Nazarene Space

Philo of Alexandria on Sukkot

By

Philo of Alexandria



 (204) 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 honour 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. (205) For the autumn (metopoµron), as its very name shows is the season which comes after (meta) the fruits of the year (teµn opoµran) are now gathered into the granaries, on account of the providence of nature which loves the living creatures upon the earth. (206) 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 labouring 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. (207) For when the crops which provide nourishment are in the fields, you act as a manager and guard of those necessities not by having cooped yourself up like a woman who belongs at home, but by having gone out to the fields. If severe cold or summer heat befalls you as you live in the open air, the overgrowths of the trees are handy shelters. If you get under their protection, you will be able to escape easily the harm from each. But when all the crops are in, go in with them to look for a more substantial abode for rest in place of the toils which you endured as you worked the land. Or again, it may be a reminder of the long journey of our ancestors which they made through a wide desert, living in tents for many years at each station. (208) 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. (209) In addition to the pleasure it provides, a not inconsiderable advantage for the practice of virtue comes from this. For people who have had prosperity and adversity before their eyes and have pushed the latter away and are enjoying the free use of the better, of necessity become thankful in disposition and are being urged on to piety by fear of a change of state to the contrary condition. As a result they honor God in songs and words for their present wealth and persistently entreat and conciliate him with supplications that they will no longer be tested with calamities. (210) 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. (211) 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. (212) Perhaps, however, the first cubic number, the number eight, was assigned to the feast for the following reason. It is in its Capacity the beginning of solid substance at the transition from the incorporeal, the end of the intelligible. The intelligible [make the Transition] to a solid nature through the scale of ascending powers. (213) And in fact, the autumnal feast, just as I said, as a kind of summation and end of all the feasts in the year seems to be more stable and steadier since people have already received the revenue from the land and are no longer in a state of fear and baffled by doubts about productivity or dearth. For the anxious thoughts of farmers are not settled until the crops are in because of the losses just waiting to happen from so many people and animals. (214) 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.

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