Philo, Femaleness, and Allegory
To establish the background for the interpretation of Paul, I would like first to briefly consider the writings of Philo (see also Boyarin 1993). I should make it clear that I am not claiming that Philo is the background for Paul, but only that he provides a background for my reading of Paul, that is, that certain themes which are explicit in Philo seem to me to be useful for understanding inexplicit moments in Paul's texts. The myth of a primal androgyny, a pre-lapsarian state before difference, was very widespread in late antiquity, particularly among platonists in the Jewish (and then Christian) traditions (Meeks 1973 and Crouzel 1989, 94).
As is well known now—largely through the efforts of feminist biblical critics—the Bible tells the story of the creation of humanity twice. In chapter 1 of Genesis, male and female are apparently created simultaneously, while in the second chapter, man comes first and woman is a secondary creation out of his body (Trible 1978; Bal 1987; Pardes 1989). In the interpretation of Philo, the first Adam is an entirely spiritual being, of whose non-corporeal existence it can be said that he is male and female, while the second chapter introduces a carnal Adam, who is male and from whom the female is then constructed. Bodily gender—structurally dependent, of course, on there being two—is thus twice displaced from the origins of “Man”:
Philo here regards the two stories as referring to two entirely different creative acts on the part of God and accordingly to the production of two different races of “Man.” 
“It is not good that any man should be alone.” For there are two races of men, the one made after the (Divine) Image, and the one molded out of the earth.…With the second man a helper is associated. To begin with, the helper is a created one, for it says “Let us make a helper for him”: and in the next place, is subsequent to him who is to be helped, for He had formed the mind before and is about to form its helper.
Philo here interprets Adam as the mind and Eve as the senses, the supplement, the “helper of the soul.” The hermeneutic substance of the interpretation thematizes its own method, therefore, for the interpretation that distinguishes between primary substance and secondary form makes itself possible as an interpretation of the relation between Adam and Eve. Put perhaps in simpler language, the interpretation of Adam as spirit and Eve as sense-experience is what makes possible the interpretation of the story, the language of the Adam-and-Eve narrative, as matter to be interpreted by reference to the spirit of its true meaning. Or once more, to reverse the relation, the idea of meaning as pure unity and language as difference is what makes possible the interpretation of Adam as meaning and Eve as language. The nexus of allegoresis and contempt for the senses is tight. In both, a secondary carnal entity, respectively material signs, woman, the senses is contrasted to a primary, spiritual entity: allegorical meaning, man, mind. Significant in this context is the remark of Walter Burkert, that “In post-Platonic thought one can scarcely speak of imitation without assuming that it implies a gradation of kinds of Being, especially since Plato often characterizes the relation of sensible object and idea as mimêsis ” (Burkert 1972, 45).
Philo explicitly marks the ontological implications of his interpretative practice: “Now these are no mythical fictions, such as poets and sophists delight in, but modes of making ideas visible, bidding us resort to allegorical interpretation” (Philo 1929b, 125). The biblical story is not mimesis of the visible but representation of the invisible. Given this privileging of the invisible, it is not surprising that for Philo the story of Adam and Eve is one of the creation of sense-perception and its effects on Adam, who was formerly pure mind:
For it was requisite that the creation of mind should be followed immediately by that of sense-perception, to be a helper and ally to it. Having then finished the creation of the mind He fashions the product of creative skill that comes next to it alike in order and in power, namely active sense-perception.…How is it, then produced? As the prophet himself again says, it is when the mind has fallen asleep. As a matter of fact it is when the mind has gone to sleep that perception begins, for conversely when the mind wakes up perception is quenched. (Philo 1929b, 241)
The creation of sense-perception in the state of sleep, while recognized by Philo as a necessity, is profoundly and explicitly unwelcome to him: “But as it is, the change is actually repugnant to me, and many a time when wishing to entertain some fitting thought, I am drenched by a flood of unfitting matters pouring over me” (Philo 1929b, 245–46). And then:
“He built it into a woman” [Gen. 2:22], proving by this that the most proper and exact name for sense-perception is “woman.” For just as the man shows himself in activity and the woman in passivity, so the province of the mind is activity, and that of the perceptive sense passivity, as in woman.
And finally, the verse which in the Bible is one of the clearest statements of the non-supplementarity of gender becomes for Philo something else entirely:
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and the twain shall be one flesh” [Gen. 2:24]. For the sake of sense-perception the Mind, when it has become her slave, abandons both God the Father of the universe, and God's excellence and wisdom, the Mother of all things, and cleaves to and becomes one with sense-perception and is resolved into sense-perception so that the two become one flesh and one experience. Observe that it is not the woman that cleaves to the man, but conversely the man to the woman, Mind to Sense-perception. For when that which is superior, namely Mind, becomes one with that which is inferior, namely Sense-perception, it resolves itself into the order of flesh which is inferior, into sense-perception, the moving cause of the passions. (Philo 1929b, 255–57)
It is easy to see here how for Philo the theory of the body and the theory of language coincide (Boyarin 1993, 37–42 and 57–60). His allegorical method, which privileges the spiritual sense (“the soul”), is exactly parallel to his anthropological doctrine, which privileges mind over the corporeal. The very necessity for humans to have senses is that which also generates the necessity “to make ideas visible” through the production of myth-like allegories. Both necessities are enacted in the story of the creation of woman, and together they resolve themselves into the “order of flesh.” I am suggesting, therefore, that the western discourse of gender that finds its most specific point of origin in Philo owes its existence to the particular synergy of platonistic philosophy and the myths of Genesis. That is, on the one hand, the peculiar configuration of the biblical story which first describes a male-and-female creature, then gives it the name “man,” and then reinscribes that very “man” as male, when combined with two peculiarly Greek cultural themes, the devaluation of the belated and the obsession with unity, produced the universal male.
We thus see that the coordination of an allegorical perspective to language and a deep suspicion of human difference whether gendered or enculturated is not accidental at all. The two, in fact, seem on this analysis to be correlates of one another. The central thesis of this book is that the allegorization of the sign “Israel” in Paul is part and parcel of the very conception of difference within which Paul was to found his discourse on gender as well. As R. Howard Bloch has claimed, “We cannot separate the concept of woman as it was formed in the early centuries of Christianity from a metaphysics that abhorred embodiment; and that woman's supervenient nature is, according to such a mode of thought, indistinguishable from the acute suspicion of embodied signs—of representations” (Bloch 1991, 37). One such embodied sign was the sign “Israel,” and its own most embodied sign, the seal of circumcision. Not so paradoxically then, Jewishness came to be a gender in much of the discourse of western Christianity, with all Jews (male and female) lumped together with women as the “same” Other. Paul, no less than Philo, sought to overcome that embodiment of the Jewish sign system.