work which any one could praise -- we must say, therefore, that God impressed this figure also on the soul, after the fashion of an approved coin. And we shall know what the impression is if we previously examine the interpretation of the name. (96) Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, "And God made man according to the image of God" [Genesis 1:26], as the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model.
I'm not sure that the author of Hebrews would follow Philo all the way and call the "image of God" a shadow, for in Hebrews 1:3, he calls the Son "the brightness of [His] glory, and the express image of His person" (ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), but he might like the etymological connection between Bezalel's name and the tabernacle as a "shadow of heavenly things" (Hebrews 8:5). The second passage, also located by Brandon, is from On Dreams, That They are God-Sent, and the context refers to a contrast between the man (Bezalel) who works with copies and the man (Moses) who creates the archetype:
(1.206) Now the sacred scripture calls the maker of this compound work Besaleel, which name, being interpreted, signifies "in the shadow of God;" for he makes all the copies, and the man by name Moses makes all the models, as the principal architect; and for this reason it is, that the one only draws outlines as it were, but the other is not content with such sketches, (1.207) but makes the archetypal natures themselves, and has already adorned the holy places with his variegating art; but the wise man is called the only adorner of the place of wisdom in the oracles delivered in the sacred scriptures.
I presume that the connection to dreams here would likely be the vision of heavenly things, said to be given to Moses on Mount Sinai, one of these heavenly things being the model for the tabernacle. Anyway, the third passage is from Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter and the context refers to the intricate construction of various complex objects in the holy tabernacle, of which Bezalel has the honor:
VI. (26) Therefore, also, Moses will be summoned upwards, the steward and guardian of the sacred mysteries of the living God. For we read in the book of Leviticus, "He called Moses up to Him" [Exodus 31:2 is the passage alluded to, and not any verse in Leviticus]. Bezeleel also will be summoned up, being thought worthy of the same honours. For him, also, God calls up for the preparation of the sacred furniture and for the care of the sacred works. (27) But he receives only the second honour of this summons, and the all-wise Moses shall have the first place assigned to him. For the former fashions shadows only, like painters do, in which it is not right to form any living thing. For the very name Bezeleel is interpreted to mean, "working in shadows." But Moses does not make shadows, but the task is assigned to him of forming the archetypal natures of things themselves. And in other places, also, the great Cause of all things is accustomed to reveal his secrets to some in a more conspicuous and visible manner, as if in the pure light of the sun, and to others more sparely, as though in the shade.
Note that the contrast is once again made between Bezalel as the one working shadows and Moses as the one who works with archetypes. I should also note that Professor Harold Attridge was well aware of Philo's etymological speculations on the name "Bezalel," as I would have discovered earlier if I had followed up his citations, which I even cited:
Philo frequently develops the contrast between the chief craftsman Bezalel (Exodus 31:2), who builds the shadows of the realities that Moses alone has seen. Cf. Leg. all. 3.96, 103; Plant. 27; Som. 1.206 (Attridge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, page 219b, note 44).
But since Attridge does not explicitly refer to Bezalel in connection with the tabernacle as a "shadow of heavenly things" (Hebrews 8:5), then I gather that he doesn't consider this significant for the writer of Hebrews.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica for sending traffic my way.

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At 5:14 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow

I find it quite poignant that Philo, by playing with Hebrew syntax, divides the name in a different way than you and the other scholars do. He reads "In-shadow God" instead of "In God's-shadow".

So, the "shadow" turns out to be an inner feature of God, not an effect (just) outside.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world."

From the context, "God in his shadow" -- which I take to mean "God in his shadow form" -- would seem to refer to the Logos of God (and therefore to God's image, with Philo playing on the similarity of an image and a shadow), God's active agent in making the world, but I'd need to see the Greek to be sure.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:42 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

It is anyway striking and intriguing the equivalence between Logos and Shadow.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, it is.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:13 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Logos and Shadow. A step further: the holy Shroud kept in Torino (Turin, Italy) which is supposed to be the very cloth that enveloped Jesus' body, though the issue is of course much controversial.

Its more striking feature, that was impossible to notice sooner than in the 19th century, is that it works as a "photographic negative" i.e. you can see Jesus' whole body in detail only if you reverse the effects of both lights and shadows.

That - imho - is the "impressive" divine message "printed" on that object.

As the angels said at the holy Sepulchre, "He is not here". Or, rather: He is right on the opposite "side".

One bit more. In the Orthodox icons, God is in the shadow / the dark side behind the picture. The spirituality of the Eastern Churches surely owes much to Neoplatonism, Philo included.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

And icons are said to be windows into paradise . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:26 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

... or wagons hitched to a star.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nah, you're thinking of impractical dreamers . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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