Leviticus 10 – Weirdo Philo and Naked Nadab and Abihu

Leviticus 10 – Weirdo Philo and Naked Nadab and Abihu

Philo was a Jewish philosopher who lived around the time of Jesus.  He wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), much of which uses what is called the “allegorical method” of interpretation.  As a result of allegorizing, he comes up with some pretty strange interpretations sometimes.

            One of those interpretations is that Nadab and Abihu—the two unfortunate priests who were burned up by God’s glory for offering “unauthorized fire” in Lev 10—were actually offering themselves as a naked offering and their immolation was a divine sign of approval!

            Here are Philo’s thoughts, straight from the words of the philosopher himself (I am quoting from the translation by C. D. Yonge, Hendrickson Pub, 2013):

            While discussing Adam and Eve’s nudity, Philo takes a side trip to Nadab and Abihu and says: “and certainly Nadab and Abihu, who came near to God, and left this mortal life and received a share of immortal life, are seen to be naked, that is, free from all new and mortal opinion; for they would not have carried it in their garments and borne it about, if they had not been naked, having broken to pieces every bond of passion and of corporeal necessity, in order that their nakedness and absence of corporeality might not be adulterated by the accession of atheistical reasonings; for it may not be permitted to all men to behold the secret mysteries of God, but only to those who are able to cover them up and guard them; on which account Mishael and his partisans concealed them not in their own garments, but in those of Nadab and Abihu, who had been burnt with fire and taken upwards; for having stripped off all the garments that covered them, they brought their nakedness before God, and left their tunics about Mishael. But clothes belong to the irrational part of the animal, which overshadow the rational part. Abraham also was naked when he heard” (Allegorical Interpretation 2:57-58).

            Later on, Philo also has some other positive thoughts about the two priests: “This is the most admirable definition of immortal life, to be occupied by a love and affection for God unembarrassed by any connection with the flesh or with the body.  Thus, the priests, Nadab and Abihu, die in order that they may live; taking an immortal existence in exchange for this mortal life, and departing from the creature to the uncreated God. And it is with reference to this fact that the symbols of incorruptibility are thus celebrated: “Then they died before the Lord;” that is to say, they lived; for it is not lawful for any dead person to come into the sight of the Lord. And again, this is what the Lord himself has said, “I will be sanctified in those who come nigh unto me.”” (On Flight and Finding 1:58b-59).                  

In addition, he mentions the two once more in On Dreams 2:67.  Notice especially the language at the end: “But Moses will not allow the sacred reasonings about Nadab to be bewailed; for they have not been carried off by a savage beast, but have been taken up by unextinguishable violence and imperishable light; because, having discarded all fear and hesitation, they had duly consecrated the fervent and fiery zeal, consuming the flesh, and very easily and vehemently excited towards piety, which is unconnected with creation, but is akin to God, not going up to the altar by the regular steps, for that was forbidden by law, but proceeding rapidly onwards with a favorable gale, and being conducted up even to the threshold of heaven, becoming dissolved into ethereal beams like a whole burnt-offering.”


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