Philo's Spiritual Androgyne
For Philo the first human—the male-and-female of Genesis 1—was in truth a spiritual androgyne. Thus both myths are comprised in his discourse: a primal androgyne of no-sex and a primal male/secondary female. Since the two texts, the one in Genesis 1 and the one in Genesis 2, refer to two entirely different species, he can claim that only the first one is called “in the image of God,” that is, only the singular, unbodied Adam-creature is referred to as being in God's likeness, and his male-and-femaleness must be understood spiritually. That is to say that the designation of this creature as male-and-female means really that it is neither male nor female. We find this explicitly in another passage of Philo:
After this he says that “God formed man by taking clay from the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life” (Gen. ii. 7). By this also he shows very clearly that there is a vast difference between the man thus formed and the man that came into existence earlier after the image of God: for the man so formed is an object of sense-perception, partaking already of such or such quality, consisting of body and soul, man or woman, by nature mortal; while he that was after the Image was an idea or type or seal, an object of thought, incorporeal, neither male nor female, by nature incorruptible. (Philo 1929b, 107)
Philo's interpretation is not an individual idiosyncrasy. As Thomas Tobin has shown, he is referring to a tradition known to him from before (Tobin 1983, 32). The fundamental point which seems to be established is that for the Hellenistic Jews, the one-ness of pure spirit is ontologically privileged in the constitution of humanity. This platonic Jewish anthropology is elegantly summed up with respect to Philo by Steven Fraade: “Philo inherits from Plato a radically dualistic conception of the universe. In this view, the material world of sense perception is an imperfect reflection of the intelligible order which emanates from God. The human soul finds its fulfillment through separation from the world of material desires, a world that lacks true reality, and through participation in the life of the spirit and divine intellect; the soul finally reunites the true self with its divine source and thereby achieves immortality” (Fraade 1986, 263–64; emphasis added). Since, as we have seen, that primal state is one of spiritual androgyny, in which male-and-female means neither male nor female, this fulfillment would naturally be a return to that state of noncorporeal androgyny. This notion had, moreover, social consequences as well in the image of perfected human life which Philo presents.
In his On the Contemplative Life, Philo describes a Jewish sect, the Therapeutae, living in his time on the shores of Lake Mareotis near Alexandria (Kraemer 1989). It is clear from the tone of his entire depiction of this sect and its practice that he considers it an ideal religious community. The fellowship consists of celibate men and women who live in individual cells and spend their lives in prayer and contemplative study of allegorical interpretations of Scripture (such as the ones that Philo produced). Once a year (or once in seven weeks), the community comes together for a remarkable ritual celebration. Following a simple meal and a discourse, all of the members begin to sing hymns together. Initially, however, the men and the women remain separate from each other in two choruses. The extraordinary element is that as the celebration becomes more ecstatic, the men and the women join to form one chorus, “the treble of the women blending with the bass of the men.” I suggest that this model of an ecstatic joining of the male and the female in a mystical ritual recreates in social practice the image of the purely spiritual masculo-feminine first human of which Philo speaks in his commentary, indeed, that this ritual of the Therapeutae is a return to the originary Adam (Meeks 1973, 179; Macdonald 1988, 289). Although, obviously, the singing and dancing are performed by the body, the state of ecstasy (as its etymology implies) involves a symbolical and psychological condition of being disembodied and thus similar to the primal androgyne. The crux of my argument is that a distinction between androgyny as a mythic notion and one that has social consequences is a false distinction. The myth of the primal androgyne, with all of its inflections, always has social meaning and social significance, for Paul no less than for Philo, for Rabbis, and for Corinthian Christians.
Two points are crucial here as background for a reading of Paul on gender. First of all, the society and religious culture depicted by Philo do permit parity between men and women and religious, cultural creativity for women as for men. Second, this autonomy and creativity in the spiritual sphere are predicated on renunciation of both sexuality and maternity. Spiritual androgyny is attained only by abjuring the body and its difference. I think two factors have joined in the formation of this structure—which will be repeated over and over in the history of western religion, including at least one instance within early modern Judaism. On the materialist level, there is the real-world difference between a woman who is bound to the material conditions of marriage and child-bearing/rearing and a woman who is free of such restraints. Even more to the point, however, is the symbolic side of the issue. Just as in some contemporary feminist philosophy, the category “woman” is produced in the heterosexual relationship, so in Philo as well a female who escapes or avoids such relationships escapes from being a woman. (See also discussion of Tertullian's On the Veiling of Virgins, in D'Angelo forthcoming, where precisely the issue between Tertullian and his opponents is whether virgins are women or not!) This division in Philo is reproduced as well in his interpretations of the status of female figures in the Bible, who fall into two categories: women and virgins (Sly 1990, 71–90). Those biblical figures defined as virgins by Philo are not women and thus do not partake of the base status that he accords to women. Any parity between male and female subsists only in the realm of spiritual and ecstatic experience or in the symbolic spiritual myth of the primal androgyne. What about Paul? Paul never intended for a moment to promulgate a truly “gnostic” doctrine of escape from the body and rejection of it, with all of the social consequences thereby entailed. This is proven by Galatians 5:13–17—“For you were called to freedom, brothers, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh”—i.e., Do not misuse your Christian freedom to allow yourself hedonistic pleasure. Nor did he ever imagine a social eradication of the hierarchical deployment of male and female bodies for married people. While it was possible for him to conceive of a total erasure of the difference between Jew and Greek on the level of the body—all he had to do was to eliminate circumcision, and Jews were just like Greeks; female Jews and Greeks having always been bodily alike—, he, no more than anyone else of his time, could not imagine that male and female bodies would be in any condition other than dominant and dominated when they were in sexual relationship with each other, that is, when they were living “according to the flesh” (Fiorenza 1983, 236). It is (hetero)sexuality, therefore, that produces gender, for Paul as for Philo and, we shall see, within crucially paradigmatic texts of the Christian cultural tradition.
There is thus no contradiction between Galatians and Corinthians on the question of gender. As I have suggested, Paul's preaching always intended a moderate pneumaticism—but not more, a spirit-flesh hierarchy in which spirit was, of course, higher than flesh but the flesh, that is, sexual morality, propriety, and ethics, was not thereby canceled (as the end of Galatians makes entirely clear). Assuming that Paul's original teaching of the Corinthians was similar to the doctrine of the first four chapters of Galatians, it is easy to see where they could have gotten their ideas: no male and female indeed! Galatians 5:25–6:10 shows how clearly Paul anticipated this danger, which seems to have been realized in Corinth. If Paul was not troubled in Galatians by the implications (misreadings, from his point of view) of the quoted ancient formula, it was because the “error” in the understanding of Christianity that concerned him there was in the direction of too much physicality, so the pneumatic, gnostic implications of “There is no male-and-female” were not a stumbling block. In Corinthians, however, where his problem is with Christians who have gone too far (from Paul's ideological standpoint) in the pneumatic direction and he must emphasize, therefore, the theology and ethics of the body, “no-male-and-female” would be exactly antithetical to the message he wishes to promote. And so it is dropped, because Paul perceived that it was open to serious misunderstanding as being applicable to life “according to the flesh” as well as “according to the spirit” (cf. Wire 1990, 137–38). There is thus no contradiction in Paul's thought at all. He held out the possibility of a momentary ecstatic androgyny but only that; on the corporeal level of human society, sex/gender difference was maintained. Paul on gender, it seems to me, represents then neither the more misogynistic trend of such thoroughly Hellenized Jews as Philo nor a breakthrough in the politics of gender as some Christian feminists would have it. His picture of the relations of married people seems most like that of Palestinian Judaism in general, a moderate, “benevolent” domination of women by men, or rather wives by husbands, one which neither permits cruelty to women nor entirely suppresses the subjectivity of women.