After the Image and Likeness

Heather Patton Griffin, After the Image and Likeness of Philo: Romans 1.18 32 and Philo of Alexandria’s Exposition. (A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Theological Studies in the Divinity School of Duke University. 29. nov. 2021.)

Thesis and Purpose of Essay (by the author)

“This thesis compares the themes and premises established in the first work of the  Exposition, On the Creation of the Law According to Moses, and compares them with Romans 1.18-32 by Paul the Apostle. Paul is, of course, the author that most people would associate with the above description of a first century Jewish writer; and the first chapter of the letter to the Romans is the work most likely to come to mind when reading my compact paraphrase of Philo’steachings from the first few books of his  Exposition series. The theological assumptions of Rom 1.18-32 match not only the central themes and concepts of Philo’s  Exposition series but are logically interrelated in a way that mirrors Philo’s own arguments in the first two books of the  Exposition series (On the Creation and On the Life of Abraham ) as well as On the Life of Moses, a prequel or companion to the  Exposition.

Comparing Rom 1.18-23 to Philo’s  Exposition helps us understand several puzzling features of the pericope. Philo’s  Exposition helps us explain the complex compound allusion of Gen 1.26, Deut 4.15-18, and Ps 106.20 (105.20 LXX) in Rom 1.23 and the progression from failure to honor God, idolatry, and homosexual intercourse in Rom 1.18-27. Philo uses the language of “image” and “likeness” in Gen 1.26 to import Plato’s dual structure of the cosmos onto Gen 1-3 and to establish an anthropology in which the human mind is read as the likeness of the image of God. Decline into vice in Philo’s  Exposition always begins with an impious refusal to honor the God knowable through creation. By valuing the pleasures of the senses enticed by the beauty of created things over knowledge of God, the rational human mind becomes disordered.

Drawing from Middle Platonic and Stoic readings of Plato’s creation narrative in the Timaeus (Tim ) as well as a tradition of reading Gen 1 as a cosmological hierarchy in Deut  4.15-19, Philo reads the bestowal of human dominion over creation in Gen 1.26, 28 as a placement of humans higher than animals on a hierarchy due to their possession of divine reason. Philo’s critiques of Egyptian-style animal worship are framed as a denigration of the human mind by worshipping irrational beasts. Philo treats sex as only appropriate when practiced temperately in marriage for the purposes of procreation, which informs his description of the men of Sodom in  Abr 135-136. Moral transformation in Philo is either ascent or descent along the cosmological hierarchy as the mind becomes more like God or more like the lower elements of creation.

These Philonic elements offer us a reading of Rom 1.18-27 as a descent down a Platonized and Stoicized hierarchy of Gen 1 in which humans degrade their rational likeness to the image of God by failing to honor God, degrade their dominion over animals by worshipping animals, and degrade the Gen 1.27-28 command for males and females to be fruitful and multiply. The choice of Egyptian-style polytheism and homosexual intercourse in Rom 1.23 and Rom 1.26-27 were likely chosen to supply inversions of the Gen 1 hierarchy on points describing God’s intentions for humans in Gen 1.26-28. The allusions to Jewish scripture combined with Middle Platonic and Stoic elements in Rom 1.18-32 (particularly in the assumption that humans are capable of knowing something of God through nature) indicate that this inversion of the Gen1 hierarchy is more in agreement with a Philonic reading of Torah than with the Deut 4.15-19 tradition in isolation.”

Author: TorreyS


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