Philo: The Logos ‎

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			If you’re wondering what the Logos is, you are not alone. Most people, Jewish or non-Jewish, ‎have never heard the term before. So what is the Logos? It is an ancient Greek word that goes ‎back over 2,500 years. In its first usage in Greek literature it meant ‘reason’, and became a ‎general term for ‘philosophy’. The subject of this essay, Philo, took the term and applied it to ‎the Bible. His philosophical goal was to unite Greek wisdom with Judaism. His method for ‎accomplishing this questionable aim was to reinterpret the Torah in the form of one metaphor ‎after another. He repeatedly asks questions on the text and answers them through his ‎metaphorical interpretations. Admittedly, his answers frequently leave the reader puzzled ‎over why he even bothered with the text of the Bible when he goes so far out on a limb to ‎plug in his ideas. ‎
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The concept of the Logos figures prominently in Philo’s writings. It is a word that is difficult ‎to translate. When the Latin speaking Church Fathers translated the Greek writings of Philo ‎and the New Testament into Latin, they had major problems with this word. Eventually, the ‎accepted translation settled on the word ‘word’, though by common consensus, this does not ‎really do the word justice. It fell to Philo to make this word/concept a central part of western ‎religion and to introduce a new image of God. ‎
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Philo describes the Logos in great detail: ‘But the divine Word which is above these does not ‎come into any visible appearance, inasmuch as it is not like any of the things that come under ‎the external senses, but is itself an image of God, the most ancient of all the objects of ‎intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in the closest proximity to the only truly ‎existing God, without any partition or distance being interposed between them. For it is said, ‎‎"I will speak unto thee from above the mercy seat (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant), in ‎the midst, between the two Cherubim" (Exodus 25:22). So that the Word is, as it were, the ‎charioteer of the powers, and He who utters it is the rider, who directs the charioteer how to ‎proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the universe.’ ('The Flight', Sec. XIX). ‎
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In another book, Philo reaches the point where he can state: ‘And the Father who created the ‎universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on ‎the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this ‎same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which ‎is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the ‎subject race. And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of ‎it, saying, "And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You;" (Deuteronomy 5:5), being ‎neither uncreated like God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two ‎extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and ‎security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather ‎than order; and to the creation, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful ‎God would not overlook his own work’ ('Heir to Divine Things', Sec. XLII). ‎
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Analysis ‎
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The Logos is a remarkable concept that would prove to be profoundly influential in the ‎development of Christian theology, where it is openly acknowledged; and in Jewish theology, ‎where the term, like Philo himself, is so suppressed as to be almost unknown. But it is there in ‎between the lines, redefining the way that God interacts with creation, and even redefining ‎God. It really wasn’t even remotely connected to the Biblical concept of God, which varied ‎from a very palpable, almost physical presence, to a being that resided beyond the limits of ‎the physical universe and encompassed everything. The Logos sat directly in between these ‎two images. The second, the limitless being, is found all over Philo in the form of ‘The Father’ ‎‎- a term that would be employed as one of the three persona of the Christian Trinity. The first, ‎the physical presence, would morph into the Logos in Philo. ‎
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Assuming it is possible to make our way through those almost impenetrable philosophical ‎quotes listed above, we can put together a picture of the Logos. First, it is invisible and ‎undetectable by all the physical senses. It is, as Philo states explicitly, ‘itself an image of God, ‎the most ancient of all the objects of intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in ‎the closest proximity to the only truly existing God, without any partition or distance being ‎interposed between them’. It seems that the Logos is an image of God but not God. It is the ‎closest thing to God, but it is not ‘the only truly existing God’, although the difference ‎between them is by no means clear. This would prove to be one of the thorniest problems with ‎the Logos – what was the dividing line, if indeed there was any, between it and God? ‎
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We have many clues to answer this important question. First is the analogy of the ‎chariot/charioteer. In speaking from between the Cherubim that form the cover of the Ark of ‎the Covenant, ‘the Word is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers, and He who utters it is ‎the rider, who directs the charioteer how to proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the ‎universe.’ There is a hierarchy of three things (sound familiar? – it should) – the rider who ‎speaks the Word, the Word which is the charioteer, and the ‘powers’, which are the chariot, ‎the forces that guide the universe. Why there is a difference between the ‘rider’ and the ‎‎‘charioteer’ is not clear. But there is a difference. It seems as though the rider is the like the ‎soul/mind of the charioteer, while the charioteer is like the body. God is the software behind ‎the computer called the Logos. ‎
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The Logos is the intermediary between God and the creation. It is the divine essence that, ‎while not God, is not a part of creation either. Why Philo needed such an intermediary is ‎obvious when viewed from the immediate post-Biblical mindset. God had to be perfect, ‎above all physicality and change. God could no longer be immersed in the muck of the ‎physical world, dirtying His divine hands with earthly mud and human failures. God had to ‎be removed from all that. In place of the direct contact that is present all over the Tanakh, ‎Philo inserts the Logos as the go-between that handles holding creation together so God can ‎deal with loftier matters. ‎
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There are two relationships concerning the Logos that must be explained. One is between the ‎Logos and God and the other is between the Logos and creation. Both of these are dealt with ‎in the third paragraph above. ‘And the Father who created the universe has given to his ‎archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and ‎separated that which had been created from the Creator.’ The relationship between the Father ‎and the Logos is not that of Creator-created. The Logos is not a creation at all. It is something ‎that was there from the beginning, an active force of creation that was an integral part of ‎God’s reality. The Logos stands in between the Creator and the creation, ‘being neither ‎uncreated like God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two ‎extremities’. ‎
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So what is the relationship between God and the Logos? The metaphor of the hostage is ‎Philo’s method of explaining this difficult point. It is a ‘hostage, as it were, to both parties’. It ‎is indebted and bound to God, tied to God’s will like a charioteer is tied to his own mind. It ‎must serve ‘as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt ‎entirely, choosing disorder rather than order’. The Logos is God’s ‘man on the street’, that ‎makes sure creation stays within God’s plan and never ventures too far off the path. It is that ‎divine power that is displayed all over the Bible, chastising and guiding, entering the mind of ‎the individual while leading the entire world on its destined course. ‎
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But it has an equally important relationship with the creation – ‘to lead it to entertain a ‎confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work.’ The Logos is that ‎spiritual sense that all will work out in the end, that God will never abandon us to our own ‎devices and our own destruction. It is the messianic hope in ultimate goodness, and the non-‎messianic intuitive feeling that there is ultimate meaning to life. The Logos is bound to both ‎God and creation in making sure that neither ever suspects that the other is no longer ‎interested in maintaining the plan. ‎
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This is a strange image of God. It is God in the world, but not part of the created world. It is ‎uncreated but not God. It is easy to see how Christianity used the Logos in forming its ‎theology and equally easy to see why it never made very evident inroads into mainstream ‎Judaism. What exactly is this image?  Philo would have said that while it is not God, it is also ‎not ‘not God’. It is the difference between the rider and the charioteer. One breathes the ‎word while the other holds the whip. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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For Christians this image was Manna from heaven. For Jews it was like walking a tightrope. ‎Both had to answer the fundamental question implied by Philo – how does the infinite God ‎become immersed in the finite creation? God is Elohim and Hashem. Neither one is fully a ‎part of the world and neither one is fully separate from it. Somehow, they are one. This is one ‎of the great mysteries of Biblical Judaism – how that oneness can be? ‎
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Philo’s answer is that the ‘out there’ God, is called the ‘Father’. The ‘in there’ God is the ‎Logos. This arrangement roughly parallels the twin Biblical images of Elohim and Hashem. ‎Hashem is the image that we deal with on a day-to-day level. It is the image that accompanies ‎the Israelites all over the Bible. It is the image that Jews pray to. The relationship between the ‎two images, which has always been more than a bit murky, is clarified a little by Philo, ‎but still left with one foot in the murky zone. The Logos can correctly be called God, being as ‎it is God’s active principle in the world. It is God’s charioteer in the same sense that the ‎created world is the chariot of the Logos. It is how God interacts with the world. If we are a ‎thought in God’s mind, the Logos is the act of thinking. ‎
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But for the average Jew who doesn’t necessarily harbor any need or desire to penetrate lofty ‎mysteries such as these, the Logos is a gateway to God. It enables the human soul to speak to ‎God almost as an equal, but not quite. It brings God down into the world but allows God to ‎remain holy – distinct from it. It is God’s glory, God’s hand, God’s arm, God’s wrath, God’s ‎wisdom, God’s thoughts, all these and more. It is everything about God to everyone, but it is ‎still not quite God’s essence. It is the Logos – as un-Jewish a term as can be found, but ‎somehow as Jewish as the Bible itself. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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The idea of the Logos was found to be incredibly useful in monotheistic theology. It formed ‎the basis of post-Biblical Judaism and Christianity. How could such a basic idea be the ‎foundation of two such theologically opposed religions? ‎

		


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