Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kamesar's Philo

I'm reading The Cambridge Companion to Philo, edited by Adam Kamesar of Hebrew Union, for a review. Finished the first chapter, "Philo, His Family, His Times," by Danny Schwartz, yesterday during some down time. If my book on Philo is a good handbook for the person who wants to use Philo, Kamesar's book is an excellent place to begin if you want to thoroughly know Philo. Kamesar and his compatriots bring that thorough knowledge not only of Philo's writings but of archaeology and up to the moment scholarship on Philo to bear on each issue.

Chapter 1 is a fine overview of Philo's life and what little we know of its details, with other interesting details. For example, I did not realize that the oldest synagogue inscriptions come from Egypt in the third century BC. Also interesting is Dr. Schwartz's theory of how Jews and Alexandrian Greeks came to be in such tension after the Romans squashed the social ladder with their take over and pushed Jews into the same category as native Egyptians.

Perhaps the one surprising thing to me is the emphasis Dr. Schwartz places at the end of the chapter on Philo's "inconsistency" in relation to Palestine. As a non-Jew and a Christian, Philo's Diaspora universalizations of God's relationship to the world seem quite natural. Indeed, they fit well with Paul for me. Schwartz, on the other hand, finds Philo's rare affirmations of the temple as lip service and his being troubled at Caligula's attempt to set up a statue in Jerusalem as inconsistent sentimentality.

Take this comment, "we often retain affinity for things with which we grew up even after our values have changed in ways that undermine their importance" (29). And he quotes with approval Sandmel's comment that "It cannot be over-emphasized that Philo has little or no concern for Palestine" (27). He thinks that to be consistent, Philo should have abandoned all concern for the temple. Indeed, he wonders if the temple's destruction might have been avoided if he had reacted in that way to Caligula's attempts and had led a deemphasis on the temple's importance.

So after the chapter I am surprisingly left with this question: Have I let Philo off the hook too much in the past or is it that Schwartz has a love-hate relationship with Philo? I left the chapter feeling a little like I had just listened to Philo getting a scolding by a fellow Jew. Hmmm. I'll have to reflect a little more on that one. Schwartz himself apparently emigrated from New York to the land of Israel. I find myself wondering if he looks down on Philo for not loving the land of Palestine as much as he does?

No comments: