Philonica et Neotestamentica

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Does it matter?

Does it matter who Philo wrote his treatises for? That is; does it matter whether it was for Jews or non-Jews, or perhaps both? Many scholars argue that Philo wrote primarily for his fellow Jews, while some also argue that the non-Jews might at least be be among the intended readers for some works.
But in general, the search for the addressees of Philo’s works seems to end up at the doors of the Jews, having the Greeks as close neighbors. The quest was rather dead for some years, but was reopened by D. T. Runia and D. M. Hay: Does it really matter? Can’t Philo’s works be read and interpreted without regard to his intended audience? In 1986 Runia surmised:

Philo is writing his long series of treatises in the first place for himself. They are a material record of his quest to fathom the depths of wisdom contained in scripture, a quest the result of which he was prepared to share with others. The question of Philo’s projected audience needs to be borne in mind, but it is not, in my view, going to to play a decisive role when we confront the question of how we should read Philo.

In Runia’s article, this statement seems primarily to concern the allegorical treatises, while the addresses of the others will have been “…well-educated Jews, but he would have welcomed interest from sympathetic outsiders” (p. 192). D.M. Hay, in an article from 1991, took Runia’s viewpoint a little further. Drawing on the notions in recent literary theory of implied author and reader, he suggested that these aspects may prove rewarding in characterizing the projected readers. He seems to end up, however, with the suggestion that “…it seems likely that Philo wrote his treatises for an `open-ended’ readership, one not limited to Alexandria and, perhaps, not limited to his own time….Perhaps Philo deliberately avoided inserting any very particular description of intended readers in his treatises because he expected, or at least hoped for, a wide and continuing audience” (p. 2).

A quest for the implied reader in Philo’s work has not yet been carried out. It may prove rewarding in order to get a clearer view of how the reader as created by the texts might be. This reader(s) should not, however, be confused with the real reader, but might be used as a foil against which one might consider the historical reader. Historical studies should still have the priority in this quest.

The main reason for this reluctance is grounded in the nature of Philo’s texts, at least as far as they are represented by the Expositio. The Expositio is, as the label says, an expository work. The works contained therein are not narratives, but exegetical expositions. Philo interprets the Torah for his prospected readers. Hence he has little need to directly address and characterize his readers.

So again, we seem to end up knocking at the doors of the Jews, still wanting to know how they really were. Literary, historical and sociological studies should join in the efforts to find these readers. The quest for the readers of Philo works should still be discussed. And what did the events of 38-41 CE have to say for Philo as a writer?

The articles referred to are:

D. T. Runia,
How to read Philo,”
Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 40 (1986), pp. 185-198.

D. M. Hay,
“Philo’s view of Himself as Exegete: Inspired, but not Authorative,”
The Studia Philonica Annual: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism
(Earle Hilgert Festchrift) 3 (1991), pp. 40-52.