It is now the season when scholars go out to war. Well, actually, it's all very civilized, to be honest. November is the annual pilgrimage to the biblical guild's Mecca, otherwise known as SBL, the Society of Biblical Literature. Liberal, conservative, mainstream scholar, they're all there. The Evangelical Theological Society and Institute for Biblical Research, two related conservative organizations usually meet right before.
I'm giving a paper on the intersection of Acts 7 and Hebrews (surprise), but I also have a little work to do this next month or so on Philo (not giving a paper). I'd like to take Saturdays to read through Philo's De Agricultura, which is the Philo Group's commentary focus this year at SBL, and to begin reading through the new Cambridge Companion to Philo edited by Adam Kamesar of Hebrew Union. It is much like the volume I did on Philo 5 years ago, except it's written by Philo scholars :-)
So my first post today on Philo (I hope it's only the first) is to copy (mostly) the first ten "sentences" or so of De Agricultura from the Loeb. "On Husbandry" is in the most advanced of Philo's three commentary series, The Allegorical Commentary. It is an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 9:20. Even copying the Loeb will help me get into it. I may translate some.
1 "And the man Noah began to be a farmer of land, and he planted a vineyard and he was drinking wine and he was drunk in his house."
The majority of people, since they do not know the natures of things, go wrong (hamartano) also of necessity in relation to the conferring of names. For things that are well considered and subjected as it were to dissection have appropriate designations attached to them in consequence; while others having been presented in a confused state receive names that are not thoroughly accurate.
Philo thinks there is a correspondence between the name a thing should have and what it is--obviously he hadn't read de Saussure. The word "sin" here simply means they make a mistake. I hate to say it (and it means nothing), but "miss the mark" would fit the translation here.
2 Now Moses, being abundantly equipped with the knowledge that has to do with things, is in the habit of using names that are perfectly apt and expressive. We shall find the assurance just given made good in many parts of the lawgiving, not least in the section before us in which the righteous Noah is introduced as a farmer.
Notice that different people have different standards of "inerrancy" in different times and places. For Philo, the names of the Pentateuch have precisely accurate allegorical meanings.
3 Would not anyone who answers questions offhand think that farming and working on the soil were the same things, although in reality they not only are not the same things, but are ideas utterly at variance with each other and mutually repugnant?
Wait for it, the explanation cometh.
4 For a person is able, even without knowledge, to work at the care of the soil. But it is guaranteed that a farmer will not be an unprofessional but a skilled worker with this very name, which he has gained from the science of farming, the science whose title he bears.
5 In addition to this there is the further point to be considered, that the worker on the soil as a rule is a wage-earner, and as such has only one goal in view: his wages. He cares nothing at all about doing his work well. By contrast, the farmer would be willing not only to put into the undertaking much of his private property but to spend a further amount drawn from his household budget, to do the farm good and to escape blame by those who have seen it. For regardless of gain from any other source, he desires only to see the crops that he has grown yield plentifully year by year, and to take up their produce.
6. This person will be anxious to bring under cultivation the trees that were wild before, to improve by careful treatment those already under cultivation, to check by pruning those that are over-luxuriant because of excess nourishment, to given more scope to those that have been curtailed and kept back, splicing on new growths to stem or branch. When trees of good kinds throw out abundant tendrils, he will like to train them under ground in shallow trenches, and to improve...
sorry, too boring to keep copying
... The same thing happens, I might add, in the case of people, when adopted sons become congenial to those who by birth are alien to them and become firmly fitted into the family, because of their natural good qualities.
7 To return to our subject. The farmer will pull up by the roots and throw away quantitites of trees on which the shoots ... have lost their fertility... The science, then, that has to do with growths that spring out of the earth is of the kind I have described. Let us consider in its turn the farming of the soul.
8 First, then, farming has as its aim not to sow or plant anything that will not yield fruit, only things that are fit for cultivation and bearing fruit, indeed, likely to yield yearly tributes to mortals, its prince. For humanity did nature appoint to be ruler of all trees as well as of the living creatures besides themselves who are mortal.
Here we have the theology of Psalm 8 at work, which we also find in the inner logic of Paul and Hebrews. Philo of course is not much of a Psalms man. His proto-canon is the Pentateuch, and a few other OT books are somewhat deuterocanonical (e.g., Jeremiah). This is to be expected, I suspect, of someone from the Diaspora. Nothing like our current canon was in place when the Jews scattered.
9 But who else could the human in each of us be if not our mind, whose place it is to reap the benefits derived from all that has been sown or planted? But seeing that for babies, milk is food, but for grown people wheat bread, there must also be soul-nourishment, such as is milk-like for those in "childhood"--when the mind is in the stage of the preliminary stages of the encyclia (school curriculum)--as well as food suitable for adults in the shape of instructions leading the way through wisdom and self-control and all virtue. For when these are sown and planted in the mind, they will produce the most beneficial fruits, namely fair and praiseworthy conduct.
"Vintage" Philo. Notice the commonplace of milk and grown up food that we find not only in the New Testament (e.g., Paul, Hebrews), but in the secular philosophical literature of the day as well.
10 By means of this farming, whatever trees of passions or vices have sprung up and grown tall, bearing mischief-dealing fruits, are cut down and cleared away, no minute portion even being allowed to survive, as the germ of new growths of sins (harmartema) to spring up later on.
Parallels in James, 1 Peter, and Paul.