Monday, July 20, 2015

4. Philo, Educated Interpreter

Continuing my review of Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria, edited by Torrey Seland. My goal is to finish this fine book before the end of the week, which means two chapters a day.

Philo the Jew
Philo the Citizen

1. The first chapter to review today is by Peder Borgen, "Philo - An Interpreter of the Laws of Moses." Borgen is of course a major Philo player. He wrote somewhat of an overview of Philo himself almost twenty years ago. But his greatest contribution to Philo studies, IMO, is his index to Philo, a computer generated concordance to Philo's works. He is much to be revered.

I will say, though, that I have always found him to be somewhat of an "in the weeds" writer. It is perhaps a difference in our personalities, since I am a big picture person, but I always feel like I could use a map to his writing. I often feel like I am joining him in the middle of a conversation and it takes me a little effort to figure out what we are talking about. That does not negate his brilliance!

2. But there is an outline to the chapter. Without warning, we hit the ground running in one type of writing Philo engaged in--"expository writings." He wrote other things, like historical and philosophical treatises. (Just one paragraph putting this chapter into perspective would have been lovely. But as I said, this book is not entirely for the complete beginner.) But the preponderance of his writings were expositions of Scripture.

Borgen divides them into two categories: exegetical commentaries and something called "rewritten Scripture." The category of "rewritten Scripture" is widely used. I have never found that title very helpful. It basically refers to retellings of biblical stories by a later author.

So he overviews these two types of expository writing in Philo. Then he addresses Philo's hermeneutical presuppositions as he interprets. He describes some of the key elements we find in Philo's interpretation. He briefly compares Philo to other interpreters in his context. He covers some of the literary forms Philo employs. He briefly mentions Philo's interpretation in relation to the conflict around 38CE and then ends with an epilogue giving a taste of the impact of Philo's exegesis on early Christian literature.

The way I would describe this chapter is a smorgasbord of tastes. It gives you a wealth of specific detail on ways that Philo went about extracting meaning from the biblical texts.

3. The second chapter for today is "Philo and Classical Education," by Erkki Koskenniemi (hereafter EK). This chapter was a great surprise and very well written. EK is clearly up to date on the state of research on education in antiquity and I find his fundamental thesis highly plausible.

It is that classical education cannot be reduced to a single pattern or template. It varied from place to place and from time to time. He is particularly concerned with debate over the role of the gymnasion in antiquity. Was it purely for athletic purposes or for educational purposes as well. Who was allowed to participate in it?

Here is his summary statement: "The gymnasion was thus a significant institution in the Greek world, but it was certainly not identical in every place and time. the duration of the training varied greatly, as did apparently the percentage of non-Greeks involved as well. What preceded the gymnasion also varied, and unfortunately we know only little of it. Apparently, education prior to the gymnasion was mostly private, and uniformity among schools belongs to later times. Some Greek education was provided in the gymnasion, some outside of it, and non-Greeks may have imitated the gymnasions if they were excluded from this institution" (109-110).

4. There was thus no fixed pattern or content, and the older source of H. I. Marrou (1948) systematized and universalized a pattern of ancient education based on scanty evidence. He must thus be used with great caution. At the same time, Teresa Morgan's revision may go too far in the opposite direction (1998).

Nevertheless, we can easily imagine that Homer featured large as a source, that the skills of reading and writing were taught. We can imagine that geometry, astronomy, music, and logic were also common topics.

5. EK next examines evidence for education in Alexandria in particular. Here we have good evidence that the city underwent a transition after Roman occupation, for which we have two key sources. The first is a petition to the emperor from a Jew named Helenos to be a citizen of the city. His father was a citizen, but apparently his mother was not. He was denied.

The second is the letter of Claudius after the pogrom of 38 and the embassy of Philo to the previous emperor Caligula. Claudius indicates that the Jews are not citizens of the city and they cannot participate in the life of the gymnasion.

So Philo's own lifetime seems to have seen this transition take place and solidify. Philo himself probably had access to the best education that the city could offer. But by the time his nephew came through the ranks, it became necessary to pick sides. Either you could be a Jew or you could be a Roman who fully participated in the education of the city.

6. In the end, EK does not conclude that Philo attended a gymnasion in Alexandria as an ephebe at fourteen. Philo mentions the gymnasion more or less in relation to physical training at this stage of life. Clearly Philo had access to the gymnasion for events before the pogrom of 38.

But wherever Philo received his "soul" education, he received one fully as good as any formal Greek education. EK spends the last part of the chapter cataloging all the Greek literature with which Philo not only demonstrates awareness but facility. It is quite impressive.

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