Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Seland's Reading Philo 1

Fond fragments of memories past peek into my consciousness as I begin Torey Seland's Reading Philo: A Handbook of Alexandria. It has been a great privilege to be a Dean for several years. But I also have often thought of the experience something along the lines of what Philo says in On the Special Laws 3.1-3:

"There was once a time when I devoted my leisure to philosophy and to the contemplation of the world and the things in it. ... At that time I looked down from above, from the air, straining the eye of my mind as if I were looking down from a watch-tower. I surveyed the unspeakable contemplation of all the things on the earth... until I was dragged down and taken by force into the vast sea of the cares of" ... administration. :-)

So it is with great joy that my mind begins to soar once again to contemplate the universe as a professor. In the words of James Bond, "the world is not enough."

The Theologicum
Torey's book brings back memories of a 2004 sabbatical in Tübingen, Germany, on a Fulbright. I spent the better part of those three months drawing on the amazing resources of the Theologicum to write my own Brief Guide to Philo, which I hear remains a helpful jump start for grad students who need a quick entry point into Philo, a crucial source for the world in which Jesus and Paul lived.

So for today I read Torey's Introduction. It is a well-written taste of Philo and overview of the book, which is a compilation of chapters by noted Philo scholars, including scholars from Seland's neck of the woods in Europe. The book is written for MA and PhD students who need to know Philo as part of their background study.

The well worn path is trodden. Philo lived somewhere from about 20BCE to 50CE, being a contemporary of both Jesus and Paul. He wrote more than 70 treatises, some 50 of which have survived. He came from a filthy rich family and was well connected. The opportunities he had as a rich Jewish child came in a window that closed by the time of his death. His nephew had to choose between Judaism and the Roman world, and he chose Rome.

The rest of the first chapter overviews the authors and their topics in the rest of the book. From the introduction, one suspects this is going to be a good read, probably both clearer and more helpful than Adam Kamesar's The Cambridge Companion to Philo.

However, no doubt my book, since I am a Philistine, remains the simple man (or woman's) best entry to the enigmatic Philo and his corpus. :-)

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