Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Philosophy: Philo and Christianity (8)

Today we reach the end of Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria, edited by Torrey Seland.

Philo the Jew
Philo the Citizen
Philo the Interpreter of the Law and Educated Jew
Philo the Philosopher and how to study Philo
Philo and Society
Philo and Judaism

1. I want to go out of order in this final post on Seland's book. I want to start with the final chapter by David Runia, "Philo and the Patristic Tradition: A List of Direct References." Runia has written extensively on Philo and the early church, most notably in his important work, Philo in Early Christian Literature. He also contributed a chapter on the subject for Kamesar's Cambridge Companion to Philo.

So he only has seven pages of text before giving all the direct references to Philo in Christian literature up until the year 1000. That takes about 12 more pages. A very helpful resource for anyone wanting to do advanced study on Philo in relation to patristic literature.

2. In the text that Runia does provide, he first tells of the survival of Philo's works. Most of the Jewish literature in Alexandria, unfortunately, was destroyed in 115-117 when the Jews revolted against Roman rule in Egypt and lost big time. But Philo's works survived, perhaps because they were valued by Christians in the city.

So when Pantaenus started a Christian school in Alexandria, he quite possibly made sure a copy of Philo's writings were there. But Clement of Alexandria, the successor of Pantaenus in the late 100s, was the first known Christian to quote Philo. Origen, Clement's successor, then took a complete copy of Philo's writings to Caesarea, where eventually Eusebius would know them and write three chapters on them in his famed Ecclesiastical History.

This quote is telling: "Between Josephus in the first century and the Renaissance there is not a single explicit reference to Philo in a Jewish or a non-Christian Greek or Latin source" (270).

3. Runia sees the impact of Philo on the third century Christians largely in terms of his exegesis. Some early Christians found his interpretations of the Old Testament helpful. Also, those who accepted allegorical interpretation liked some of his techniques as well. However, once the church become Trinitarian, his logos approach was less helpful Christologically.

4. So we come to the chapter perhaps of most interest to me. Per Jarle Bekken's, "Philo's Relevance for the Study of the New Testament." There are, I think, some generative ideas tucked in this chapter. It is, by the way, the longest chapter in the book, 42 pages. It had a Borgen feel to it--a very detailed catalog of individual comparisons between rather formal features. So I was not surprised to find that Bekken studied with Borgen.

I would say that the chapter succeeds in two very significant respects. First, if the goal is to give MA or PhD students possible research topics, there are many possibilities to investigate here. There is a long series of possible parallels between Philo and the New Testament in the chapter, especially in John, Galatians, and Romans. Further, Bekken gives parallels that you do not find in my book or the chapter by Siegert in Kamesar's book. That is a strength for the field of Philo introductions.

As an introduction, however, I think you'll do much better to buy my book when it comes to this topic. Bekken's engagement with Hebrews is a case in point. If you were to ask most people where the most likely intersection of Philo and the New Testament is, as far as ideas, I think Hebrews has to be at or near the top of the list. Yet there is nothing of the sort in this chapter. The classic treatment by Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews, isn't even mentioned.

Hebrews is briefly mentioned, however. How? In relation to a possible common exegetical tradition between Hebrews on the idea of God swearing.

So there is a host of possible incidental parallels in the chapter. Philo believed that some proselytes to Judaism were more truly Jews than some who were born Jews. Paul believed that some Gentiles were more truly circumcised than some who were born Jews. Maybe there's common tradition here. Most of the chapter has that general flavor. Some of the parallels seem like possible areas for future research. Some seem rather superficial to me.

You will find nothing on the potential impact of Philo's categories on New Testament Christology. Indeed, even though Bekken focuses heavily on John, there is no discussion of the Logos. The Colossian hymn is not mentioned.

This is, again, a difference in personality. I like to see the big picture. I am interested in ideas. These sorts of almost random, detailed lists of possible but relatively superficial and formal parallels tend to annoy me. I mean no disrespect to Bekken. He obviously is very knowledgeable of Philo and the rabbinic literature--more than I am. And you could criticize my introduction for not dealing with these sorts of potential parallels.

5. In the end, however, I have to consider the book a great success as an introduction to Philo. If you are an undergrad religion major of some kind and are looking to do graduate studies that will intersect with Philo, this is your book. I think this will become the standard text in graduate seminars to come.

It had the desired effect on me. It got me thinking of publishing something on Philo again. Congratulations to Seland and his team for a great introduction to Philo!


Torrey Seland said...

Thanks a lot for your extensive review of the Reading Philo book! And thanks for your comments and suggestions. They might turn out to be very helpful. And yes, it would be nice to see some more publications from your hand, on Philo. Maybe I'll see you in Atlanta?

Ken Schenck said...

What a great book you have facilitated here, Torrey! Hope to see you in Atlanta!