Philonica et Neotestamentica

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Philo studies in Finland

November 2008
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erkkiThe finnish scholar Erkki Koskenniemi
is an interesting scholar I have been more aware of recently, not at least because he has published several works on Philo of Alexandria in the most recent years.
Erkki Koskenniemi (b. 1956) started his studies with Classical studies at University of Turku (mag. phil 1979, liz. phil. 1985). He became mag. theol. 1984, liz. theol. 1988 and doctor 1992 (Åbo Akademi), and he is Adjunct Professor at University of Helsinki since 1999, at University of Joensuu 2004 and at Åbo Akademi Univeersity since 2004. During the year 2003 he was professor of Biblical studies at University of Joensuu.

His main publications, he says, have dealt with miracles: The first two, Der philostrateische Apollonios and Apollonius of Tyana in der neutestamentlichen Exegese: Forschungsbericht und Weiterführung der Diskussion, were about Apollonius of Tyana, the famous Cappadocian miracle worker. The third, The Old Testament Miracle-Workers in Early Judaism, presented how Old testament miracle workers were treated in Early Judaism. His next book, The Exposure of Infants among Jews and Christians in Antiquity, illuminates what the Jews and the Christians thought about the Gentile practice to abandon the new-born children they did not want. It should be printed in 2008 (Sheffield Phoenix Press). Furthermore, he has also published several articles. A full bibliography can be studied here.

I have not seen his latest book yet, but according to the publishers announcement, “In this novel and penetrating study, Koskenniemi reviews the evidence for the practice from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian sources, and then, in the major part of the book, examines the rejection of the custom by Jewish authors like Philo and Josephus and by Christian writers such as Clement, Justin, Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom and Augustine, many of whom adopted the arguments of their Jewish counterparts.”

His third book (published 2005), however, deals with the somewhat neglected topic of how other Jewish writers described and theologized on the Old Testament Miracle-Workers. It has 8 main chapters that deal with the works of Ben Sira, The Book of Jubilees, Ezekiel the Tragedian, Artapanus, Philo, The lives of the Prophets, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum and Josephus.

In its chapter on Philo (pp. 108-159), Koskenniemi deals with with the stories about Moses. First he investigates the literal interpretation of the miracle stories (pp. 110-129), then the allegorical interpretations (pp. 129-145), and he ends up with some sections discussing aspects as “Miracles explained rationally?” (146-148); “Miracles of the prophet” (148-151); “God or Moses?” (151-155); “Miracles and legitimisation” (155-156), and then the “Conclusion” (156-159).

I am not here to indulge in an extended review of this work, but his readings are certainly impressive, and his judgements seem sound and reliable. Koskenniemi’s interest in this topic of miracle workers is certainly triggered by the prevalence in some works of the model of a ‘theios aner’ ideology as a key to understanding the Jesus figure of the Gospels. Hence it is interesting to note his conclusions in this regard concerning Philo (p. 158-159):” Although Philo was once an important piece of evidence for the ‘theios aner’ theory, he cannot be used for this purpose. Philo admittedly honours Moses in an exceptional manner, but he is not responsible for Moses being called a god . . . .Moses of course, is the best example of a wise man and ‘homoiwsis thew’, but Philo here uses the biblical miracle stories sparingly and favours other ways to emphasize Moses’ special status.”

His next work on Philo is an article from 2006: “Philo and Classical Drama”, in Ancient Israel, Judaism, and Christianity in Contemporary Perspective: Essays in memory of Karl-Johan Illman, ed. by Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck, Antti Laato, Risto Nurmela, and Karl-Gustav Sandelin (Lanham: University Press of America 2006), pp. 137-152.Here he presents and birefly discusses Philo’s references to persons of classical drama. Here Koskenniemis classical education proves itself very useful as he works his way through the references of Philo to classical dramatists. I don’t know of many other works on Philo and classical dramatists; the only one I am able to remember here and now is Francesca calabi’s study on ‘Theatrical Language in Philo’s In Flaccum,’ (published in the volume edited by her as Italian Studies on Philo of Alexandria (Studies in Philo of Alexandria and Mediterranean Antiquity Vol 1, Leiden, Brill, 2003, pp. 91-116)).

Below I have also briefly presented another study of Koskenniemi, namely his article on ‘Moses – A Well-Educated Man: A Look at the Educational Idea in Early Judaism,’
in Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17.4 (2008):281-296.

Looking at Koskenniemi’s bibliography, I realize there are certainly other works dealing more or less with Philo; I might here especially refer to “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Gen. 39:6b-20): A Retold Story Used in Early Jewish Ethical Instruction”, in Erkki Koskenniemi and Pekka Lindqvist (eds), Rewritten Biblical Figures, Studies in Rewritten Bible 3 (in press), and even others. But these have not, alas, been available to me so far. Mea culpa.
I hope this brief introduction demonstrates that Philo studies are not forgotten in Finland, but is alive and well. And more is to come. Watch out for studies by both Karl-Gustav sandelin and Erkki Koskenniemi in the future.
But more on that in a later posting.


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