Wednesday, July 08, 2015

3. Philo the Citizen

Continuing my review of Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria, edited by Torrey Seland.

Philo the Jew

1. Torrey himself is the writer of the third installment: "Philo the Citizen." Wow, what a great chapter. This book is shaping up to be my recommendation for anyone who is wanting a gateway to a master's or doctoral level study of Philo. It is also excellent for someone with a very basic knowledge of Judaism or the classical world.

I've been wrestling in my mind with what a complete beginner would think of the book. Would he or she understand it? It's not that there is anything very difficult to understand in the book. Thus far, it is extremely well written and understandable. What I haven't decided in my mind is whether someone who had never heard of Philo or the Roman world would have a good enough point of reference to follow it entirely.

Then again, the book seems to be written as a gateway to more advanced studies. In this endeavor, it is far superior so far to The Cambridge Companion to Philo. Each chapter makes a point to suggest possible avenues for further study in Philo research. In that sense it gives an undergraduate student some ideas of how one might move into this arena as a scholar.

On the other hand, it seems to me that it expects the reader to have some basic sense of ancient Judaism and the Roman world. It does not really introduce the reader to who Caligula was or what the Sabbath commandment was. I'm on page 75 and we have not yet had a catalog of Philo's works. These features lead me to believe that this is a "bridge work" to more advanced study for someone who has some background knowledge but only on an introductory level (such as a person might get, shameless plug, from my book).

2. So Seland gives us the requisite background on Philo's family. He gives the various debates over the state of Jews in Alexandria. He is judicious in giving the spectrum of opinions without giving in to temptation to come to conclusions. He gives the briefest sense of Philo's political theory. He presents the primary passages and treatises in Philo that you would want to study to go further on the subject. He addresses the main issues of debate surrounding the persecution of Jews that took place somewhere around 38CE.

In short, if you wanted to do research into Philo's political philosophy or the political situation of Alexandria around 40CE or the Greco-Roman political world vis-a-vis Philo, Seland's chapter would be a most excellent place to begin. You would know from there to go to De Josepho and De Somniis, as well as Legatio and the Ad Flaccum. You would know my favorite passage in Philo, the one that currently has me smiling.

3. One conspicuous aspect of the chapter is the way E. R. Goodenough dominates it. Goodenough is no doubt a central feature in the history of this discussion, but he is a very old source (1938) and some of his positions are seriously questioned (e.g., that Philo wrote some of his treatises for a Gentile audience).

Some very recent sources are mentioned at the end, although Seland does not engage them greatly. I don't know them myself, so perhaps Seland does not think they are on target. In any case, many sources are mentioned in the notes, and all the classic sources are referenced (Goodenough, Tracy, Tcherikover, Smallwood, Modrzejewski).

Excellent chapter!

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