Philo is often read as one who finds his position in general quite well in the diaspora, and as one who exhibits a very positive attitude towards the Roman Empire. At the same time, we also know that the Jewish Diaspora communities of Alexandria of his time underwent severe social troubles, and for some time in the late thirties C.E. even suffered from an anti-Jewish pogrom in the city. Two works of Philo in particular deal with these events; the Legatio ad Gaium (Leg.) and the In Flaccum (Flacc.) Here we have Philo’s own descriptions of the events, and to some extent this is how Philo writes back from the Empire. But as far I have been able to discover, no study has so far investigated Philo’s attitudes towards the Roman Empire in light of the more recent perspectives of postcolonialism. Hence there is a need to have a new look at how Philo’s descriptions should be read and interpreted.
At the end of last year I had an article published,which as far as I know, would be one of the first – if not the very first – studies trying to apply postcolonial perspectives on Philo:
T. Seland, ”Colony’ and ‘metropolis’ in Philo. Examples of Mimicry and Hybridity in Philo’s writing back from the Empire?’ Études Platoniciennes VII (2010): 11-33.
My conclusions in the last paragraphs runs like this: “The perspectives of postcolonial readings have been popular in literary studies for some time now, and are being increasingly used in Biblical and Classical studies. In the studies of Diaspora Judaism, however, and in studies of Philo of Alexandria in particular, they are virtually absent. In the present study we have tried to focus on some terms in the most political writings of Philo, the In Flaccum, and the Legatio ad Gaium.
These two books, which are probably not only the most political, but also among the latest of Philo’s many works, are considered to have been written not only for a Jewish readership, but also for non-Jews, possibly even for Roman persons of authority. In this we are inclined to follow E. R. Goodenough’s view of the intended readers. While not subscribing to all parts of his view of Philo as a politician, in these two late works of Philo, we meet him as a politician.
The terms concerning ‘colony’ (ἀποκία) and ‘mother-city’ (μητρόπολισ) are found in several of Philo’s works. Conceptually they belong to the language of Greek colonization. Important for our understanding of Philo, is that he could find these terms in his Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, in what we have come to call the Septuagint. In these writings, however, they have more a role in the semantic field of ‘migration’, while in Philo they more regain their meaning of ‘mother-city’ and ‘colonies’/’colonizing’ as he uses the related verb στέλλω in combination with ἀποικία.
In our reading of the two passages of In Flaccum 46 and Legatio 281-281, we suggested that there are elements of mimicry and hybridity in Philo’s use of these terms. Philo uses them to describe the Jewish Diaspora communities in the Roman empire. As part of Philo’s writing back from the Empire, they are important for his conceptualization; read in light of the Roman colonizing activities they might very well have looked somewhat hybrid. But that is often the result of mimicry in a context of colonization. The colonized try to copy the colonizers, but the results, intended or not, are often mimicry and hybridity.”
If anyone reading this is interested in the study, I might provide a copy if they send me a mail, or make a notice in the comments field below.
Many bloggers have noticed and commented upon the death of Alan F. Segal, and I might throw in my words too.
I did not have a close relationship with him, we just met a few times. But my impressions were great. As I was working on my PhD, I discussed my ideas about Establishment violence in Philo and Luke with him, and he was not too happy, nor too convinced of my ideas. But not long after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, he told me: “You were right, Torrey!” Those of you who know my work, will understand what he meant.
Last time I saw him, was just a couple of years ago; he was sitting down, checking some books at the SBL book shops, but looked up, and noticed me: “Hello, Torrey,” he said. And I thought; “wow, what a memory.” We hadn’t met for years.
I lament the loss of a great scholar, and a pleasant person. From his Jewish background he has provided great insights into both Judaism and Christianity, and the relations between them.