Philonica et Neotestamentica

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Monthly Archives: August 2018

A New PhD Diss on Philo & Paul

A New Norwegian PhD Dissertation (written by a Danish scholar) is about to be defended in a public disputatio in Oslo, at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, Monday Sept 3.

Its title is:
“The Spirit of Faith: A Comparative Study of Philo’s and Paul’s Reading of the Abraham Story.”
In the morning (at 10:15), the candidate will deliver his test lecture, given by the evaluation commitee: “Paul and the methods and goals of Greek paideia”.
Then, from 12:15, he will defend his thesis in a discussion, open for the public, with his two opponents, professor dr. John M.G. Barclay, Durham, og professor dr. Gitte Buch-Hansen, Copenhagen.

The abstract of this dissertation is available here, and, in fact, the whole manuscript is available here (both in pdf format.)

Divine Embodiment in Philo

The second last issue of Journal for the study of Judaism has an interesting article dealing with Philo of Alexandria:
Deborah Forger, ‘Divine embodiment in Philo of Alexandria,’ Journal for the Study of Judaism 49.2 (2018) 223-262.

Its abstract runs like this:

Because later polemics established Jews and Christians as binary opposites, distinguished largely by their views on God’s body, scholars have not sufficiently explored how other Jews in the early Roman period, who stood outside the Jesus movement, conceived of how the divine could become embodied on earth. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria often operates as the quintessential representative of a Jew who stressed God’s absolute incorporeality. Here I demonstrate how Philo also presents a means by which a part of Israel’s God could become united with human materiality, showing how the patriarchs and Moses function as his paradigms. This evidence suggests that scholarship on divine embodiment has been limited by knowledge of later developments in Christian theology. Incarnational formulas, like that found in John 1.14 were not the only way that Jews in the first and second century CE  understood that God can become united with human form.

In her conclusions, she also states that “Far from being one monolithic way that ancient Jews imagined that God could become embodied, what my analysis reveals is that there where likely multiply ways that Jews in the first few centuries of the Common Era envisioned that God, or a part of God, could become united with bodily, or material, form. By exploring a particular snapshot of Jewish history, instead of employing a teleological lens that works backward from a later known outcome in Christian theology, Philo’s descriptions of humanity’s divinely-inspired soul can be revealed for what they are: a competing model of divine embodiment.”

This is a challenging (and for some, perhaps, provocative?) thesis. My first impression is that she draws somewhat too far ranging conclusions base on a somewhat meagre basis. May be a closer reading will change my first impressions……

A mind in training

Elisa Uusimaki (University of Helsinki, Finland), has published an article dealing with the issue of “How does Philo of Alexandria depict the formation of a wise person?”

Elisa Uusmaki,’A Mind in Training: Philo of Alexandria on Jacob’s Spiritual Exercises,’ Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 27.4 (2018): 265-288.

Its abstract runs like this:

“How does Philo of Alexandria depict the formation of a wise person? This article pays attention to the centrality of spiritual training in Graeco-Roman philosophy, and argues that Philo likewise regards the process of seeking wisdom as entailing mental practice. The analysis focuses on two passages of Quis rerum divinarum heres sit and Legum allegoriarum where Philo attributes lists of spiritual exercises to the figure of Jacob. As such, these accounts illustrate how Philo makes use of scriptural interpretation as he imagines the execution of a life dedicated to wisdom. The listed exercises are largely familiar from Graeco-Roman philosophical traditions, yet they coexist with and contribute to the performance of Philo’s ancestral tradition. This melange of cultural elements suggests that Philo discusses Jacob’ s inner cultivation in order to enable his audience to grasp (one prospect of) how to lead a Jewish philosophical life in the Roman Alexandria.”

In order to wet your appetite even more, I quote this from her first paragraph (sorry, the Greek did not come through):

How did Philo of Alexandria’ imagine the practical performance of philosophical life, that is, the mental training considered to advance one’s search for wisdom (sofia)? In this article, I propose one answer to the question by demonstrating how Philo associates two narratives on Jacob, the eponymous and exemplary patriarch, with the practice (askesis) of diverse spiritual exercises (Her. 252-53; Leg. 3.18-19). In the context of Graeco-Roman philosophy, such exercises were undertaken to shape the mind and attitude of the practising subject who pursued wisdom. Before the textual analysis, further elaboration on the ancient conception of philosophy and Philo’s notion of the cultivation of a person towards being a philosopher (filosofos), or even a sage (sofos) who possesses virtue (arete), is needed.

Philo and the Ancient Theater

Philo of Alexandria has several comments on the ancient theater of his time, and a few studies have been published dealing with his views and attitudes (see e.g., Koskenniemi; now an issue of the Journal ‘Journal of Ancient Judaism‘ is devoted to the theme Jews and Drama, and included here are also a couple of articles o Philo and the theater:

  • Jeff Jay, ‘Spectacle, Stage-Craft, and the Tragic in Philo’s In Flaccum: A Literary-Historical Analysis,’ 222-240,
  • Courtney J. P. Friesen, ‘Virtue and Vice on the Stage: Theatrical Ambivalences in Philo of Alexandria,’ 241-256.

I have not seen this issue yet, and can not provide any further information, its website, alas, does not present any abstracts either.

SNTS Meeting in Athens Aug. 7-10.

IMG_0271The yearly SNTS meeting was this year arranged in Athens, Greece. What a wonderful place to have a meeting focusing on New Testament studies. While some might suggest Jerusalem as the place most filled with  symbolism for biblical studies, Athens might come as a good # 2.

In addion to that, the conference found place at the Titania hotel, that with its great restaurant at the top floor provided a magnificent view to the Acropolis and Athens. Three Philo scholars from Norway were attending the meeting, and among them, the doyen of Norwegian Philo studies, prof Peder Borgen. Here you see him seated in the restaurant withtwo of his former doctoral students, prof Per Jarle Bekken to the right (Borgen’s left side), and me on the other side. It was great to have Borgen with us, and to see him – in his age of 90 1/2 years- enjoying and participating in the sessions.

On Saturday 11th, there was an very interesting excursion to Corinth and Epidaurus, a trip also enjoyed by prof Borgen, his wife and two daughters.

IMG_0394

The great theatre at Epidaurus

Philo at the SNTS Meeting

IMG_0276At the last annual meeting of the SNTS in Athens, in Aug. 7-10, a seminar on Philo of Alexandria was run by profs Greg E. Sterling and Per Jarle Bekken. The dayly attendance were 10-12 persons, and there were three sessions/papers, submitted by Per Jarle Bekken, Ilaria L.E. Ramelli and Volker Rabens. The main focus of the seminar was Philo and Early Christianity.

Bekken’s paper dealt with “Paul in Negotiations on Abraham: Fresh Light on the Appropriation of Scripture in Gal 3:6–9 in Jewish Context.” A central part of his thesis was that ” Philo and Paul share an exegetical tradition based on Gen 15:6 interpreted in conjunction with other passages in terms of a continuum of the Abraham narrative in Genesis. Thus, both authors depend on a constellation of exegetical motifs associated with Abraham’s trust (Gen 15:6), manifested in the responsiveness of a corresponding faithfulness and oath of promise on God’s part to bless Abraham and his descendants (cf. Gen 22:18; 26:3–4). Such motifs appear in a context of Jewish discussions in which the authoritative figure of a Law-observant Abraham was conceived to serve as authoritative legal norm (cf. Gen 26:5).”(P. 47 ).

The next paper, by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, was on “Paul and Philo on Soteriology and Eschatology.” The paper offered was she called “a sygkrisis between two semi-contemporary Hellenistic Jewish theologians, Paul of Tarsus and Philo of Alexandria, both major inspirers of subsequent Christian philosophical theology. While other areas would be relevant to explore, for instance the knowledge of God, this essay will concentrate on soteriology and eschatology in Paul and Philo. The latter is more elusive than Paul in this matter, but both were familiar with the doctrine of apokatastasis or restoration, although they treated it in different ways, just as they had different views of the Law.”

The third paper, that by Volker Rabens, had as its title “Physical and Mystical Dimensions of Human Transformation in Philo and Paul.” I was not able to atttend this last session.

All papers were thoroughly researched and well footnoted. To some the papers were a little bit too long; 50 pages x 3 is demanding, especially if they are sent out just some few days before the meeting. But all in all, it is good to have Philo back at the SNTS meeting.