Monday, July 06, 2015

Philosophy Monday: Seland's Reading Philo 2

A couple months ago I started reviewing Torrey Seland's edited text, Reading Philo. I need to finish reading it in the next couple weeks.

For today, I have read the chapter, "Philo the Jew," by Karl-Gustav Sandelin of Åbo Akademie University in Finland.

1. I was very impressed with much in this chapter, especially the section on "The Jewish Way of Life." This section treated Philo in relation to topics like circumcision, Sabbath observance, dietary laws, and sexuality. Sandelin leans toward Philo being a law-observant Jew and rightly emphasizes the fact that Philo unusually accepted the literal interpretation of passages in addition to the allegorical.

Sandelin interacts with a significant cross-section of Philonic scholarship, a field I have always liked because the body of literature is comparatively small and high quality. That is to say, it takes a certain caliber of scholar to engage Philo on an advanced level, so you don't get as much craziness. It is also a tight academic community and so everyone knows each other. While Philo himself is complicated, a student with a competent guide could easily master the body of literature, although it will require engagement with multiple languages.

2. Sandelin's little section at the end on Philo in relation to other Jewish groups was short but clear as as well. Philo was clearly not a Sadducee or a Pharisee or an Essene, although he deeply admired the Essenes and another similar group in Egypt, the Therapeutae.

Sandelin is pretty much spot on with his summary of Philo and Scripture. The Law was Scripture for Philo, and other parts of the Jewish canon were quite secondary, although Sandelin hints that Philo knew of a tripartite approach to the canon (Contempl. 25).

3. For much of this chapter, I found myself saying, "Seland's done it. This is a great introduction to Philo." I did have a more mixed review about Sandelin's treatment of Wisdom and the Logos. My alarm bells went off when he favorably started drawing on Burton Mack.

In particular, I have serious questions about this sentence: "The higher realm is that of Wisdom and the lower forms the dominion of the Logos or Word" (34). Sandelin is speaking of the difference between the intelligible and perceptible worlds here and aligning these two with them. While there is no doubt that Philo thinks in terms of these two worlds and considers the intelligible world superior to the perceptible one, I am scratching my head to remember an identification of wisdom with the one and Logos with the other.

I'll have to dot my i's, but I think Mack probably over-systematized Philo here. With Philo, you have to be very careful about mixing a set of allegories he uses in one place with those he uses in another. In general, I would just avoid anything by Burton Mack in general.

So I thought that the part of the chapter dealing with the Logos was weak. But it will no doubt be treated again by Greg Sterling later in the book, so there is more to come.

4. So to summarize chapter 1: mostly excellent, with some questions about one part.

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