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On the Change of Names

Written by: Philo    Posted on: 09/25/2006

Category: Misc.

Emil Schürer writes (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 329-331):

    While this shorter explanation in a catechetical form [Questions and Answers on Genesis] was intended for more extensive circles, Philo's special and chief scientific work is his large allegorical commentary on Genesis, ??µ?? ?e??? a???????a? (such is the title given it in Euseb. Hist. eccl. ii. 18. 1, and Photius, Bibliotheca cod. 103. Comp. also Origen, Comment. in Matth. vol. xvii. c. 17; contra Celsum, iv. 51). These two works frequently approximate each other as to their contents. For in the Quaestiones et solutiones also, the deeper allegorical significance is given as well as the literal meaning. In the great allegorical commentary on the contrary, the allegorical interpretation exclusively prevails. The deeper allegorical sense of the sacred letter is settled in extensive and prolix discussion, which by reason of the copious adducting of parallel passages often seems to wander from the text. Thus the entire exegetic method, with its draggin in of the most heterogeneous passages in elucidation of the idea supposed to exist in the text, forcibly recalls the method of Rabbinical Midrash. This allegorical interpretation however has with all its arbitrariness, its rules and laws, the allegorical meaning as once settled for certain persons, objects and events being afterwards adhered to with tolerable consistency. Especially is it a fundamental thought, from which the exposition is everywhere deduced, that the history of mankind as related in Genesis is in reality nothing else than a system of psychology and ethic. The different individuals, who here make their appearance, denote the different states of soul (t??p?? t?? ?????) which occur among men. To analyse these in their variety and their relations both to each other and to the Deity and the world of sense, and thence to deduce moral doctrines, is the special aim of this great allegorical commentary. Thus we perceive at the same time, that Philo's chief interest is not—as might from the whole plan of his system be supposed—speculative theology for its own sake, but on the contrary psychology and ethic. To judge from his ultimate purpose he is not a speculative theologian, but a psychologist and moralist (comp. note 183).

    The commentary at first follows the text of Genesis verse by verse. Afterwards single sections are selected, and some of them so fully treated, as to grow into regular monographs. Thus e.g. Philo takes occasion from the history of Noah to write two books on drunkenness (pe?? µe???), which he does with such thoroughness, that a collection of the opinions of other philosophers on this subject filled the first of these lost books (Mangey, i. 357).

    The work, as we have it, begins at Gen. ii. 1; ?a? ete?es??sa? ?? ???a??? ?a? ? ??. The creation of the world is therefore not treated of. For the composition, De opificio mundi, which precedes it in our editions, is a work of an entirely different character, being no allegorical commentary on the history of the creation, but a statement of that history itself. Nor does the first book of the Legum allegoriae by any means join on to the work De opificio mundi; for the former begins at Gen. ii. 1, while in De opif. mundi, the creation of man also, according to Gen. ii, is already dealt with. Hence—as Gfrörer rightly asserts in answer to Dähne—the allegorical commentary cannot be combined with De opif. mundi as though the two were but parts of the same work. At most may the question be raised, whether Philo did not also write an allegorical commentary on Gen. i. This is however improbable. For the allegorical commentary proposes to treat of the history of mankind, and this does not begin till Gen. ii. 1. Nor need the abrupt commencement of Leg. alleg. i seem strange, since this manner of starting at once with the text to be expounded, quite corresponds with the method of Rabbinical Midrash. The later books too of Philo's own commentary begin in fact in the same abrupt manner. In our manuscripts and editions only the first books bear the title belonging to the whole work, ??µ?? ?e??? a???????a?. All the later books have special titles, a circumstance which gives the appearance of their being independent works. In truth however all that is contained in Mangey's first vol.—viz. the works which here follow—belongs to the book in question (with the sole exception of De opificio mundi).

Emil Schürer comments: "?e?? t?? µeta??µa??µe??? ?a? ?? e?e?a µeta??µa???ta?. De mutatione nominum (Mangey, i. 578-619). On Gen. xvii. 1-22.—The same title in Euseb. H. E. ii. 18. 3. Johannes Monachus ineditus quotes under this title much that is not found in this book, nor in any of the preserved works of Philo (Mangey, i. 578, note). In this book Philo alludes to a lost work: ??? de pe?? d?a????? s?µpa?ta ????? e? d?s?? a?a?e??afa p?a?es?, which was no longer extant in the time of Eusebius (comp. H. E. ii. 18. 3). " (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 337)

F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker write, "This treatise is an exposition of various points arising in Gen. xvii. 1-5 and 15-22." (Philo, vol. 5, p. 128)


{**Yonge's title, A Treatise on the Question Why Certain Names in the Holy Scripture Are Changed.}

I. (1) "Abraham was ninety and nine years old; and the Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him, I am thy God."{1}{#ge 17:1.} The number of nine, when added to the number ninety, is very near to a hundred; in which number the self-taught race shone forth, namely Isaac, the most excellent joy of all enjoyments; for he was born when his father was a hundred years old. (2) Moreover the first fruits of the tribe of Levi are given up to the priests; {2}{#nu 18:26.} for they having taken tithes, offer up other tenths from them as from their own fruits, which thus comprise the number of a hundred; for the number ten is the symbol of improvement, and the number a hundred is the symbol of perfection; and he that is in the middle is always striving to reach the extremity, exerting the inborn goodness of his nature, by which he says, that the Lord of the universe has appeared to him. (3) But do not thou think that this appearance presented itself to the eyes of the body, for they see no things but such as are perceptible to the outward senses; but those objects of the outward senses are compounded ones, full of destruction; but the Deity is not a compound object, and is indestructible: but the eye which receives the impression of the divine appearance is the eye of the soul; (4) for besides this, those things which it is only the eyes of the body that see, are only seen by them because they take light as a coadjutor, and light is different, both from the object seen and from the things which see it. But all these things which the soul sees of itself, and through its own power, it sees without the cooperation of any thing or any one else; for the things which the soul does thus comprehend are a light to themselves, (5) and in the same way also we learn the sciences; for the mind, applying its never-closing and never-slumbering eye to their doctrines and speculations, sees them by no spurious light, but by that genuine light which shines forth from itself. (6) When therefore you hear that God has been seen by man, you must consider that this is said without any reference to that light which is perceptible by the external senses, for it is natural that that which is appreciable only by the intellect should be presented to the intellect alone; and the fountain of the purest light is God; so that when God appears to the soul he pours forth his beams without any shade, and beaming with the most radiant brilliancy.

II. (7) Do not, however, think that the living God, he who is truly living, is ever seen so as to be comprehended by any human being; for we have no power in ourselves to see any thing, by which we may be able to conceive any adequate notion of him; we have no external sense suited to that purpose (for he is not an object which can be discerned by the outward sense), nor any strength adequate to it: therefore, Moses, the spectator of the invisible nature, the man who really saw God (for the sacred scriptures say that he entered "into the Darkness,"{3}{#ex 20:21.} by which expression they mean figuratively to intimate the invisible essence), having investigated every part of every thing, sought to see clearly the much-desired and only God; (8) but when he found nothing, not even any appearance at all resembling what he had hoped to behold; he, then, giving up all idea of receiving instruction on that point from any other source, flies to the very being himself whom he was seeking, and entreats him, saying, "Show my thyself that I may see thee so as to know Thee."{4}{#ex 33:13.} But, nevertheless, he fails to obtain the end which he had proposed to himself, and which he had accounted the most all-sufficient gift for the most excellent race of creation, mankind, namely a knowledge of those bodies and things which are below the living God. (9) For it is said unto him, "Thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be beheld by Thee."{5}{#ex 33:23.} As if it were meant to answer him: Those bodies and things which are beneath the living God may come within thy comprehension, even though every thing would not be at once comprehended by thee, since that one being is not by his nature capable of being beheld by man. (10) And what wonder is there if the living God is beyond the reach of the comprehension of man, when even the mind that is in each of us is unintelligible and unknown to us? Who has ever beheld the essence of the soul? the obscure nature of which has given rise to an infinite number of contests among the sophists who have brought forward opposite opinions, some of which are inconsistent with any kind of nature. (11) It was, therefore, quite consistent with reason that no proper name could with propriety be assigned to him who is in truth the living God. Do you not see that to the prophet who is really desirous of making an honest inquiry after the truth, and who asks what answer he is to give to those who question him as to the name of him who has sent him, he says, "I am that I Am,"{6}{#ex 3:14.} which is equivalent to saying, "It is my nature to be, not to be described by name:" (12) but in order that the human race may not be wholly destitute of any appellation which they may give to the most excellent of beings, I allow you to use the word Lord as a name; the Lord God of three natures--of instruction, and of holiness, and of the practice of virtue; of which Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob are recorded as the symbols. For this, says he, is the everlasting name, as if it has been investigated and discerned in time as it exists in reference to us, and not in that time which was before all time; and it is also a memorial not placed beyond recollection or intelligence, and again it is addressed to persons who have been born, not to uncreated natures. (13) For these men have need of the complete use of the divine name who come to a created or mortal generation, in order that, if they cannot attain to the best thing, they may at least arrive at the best possible name, and arrange themselves in accordance with that; and the sacred oracle which is delivered as from the mouth of the Ruler of the universe, speaks of the proper name of God never having been revealed to any one, when God is represented as saying, "For I have not shown them my Name;"{7}{#ex 6:3.} for by a slight change in the figure of speech here used, the meaning of what is said would be something of this kind: "My proper name I have not revealed to them," but only that which is commonly used, though with some misapplication, because of the reasons abovementioned. (14) And, indeed, the living God is so completely indescribable, that even those powers which minister unto him do not announce his proper name to us. At all events, after the wrestling match in which the practicer of virtue wrestled for the sake of the acquisition of virtue, he says to the invisible Master, "Tell me thy Name;"{8}{#ge 32:29.} but he said, "Why askest thou me my name?" And he does not tell him his peculiar and proper name, for says he, it is sufficient for thee to be taught my ordinary explanations. But as for names which are the symbols of created things, do not seek to find them among immortal natures.

III. (15) Therefore do not doubt either whether that which is more ancient than any existing thing is indescribable, when his very word is not to be mentioned by us according to its proper name. So that we must understand that the expression, "The Lord was seen by Abraham,"{9}{#ge 17:1.} means not as if the Cause of all things had shone forth and become visible, (for what human mind is able to contain the greatness of his appearance?) but as if some one of the powers which surround him, that is to say, his kingly power, had presented itself to the sight, for the appellation Lord belongs to authority and sovereignty. (16) But when our mind was occupied with the wisdom of the Chaldaeans, studying the sublime things which exist in the world, it made as it were the circuit of all the efficient powers as causes of what existed; but when it emigrated from the Chaldaean doctrines, it then knew that it was moving under the guidance and direction of a governor, of whose authority it perceived the appearance. (17) On which account it is said, "The Lord," not the living God, "was seen;" as if it had been meant to say, the king appeared, he who was from the beginning, but who was not as yet recognized by the soul, which, indeed, was late in learning, but which did not continue for ever in ignorance, but received a notion of there being an authority and governing power among existing things. (18) And when the ruler has appeared, then he in a still greater degree benefits his disciple and beholder, saying, "I am thy God;"{10}{genesis 17:2.} for I should say to him, "What is there of all the things which form a part of creation of which thou art not the God?" But his word, which is his interpreter, will teach me that he is not at present speaking of the world, of which he is by all means the creator and the God, but about the souls of men, which he has thought worthy of a different kind of care; (19) for he thinks fit to be called the Lord and Master of bad men, but the God of those who are in a state of advancement and improvement; and of those which are the most excellent and the most perfect, both Lord and God at once. On which account, having made Pharaoh the very extreme instance of impiety, he has never once called himself his Lord or his God; but he calls the wise Moses so, for he says to him, "Behold I give thee as a god to Pharaoh."{11}{#ge 7:1.} But he has in many passages of the sacred oracles delivered by him, called himself Lord. (20) For instance, we read such as passage as this: "Thus says the Lord;"{12}{#ex 7:17.} and at the very beginning we read, "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I am the Lord, say unto Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, all the things which I say unto Thee."{13}{#ex 6:29.} (21) And Moses, in another place, says, "Behold, when I go forth out of the city I will spread out my hands unto the Lord, and the sounds shall cease, and the hail, and there shall be no more rain, that thou mayest know that the earth is the Lord's;" that is to say, every thing that is made of body or of earth, "and that thou," that is the mind which bears in itself the images of things, "and thy servants," that is the particular reasonings which act as body-guards to the mind, "for I know that ye do not yet fear the Lord;"{14}{#ex 9:29.} by which he means not the Lord who is spoken of commonly and in different senses, but him who is truly the Master of all things. (22) For there is in truth no created Lord, not even a king shall have extended his authority and spread it from one end of the world even to the other end, but only the uncreated God, the real governor, whose authority he who reverences and fears receives a most beneficial reward, namely, the admonitions of God, but utterly miserable destruction awaits the man who despises him; (23) therefore he is held forth as the Lord of the foolish, striking them with a terror which is appropriate to him as ruler. But he is the God of those who are improved; as we read now, "I am thy God, I am thy God, be thou increased and Multiplied."{15}{#ge 17:1, also 35:2.} And in the case of those who are perfect, he is both together, both Lord and God; as we read in the ten commandments, "I am the Lord thy God."{16}{#ex 20:2.} And in another passage it is written, "The Lord God of our Fathers."{17}{#de 4:1.} (24) For he thinks it right for the wicked man to be governed by a master as by a lord; that, being in a state of alarm and groaning, he may have the fear of a master suspended over him; but him who is advancing in improvement he thinks deserving to receive benefits as from God in order that by means of these benefits he may arrive at perfection; and him who is complete and perfect he thinks should be both governed as by the Lord, and benefited as by God; for the last man remains for ever unchangeable, and he is, by all means and in all respects, the man of God: (25) and this is especially shown to be the fact in the case of Moses; for, says the scripture, "This is the blessing which Moses, the man of God, Blessed."{18}{#de 33:1.} O the man that thus thought worthy of this all-beautiful and sacred recompense, to give himself as a requital for the divine Providence! (26) But do not thou think that he is in the same sense a man and the man of God; for he is said to be a man as being a possession of God, but the man of God as boasting in and being benefited by him. And if thou wishest to have God as the inheritance of thy mind, then do thou in the first place labour to become yourself an inheritance worthy of him, and thou wilt be such if thou avoidest all laws made by hands and voluntary.

IV. (27) But it is not right to be ignorant of this thing either, that the statement, "I am thy God,"{19}{#ge 17:1.} is made by a certain figurative misuse of language rather than with strict propriety; for the living God, inasmuch as he is living, does not consist in relation to anything; for he himself is full of himself, and he is sufficient for himself, and he existed before the creation of the world, and equally after the creation of the universe; (28) for he is immovable and unchangeable, having no need of any other thing or being whatever, so that all things belong to him, but, properly speaking, he does not belong to anything. And of the powers which he has extended towards creation for the advantage of the world which is thus put together, some are spoken of, as it were, in relation to these things; as for instance his kingly and his beneficent power; for he is the king of something, and the benefactor of something there being inevitably something which is ruled over and which receives the benefits. (29) Akin to these powers is the creative power which is called God: for by means of this power the Father, who begot and created all things, did also disperse and arrange them; so that the expression, "I am thy God," is equivalent to, "I am thy maker and creator;" (30) and it is the greatest of all possible gifts to have him for one's maker, who has also been the maker of the whole world. The soul, indeed, of the wicked man he did not make, for wickedness is hateful to God; and the soul, which is between good and bad, he made not by himself alone, according to the most sacred historian Moses, since that, like wax, was about to receive the different impressions of good and evil. (31) On which account it is said in the scriptures, "Let us make man in our own image," that if it receives a bad impression it may appear to be the work of others, but if it receives a good impression it may then appear to be the work of him who is the Creator only of what is beautiful and good. By all means, therefore, that must be a good man to whom he says, "I am thy God," as he has had him alone for his creator without the cooperation of any other being. (32) Moreover he brings up with this that doctrine which is established in many other passages, showing that God is the creator only of those men who are virtuous and wise; and the whole of this company has voluntarily deprived itself of the abundant possession of external things, and has neglected those things which are dear to his flesh. (33) For the athletes of vigorous health and high spirit have erected their servile bodies as a sort of fortification against the soul, but those men who have been devoted to the pursuit of instruction, and who are pale, and weak, and emaciated, having overloaded the vigour of the body with the power of the soul, and if one must tell the plain truth, being entirely dissolved into one species of soul, have through the energy of their minds become quite disentangled from the body. (34) Therefore that which is earthly is very naturally destroyed and overwhelmed when the entire mind resolves in every particular to make itself acceptable to God. But the race of these persons is rare and scarcely to be found, and one may almost say is unable to exist; and the following oracle, which is given with respect to Enoch, proves this: "Enoch pleased God, and he was not Found;"{20}{#ge 5:24.} (35) for by what kind of contemplation could a man attain to this good thing? What seas must he cross over? What islands, or what continents, must he visit? Must he dwell among Greeks or among the barbarians? (36) Are there not even to the present day some of those persons who have attained to perfection in philosophy, who say that there is no such thing as wisdom in the world, since there is also no such thing as a wise man? for that from the very beginning of the creation of mankind up to the present moment, there has never been any one who could be considered entirely blameless, for that it is impossible for a man who is bound up in a mortal body to be entirely and altogether happy. (37) Now whether these things are said correctly we will consider at the proper time: but at present let us stick to the subject before us, and follow the scripture, and say that there is such a thing as wisdom existing, and that he who loves wisdom is wise. But though the wise man has thus an actual existence he has escaped the notice of us who are wicked: for what is good will not unite with what is bad. (38) On this account it is that "the disposition which pleased God was not found;" as if in truth it has a real existence, but was concealed and had fled away to avoid any meeting in the same place with us, since it is said to have been translated; the meaning of which expression is that it emigrated and departed from its sojourn in this mortal life, to an abode in immortal life.

V. (39) These men then, being mad with this divinely inspired madness, were made more ferocious; but there are others who are companions of a more manageable and humanised wisdom. By those men piety is practised to a most eminent degree, and the observance due to man is not neglected. And the sacred oracles are witnesses of this in which Abraham is addressed (the words being put in the mouth of God), "Thou shalt be pleasing in my Sight,"{21}{#ge 17:3.} that is to say, thou shalt be pleasing, not only to me but also to my works, in my eyes as judge, and overseer, and superintendant; (40) for if you honour your parents, or show mercy to the poor, or do good to your friends, or fight in defence of your country, or pay proper attention to the common principles of justice towards all men, you most certainly are pleasing to those with whom you associate, and you are also acceptable in the sight of God: for he sees all things with an eye which never slumbers, and he unites to himself with especial favour all that is good, and that he accepts and embraces. (41) Therefore the practicer of virtue, even while praying, proves the very same thing, saying, "The God to whom my fathers were Acceptable,"{22}{#ge 48:15.} and he adds the words "before him," for the sake of giving you to know the difference, the real practical difference between the expression, "to please God," by itself, and the same words with the addition of the sentence, "before him." For the one expression gives both meanings, and the other only one. (42) Thus also Moses, in his exhortatory admonitions, recommends his disciples such and such things, saying, "Thou shalt do what is pleasing before the Lord thy God,"{23}{#de 12:28.} as if he were to say, Do such things as we shall be worthy to appear before God, and what he when he sees them will accept. And these things are wont to appear equally pure both externally and Internally.{24}{this passage is given up by Mangey as corrupt and quite unintelligible. Mangey corrects it and gives a Latin translation which I have followed.} (43) And proceeding onwards from thence he wove the tent of the tabernacle with two boundaries of space, placing a veil between the two, in order to separate what is within from what is without. And also he gilded the sacred ark, the place wherein the laws were kept, both within and without; and he gave the great high priest two robes, the inner one made of linen, and the other one beautifully embroidered, with one robe reaching to the feet. (44) For these and such things as these are symbols of the soul which in its inner parts shows itself pure towards God, and in its exterior parts shows itself without reproach in reference to the world which is perceptible to the outward senses and to this life: with great felicity therefore was this said to the victorious wrestler, when he was about to have his brows crowned with the garlands of victory: and the declaration made with respect to him was of the following tenor, "You have been mightily powerful both with God and with Men;"{25}{#ge 32:28.} (45) for to have a good reputation with both classes, namely, with the uncreated God and with the creature, is the task of no small mind, but, if one must say the truth, it is one fit for that which is in the confines between the world and God. In short, it is necessary that the good man should be an attendant of God, for the creature is an object of care to the Ruler and Father of the universe; (46) for who is there who does not know, that even before the creation of the world God was himself sufficient to himself, and that he remained as much a friend as before after the creation of the world, without having undergone any change? Why then did he make what did not exist before? Because he was good and bounteous. Shall we not then, we who are slaves, follow our master, admiring, in an exceeding degree, the great first Cause of all things, and not altogether despising our own nature?

VI. (47) But after he has said, "Be thou pleasing to me before me," he adds further, "and be thou blameless," using here a natural consequence and connection of the previous sentence. Do thou therefore all the more apply thyself to what is good that thou mayest be pleasing; and if thou canst not be pleasing, at all events abstain from open sins, that thou mayest not incur reproach. For he who does right is praiseworthy, and he who avoids doing wrong is not to be blamed. (48) And the most important prize is assigned to those who do right, namely, the prize of feeling that they are acceptable to God: but the second prize belongs to those who do no sin, that, namely, of avoiding blame; and, perhaps, in the case of the mortal race of mankind, the doing no sin is set down as equivalent to doing right; for who, as Job says is "pure from pollution, even if his life be but one single day Long?"{26}{#job 14:4.} (49) In fact, the things which pollute the soul are infinite in number, and it is impossible completely to wash them away and to efface their stains; for there are, of necessity, left disasters which are akin to every mortal man, which it is natural indeed to weaken, but impossible wholly to eradicate. (50) Does any one therefore seek a just, or prudent, or temperate, or, in short, any perfectly good man, in this confused life? Be content if you find one who is not wholly unjust, or foolish, or intemperate, or cowardly, or who is not utterly worthless; for the avoidance of evil is a thing with which to be content, but the complete acquisition of the virtues is unattainable to any man, such as is endowed with our nature. (51) It was therefore with great reason that it was said, "and be thou blameless," the speaker thinking that it is a great addition towards a happy life to live without sin and without reproach; but the man who has deliberately chosen this way of life, promises to leave his inheritance in accordance with the covenant, such as is becoming to God to give, and to a wise man to accept, (52) for he says, "I will place my covenant between me and between Thee;"{27}{#ge 17:2.} and covenants and testaments are written for the advantage of those who are worthy of the gift, so that a testament is a symbol of grace, which God has placed between himself who proffers it and man who receives it; (53) and this is the very extravagance of beneficence, that there is nothing between God and the soul except his own virgin grace. And I have written two commentaries on the whole discussion concerning testaments, and for that reason I now deliberately pass over that subject, for the sake of not appearing to repeat what I have said before; and also at the same time, because I do not wish here to interrupt the connected course of this discussion.

VII. (54) And immediately afterwards it is said, "And Abraham fell on his face:" was he not about, in accordance with the divine promises, to recognize himself and the nothingness of the race of mankind, and so to fall down before him who stood firm, by way of displaying the conception which he entertained of himself and of God? Forsooth that God, standing always in the same place, moves the whole composition of the world, not by means of his legs, for he has not the form of a man, but by showing his unalterable and immovable essence. (55) But man, being never settled firmly in the same place, admits of different changes at different times, and being tripped up, miserable man that he is (for, in fact, his whole life is one continued stumble), he meets with a terrible fall; (56) but he who does this against his will is ignorant, and he who does it voluntarily is docile; on which account he is said to fall on his face, that is to say, in his outward senses, in his speech, in his mind, all but crying out loudly and shouting that the outward sense has fallen, inasmuch as it was unable, by itself, to feel as it should, if it had not been aroused by the providence of the Saviour, to take hold of the bodies which lay in its way. And speech too has fallen, being unable to give a proper explanation of anything in existence, unless he who originally made and adapted the organ of the voice, having opened its mouth and enabled its tongue to articulate, should strike it so as to produce harmonious sounds. Moreover, the king of all the mind has fallen, being deprived of its comprehension, unless the Creator of all living things were again to raise it up and re-establish it, and furnishing it with the most acutely seeing eyes, to lead it to a sight of incorporeal things.

VIII. (57) Therefore admiring this same disposition when thus taking to flight, and submitting to a voluntary fall by reason of the confession which it had made respecting the living God, namely, that he stands in truth and is one only, while all other things beneath him are subject t

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