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JBL 133, no.

1 (2014): 141–163

The Passion of Eve and the Ecstasy of

Hannah: Sense Perception, Passion,
Mysticism, and Misogyny in Philo of
Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52

scott d. mackie
51 Rose Ave. #17, Venice, CA 90291

Philo of Alexandria’s allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of Hannah’s

prayer for a son (Ebr. 143–52) is surely one of the most remarkable texts in his
corpus. In this passage he draws on a number of philosophical resources, includ-
ing Platonic sense perception, Stoic and Platonic psychologies and theories of
emotion, and the dualisms that are integral to these philosophic topics: sense
perception and reason, the physical and noetic realms, mind and psyche, reason
and nonrationality, and passion and apathetic virtue. De ebrietate 143–52 also
features three significant Greco-Roman mystical themes: Bacchic ecstasy, sober
inebriation, and contemplative ascent. This essay focuses on the extraordinary
manner in which Philo adapts and even subverts these philosophic and mystical
themes, particularly the aforementioned dualisms, and the remarkable fact that
this boundary-breaking allegorical interpretation comes to focused expression
in a woman. Philo has been accused of espousing a “virulent misogyny,” an accu-
sation amply justified by his pervasive negative characterizations of sense percep-
tion and passion as essentially feminine in nature. However, in his portrayal of
Hannah in Ebr. 143–52, we encounter the uncharacteristic approval and embrace
of the sensuous and passionate mystical praxis of an adept female mystic. This
exceptional text therefore affords us a rare opportunity to mitigate Philo’s misog-
yny and, along with it, his largely negative attitude toward the senses, emotions,
and embodied existence.

As is well known, Philo of Alexandria has a fairly negative view of women; he

has even been accused of espousing a “virulent misogyny.”1 His negative attitude is

A version of this essay was read in the Sensory Perception in the Bible and Early Judaism
Section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, California, in
2011. In its final form it benefitted from the helpful comments of my friend James R. Royse.
1 Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Gender and Geopolitics in the Work of Philo of Alexandria: Jewish

142 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

especially evident in his recurring feminine characterizations of sense perception

and passion. According to Philo’s reasoning, the senses resemble women in a num-
ber of ways: they are passive, prone to deception, and the source of debilitating
emotions and sinful pleasures (Opif. 165–66; Leg. 2.6, 50; QG 1.46). The passions
are similarly portrayed as feminine and inimical to virtue (Det. 28; Sacr. 103). And
just as the masculine mind must control the feminine senses and emotions for a
person to function properly, so also women, if they wish to advance in virtue and
wisdom, must be controlled and led by men into a figurative transformation of their
femininity, one involving the suppression of the “womanly” senses and emotions
and the acquisition of masculine “reasoning power” (Ebr. 59–60; Legat. 319–20).
A notable exception to this thoroughgoing androcentrism is found in Philo’s
allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of Hannah’s prayer for a son
(1 Samuel 1), in his treatise On Drunkenness (143–52). In this text, Philo not only
accords Hannah his most profound spiritual experiences—Bacchic ecstasy, sober
intoxication, and the vision of God—but in the process portrays her as a sensuous,
impassioned, and adept female mystic. Furthermore, she almost entirely escapes
the grasp of Philo’s misogynist presuppositions. Though on two occasions she
briefly acquires masculine attributes, her sensual and passionate mystical praxis,
which predominates in Ebr. 143–52, suggests a deliberate feminine characteriza-
tion. This exceptional text therefore affords us a rare opportunity to mitigate Philo’s
misogyny and, along with it, his largely negative attitude toward the senses, emo-
tions, and embodied existence.

I.  The Female Personification of Sense Perception

and the Sensual Hannah

Philo’s negative view of women is only slightly offset by the fact that they fail
to populate his thought-world significantly. As Dorothy Sly notes, “unless Philo is
in a situation where he is forced to notice women as people, his tendency is to oper-
ate in a male world.”2 One of the most common contexts in which Philo does take
note of women is in his recurring feminine characterization of sense percep­
tion. Philo is a committed Platonist, particularly with regard to metaphysics and

Piety and Imperial Family Values,” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses (ed. Todd
Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele; Biblical Interpretation Series 84; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 82.
2 Sly, Philo’s Perception of Women (BJS 209; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 63. On this same

tendency in Roman literature, Carlin Barton observes, “If Roman literature appears misogynist
it is due, at least in part, to the fact that to speak of a woman at all in public was to offend her—and
her menfolk. The ‘overlooking’ of a woman did not necessarily, as in our culture, imply insult or
inattention; it might be just the reverse” (“Being in the Eyes: Shame and Sight in Ancient Rome,”
in The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body [ed. David Fredrick; Arethusa Books; Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002], 219).
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 143

anthropology, and sense perception occupies a central place in his philosophical

program. Further, as a committed interpreter of the “sacred oracles of Moses,” Philo
believes the inspired account of humanity’s origins to be foundational for under-
standing human nature. Therefore many of his discussions of sense perception
occur in the context of allegorical interpretations of the Garden of Eden account,
wherein “mind corresponds to man, and the senses to woman” (Opif. 165; cf. Leg.
3.50; Post. 177; Migr. 100; Fug. 208; QG 1.25, 37, 47; 2.49; 3.3).
The reach of this allegory, however, extends beyond the garden and functions
etiologically. Eve, commonly referred to as “the woman,” is representative of all
women; conversely, all women “naturally reflect the essential characteristics of the
first woman.”3 It is therefore not surprising to find that Philo allegorically equates
a number of women with sense perception, including Hagar (Post. 137), Lot’s wife
(QG 4.52), Rachel (Post. 135), and Miriam (Leg. 2.67). Despite the variety of con-
texts from which it arises, the contours of this allegory remain remarkably consis-
tent, which is especially noteworthy given Philo’s flexibility in handling so many
other issues. In fact, Sharon Lea Mattila contends that “Philo’s gender categories
are among the most rigid and consistently applied principles of his thought.”4
Moreover, Philo’s views on gender are almost perfectly interwoven with his philo-
sophical views about sense perception.5 What he says about one is applicable to the
other, and vice versa; there is little or no gap between target and source in this
Positively, the man/mind and the woman/senses were intended to function in
mutuality, each necessary for the other’s fulfillment. Without the senses, “mind”
was “blind, incapable, and truly powerless”; it was “but half the perfect soul” (Cher.
58–59). When God finally granted the mind the power of sense perception, it was
“illuminated” and “enlightened” (Cher. 61–62). Similarly, the union of men and
women represents a “harmonious coming together,” since “everything that is with-
out a woman is imperfect” and a “ruin” (QG 1.26).
Unfortunately this union failed in the garden and continues to present chal-
lenges to the person hoping to make moral progress. Just as Eve surrendered to the
snake (a symbol of pleasure) and led Adam into “transgression and lawlessness,” so
also sense perception is the primary means whereby sinful pleasures “ensnare” the
mind, through the body (Opif. 165–66; QG 4.117). Both failures can be attributed
to a subversion of the proper order of being. Since women and the senses are “irra-
tional” (Leg. 3.50; QG 4.15), passive (Leg. 2.38; QG 3.3), and prone to deception
(QG 1.33, 46), men and mind must “rule over” them (Leg. 3.222–24; QG 1.49). If a

3 Joan E. Taylor, Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria: Philo’s ‘Therapeutae’

Reconsidered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 231.

4 Mattila, “Wisdom, Sense Perception, Nature, and Philo’s Gender Gradient,” HTR 89

(1996): 103.
5 So Richard A. Baer, Philo’s Use of the Categories Male and Female (ALGHJ 3; Leiden: Brill,

1970), 40.
144 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

man is “conquered” by “womanly opinions” and their “passions,” he will surely be

“unhappy” (QG 4.15).6 Just as in the garden, failure to control the senses/women
leads to death, both literally and figuratively, the latter represented as a “death of
the soul,” in which the soul has become “entombed in passions and wickedness”
(Leg. 1.105–8).
Philo’s Hannah almost entirely slips the bonds of these many allegorical strait-
jackets. She does briefly acquire masculine attributes: she assertively rebuffs the
servant of Eli’s misinterpretation of her sensual mystical praxis (Ebr. 146, 149–50)
and “follows” passionless, male-figured “reasoning power” (λογισμός, 151). Much
more prevalent, however, is Philo’s emphasis on her embodied and holistic mystical
praxis, as the male mind and female senses “harmoniously come together” in one
person, a sensual and passionate female person no less.
Recent studies have demonstrated that Philo does not construe gender as
biologically determined, as we moderns do. Rather, like all ancients, he situates
gender on a fluid hierarchical gradient, with masculinity and femininity deter-
mined by a number of factors, particularly behavior and conformity to socio­
cultural expectations. In this context, “what mattered most was not whether one
had a penis, but whether one was a manly male or womanly male. Thus, one’s
gender status had to be constantly maintained and proven.” 7 Philo’s hierarchical
gender gradient is evident in QE 1.7–8: a “female” is “an imperfect male”; therefore
moral “progress” requires “giving up the female gender and changing into a male,
since women are material, passive, embodied and sense perceptible, while men are
active, rational, disembodied, and comparable to mind and thought.”
However, QE 1.7–8 fails to influence Philo’s depiction of Hannah, which is
instead marked by a “harmonious coming together” of all the aforementioned male
and female attributes. As a result, these particular aspects of her portrayal locate
her near the center of Philo’s gender gradient. This is apparent in two contexts: in
both, interiority leads to exteriority, as initial references to the activities of the
“soul” (Ebr. 146–48), “reasoning power” (151), and “mind” (152) are followed by
expansive accounts that implicate Hannah’s entire existence in her mystical

6 Because Philo typically portrays the feminine senses as dominant in his psychology, Taylor

notes, “There is something strangely powerful about the feminine in Philo’s construction. For
while ostensibly the masculine element of the soul is superior to the feminine and ideally should
be in control, the feminine element of the soul frequently prevails over the masculine. In Philo’s
construction of the soul, it is almost impossibly difficult to throw off domination by sense-
perception” (Jewish Women, 235–36). Taylor believes that Philo’s perceptions of gender relations
are perhaps responsible. Though weaker than men, women manipulate men through desire (Legat.
39; Hypoth. 11.14–17).
7 Colleen Conway, “Gender and Divine Relativity in Philo of Alexandria,” JSJ 34 (2003): 478.

See also Mattila, “Wisdom, Sense Perception,” 106–8.

Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 145

In the first context (146–48), Philo aligns Hannah with the ancient cult of
Dionysus: “Now when grace fills the soul, that soul smiles and dances, for it is pos-
sessed with Bacchic ecstasy [βακχεύω]; therefore the uninitiated believe it is intoxi-
cated, crazy, and outside itself [ἐξίστημι]” (146). The connection between interiority
and exteriority is further established by a biological explanation of the phenomena:
“with the God-possessed not only is the soul [ψυχή] stirred and maddened into
loving ecstasy, but the body [σῶμα] also is flushed and fiery, warmed by the over-
flowing joy within that passes on the passion to the outer person” (147). Philo
concludes with the observation that Hannah’s mystical praxis holistically “unites
all good things” (τὰ ἀγαθὰ ἀθρόα, 148). Corporality and spirituality are seamlessly
joined, as Hannah sensually enacts the ecstatic passion of her inner self.
The second context (151–52) charts a similar course, though more deliber-
ately blending female and male attributes:
It is a great and wonderful feat to follow reasoning power … which no passion
inebriates. As a result, the mind [νοῦς] that has drunk deeply of unmixed sobriety
becomes a drink offering in its whole being [ὅλον δι’ ὅλων], a drink offering that
is poured out to God. For the meaning of the expression, “I will pour out my soul
[ψυχή] before the Lord,” is “I will consecrate my entire soul [σύμπας] to him.”

This “consecration” of her “whole being” and “entire soul” leads Hannah directly
to a contemplative ascent to the vision of God. Since the noetic ascent is a contem-
plative activity, occurring in mind alone, the ascender must “come out” of his/her
body and “fly away” from the deceptive and enfeebling senses (Her. 71; Gig. 31).
Accordingly, Hannah also “comes out” of her body, as evidenced by her declaration,
“I will loosen all the chains that have bound my soul” and “I will send it outside”
(προάγω ἔξω, Ebr. 152). Though she ascends in mind alone, Philo unexpectedly
depicts her exercising tactility in the noetic realm. Her soul “reaches out for [τείνω]
and diffuses itself [ἀναχέω], so that it may touch [ἅπτω] the bounds of the All, and
it is urged on towards … the vision of the Uncreated One.” This feminine, sensual
tactility probably also extends to her visual apprehension of God, since Philo, like
most ancients, thought that sight involved the assertive emission of light rays from
the eye; these rays reach out “almost as if they were tentacles” and “physically ‘grope’
the objects with which they make contact.”8 Thus, in contrast to Opif. 165–66,
which depicts the female senses leading the male mind astray, Hannah’s sensorium
is instrumental in helping the mind navigate and experience the noetic realm.

8 Shadi Bartsch, “The Philosopher as Narcissus: Vision, Sexuality, and Self-Knowledge in

Classical Antiquity,” in Visuality before and beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw (ed.
Robert S. Nelson; Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism; Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000), 75. She also notes, “Almost all the ancient schools of thought about optics
… put an emphasis on the tactile nature of sight” (p. 74). Cf. Philo’s warning in Abr. 76: “it is
contrary to holiness that the mortal should touch [ψαύω] the eternal” with the “eyes of the body.”
146 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

The imagery of Ebr. 151–52 would seem to suggest that Hannah uses her soul
as an extension of her embodied self: she “extends” her soul from within, deftly
deploying it across an otherwise insurmountable epistemological and metaphysical
divide, to exercise tactility in the noetic realm. This ambiguous “embodied disem-
bodiment” seems to have been deliberately crafted to connect the climax of the
account with the preceding instances of enacted spirituality (146–48). Conse-
quently, Hannah does not transcend her embodied existence in order to ascend to
the vision. Rather, her sensual body cooperates perfectly with her masculine mind
as she attains the visio Dei.9 In so doing, she not only models the Edenic intent for
humanity, she also effortlessly and fluidly transcends the anthropological and
metaphysical dualisms that rigidly structure Philo’s thought-world.10

II.  The Passion and Ecstatic Joy of Hannah

Hannah’s effusive emotional response to divine grace represents an equally

significant departure from Philo’s normal views on emotions and passion. “Pas-
sion” (πάθος), like sense perception, is commonly viewed in a negative light and
often clothed by Philo in feminine dress.11 A pair of recurring sentiments are
­representative: “Passion is by nature feminine, and we must practice avoiding it for
the masculine traits that mark the noble affections” (Det. 28; cf. Cher. 8; Deus 111;
Ebr. 63; QG 4.15; QE 2.3), and “the female offspring of the soul is vice and passion”
(Sacr. 103; cf. Gig. 4; Deus 3; Migr. 206). As we have seen in the previous section,
sense perception and passion are often closely linked: “sense perception is the mov-
ing cause of the passions” (Leg. 2.50; cf. Fug. 192; Abr. 243); therefore, the person
who desires to “make him/herself manifest to God” must “leave behind the femi-
nine sense-perceptible passions” (Leg. 3.11). Pleasure and passion are also com-
monly connected (3.113; 3.185), and, as might be expected, Philo believes that
women are particularly susceptible to the lures of pleasure (Opif. 165). Like sense
perception, specific women are characterized as allegorically representing pas-
sion, including Eve (Leg. 2.49–50), Rachel (Congr. 31), and the female victim of
Phinehas’s zealotry (Mut. 108). Positively, Leah is “above the passions” (Post. 135),
while both the unnamed widow of 1 Kgs 17:10 and Tamar are “widowed of the
passions” (Deus 136).

  9 As Mattila notes, the mind is capable of sliding up and down Philo’s gender gradient,
depending on its control of the senses and emotions (“Wisdom, Sense Perception,” 127).
10 On Philo’s cosmology, see David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria: On the Creation of the

Cosmos according to Moses. Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Philo of Alexandria

Commentary Series 1; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001), 22–23, 132–55. On his
anthropology, see idem, “God and Man in Philo of Alexandria,” JTS 39 (1988): 64–73.
11 Πάθος may be translated as “emotion,” “feelings,” or “passion.” Though the term is most

commonly used in Greek philosophy to denote the more neutral sense of “emotion,” “passion”
aptly captures the excess and negativity often evident in Philo’s usage.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 147

As Aristotle observes, “Virtue is concerned with πάθος” (Eth. nic. 3.1.1109b30;

cf. 10.8.1178a2; Galen, De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis [PHP] 5.6.1), and from
the surviving textual witnesses, we can safely surmise that many, if not most, literate
Greco-Romans had been at least partially exposed to philosophic discourse on the
potentially harmful nature of strong emotions and passion.12 In addition to the
work of the Peripatetics, Platonists, Epicureans, and especially the Stoics, almost
the entire spectrum of textual sources, including history, rhetoric, poetry, and
drama, testifies to a widespread awareness of the negative effects of unbridled emo-
tions, particularly fear, desire, anger, grief, and pleasure.13 Most important for our
analysis are Plato and the Stoics, who offered elaborate psychological analyses and
equally elaborate therapeutic strategies for mitigating their influence or eliminat-
ing them altogether.

Passions in Plato
Because the “passions and desires” of the body inhibit one’s ability to “behold
the actual realities with the eye of the soul,” Plato’s Socrates encourages an ascetic
and “cathartic” purification and separation of the soul/mind from the body (Phaed.
66c–d, 67a, c). Thus, “true philosophers” “are always eager to release their souls—
for the release and separation of the soul from the body is the true goal of philo-
sophic inquiry” (67d).14 In later writings this dualistic opposition was relocated to
the confines of the soul, with the passions emanating from nonrational parts of the
soul. In a number of contexts in middle and late dialogues, Plato advances a com-
plex tripartite psychological model, comprising appetitive/desiring (τὸ ἐπιθυμη­
τικόν), spirited (τὸ θυμοειδές), and rational (τὸ λογιστικόν) parts (Resp. 434e–444d;
Phaedr. 246b–249d; Tim. 69c–71a).15 Passions are then understood as arising from

12 See A. A. Long, “Roman Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman
Philosophy (ed. David Sedley; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 186: “It is difficult
to think of a society where the members of the upper class were more generally aware of philosophy
than seems to have been the case in Imperial Rome.”
13 The literary appropriation of philosophic discourse on passion is discussed by Christopher

Gill, The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2006), 408–61, and the essays in Passions and Moral Progress in Greco-Roman Thought (ed. John T.
Fitzgerald; London: Routledge, 2008) and The Passions in Roman Thought and Literature (ed.
Susanna Morton Braund and Christopher Gill; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
14 As T. M. Robinson notes, the Phaedo “abounds in language like ‘purification’ ” and “purity

of soul.” This, he contends, “is the language of the religious believer” (Plato’s Psychology [2nd ed.;
Phoenix Supplement 8; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995], 24).
15 See the essays in Plato and the Divided Self (ed. Rachel Barney, Tad Brennan, and Charles

Brittain; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Hendrik Lorenz, The Brute Within:
Appetitive Desire in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford Philosophical Monographs; Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2006), 9–52; John M. Cooper, “Plato’s Theory of Human Motivation,” in Plato,
vol. 2, Ethics, Politics, Religion, and the Soul (ed. Gail Fine; Oxford Readings in Philosophy;
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 186–206; Robinson, Plato’s Psychology, 39–46, 119–25.
148 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

the former two parts of the soul, both of which are nonrational and even capable
of motivating irrational desires that are in opposition to reason.
Plato’s increasingly complex psychology is evident in the charioteer myth of
the Phaedrus. There, the appetitive part of the soul, characterized as the “dark horse
of the passions,” has an instrumental role in the noetic ascent, via arousal of eros
(249d–250a, 251a).16 Thus, in distinction to the Phaedo’s simple depiction of an
ascent involving the “release and separation of the soul from the body,” in the
­Phaedrus an ascent to the Forms depends on the arousal and mastery of the “unruly
horse” of nonrational/irrational passion (247b–248b, 253c–254e).
Despite this increasing psychological sophistication, Plato continued to occa-
sionally employ the simpler body/soul duality. Moreover, in the Timaeus, a late
dialogue, both dualistic oppositions are gendered. In 33c the body/soul duality
informs Plato’s characterization of the “more excellent” male soul “ruling over” the
female body, while in 70a–71d the rational/nonrational soul conception is opera-
tive, as the male rational aspect of the soul is depicted as exercising authority over
the female nonrational component.17 This feminine part is of course susceptible to
the passions, chief among which are “desire” and “pleasure, a mighty lure to evil.”
Plato’s rational/irrational soul duality would become “standard dogma” in
Middle Platonism.18 Both dualities, body/soul and rational/irrational, are ubiqui-
tous in Philo’s writings, particularly the first three books of the Allegorical Com-
mentary (i.e., Leg. 1–3). For Philo, the struggle between these dichotomies comes
to “define the human condition,” and is determinative in the quest for moral and
philosophic growth.19

Passions in Stoicism
The Stoics amplified Plato’s concern for the control of emotion, as the passions
were seen as possessing a unique capacity to subvert their efforts to live according
to reason, virtue, and nature. Furthermore, the early Stoics rejected the part-based
psychological model of Platonism and adhered instead to a strict monistic and
materialistic psychological model in which reason reigns uncontested. This move

16 On the ascent myth in the Phaedrus, see Andrea Wilson Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth

in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in its Cultural Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2004), 86–88, 158–68; Graeme Nicholson, Plato’s Phaedrus: The Philosophy of Love (Purdue
University Press Series in the History of Philosophy; West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press,
1999), 155, 163–64, 178, 187, 203–10.
17 Verna E. F. Harrison, “The Allegorization of Gender: Plato and Philo on Spiritual

Childbearing,” in Asceticism (ed. Vincent L. Wimbush and Richard Valantasis; Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1995), 523–26.
18 David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (Philosophia Antiqua 44;

Leiden: Brill, 1986), 263.

19 Michael L. Satlow, “Philo on Human Perfection,” JTS 59 (2008): 504.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 149

may have been motivated by a desire to emphasize personal responsibility: since

everything “is up to us,” emotions are entirely within the agent’s control. By Philo’s
time, however, some Stoics appear to have restored the Platonic psychological
model, as well as the accompanying presupposition that strong emotions are
beyond the agent’s complete control.20
Advocates of both monistic and dualistic psychological models equally
emphasized the power of passion to wreak psychosomatic havoc. According to the
influential early Stoic Chrysippus, the origin of passion may be traced to two faulty
evaluative judgments: (1) a present or future circumstance is good or bad, and (2) a
particular emotional reaction to that circumstance is appropriate.21 As assent is
issued to these faulty judgments, an intense and uncontrollable “psychophysical”
reaction arises (Galen, PHP 4.2.8–18; 4.3.2–5).22 It is this reaction, or excessive
“impulse” (ὁρμή), that many early Stoics identified with passion (Diogenes Laertius
7.110).23 According to Chrysippus, therapy for the person who has “turned away
from reason” and is “stirred” by passion is identical to the treatment required for
those “who are out of their minds, in an altered state, beside themselves, or not
themselves” (Galen, PHP 4.6.24–25; SVF 3:475). Indeed, those who have “been
conquered by passion” have become a “different person,” and are “outside” them-
selves (Galen, PHP 4.6.43–46; SVF 3:478). Though Posidonius and other later
­Stoics located the source of the passions in nonrational parts/capacities of the soul
(Galen, PHP 4.3.2–4), they were equally convinced of their power to overwhelm
and enslave:
Every passion is overpowering, since people in states of passion frequently see
that it is not beneficial to do this, but are carried away by the intensity, as though
by a disobedient horse, and are forced to do it. All those in the grips of passion

20 Posidonius (ca. 135–51 b.c.e.) is often held responsible for introducing into Stoicism the

Platonic dualistic psychological model. Philo’s brief definition of πάθος, in Spec. 4.79, probably
reflects this Posidonian hybrid.
21 Teun Tieleman, Chrysippus’ On Affections: Reconstruction and Interpretation (Philosophia

Antiqua 94; Leiden: Brill, 2003), 124–32; Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic
Agitation to Christian Temptation (Gifford Lectures; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),
22 Martha C. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 374–81. A synergistic mutuality is apparent.

Though πάθος carries connotations of passivity, suggesting something that is done to someone,
the Stoic view ascribes full responsibility to the agent. By assenting to the faulty judgment, the
agent allows him/herself to be acted upon.
23 Brad Inwood, Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985),

128–29. This account is by no means applicable to all Stoics, as every significant Stoic thinker
possessed varying psychologies and theories of the passions. Sorabji’s Emotion and Peace of Mind
offers the most detailed account of these varying views.
150 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

turn their backs on reason … and are led by their passions into tyrannical
enslavement. (Arius Didymus 10a)24

In this text, written shortly before Philo’s time, “the passions are presented as
though they were independent agents with the power to dominate the reason like
a tyrant.”25
Given such a bleak assessment, it is not surprising that most Stoic “therapists,”
both monistic and part-based, advocated the complete removal, or “extirpation,”
of the passions (Diogenes Laertius 7.117; Cicero, Tusc. 4.57). In contrast to the
Peripatetic and Middle Platonic allowance for “moderate emotion” (μετριωπάθεια)
and “limits,” the Stoics thought that even the slightest allowance for emotions is
comparable to jumping off a cliff and attempting to stop mid-flight through sheer
force of will. Similarly, “it is impossible for a disordered and excited soul to control
itself and stop where it wishes” (Cicero, Tusc. 4.41–42; cf. Seneca, Ira 1.7.4).26

Passions in Philo
The Stoics’ theory of the passions obviously resonated deeply with Philo, as it
occupies a place of prominence in his corpus that is unmatched by any other philo-
sophical theme.27 Philo’s vivid portrayals of reason and passion as two warring
factions within humans are clearly informed by their phenomenological focus on
the destructive power of the passions, as well as the dualistic psychology of the later
Stoics. Thus, “reason is at war with passion” (Leg. 3.116, 186; cf. Somn. 1.174; Abr.
223), and unless one fights and “wrestles” (Somn. 2.255; Spec. 2.46) against these
“violent and irresistible” passions, they will “tear the soul to pieces” (Leg. 2.11).

24 On Arius’s departures from early Stoic theory, see A. A. Long, “Arius Didymus and the
Exposition of Stoic Ethics,” in Stoic Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 125;
Inwood, Ethics and Human Action, 141–43. Cicero, Seneca, and Epictetus are commonly thought
to occasionally espouse dualistic psychologies; however, defenses of their “orthodox” monism
have been offered by Margaret Graver (Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4
[Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002], 135–36), Brad Inwood (Reading Seneca: Stoic
Philosophy at Rome [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], 23–64), and A. A. Long (Epictetus:
A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002], 158–65).
25 Inwood, Ethics and Human Action, 143.
26 See Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind, 181–210; Nussbaum, Therapy of Desire, 389–401.

The variety of psychological models in the Stoic school—as well as ambiguity about what
constituted and generated a πάθος—led to ambivalence concerning what passions/emotions were
in need of extirpation.
27 So Max Pohlenz, Kleine Schriften (ed. Heinrich Dörrie; 2 vols.; Hildesheim: G. Olms,

1965), 1:353. According to Leg. 3.139, Philo may have written or intended to write his own treatise
“On the Passions.” A careful examination of Philo’s moral psychology has recently been offered
by Hans Svebakken, Philo of Alexandria’s Exposition of the Tenth Commandment (Studia Philonica
Monographs 6; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012).
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 151

In his portrayal of Hannah in Ebr. 143–52, however, Philo draws equally on

both Stoic and Platonic psychologies, though he freely qualifies, adapts, and cor-
rects them when necessary.28 Philo’s dependence on both psychological models,
and their expectations concerning the ideal sage, are most evident when he lauds
Hannah’s “great and wonderful” ability to “follow reasoning power … which no
passion inebriates” (151). However, as we will see, his desire to portray Hannah as
a passionate female mystic appears ultimately to disallow any strict adherence to
either school’s psychology or expectations. It also somewhat minimizes the signifi-
cance of the aforementioned assertion of her masculinized reason.

Psychosomatic Kinesis in Plato, Stoicism, and Philo

The influence of both schools of thought is apparent in a significant aspect of
Hannah’s interiority, in which the felt movements of her soul are said to impel
motion, both physically and metaphysically. This conception is found in a number
of Platonic texts in which the soul and its “desires” are said to possess “pulling
forces” (Leg. 645a–b) that can “draw back,” “drag,” “pull forward,” “strongly force,”
and “lead away reason” toward the object of the soul’s desire, or away from what it
is averse to (Resp. 439b–d, 604a–b; Phaedr. 238c). That this “psychophysicality”
should be taken literally is confirmed by Aristotle’s critique: Plato offers “a physical
account of how the soul moves the body … through their intimate interconnection”
(De an. 1.3, 406b26–28).29
This same materialist psychology is even more prominent in Stoicism and is
apparent in such texts as Arius Didymus 10: “A passion is an impulse which is
excessive … every fluttering [πτοία] is a passion and every passion is a fluttering,”30
as well as in kinetic characterizations of passions/impulses as effecting palpable
physical alterations of the size, shape, and location of the psyche. Examples include,
“pushing” (SVF 3:462; Galen, PHP 4.2.8–18), “stretching” (Diogenes Laertius
7.116), “swelling” (Galen, PHP 4.2.4–5), “contracting” (Cicero, Tusc. 4.14), “shrink-
ing” (SVF 3:391), “reaching” (Cicero, Tusc. 4.12, 15), and “shoving forward vio-
lently” (SVF 3:390; Plutarch, Mor. 450c–d).31

28 Gretchen Reydams-Schils, “Philo of Alexandria on Stoic and Platonist Psycho-Physiology:

The Socratic Higher Ground,” in Philo of Alexandria and Post-Aristotelian Philosophy (ed.
Francesca Alesse; Studies in Philo of Alexandria 5; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 190; Margaret Graver,
Stoicism and Emotion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 102.
29 See Hendrik Lorenz, “Plato on the Soul,” in The Oxford Handbook of Plato (ed. Gail Fine;

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 256–57.

30 Gill, Structured Self, 79; Tieleman, Chrysippus’ On Affections, 103–6; Inwood, Ethics and

Human Action, 165–66.

31 Graver, Stoicism and Emotion, 15–34, 121; Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind, 34–41, 86,

116–17; David Sedley, “Chrysippus on Psychophysical Causality,” in Passions and Perceptions:

Studies in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind. Proceedings of the Fifth Symposium Hellenisticum (ed.
152 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

Both of these theories of psychosomatic kinesis appear to inform Philo’s

depiction of Hannah. Her “stirred/aroused” (ἐγείρω) soul “passes on” (διαδίδωμι)
“loving ecstasy” and “passion” (πάθος) to her body, causing it to become “flushed
and fiery, warmed by the overflowing joy within” (Ebr. 147).32 As a result, she
“smiles and dances” (146). Moreover, these physical movements of her psyche are
not solely directed toward effecting somatic movement. In what probably repre-
sents a creative adaptation of Platonic metaphysical and psychological dualisms,
her psychic movement transcends her embodied existence, though still behaving
somatically. As her soul is “poured out” and “sent outside,” it “reaches out for” and
is “diffused, so that it might touch” the noetic realm (152). Finally, it is “urged on
to” the vision of God.

Joy and “Good Emotion” (εὐπάθεια) in Stoicism and Philo

The “overflowing joy” attributed to Hannah in Ebr. 147 is also firmly situated
in Stoic emotional theory. The Stoics deemed “joy” (χαρά), along with “caution”
(εὐλάβεια) and “wishing/will” (βούλησις), a “good emotion” (εὐπάθεια; Diogenes
Laertius 7.116; Cicero, Tusc. 4.12–14). They believed that these “proper feelings”
were “generated by the same psychological mechanism as the emotions,” possessed
“the same corporeal manifestations,” and should be just as intensely experienced.33
Specifically, they occur when the “reasoning processes” are functioning in a “fully
harmonious manner” (Plutarch, Mor. 449b).34 Joy is consistently identified as the
preeminent “eupathic response,” which is experienced as a “well-reasoned eleva-
tion” (Diogenes Laertius 7.116; Seneca, Ep. 59.2; SVF 3:437).
Throughout his writings, Philo praises and prioritizes joy: it is “the fairest of
possessions,” the “best of the εὐπάθειαι” (Det. 120; Leg. 3.86–87; Praem. 32), and a
gift from God alone (Abr. 204–6). Notably, in Plant. 38–39, joy evokes an ecstatic
experience comparable to Ebr. 143–52: an “abundance of great joy” motivates
“leaping and skipping,” “ecstatic love” and “the whole mind snatched up in holy
frenzy by divine possession.” Perhaps most significantly, the mystical and biological
consequences of joy are developed in Migr. 157, via an explicit materialist
For joy, the best of the εὐπάθειαι, when it has fallen on the soul unexpectedly,
makes it larger than it was before, so that because of its size the body no longer
has room for it, and as it is squeezed and compressed it issues forth moist drops

Jacques Brunschwig and Martha C. Nussbaum; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993),
32 In the Phaedrus, Plato twice characterizes the vision of beauty as “warming” the

con­templative’s body (251b, 253e). Furthermore, Aristotle considered heat essential to the soul’s
function (Part. an. 652b10), while Galen held it responsible for “states of passion” (PHP 7.3.2).
33 Graver, Stoicism and Emotion, 52.
34 Ibid.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 153

… tears.… For tears, which rise to the surface from the inward heartfelt laughter,
are food to the understanding, coming when the love of God has sunk deep
within and turned the dirge of created being into a song of praise to the Uncreated

The “overflowing joy” of Ebr. 143–52 therefore evinces Stoic influence in both
its materialist psychology and the harmonious cooperation of Hannah’s interiority
and exteriority, and/or rational and nonrational parts, in which “all good things
are united” (148). Two other aspects of Philo’s presentation also conform to the
Stoic conception of eupathic joy: (1) though Hannah initially responds to the
overwhelming joy with “smiling and dancing,” her ethos is immediately thereafter
characterized as “stern and austere” (149). A “woman of a hard day,” she ascetically
renounces “empty desires” (152). This coheres with sentiments expressed by both
Seneca—“true joy is a stern matter … it is not cheerful” (Ep. 23.4–6)—and D ­ iogenes
Laertius, who discusses joy and “good emotions,” and concludes: “all good people
are austere and harsh” (7.117). (2) Joy and virtue are causally intertwined by the
Stoics, as joy is the “motion of the soul” that leads to virtue, and conversely, virtue
produces joy (Seneca, Ep. 59.17). Similarly, “perfect virtue” is accorded an instru-
mental role in Hannah’s joyous mystical praxis (Ebr. 148).35

Adaptations and Divergences in Philo’s Portrayal of Hannah

Despite these many points of coherence, in her effusive, and even nonrational,
ecstatic response to divine grace, Philo’s Hannah significantly deviates from both
Stoic and Platonic expectations concerning the ideal sage. In marked contrast to
the view espoused in the Phaedo, that the body’s “passions and desires” inhibit one’s
ability to “behold the actual realities with the eye of the soul” (66c–d, 67a, c), Philo
repeatedly implicates Hannah’s embodied existence in her mystical experience
(Ebr. 147–48), and her contemplative ascent is characterized by a passionate intent
to exercise tactility in the noetic realm (152). As already noted, the Phaedrus has a
less austere attitude toward the body and emotions, as nonrational aspects of the
soul are accorded an instrumental role in the ascent. However, the charioteer (i.e.,
reason) must exert the “utmost toil and struggle” to control these “unruly horses”
(247b), and they ultimately frustrate the ascent, allowing the contemplative to
“hardly behold the realities … seeing some things but failing to see others” (248a;
cf. 254e).36 Hannah’s ecstatic passion is also instrumental in her ascent. But in

35 Both the Stoics and the Neopythagoreans considered virtue dependent on inner har­

mony (SVF 3:471–471a; Galen, PHP 5.2.20–5.3.11; Archytas, De leg. 33:17; Metopus, De virt.
119.28–120.1), an opinion mirrored in Philo’s claim that for those who are soberly intoxicated,
“all good things are united in the strong wine on which they feast, and they receive the loving cup
from perfect virtue” (Ebr. 148).
36 The ascent in the Symposium is also characterized as involving “hard work” (210e). On

this struggle, see Charles L. Griswold, Jr., Self-Knowledge in Plato’s Phaedrus (Univer­sity Park:
154 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

contrast to the Phaedrus, her ascent involves neither struggle nor frustration. Suc-
cess is presaged by her confident tone (Ebr. 152), and despite Philo’s claim that her
“reasoning power” is impervious to passion (151), the account of her impassioned
ascent testifies to the harmonious cooperation of her “entire soul” (ψυχή … σύμπας)
—both the rational and nonrational aspects of her psyche (152).37 Philo thereby
contradicts an oft-stated personal conviction: “The person that sees God is study-
ing flight from the passions” and “has passed beyond passion” (Leg. 3.172; cf. Sacr.
134; Her. 71; Fug. 92).
In opposition to Stoic theory, Hannah does not extirpate her passion; in fact
it appears essential to her ethos and instrumental in her praxis. It is also likely her
joy would be seen as exceeding the bounds of Stoic eupathic propriety; Cicero
might even characterize it as “exuberant pleasure, which is joy excited beyond mea-
sure,” the fruit of an “impassioned (perturbatio) soul that is either devoid of reason,
or contemptuous of reason, or disobedient to reason” (Tusc. 3.24). Moreover, the
servant of Eli’s diagnosis of Hannah as “intoxicated, crazy, and beside herself ” (Ebr.
146) sounds remarkably similar to Chrysippus’s description of the person most
urgently requiring Stoic therapy (“out of their minds, in an altered state, beside
themselves,” a “different person”).
In these various divergences and adaptations, Philo appears to be walking a
tightrope between his loyalties to Platonic and Stoic psychologies and theories of
emotion, and his desire to portray Hannah as a passionate and ecstatic female
mystic. In the end it appears his mystical agenda prevailed. Furthermore, a mixture
of feminine and masculine attributes is apparent in this aspect of Hannah’s charac-
terization: virtue and “reasoning power” may both be considered male qualities
(Fug. 51–52), while joy and austerity are ambiguous.38 The characterization of her
mind as impervious to passion yet capable of cooperating with her nonrational
psyche further contributes to this ambivalent mixture of the male and female. How-
ever, the preponderantly passionate texture of the portrayal signals Philo’s ultimate
intent, as his Hannah thereby embraces and redeems the “passion of Eve.”

Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), 93–96; Rachana Kamtekar, “Speaking with the Same
Voice as Reason: Personification in Plato’s Psychology,” in Barney et al., Plato and the Divided Self,
96–98; and, in the same volume, Frisbee Sheffield, “Erôs before and after Tripartition,” 226–35.
37 John Dillon notes that Philo commonly simplifies the Platonic tripartite model, portraying

the two irrational parts of the soul (appetitive and spirited) as indistinctly “linked together in
opposition to the Reason” (The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. to A.D. 220 [rev. ed.; Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1996], 174–75).
38 Austerity is on one occasion figured as female (Sobr. 23). Philo is often inconsistent in his

applications of grammatical gender, as noted by Leslie Baynes, “Philo, Personification, and the
Transformation of Grammatical Gender,” Studia Philonica Annual 14 (2002): 31–47. Thus, virtue
is personified in Sarah (Abr. 206); joy is occasionally male (Cher. 8; Mut. 1, 261; QG 4.18); and in
Abr. 102, Philo genders “reasoning power” (λογισμός) as female in relation to male “virtue.” Given
its role in suppressing passion in Ebr. 151, “reasoning power” should be construed as male in this
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 155

III. The Mysticism of De Ebrietate 143–52

A number of Greco-Roman mystical motifs converge in Ebr. 143–52, includ-

ing Bacchic ecstasy, sober intoxication, and Platonic contemplative ascent. The
influence of the Bacchic cult permeates the passage to an extent that is perhaps
unequaled in the Philonic corpus. This text also invaluably contributes to our
understanding of two of Philo’s preeminent mystical experiences: sober inebriation
and the visio Dei.39 Though they are often interpreted as hyperbole—elaborate
metaphors for what is essentially a rational experience—their depiction in Ebr.
143–52 instead suggests that they represent profound mystical experiences that
transcend rationality. Furthermore, the manner in which these mystical motifs are
actuated in Hannah’s praxis will enhance our understanding of Philo’s construction
of her gender.

“Possessed with Bacchic Ecstasy”

A number of elements in Philo’s portrayal of Hannah are intended to associate
her mystical experience with the ancient cult of Bacchus/Dionysus, the god of wine,
joyous revelry, and epiphany. They include her characterization as “smiling, danc-
ing” and “possessed” (βακχεύω, 146; θεοφόρητος, 147), the misguided accusations
of madness and drunkenness made by the “uninitiated” (ἀνοργίαστος) servant of
Eli (146–49, 151), her spiritualized “drink-offering” and mystical visuality (152),
and especially her ability to “liberate” (λύω) herself from bodily limitations (152),
surmounting numerous dualities and barriers in pursuit of the vision of God.
The worship of Dionysus was both ancient and pervasive, and occurred in
public festivals as well as private mysteries. The mystery cult was the most wide-
spread in the ancient Mediterranean world and was popular in Alexandria before
and during Philo’s time.40 The verb describing Hannah’s rapturous state, βακχεύω

39 Attempts to define mysticism, even when restricted to a single religious tradition, have

often been frustrated and deemed problematic. For a recent review of the issues, see Peter Schäfer,
The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 1–20. Noticeably absent from
Philo’s mysticism are concepts and motifs central to other ancient Jewish and early Christian
mystical traditions, such as mystical union, ontological transformation, and elaborate descriptions
of the heavenly realm. We may briefly define his contemplative mysticism as visually oriented
and transcending ontology and cosmology in its effort to come within visual proximity of God.
Though it originates in cognitive activity, this visual encounter occasionally is prefaced by or
generates an ecstatic experience.
40 Richard Seaford, Dionysos (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World; London: Routledge,

2006), 4; Albert Henrichs, “Changing Dionysiac Identities,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition,
vol. 3, Self-Definition in the Greco-Roman World (ed. Ben F. Meyer and E. P. Sanders; Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1982), 137, 152–54; Peter M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria (3 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon,
1972), 1:193–94, 201–7.
156 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

(“to be possessed with Bacchic ecstasy”), is used both literally, of the ecstatic danc-
ing and divine possession prevalent in Bacchic celebrations (Herodotus 4.79), and
figuratively, to describe mystical experiences that resemble Bacchic ecstasy ­(Plutarch,
Mor. 580c). Two figurative uses of the βακχ- word group are particularly relevant:
(1) in the Symposium, Socrates is described as committed to “philosophic frenzy
and Bacchic ecstasy” (βακχεία, 218b),41 (2) and in Plutarch’s Obsolescence of Oracles
the psychosomatic effects of divine inspiration and spirit indwelling are compared
with what occurs in “Bacchic ecstasy” (βακχεύσιμον): the soul becomes “hot and
fiery,” and by this “warmth and diffusion … certain passages” are opened, “through
which visions of the future are transmitted” (432e–f). This recalls the “flushed,
fiery,” and “warmed” psychosomatic symptoms and ecstatic behavior of Hannah
(Ebr. 147), as well as the mystical visuality in section 152.
Mystical visuality and epiphany are in fact central to the Dionysus cult. As
Richard Seaford observes, “Of all Greek deities it is Dionysos who most tends to
manifest himself among humankind.”42 Similarly, Ovid is convinced there is “no
god more present than Dionysus” (Metam. 3.658–59; cf. Diodorus Siculus 4.3).
Euripides’ Bacchae provides perhaps the most important testimony: Dionysus is
the “manifest god” (ἐμφανὴς δαίμων, 22, 42, 50–54), and like a “mighty light” (607),
he is said to “bestow his mysteries seeing and being seen” (ὁρῶν ὁρῶντα, 470; cf.
477, 501, 912–24, 1017).43
Divine possession also links the Dionysus cult to Philo’s Hannah. Like
­Hannah, who is “filled with Bacchic ecstasy” (Ebr. 146) and “possessed by God”
(147), a number of the dramatis personae in Euripides’ Bacchae are “put out of their
minds” and “ecstatically possessed” by Bacchus (300, 850–51, 1124, 1295). Plato
(Ion 534a) and Sophocles (Ant. 963) similarly characterize Dionysus’s female fol-
lowers as “possessed” by the deity. Furthermore, the mystery cult was widely pur-
ported to possess the ability to cure madness homeopathically, through a divine
madness effected by trance possession (Plato, Leg. 790e–791b).44
Another relevant aspect of the Dionysus cult is its ability to dissolve bound-
aries and reconcile dualities. Like Hannah, who appears to reconcile so many
dualities (sense perception and noetic apprehension, interiority and exteriority,

41 Michael L. Morgan asserts that the Dionysiac mysteries provide the “dominant religious

background for the Symposium” (Platonic Piety: Philosophy and Ritual in Fourth-Century Athens
[New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990], 99).
42 Seaford, Dionysos, 39. See also Albert Henrichs, “ ‘He Has a God in Him’: Human and

Divine in the Modern Perception of Dionysus,” in Masks of Dionysus (ed. Thomas H. Carpenter
and Christopher A. Faraone; Myth and Poetics; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993),
43 Henrichs notes that Euripides’ Bacchae is a “gold mine of information” on the otherwise

secretive Dionysus mystery cult; however, it is “treacherous for anyone unfamiliar with this kind
of terrain” (“Changing Dionysiac Identities,” 155).
44 Seaford, Dionysos, 106–8; Ivan M. Linforth, “The Corybantic Rites in Plato,” University of

California Publications in Classical Philology 13 (1945): 125–34, 147, 151, 158–60.

Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 157

embodi­ment and disembodiment, nonrationality and reason, and austere virtue

and ecstatic joy), Dionysus and his cult also exercised a masterly skill at transcend-
ing boundaries and dualities, including male and female, slave and free, animal and
human, the individual and the community, humanity and deity, young and old, and
especially life and death. In so doing, the Dionysus mystery cult ultimately sought
to transform human identity.45
Dionysus’s common characterization as a liberator and savior also coheres
with Philo’s Hannah, who “loosens [λύω] all the chains that have bound my soul,
which the empty desires of life have fastened on to” (Ebr. 152). A number of sub-
stantial acts of liberation were either attributed to Dionysus (Pausanias 9.16.6;
­Diodorus Siculus 3.64.7) or performed in his honor (Aeschines, Ctes. 3.41). In
Euripides’ Bacchae, Dionysus supernaturally frees (λύσις) both his bacchants and
himself from prison (443–48, 497). The mystery cult also possessed the ability to
effect eternal liberation, as attested by a fourth-century b.c.e. gold burial tablet:
“Now you died and now you came into being, thrice blessed one, on this day. Tell
Persephone that Bacchus has freed you.”46 Both Plutarch (Mor. 613c) and Aelius
Aristides (Dionysus 48d) are therefore not overstating their case when they insist
that Dionysus “releases from everything.”
A final element of Hannah’s portrayal, her rapturous dancing (ἀνορχέομαι,
146), is almost certainly related to the Bacchic practice of ecstatic dance. The
importance of dance in the mystery religions is evidenced by a wealth of texts, most
notably Lucian’s On Dancing (“Not a single ancient mystery cult can be found that
is without dancing” [15]) and the “mission statement” issued by Dionysus in
Euripides’ Bacchae: Dionysus has traveled throughout the Mediterranean world,
“establishing my dances and mysteries, and being a god manifest to mortals”
Bacchic/Dionysiac mystery terminology and imagery are used by Philo to
describe his own mystical praxis (Migr. 34–35; Her. 69–70), as well as that of the
Therapeutae/Therapeutrides (Contempl. 11–12, 25, 85). The latter texts demon-
strate Philo’s willingness to equate directly the phenomena and mystical praxis of
an “orthodox” Jewish sect with a “pagan” mystery cult, despite crucial differences
in modesty, restraint, and virtue.48 They probably also reflect his belief that the

45 This is a recurring refrain in Seaford, Dionysos (e.g., pp. 5, 11, 18, 28–29, 32–34, 36, 60,

75, 83, 86, 95–97, 146–48); idem, Euripides Bacchae: Introduction, Translation and Commentary
(Warminster: Aris & Philips, 1996), 31–32, 43–44.
46 On this text, see Alberto Bernabé and Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, Instructions for

the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 162; Leiden:
Brill, 2008), 61–94; and the essays in The ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets and Greek Religion: Further along
the Path (ed. Radcliffe G. Edmonds; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
47 Cf. Euripides, Bacch. 63, 87, 113, 220, 511, 1153; Aristophanes, Ran. 327, 356, 371; Plato,

Leg. 791a; Plutarch, Mor. 759a, 1105b; frag. 178; Seaford, Dionysos, 69–70, 103–4.
48 See Taylor, Jewish Women, 314–17, 340. On the likelihood that Philo’s account reflects

some degree of reality, see ibid., 8–19. A skeptical appraisal has recently been offered by Ross
158 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

Therapeutae “embody” a “higher form” of Dionysiac mysteries.49 However, the alle-

gorical association of these practices and phenomena with Hannah, an illustrious
ancestress of Israel, lacks an apologetic or polemical purpose. And though Mattila
contends that the Therapeutrides are gendered by Philo as “very ‘male’ women,” the
passive imagery of Bacchic possession further contributes to Hannah’s overall femi-
nine characterization.50

Sober Inebriation
Though never explicitly expressed, the oxymoronic “sober intoxication” motif
undergirds Ebr. 143–52. This theme, which also appears in conjunction with Bac-
chic ecstasy in Euripides (Bacch. 686–87, 940) and Plutarch (Mor. 291a–b) is found
throughout Philo’s writings, including the Allegory (Leg. 1.84; Fug. 32), Exposition
(Opif. 71; Mos. 1.187), QGE (QG 2.68), and philosophical treatises (Prob. 13; Con-
templ. 89). Some interpreters have emphasized the “sober” half of the phrase, a
position supported by such texts as Leg. 3.82, which describes the phenomenon as
“more sober than sobriety itself,” and Fug. 166: the autodidact “never stops being
drunk with the sober drunkenness that reason brings.”51
Both aspects of this theme, however, are represented in Ebr. 143–52. The “ine-
briated” side of the equation is evident in the wealth of psychosomatic phenomena
attending Hannah’s ecstatic experience, as well as Philo’s admission, “it is true the
sober ones are drunk in a sense” (148). Furthermore, within the narrative world of
the text, the servant’s accusation of drunkenness (“How long will you be drunk?
Put away your wine!”) functions as a sort of independent testimony to the somatic
manifestations of Hannah’s mystical encounter with God (146). The Bacchic imag-
ery also coheres with this aspect of the motif, further reinforcing the emotional and
ecstatic orientation of Hannah’s inebriated sobriety. Coincidentally, the same mis-
interpretation made by the “uninitiated” servant of Eli was apparently made by
observers of the Dionysus cult. According to Albert Henrichs,

Shepard Kraemer, Unreliable Witnesses: Religion, Gender, and History in the Greco-Roman
Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 66.
49 James M. Scott, “Dionysus in Philo of Alexandria: A Study of De vita contemplativa,”

Studia Philonica Annual 20 (2008): 48.

50 Mattila, “Wisdom, Sense Perception,” 107.
51 So Folker Siegert, “Early Jewish Interpretation in a Hellenistic Style,” in Hebrew Bible/Old

Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the Middle Ages (until
1300), part 1, Antiquity (ed. Magne Sæbø; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), 169; David
Winston, “Philo’s Mysticism,” Studia Philonica Annual 8 (1996): 75; idem, “Was Philo a Mystic?”
in Studies in Jewish Mysticism: Proceedings of Regional Conferences Held at the University of
California, Los Angeles, and McGill University in April, 1978 (ed. Joseph Dan and Frank Talmadge;
Cambridge, MA: Association for Jewish Studies, 1982), 34; David M. Hay, “The Psychology of
Faith in Hellenistic Judaism,” ANRW 2.20.2 (1987): 905.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 159

the ritual madness associated with Dionysus in myth and cult had nothing to do
with alcohol or drugs. Seized by the god, initiates into Bacchic rites acted much
like participants in other possession cults. Their wild dancing and ecstatic behav-
ior were interpreted as “madness” only by the uninitiated.52

Philo’s development of the theme of sober intoxication in Ebr. 143–52 could

therefore represent an attempt to articulate textually, in a fairly literal manner, an
experience of absolute rapture that involves an almost complete loss of bodily
Despite her rapturous state, Hannah nevertheless maintains a sense of height-
ened cognitive acuity.53 This heightened acuity is indicated by her well-reasoned
response to Eli’s servant (149), as well as her careful recitation of the mystical praxis
she intends to employ in effecting an ascent to the noetic realm:
I will consecrate my entire being to him. I will loosen all the chains that have
bound my soul … I will send it outside, reaching out for and diffusing it, so that
it may touch the bounds of the All, and urge it on towards that most beautiful
and illustrious of visions—the vision of the Uncreated One. (152)

In what appears to be a preflight rehearsal of material drawn from the “handbook

for heavenly ascents,” Hannah’s passionate mysticism is focused and directed by her
“reasoning power.”
The “intoxicated sobriety” enacted by Hannah would therefore appear to rec-
oncile the rational/nonrational duality that dominates Philo’s psychology. For
example, in his lengthiest analysis of ecstasy (ἔκστασις), divine possession, and
nonrational madness (Her. 263–66), Philo establishes a rigid dualistic divide
between the rational and nonrational. When ecstasy and spirit possession occur,
the “mind” (νοῦς) and “reasoning power” (λογισμός) are entirely shut down (265).
In marked contrast, Hannah’s “rational ecstasy” reconciles these disparate aspects
of human being, the rational and nonrational. The sober intoxication paradox may
also be resolved—at least in this instance—as both heightened cognitive acuity and
ecstatic nonrationality function as essential coconstituents in Philo’s rapturous
mysticism. As Philo himself makes clear: “it is true the sober ones are drunk in a

52  Henrichs, “Dionysus,” OCD, 480.

53 This coheres with aspects of Colleen Shantz’s inquiry into the neurophysiological
phenomena that may have attended Paul’s ecstatic experiences (Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology
of the Apostle’s Life and Thought [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009]). She compares
Paul’s ambiguous ascent in 2 Corinthians 12 with documented neurological states in which “the
body is perceived as present, but its sensations—its weight, boundaries, pain, or voluntary motion
—are all absent from consciousness” (p. 98). In this state, “signals from the body are neurologically
blocked while, simultaneously, higher-level somatic processing centers remain active. The com­
bination facilitates a general awareness of having a body, but it eliminates the perception of the
body’s weight” and “pressure” (p. 137). Two bodies are operative: the physical body, which is under
the influence of neurochemical processes, and the “neurocognitive” “as-if ” body, which expe­
riences the loss of all boundaries and somatic limitations (p. 143).
160 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

sense, for all good things are united in the strong wine on which they feast” (Ebr.
148). This mixture of female nonrational and male rational qualities further serves
to situate Hannah near the middle of Philo’s gender gradient.

Noetic Ascent and the Vision of God

The narrative of Ebr. 143–52 climaxes in the account of Hannah’s noetic ascent
and vision of God. This apparent prioritization coheres with Philo’s repeated asser-
tions that the visio Dei constitutes the “crowning point of happiness” (Abr. 58) and
is the “most precious of all possessions” (Legat. 4). In a pair of previous articles, I
examined a number of issues pertinent to Philo’s conception of “seeing God,”
including the identity of the object of sight, the effectual means of the vision, the
methods employed in evoking it, as well as the function and influence of his mysti-
cism in the visio Dei.54
Analysis of Philo’s views about the identity of the object of sight in his visio
Dei accounts reveals a surprising degree of ambivalence concerning who or what
is seen. In many texts his allegiance to the doctrine of divine transcendence neces-
sitates the inclusion of intermediaries, such as the Logos or the Powers, and occa-
sionally they are all one sees (Mut. 15–24). Nevertheless, Philo quite often accords
the contemplative a vision of God himself, the Existent One (τὸ ὄν, Mut. 81–82; QG
4.2–8). With regard to the object of Hannah’s vision in Ebr. 152, David Winston
believes that ἀγένητος, “the Uncreated One,” refers not to God but to his preeminent
mediator, the Logos.55 However, my survey of all 101 occurrences of ἀγένητος in
the Philonic corpus issued in the conclusion that Ebr. 152 is most likely referring
to a vision of God himself.56
The issue of agency is also often ambiguous in visio Dei accounts. While in
some contexts Philo emphasizes the singular role of God in empowering the ascent
and affording the vision (Migr. 34–35; Praem. 45–46), in many others he highlights
the part played by human effort (Post. 13; Spec. 3.1–6; Virt. 215–16). One even
occasionally encounters depictions that synergistically join the efforts of the two
actors (Mut. 81–88; Praem. 36–40). All three positions are represented in the nar-
ratival unfolding of Hannah’s mystical experience. The emphasis initially is on God’s
agency, as an influx of “divine grace” sets the account in motion (Ebr. 146). Two
references to divine possession further indicate that Hannah is manifestly under
God’s control (146–47). Synergism then emerges, evident in both her embodied

54 Mackie, “Seeing God in Philo of Alexandria: The Logos, the Powers, or the Existent One?”

Studia Philonica Annual 21 (2009): 25–47; and “Seeing God in Philo of Alexandria: Means,
Methods, and Mysticism,” JSJ 43 (2012): 147–79.
55 Winston, “Philo and the Contemplative Life,” in Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible through

the Middle Ages (ed. Arthur Green; World Spirituality 13; New York: Crossroad, 1986), 225; idem,
“Was Philo a Mystic?” 31.
56 Mackie, “Logos, the Powers,” 34–36.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 161

response to God’s empowerment (146–47) and her virtuous and abstinent life (148–
51). Unaided human effort may be detected in Hannah’s declared intent to “pour out
my soul” (149), as well as her recital from the “handbook for heavenly ascents,” with
its recurring assertions of efficacious mystical volition: “I will consecrate … I will
loosen … I will send” (152). This blend of passivity and active agency could be seen
as another indication of her central position on Philo’s gender gradient.
A number of practices are implicated in Philo’s ascent and visio Dei accounts,
including Platonic contemplation (Migr. 34–35), the pursuit of virtue (Ebr. 83; Her.
241; QE 2.51), and exegetical text work (Spec. 3.1–6). Though Hannah’s ascetic,
virtuous life is partially accorded a role in her ascent (Ebr. 148, 150–51), perhaps
the most apt comparison can be made with the practice of Platonic contemplative
ascent. The ascent myth of the Phaedrus, in particular, features a number of com-
parable phenomena: passion, divine madness and possession (245b, 249d–e),
holistic reasoning (249b), the psychosomatic manifestation of “heat” (251b, 253e),
mystical visuality (246a–251a, 253c–254e), and mystery language (249c–d,
250b–c).57 The exercise of tactility in the noetic realm is also a common motif in
Platonic ascent accounts.58 And although the noetic ascent is often represented by
Philo as a quintessentially masculine activity, requiring the suppression of feminine
attributes, including the senses and passions, and the exercise of masculine initia-
tive and disembodiment, the textual representation of Hannah’s rapturous tactility
in the noetic realm evinces a decidedly feminine “touch.”
Finally, despite attempts to divorce Philo’s mystical praxis from the visio Dei,
thereby construing “seeing” simply as a metaphor for “knowing” (i.e., achieving a
rational awareness of God’s existence),59 the emotional and experiential language
and imagery that often appear in ascent texts, and occasionally in visio Dei accounts,
suggest that actual mystical experiences underlie and inform them. In fact, the
affective and experiential detail of Ebr. 143–52 is unparalleled within the Philonic
corpus. In spite of the aforementioned instances of heightened cognitive acuity,
as well as the assertion of Hannah’s passionless “reasoning power” (151), her
noetic ascent is devoid of rational pursuits. Rather, it represents a passionate and
ecstatic act of worship that attempts to attain tactile intimacy with the Beloved. It
should also be noted that a number of the phenomena charted in Ebr. 143–52 are
congruent with common mystical experiences that have been documented in

57  On the mysteries in the Phaedrus, see Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth, 86–88; Morgan,

Platonic Piety, 171–72.

58 Various forms of the verb used in Ebr. 152, ἅπτω, appear in Phaed. 65c; Resp. 490b; Symp.

211b, 212a. On the “vision of beauty” as “an erotically tactile phenomenon,” see Shadi Bartsch,
The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge, and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2006), 79–80.
59 So Harry A. Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity,

and Islam (2nd ed.; 2 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), 2:90–92; Winston,
“Philo’s Mysticism,” 82.
162 Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014)

neuro­psychological studies, including the surmounting and loss of boundaries,

out-of-body experiences, an ecstatic sense of total unity, and the resolution of para-
doxes and opposed dualities.60

IV. Conclusion

Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of Hannah’s prayer for

a son in Ebr. 143–52 is surely one of the most remarkable texts in his corpus. In this
personified portrayal of ecstatic mysticism and noetic ascent to the vision of God,
Philo modifies and even subverts a number of his core convictions concerning
sense perception, emotions, psychology, and the role of these factors in his mysti-
cism. In particular, the assertion that “all good things are united” in Hannah’s sen-
suous and ecstatic praxis has been seen as a sort of program statement for the entire
account, signaling the reconciliation and unification of a number of the core duali-
ties and polarities that structure and define Philo’s thought-world: sense perception
and noetic apprehension, interiority and exteriority, embodiment and disembodi-
ment, earth and the noetic realm, nonrational and rational aspects of the psyche,
austere virtue and ecstatic joy, sobriety and drunkenness, as well as passion and
Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that this boundary-breaking alle-
gorical interpretation comes to focused expression in a woman. Since Philo’s view
of women is almost entirely negative, accusations of misogyny are quite common.
For example, Annewies van den Hoek claims that the “only hope” of a woman in
Philo’s world “is to change, either to become a man, or to become a virgin.… What-
ever she becomes, she has to leave womanhood behind to become a unity again,
undivided, siding with the mind rather than the body.”61 Sly’s monograph con-
cludes with a similarly pessimistic appraisal:
Philo’s restricted view of woman’s purpose in life stands out starkly against the
new spiritual freedom he offered man, the opportunity to undertake an Odyssey
of the spirit. That achievement ought never be belittled. Yet it underscores the
limitations he would place upon woman. He simply did not raise the question of
her spiritual growth. Hers was to be a derivative salvation. The spiritual account-
ability he urged upon men had no counterpart in the women’s quarters.62

60 Eugene G. d’Aquili and Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of
Religious Experience (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 13–14, 26, 49–50, 87, 90–92, 98–100, 183, 191.
61 Van den Hoek, “Endowed with Reason or Glued to the Senses: Philo’s Thoughts on Adam

and Eve,” in The Creation of Adam and Eve: Interpretations of the Biblical Narratives in Jewish and
Christian Traditions (ed. Gerard P. Luttikhuizen; Themes in Biblical Narrative 3; Leiden: Brill,
2000), 74.
62 Sly, Philo’s Perception of Women, 223.
Mackie: Philo of Alexandria, De ebrietate 143–52 163

As valid as these accusations may largely be, they are inapplicable to Philo’s
portrayal of Hannah and the grace-infused vision of realized womanhood that
radiates from Ebr. 143–52. As we have seen, a number of elements in the account
have placed Hannah near the middle of Philo’s gender gradient, thus harmoniously
balancing male and female. These include senses and mind, nonrationality and
reason, embodiment and disembodiment, passivity and activity, as well as the
characteristics of her emotional life: virtue, joy, and austerity. However, these
male and female elements do not negate each other, thereby “neutering” Hannah.
Rather, they complement and accentuate each other. And though she is on two
occasions masculinized by Philo (her interactions with the servant, and her passion-
impervious “reasoning power”), the preponderantly passionate and ecstatic texture
of the portrayal points to Philo’s overarching intent to figure Hannah as an adept
female mystic, and thus position her within the female portion of his gender gradi-
ent. In so doing, the passion and sensuality that so crucially contribute to Eve’s
characterization as “the beginning of the blameworthy life” (Opif. 151) are fully
redeemed in the equally passionate and sensuous ecstasy of Hannah. In what is
surely the most emotional, embodied, and sensual visio Dei in the Philonic corpus,
Hannah “pours out” as a “drink offering” these fully realized aspects of her woman-
hood, bringing them into the immediate presence of God, thereby recovering “all
the glory of Eve.”
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Copyright of Journal of Biblical Literature is the property of Society of Biblical Literature and
its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the
copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email
articles for individual use.