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The Cambridge Companion to Philo

June 2009
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The book I mentioned in one of my February postings, The Cambridge Companion to Philo, has now arrived.

Adam Kamesar,
The Cambridge Companion to Philo
Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2009, ca. 300 pp.

The volume has nine chapters in addition to an Introduction by A. Kamesar, and a classified bibliography and indexes.
Here is a listing of the chapters and some comments:

Introduction, Adam Kamesar;
Part I. Philo’s Life and Writings:
1. Philo, his family, and his times, Daniel R. Schwartz;
2. The works of Philo, James R. Royse;
3. Biblical interpretation in Philo Adam Kamesar;
Part II. Philo’s Thought:
4. Philo’s thought within the context of middle Judaism, Cristina Termini;
5. Philo’s theology and theory of creation, Roberto Radice;
6. Philo’s ethics, Carlos Lévy;
Part III. Philo’s Influence and Significance:
7. Philo and the New Testament, Folker Siegert;
8. Philo and the early Christian fathers, David T. Runia;
9. Philo and rabbinic literature, David Winston.

I do think we here have a good introduction to Philo. For new readers of Philo, it would be good if they started out with Ken Schenk, A Brief Guide to Philo (Louisville; Westminster John Knox, 2005 – you can read a review of this volume here), and then proceeded to this new and more advanced introduction edited by A. Kamesar.

I have been skimming through the volume, and as with most of the other volumes in The Cambridge Companion series, its authors are taken from the best within the field, representing a good balance of viewpoints, and being very well informed and informative.

If I should mentioned a few issues that I would have presented in a different way, or with a somewhat different emphases, I could point to these:
1) D.R. Schwartz is still of the opinion that Philo was of priestly descent. This stems from Origen, but we have no other sources saying the same. It’s an interesting standpoint, but I find it hard to make much out of it. Furthermore, I am not quite convinced by his view of Philo’s attitude to his homeland as when he says that “given …the Hellenistic culture, and Alexandrian precedents, it would have been quite natural for Philo to develop a point of view undermining the importance of Judea (and, accordingly, avoiding the need to oppose Rome)”(p.26). I hope to return to this in another context.
2) Second, I am a little surprised that there is so little emphasis in this volume on Philo as a philosopher. In the Section on Philo’s Thought, we have three subchapters, dealing with Philo’s thought within the context of middle Judaism (pp. 95-123); Philo’s Theology and Theory of creation (124-145), and Philo’s Ethics (146-173). Though his philosophical context is dealt with to some extent in the two lastmentioned subchapters, I would have expected a chapter dealing more directly with Philo’s debt to the Greek philosophers. As it is now, this issues seems to me to be residing too much in the background.
3) Third, Philo’s works are important as evidence of how it was to live in the social world of Alexandria. But I would have liked if the present volume would have focused more on this aspect. Well, the first chapter deals with ‘Philo, his Family and his Times’, but for the rest the emphases are mostly on the ideas, on his Thought, theology, theory. Even in the otherwise informative subchapter on ‘Philo and the New Testament’, there is little to be found on how Philo can inform us about social issues of his days, issues relevant for the study of both Philo and the New Testament.

Nevertheless, in spite of these few comments, the volume is to be very welcomed, and particularly those being rather new initiates into the world and thought of Philo will find it very helpful. Hence Adam Kamesar is to be congratulated with this volume.

1 Comment

  1. […] Cambridge Companion to Philo has recently been published. (hat tip) It contains a chapter by David Winston on “Philo and Rabbinic Literature.” Winston is […]

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