Plant. 1–27: The Significance of Reading Philonic Parallels

This paper looks at ways in which parallel passages in Philo can affect our understanding of a Philonic text. Two examples from Plant. 1–27 are examined: §§ 11–14 deals with the creatures belonging to each of the elements. In §§ 17–25 Philo elaborates on what he thinks Plato’s notion of the human being as a “heavenly plant” means. In the analysis of Plant. 11–14 special attention is devoted to what Philo says about the souls found in the air, and light is sought from the two important parallels in Gig. 6–18 and Somn. 1.133–141. It is argued that the tenet of reincarnation, very clearly implied by Philo in the Somn. passage, should be understood to be a part of what Philo wants to convey to his audience in each case. This view is reinforced when Philo’s texts are compared with various reincarnational texts by Plato and the Platonist interpretations thereof. Plant. 17–25 is read together with Leg. 1.31–38, Det. 79–90 and Her. 52–64. Particular emphasis is given to the question whether a protological or a universal understanding of Philo’s interpretations of Gen. 1:27, 2:7 and Ex. 31:2–3 is to be preferred. It seems at first sight clear that when Philo in §§ 18–19 appeals to Gen. 2:7b and 1:27 as proof texts for his view of the soul being stamped by the Logos, he is speaking of the original constitution of the human being. However, when he couples Gen. 2:7b with 1:27 and dissociates it from 2:7a (even opposing the parts of the verse to each other in § 44, as he also does in Leg. and Her.) and subsequently goes on to causally link the soul’s likeness of the “image of God” (who sends his “breath”) to its ability to apprehend the unseen (§20), its being pulled towards God (§21) and its craving for wisdom and knowledge (§23), he comes very close to his interpretations of Gen. 2:7b–8 in Leg. And those interpretations are almost exclusively universal (instead of protological)—in essence, soteriological: both the “breath of life” and Paradise are interpreted as means of the soul for exchanging its state of earthliness and death for that of heavenliness and life. This paper argues that in order to fully appreciate what Philo wants to say in Plant. we need to read, not between the lines, but on the lines of his other allegorical treatises.