Saturday, May 24, 2008

Seland Review, Part 2

And now part 2 of my review of Torrey Seland's book Strangers in the Light: Philonic Perspectives on Christian Identity in 1 Peter. I want to go through the first chapter Seland wrote of the material in the book, from 1995, even though it is chapter 3 in the book itself.

Chapter 3: The 'Common Priesthood' of Philo and 1 Peter: A Philonic Reading of 1 Peter 2:5 & 9
This chapter originally appeared in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament in 1995. In this and chapter 4, Torrey experimented with a reader-response approach to 1 Peter, namely, how would an ideal "Philonic reader" understand and react to 1 Peter (79). This is an interesting question and a valid one.

However, Seland's work here raises certain questions. Since he is primarily a scholar of a historical-critical bent, why does he explore this Philonic reader? Does he have some underlying suspicion or inference he wants us to draw from this exercise? This question is particularly poignant when these two chapters are placed in juxtaposition with the other chapters in the book, especially those that attempt to shed light on 1 Peter by way of Philo's writings.

Seland's Philonic reader is "a Jewish reader who is well versed in Philo's works" who "would know the symbolic universe laid out in Philo's works just as well as Philo, if not better" (79). He notes that it has long been suggested that Philo's works may be of relevance for understanding 1 Peter, particularly when it comes to 1 Peter 2:5 (81). He spends the first half of the chapter summarizing Philo's views on the priesthoods of Israel, his views on the temple, the high priest, and the priesthood of Israel.

Throughout Seland's discussions of Philo here and elsewhere in the book, he is keen to deny that Philo "spiritualizes" the biblical text: Philo is "no blunt allegorizer" (82). Seland's concern seems to be to emphasize that Philo did not simply dismiss the literal practices of the biblical text in deference to purely "spiritual" reinterpretations. Thus Philo values the material sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple (Mig. 92) and indeed the literal temple itself (Spec. 1.67). Seland prefers Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's term "Kultisierung" or David Hay's "psychologizing" to describe Philo's propensity to move beyond the literal to more symbolic understandings of literal entities and practices (83).

Seland is correct to see a "both-and" approach in Philo to literal and allegorical interpretation. However, we wonder if the biases of a modernist age against allegorical interpretation are not at play here as well. While Philo valued the literal practices of the literal Jerusalem temple, it seems difficult not to conclude that he preferred the deeper meanings of Scripture and its cultic system to the literal ones (cf. Conf. 190; Mos. 2.108). Although it is difficult to say the least to locate Philo's writings in relation to contemporary events, we should not be surprised if Philo at some points took more interest in the literal temple in some of his writings as much because of his political environment as for his more rarified ideology (cf. Spec. 3.1).

Of most relevance for 1 Peter are Philo's characterization of Israel as being "to the whole inhabited world what the priest is to the State" (Spec. 2.162). Seland notes three ways in which Israel as a whole shares a common priesthood (88-91). First, they all keep the Law like priests, whose "chief and most essential quality" is piety (e.g., Mos. 1.66).

Secondly, they worship God as the true, one and only God in a way that the rest of the world does not. They thus provide appropriate worship to God, in a sense, for the rest of the world. The high priest also makes prayers and gives thanks not only for Israel to God, indeed, "not only on the behalf of the whole human race but also for the parts of nature, earth, water, air, fire" (Spec. 1.97; Seland 85-88).

Thirdly, in the rituals of the Passover especially, everyone in Israel acts as priest because the families kill their Passover lambs themselves without the mediation of a Levitical priest. In several respects, therefore, all Israel shares a priesthood beyond the specialized priests of the Levitical system.

The potential relevance of these latter aspects of Philo for 1 Peter 2:5 is obvious: "And you yourselves are built into a spiritual house as stones to be a holy priesthood to offer pleasing spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ" (my translation).

Also of concern in the rest of the chapter is 1 Peter 2:9: "But you are an elect race, a royal house, a priesthood, a holy nation, a people to possess, so that you might proclaim the virtues of the One who called you out of darkness into his astonishing light" (my translation).

Throughout the rest of the chapter (94-113), Torrey addresses the key exegetical issues of these two verses. His discussions are potentially frustrating, for they have an atmosphere of interest in what 1 Peter meant. Yet because the professed goal is to determine how a Philonic reader would read 1 Peter, conclusions are not clearly drawn about the meaning of 1 Peter. In other words, Seland's plane starts off down a historical critical runway with discussions of the original meaning of 1 Peter and literature to that end. But then the movie cuts to a quite different Philonic plane taking off. We are thus left somewhat uncertain about what happened to the other plane.

Is οικοδομεισθε in 1 Peter 2:5 indicative or imperative, or perhaps deliberately ambiguous? A Philonic reader would opt for indicative (94-95). Seland takes no position on what the meaning of 1 Peter is.

Is the οικος a house, a building, or a temple? Seland seems to disagree with John Elliott's arguments that it refers to a "household" rather than to a sanctuary (95-98). Elliott's agenda is to remove the His reasoning comes with his next question: Are the two words βασιλειον ιερατευμα to be taken as "royal priesthood" or as two separate nouns, "King's House, priesthood." With regard to 1 Peter, Seland is officially non-committal, although he rehearses the literature and notes that most take it as "royal priesthood" (98-101).

He does, however, draw a conclusion with regard to a Philonic reader. Philo explicitly interprets Exodus 19:6, which 1 Peter 2:5 echoes, twice: Abr. 56 and Sobr. 66. In these places, Philo takes the two words as two separate nouns, which agrees to that point with Elliott's interpretation of 1 Peter (101).

However, Seland differs strongly with Elliott's attempt to see the "King's House" in Abr. 56 as a reference to a royal palace. Since the king in question is God, Seland argues, the King's House is likely the temple, with the result that Israel is seen as the temple of God (103). Although he makes us to do some work to integrate his comments, Seland's conclusion is clearly that a Philonic reader would see the terms βασιλειον ιερατευμα as a reference to the audience of 1 Peter being a temple and priesthood, with the phrase "spiritual house" refering to them as a temple as well. *** Elliott's concern about anti-Jewish polemic (97)

Another interpretive issue Seland discusses is whether the term "priesthood" refers to Israel collectively or as individuals. Further, does 1 Peter have in mind Israel functioning as priests or is the reference more to a matter of their corporate identity? Seland notes the impact that an individual interpreter's theological tradition has seemed to play in one's conclusions (104).

With regard to a Philonic reader, Seland concludes that Philo would likely take the reference in a corporate sense, with the Jewish nation as a whole serving as priest (105-106; cf. Mos. 2.224). At the same time, all the individuals within Israel act as well, so while the corporate is primary, it entails individual action in the Passover. Seland is once again inexplicit about his conclusion on the question of function, but from his entire discussion it is clear that function is entailed in the common priesthood of Israel for Philo.

The final issue Seland discusses is whether the verb εξαγγειλητε in 1 Peter 2:9 has to do with missionary proclamation or declaration of praise to God (107-113). In his treatment of scholarship on 1 Peter, Seland refers sympathetic to the work of David Balch and J. Coppens that see this as a declaration of praise to God (112). But as his final concern is with a Philonic reader, Seland does not reach a firm conclusion on 1 Peter itself, concluding rather than a Philonic reader would likely side with Balch.

I found this chapter interesting and helpful. However, my main critique stands. I come away from it feeling as if Torrey is tricking me. He hooks me with a historical critical discussion of 1 Peter and discusses many aspects of Philo that would be relevant to drawing a conclusion in relation to the original meaning of 1 Peter. He gives me all the tools at hand to finish the historical-critical discussion.

But then at the last minute, rather than draw such a conclusion, he brings in his Philo ex machina and draws what at that point seems a tangential conclusion to what has been under discussion up to that point.

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