Reading Philo
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Reading Philo

A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria

Torrey Seland, Torrey Seland

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eBook - ePub

Reading Philo

A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria

Torrey Seland, Torrey Seland

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Guidebook par excellence to a significant ancient Jewish scholar A contemporary of both Jesus and the apostle Paul, Philo was a prolific Jewish theologian, philosopher, and politician -- a fascinating, somewhat enigmatic figure -- who lived his entire life in Alexandria, Egypt. His many books are important sources for our understanding of ancient Judaism, early Christianity, and the philosophical currents of that time. Reading Philo is an excellent introductory guide to Philo's work and significance. The contributors -- all well-known experts on Philo of Alexandria -- discuss Philo in context, offer methodological considerations (how best to study Philo), and explore Philo's ongoing relevance and value (why reading him is important). This practical volume will be an indispensable resource for anyone delving into Philo and his world.

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Information

Verlag
Eerdmans
Jahr
2014
ISBN
9781467442268
Philo of Alexandria in Context
Philo as a Jew
Karl-Gustav Sandelin
Introduction
The thought and praxis of Philo of Alexandria is a synthesis of biblical, early Jewish, and non-­Jewish traditions in the Hellenistic and Roman world. To separate these threads in Philo’s writings from one another is a difficult matter. Philo is a Jew whose theological reflections are embedded in Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman patterns of thought.1 The following short statement by Roberto Radice gives, I think, an apt characterization: “Philo believed only in those principles which are true according to both Moses and Plato.”2 Starting from these premises, the task to present Philo as a Jew must from the very beginning lead to a somewhat one-­sided picture of him. It is notwithstanding an important task. There is no doubt that Philo considers himself a Jew who is committed to the Jewish nation and its traditions. Samuel Sandmel, who strongly emphasizes the Hellenistic element in Philo, nevertheless is able to state that Philo was a “staunch Jew.”3 But in presenting Philo’s Jewish ideas, one cannot avoid taking into account his indebtedness to modes of thought prevalent in the non-­Jewish contemporary culture.
Recent studies pose different answers regarding the extent to which Philo the Jew is a hellenized Jew. Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough maintained that Philo was representive of a kind of Jewish mystery religion.4 Notwithstanding important observations pointing in such a direction, Goodenough’s view has not gained very broad support.5 On the other hand, an effort such as that by Harry Austryn Wolfson to make Philo a figure with very close ties to Palestinian and later rabbinic Judaism has been severely criticized.6 But Wolfson is also very well aware that Philo was indebted to Greek philosophy even though he criticized the philosophers.7
Philo’s position in relation to the Judaism of Palestine and to Greek philosophy remains an important issue. A dependence on Greek philosophy is strongly stressed today by scholars like David Runia.8 On the other hand, the question of Philo’s relationship with Palestinian Jews was addressed in the late 1970s by Richard D. Hecht, who referred appreciatively to the scholarship of Samuel Belkin, who already before Wolfson had attempted to show that Philo was dependent on contemporary Palestinian oral law.9 More recently, with a distinction between Pharisaism and rabbinic literature drawn more energetically than previously,10 Philo’s relationship to the Pharisees does not seem to have been in focus.11 The question of whether there is any link between Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, has been addressed in standard volumes such as the revised edition of SchĂŒrer’s large work, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, as well as in articles published for instance in the Studia Philonica Annual.12 An aspect of Philo hitherto not often observed has been recently articulated by Maren R. Niehoff, who emphasizes the Roman element in Philo’s thought and life.13
As for my own research into Philo, I started to study him in order to find an alternative to the hypothesis that those were Gnostics who according to Paul said “there is no resurrection from the dead” (1 Cor 15:12).14 I made some observations concerning the exegesis of Gen 2:7 in Paul (1 Cor 15:45), Gnostic texts, and Philo and tried to show that Paul lay closer to Philo than to the Gnostics.15 In the course of my work I became aware of the research that had been done by Burton Lee Mack, who saw Philo as a representative of Jewish wisdom tradition.16 This gave me the direction also for my future research. When as a lecturer at the Åbo Akademi University I prepared lectures on the Didache, I had the feeling that I was acquainted with the vocabulary used in the eucharistic prayers in that text. This resulted in the volume Wisdom as Nourisher, which includes a substantial chapter on Philo.17 Inspired by Professor Peder Borgen, I then became engaged with the question of how Jews in antiquity were occasionally attracted to non-­Jewish religion. A result was the article “The Danger of Idolatry According to Philo of Alexandria.”18
In the present chapter I shall try to illuminate Philo as a Jew from three sides: (1) What should be said in general terms of Philo as a Jew; i.e., how is Philo a Jew like any other Jew in his time? The premise here is naturally that we are able to say something general about Judaism in antiquity. The Jews in Philo’s time read the Scriptures both in public and in private. They practiced circumcision. They observed the Sabbath and celebrated other feasts. They followed specific regulations concerning food and sexual behavior. Does Philo join other Jews in such matters? (2) What is it in Philo’s Judaism that gives it a profile of its own? To answer such a question is, of course, dependent on how one looks at Philo from the perspective of a particular student of philonic texts. Does Philo look at the world like a prophet or a transmitter of heavenly revelations? Or is he more of a lawyer and halakist? Or is his intention the attainment of mystical insights about God and humankind? The risk of locking Philo into categories like these is obvious. The perspective may be very subjective and is, of course, highly dependent on the erudition of the student who makes the characterization. Being well aware of the exigency here, I myself, as already noted, see Philo as a representative of Jewish wisdom tradition. From the very beginning this tradition had ties to non-­Israelite streams of thought, and this is certainly the case also in Philo’s time. (3) Judaism in Philo’s time is not a monolithic phenomenon. Several Jewish groupings existed. From the Holy Land, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes are well known. Philo himself also refers to a group that he calls Therapeutae. Does Philo in any respect adhere to the views and practices of these groups? Such questions will be briefly discussed at the end of this essay.
Philo’s Judaism in General Terms
God
Philo believes in God who is for him the Creator of All (Ebr. 42; Fug. 12; Somn. 1:76). Philo is also of the opinion that it is possible for a human being to arrive at a knowledge of the existence of G...

Inhaltsverzeichnis