This essay considers Philo of Alexandria’s metaphor in which he used the dual nature of embodied existence (body and soul) to argue that both literal and allegorical readings are legitimate. It examines the metaphor in the framework of Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CTM) developed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson that argues that experience is the key to meaning. A metaphor occurs when we apply a pattern that we have observed in one setting (gestalt) to another. In this case, Philo has drawn on a Platonic/Stoic understanding of being human and applied it to contested hermeneutics within the Alexandrian Jewish community in an effort to maintain a sense of unity among two groups. The metaphorical experience is the recognition that Scripture is polyvalent in the same way that being human is.
One of the most surprising omissions in Philo’s retelling of Moses’s life in his De vita Moysis is the Sinai pericope. The Alexandrian omitted Exod 17:14-Num 20:13 with the exception of the spy story (Num 13:1-14:45). There appear to be three reasons for the omission. First, Philo recognized the doublet of the story of the water from the rock (Exod 17:1-7//Num 20:1-13). This provided a narrative rationale for the omission. Second, he routinely omitted place names from his narrative, an ars narrandi that helped to universalize the text. Third, the omission enabled him to avoid the association of Sinai with the covenant. Philo retold the story of Moses, but turned Moses outward into the larger world rather than inward to his own community.