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Philo and Greek Myth

Brill is publishing a new book on Philo of Alexandria, this late fall,  edited by Francesca Alesse:

Philo of Alexandria and Greek Myth:Narratives, Allegories, and Arguments
Series: Studies of Philo of Alexandria Vol 10
Brill (to be published October 2019). 
E-Book List price EUR €116.00 USD$140.00

“In Philo of Alexandria and Greek Myth: Narratives, Allegories, and Arguments, a fresh and more complete image of Philo of Alexandria as a careful reader, interpreter, and critic of Greek literature is offered. Greek mythology plays a significant role in Philo of Alexandria’s exegetical oeuvre. Philo explicitly adopts or subtly evokes narratives, episodes, and figures from Greek mythology as symbols whose didactic function we need to unravel, exactly as the hidden teaching of Moses’ narration has to be revealed by interpreters of Bible. By analyzing specific mythologems and narrative cycles, the contributions to this volume pave the way to a better understanding of Philo’s different attitudes towards literary and philosophical mythology.”

Preface by Francesca Alesse
Part 1: Philo of Alexandria and Myth-Telling
1 Philo’s Refashioning of Greek Myth
Erich S. Gruen
2 Philo’s Reception of Greek Mythology
Geert Roskam
3 Histoires grecques, récits bibliques. la lecture des mythes chez Philon d’Alexandrie
Francesca Calabi
4 Polytheos doxa and Mythologein: Philo of Alexandria as a “Historian of Religions”
Giulia Sfameni Gasparro
5 Philo’s Struggle with Jewish Myth
René Bloch

Part 2: Gods, Heroes, and some Monsters
6 The God of the Philosophers, and the God of Israel
Erkki Koskenniemi
7 Philo of Alexandria on Greek Heroes
Pura Nieto Hernández
8 Heracles and Philo of Alexandria: The Son of Zeus between Torah and Philosophy, Empire and Stage
Courtney J. P. Friesen
9 The Greek Character of Philo’s Biblical Giants: A Reading of QG 2.82
Benjamin Garstad
10 Homer in Philo: Scylla’s Myth in Philonic Philosophical Context
Marta Alesso
11 Les « plaies » d’Empédocle et la mythologie infernale chez Philon d’Alexandrie
Lucia Saudelli

New book on Philo


Erkki Koskenniemi
Greek Writers and Philosophers in Philo and Josephus. A Study of Their Secular Education and Educational Ideals
(Studies in Philo of Alexandria, Volume 9) Leiden; Brill, 2019.

The Finnish scholar Erkki Koskenniemi is having a new book on Philo (and Josephus) published this year.

The contents are given thus: Preface
1 Introduction  1  The Task of the Study  2  A Brief History of the Research  3  The Outline of Graeco-Roman Education  4  A More Precise Definition of the Task
2 Philo: Offspring from Sarah and Hagar  1  Introduction  2  Philo and Greek Writers  3  Philo’s Educational Ideals and His Own Witness  4  Jews and the Secular Education in Alexandria  5 Conclusion
3 Josephus: It Is Difficult to Transplant an Old Tree  1  Introduction  2  Josephus and Greek Writers 3  Greek Language and Classical Education in Jerusalem  4  Josephus’ Own Witness and the Quality of His Greek  5  Conclusion

I think it will be interesting to see what he writes about ‘Education,’ his contribution in Reading Philo, on ‘Philo and Classical Education’ has been very well received in several reviews of that book. I presume he will elaborate on this article in his new book.


Greek Writers and Philosophers

A new book is about to be published, written by Erkki Koskenniemi:

Greek Writers and Philosophers in Philo and Josephus
A Study of Their Secular Education and Educational Ideals
Series: Studies in Philo of Alexandria, Volume: 9
Leiden; Brill, 2018.

The advertisement has just ‘popped up’ on the Brill site, and it runs thus:
“In Greek Writers and Philosophers in Philo and Josephus Erkki Koskenniemi investigates how two Jewish writers, Philo and Josephus, quoted, mentioned and referred to Greek writers and philosophers. He asks what this tells us about their Greek education, their contacts with Classical culture in general, and about the societies in which Philo and Josephus lived. Although Philo in Alexandria and Josephus in Jerusalem both had the possibility to acquire a thorough knowledge of Greek language and culture, they show very different attitudes. Philo, who was probably educated in the gymnasium, often and enthusiastically refers to Greek poets and philosophers. Josephus on the other hand rarely quotes from their works, giving evidence of a more traditionalistic tendencies among Jewish nobility in Jerusalem.”

Price; as expected; (too) expensive: EUR €138.00USD $166.00, but tell your institution’s library to get it!

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.

Reading Philo

Reading PhiloThe book, edited by me, to be published later this fall; Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria (Eerdmans), is designed to function as an introductory handbook for advanced MA students and PhD students who want some relevant information about Philo, and/or who are just in the initial process of studying him.

But I will not be surprised, however, if some more seasoned scholars will also find several of its articles both informative, relevant and interesting for their own work!

The book is divided into three parts; Introduction and Motivation (pp. 3-16); Philo of Alexandria in Context (pp. 19-ca 155); and Why and How Study Philo (pp. 157-ca 286), followed by a Bibliography and Indexes. Both of the two main sections contain 5 chapters, written by a total of 9 well known Philo scholars.

Philo of Alexandria in Context
The section dealing with Philo of Alexandria in Context consists of  five presentations, and I give here some brief presentations of their work. Note however, that the contributions concerned are much more richer on descriptions and suggestions that it is even possible to mention in this overview: First, the Finnish scholar Karl-Gustav Sandelin focuses on “Philo as a Jew”. However one might describe Philo, there is no doubt that he was a Jew, both by ethnicity and by conviction. Sandelin addresses some of the standard views of Philo’s Jewishness, but he himself favors Philo as a representative of the Jewish wisdom tradition. Here he attempts to illuminate Philo as a Jew from three perspectives: (1) What should be said in general terms of Philo as a Jew, i.e., how is Philo a Jew like any other Jews of his time? (2) What is it in Philo’s Judaism that makes it distinctive? (3) Judaism in Philo’s time was not a monolithic phenomenon, and several Jewish groups existed. Does Philo adhere to the views and practices of any of these?

The next chapter, written by the editor of the volume, Torrey Seland, represents an investigation of the political aspects of Philo’s public life, that is, an attempt at describing “Philo as a Citizen,” as a Homo politicus. The main part of the essay is devoted to Philo’s descriptions of Roman rule and his own activities as a politically active citizen. After some introductory comments on Philo’s social location and his background as coming from a family of politicians, the chapter is divided into three main sections: recent studies on Philo and his politics; issues of political theory in Philo; and Philo as a practical politician.

Philo was an interpreter of the Jewish Scriptures. The Norwegian doyen of Philo studies, Peder Borgen, addresses this topic in his chapter on “Philo — An Interpreter of the Laws of Moses”. Borgen first discusses Philo’s expository treatises, which fall into two main categories: those rewriting the Pentateuch and his exegetical commentaries, comprising the Allegorical Commentary on Genesis and the Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus. He briefly presents the most important of Philo’s hermeneutical presuppositions. Finally, Borgen discusses the historical writings Against Flaccus and On the Embassy to Gaius as a report on a struggle for the interpretation and application of the laws of Moses.

The matter of Philo’s education has been much discussed, with views ranging from Philo as a most conservative Jew to a Jew very much acculturated to Greco-Roman society and its educational ideals. The Finnish scholar Erkki Koskenniemi concentrates on these issues in his chapter on “Philo and Classical Education”. His study presents what we generally
know of Greek education and explores the options Jews had — and were willing to employ in Greek Alexandria. Koskenniemi investigates then what Philo himself says on the topic, details how Philo uses or mentions Greek philosophers and poets, and estimates how well he was versed in secular literature.

Gregory E. Sterling, in his chapter on “ ‘The Jewish Philosophy’: Reading Moses via Hellenistic Philosophy according to Philo”, deals explicitly with the question of Philo’s relations to philosophy. After reflecting on how other authors regard Philo as a philosopher, Sterling addresses the issue of philosophy in the works of Philo. He argues that it is impossible to read Philo without some understanding of his relationship to Hellenistic philosophical traditions. Acknowledging the insights of Philo’s Alexandrian predecessors (Aristobolus, Pseudo-Aristeas, the Allegorists), Sterling demonstrates
that Philo stood within a line of philosophically-oriented interpreters, thus working within a tradition; he had both predecessors and contemporary figures who were deeply indepted to philosophy. Philo himself, however, should be considered as an eclectic thinker; he drew upon what he considered to be the best from several traditions and incorporated that into
his thought.

I hope this brief comments have wetted your interest in this volume; in a later posting, I will briefly present how we in the book deal with the issues Why and How Study Philo.


A Handbook to Philo

I have been working as an editor (and writer of 3 chapters) on a volume to be published as “Why Read Philo? And How? A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria.”  The manuscript was submitted ca a year ago, and now I finally saw it listed in the publisher’s web catalogue: you can see it here:  Eerdmans.

The volume is said to be published in August this year.

Several scholars have been engaged in writing some very interesting, relevant and valuable introductory chapters on Why and How study Philo: Per Jarle Bekken, Peder Borgen and me from Norway, Erkki Koskenniemi and Karl-Gustav Sandelin from Finland, Ellen Birnbaum, Adele Reinhartz and Gregory E. Sterling from the USA, and David T. Runia, now in Australia.

I will present the volume and its contents more fully in a later posting.

Philo studies in Finland

erkkiThe finnish scholar Erkki Koskenniemi
is an interesting scholar I have been more aware of recently, not at least because he has published several works on Philo of Alexandria in the most recent years.
Erkki Koskenniemi (b. 1956) started his studies with Classical studies at University of Turku (mag. phil 1979, liz. phil. 1985). He became mag. theol. 1984, liz. theol. 1988 and doctor 1992 (Åbo Akademi), and he is Adjunct Professor at University of Helsinki since 1999, at University of Joensuu 2004 and at Åbo Akademi Univeersity since 2004. During the year 2003 he was professor of Biblical studies at University of Joensuu.

His main publications, he says, have dealt with miracles: The first two, Der philostrateische Apollonios and Apollonius of Tyana in der neutestamentlichen Exegese: Forschungsbericht und Weiterführung der Diskussion, were about Apollonius of Tyana, the famous Cappadocian miracle worker. The third, The Old Testament Miracle-Workers in Early Judaism, presented how Old testament miracle workers were treated in Early Judaism. His next book, The Exposure of Infants among Jews and Christians in Antiquity, illuminates what the Jews and the Christians thought about the Gentile practice to abandon the new-born children they did not want. It should be printed in 2008 (Sheffield Phoenix Press). Furthermore, he has also published several articles. A full bibliography can be studied here.

I have not seen his latest book yet, but according to the publishers announcement, “In this novel and penetrating study, Koskenniemi reviews the evidence for the practice from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian sources, and then, in the major part of the book, examines the rejection of the custom by Jewish authors like Philo and Josephus and by Christian writers such as Clement, Justin, Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom and Augustine, many of whom adopted the arguments of their Jewish counterparts.”

His third book (published 2005), however, deals with the somewhat neglected topic of how other Jewish writers described and theologized on the Old Testament Miracle-Workers. It has 8 main chapters that deal with the works of Ben Sira, The Book of Jubilees, Ezekiel the Tragedian, Artapanus, Philo, The lives of the Prophets, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum and Josephus.

In its chapter on Philo (pp. 108-159), Koskenniemi deals with with the stories about Moses. First he investigates the literal interpretation of the miracle stories (pp. 110-129), then the allegorical interpretations (pp. 129-145), and he ends up with some sections discussing aspects as “Miracles explained rationally?” (146-148); “Miracles of the prophet” (148-151); “God or Moses?” (151-155); “Miracles and legitimisation” (155-156), and then the “Conclusion” (156-159).

I am not here to indulge in an extended review of this work, but his readings are certainly impressive, and his judgements seem sound and reliable. Koskenniemi’s interest in this topic of miracle workers is certainly triggered by the prevalence in some works of the model of a ‘theios aner’ ideology as a key to understanding the Jesus figure of the Gospels. Hence it is interesting to note his conclusions in this regard concerning Philo (p. 158-159):” Although Philo was once an important piece of evidence for the ‘theios aner’ theory, he cannot be used for this purpose. Philo admittedly honours Moses in an exceptional manner, but he is not responsible for Moses being called a god . . . .Moses of course, is the best example of a wise man and ‘homoiwsis thew’, but Philo here uses the biblical miracle stories sparingly and favours other ways to emphasize Moses’ special status.”

His next work on Philo is an article from 2006: “Philo and Classical Drama”, in Ancient Israel, Judaism, and Christianity in Contemporary Perspective: Essays in memory of Karl-Johan Illman, ed. by Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck, Antti Laato, Risto Nurmela, and Karl-Gustav Sandelin (Lanham: University Press of America 2006), pp. 137-152.Here he presents and birefly discusses Philo’s references to persons of classical drama. Here Koskenniemis classical education proves itself very useful as he works his way through the references of Philo to classical dramatists. I don’t know of many other works on Philo and classical dramatists; the only one I am able to remember here and now is Francesca calabi’s study on ‘Theatrical Language in Philo’s In Flaccum,’ (published in the volume edited by her as Italian Studies on Philo of Alexandria (Studies in Philo of Alexandria and Mediterranean Antiquity Vol 1, Leiden, Brill, 2003, pp. 91-116)).

Below I have also briefly presented another study of Koskenniemi, namely his article on ‘Moses – A Well-Educated Man: A Look at the Educational Idea in Early Judaism,’
in Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17.4 (2008):281-296.

Looking at Koskenniemi’s bibliography, I realize there are certainly other works dealing more or less with Philo; I might here especially refer to “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Gen. 39:6b-20): A Retold Story Used in Early Jewish Ethical Instruction”, in Erkki Koskenniemi and Pekka Lindqvist (eds), Rewritten Biblical Figures, Studies in Rewritten Bible 3 (in press), and even others. But these have not, alas, been available to me so far. Mea culpa.
I hope this brief introduction demonstrates that Philo studies are not forgotten in Finland, but is alive and well. And more is to come. Watch out for studies by both Karl-Gustav sandelin and Erkki Koskenniemi in the future.
But more on that in a later posting.

Moses’ education

One of the most recent articles on Philo have read recently is the following by the Finnish scholar Erikki Koskenniemi (Helsinki-Finland);

Moses – A Well-Educated Man: A Look at the Educational Idea in Early Judaism,’
in Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17.4 (2008):281-296.

The purpose of this study is thus to analyze the kind of education Moses is provided in the Jewish texts before Mishnah (p. 283). Beginning with Ezekiel the Tragedian and Artapanus, Koskenniemi finds that Ezek Trag 36-38 presents Moses as getting “a royal upbringing and education”. That is most probably to be interpreted as a ‘Gentile education’, but nothing is said about the content of that education. Ezekiel himself most probably had received his education in some Greek gymnasium, and takes it for granted that Moses received a similar, that is, a goood Gentile education (284). Artapanus, does not argue, but presents Moses as the teacher of Orpheus (3,3-4): Moses is a master in everything, a master even in education. Artapanus also argues that the Gentile sentral aspects of culture, philosophy and religion not are original, but copies of the Jewish ones; hence Moses is the universal teacher of mankind (286).
The Book of Jubilees (pp 286-287)states it quite differently; Moses does not receive a Hellensitic education, but is part of a long chain of Hebrew Fathers, Jubilees is here part of an anti-Hellenistic agenda.
Philo (pp, 287-290), however, takes for granted that Moses received the best education (Mos 1,21). According to Koskenniemi takes Philo it for granted, that Moses received a Gentile education, and also that many Greek philosophers had found their wisdom in the Law of Moses. Koskenniemi also emphaisizes that Philo “uses a greek ideal to emphasize the unigueness of the Jewish Philosophy” (289), hence Moses is also an ‘autodidaktos’.
When one however turns to Liber Antiquitatum biblicarum and Josephus, one finds that they are silent about the education of Moses.

The final conclusion of Koskenniemi is thus that ” The early Jewish heritage apparently had no strong, unified tradition about Moses’ education, but every writer reflects his own view on how a man should be educated”(293). Furthermore, one can also see that “all texts written in Egypt take a good Greek education for granted” while the texts written in Palestine did not deal very much with the education of Moses.