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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.

‘Like Newborn Infants’…

IMG_1445I just received an offprint of my most recent article, this time on 1 Peter. It is published in a volume published in memory of a Norwegian New Testament scholar, Hans Kvalbein:

The Church and Its Mission in the New Testament and Early Christianity. Essays in Memory of Hans Kvalbein, edited by David E. Aune and Reidar Hvalvik. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Siebeck.2018.

My own contribution is : “‘Like Newborn Infants..’ The Readers of 1 Peter as Newly Converted Christians?” (pp 227-242):

In a study published in 2005 on acculturation and assimilation in 1 Peter, I argued, in opposition to the views on acculturation of both John H. Elliott and David Balch,that the burning issue in 1 Peter was not how to cope with current Greco-Roman society (social acculturation and assimilation issues), but that “the Christians of 1 Peter are first generation Christians, that is, they are still in a process of being socialized into the Christian worldview.” I also argued that they were perceived of as in a kind of liminal situation as newly converted Christians, and that their attitudes to Greco-Roman institutions were a secondary aspect of the author’s strategy in this letter, and thus more a consequence of the intended primary acculturation into the Christian faith and ways of living than as a program of acculturation or assimilation to Greco-Roman society.
An important premise in this view is the issue of whether or not the readers can really be understood as relatively new as Christians. In the present study, I would like to elaborate on this question, trying to substantiate my view that they were considered fairly recently converted Christians. I might admit that there is no single statement in the letter providing a clear-cut answer, but, as I argue, the cumulative effect of some passages supports the conclusion that the addressees were considered first generation Christians, probably as having been Christians for just a few years.

Philo in Bysantium


In the last issue of Vigilia Christianae (70.3 (2016):259-281), David T. Runia has an article dealing with a field very little explored; Philo in Bysantium. An Exploration:

“The article gives the first comprehensive overview of the fate of the writings and thought of the Jewish exegete and philosopher Philo of Alexandria in the Bysantine period from 500 to 1500 CE. It sets out the evidence, based primarily on named references in a wide range of Bysantine sources, for the questions (1) who read Philo and wrote about him; (2) what part of his legacy did they utilise; (3) why did they refer to him; (4) and what was their attitude to him as a Jewish author” (Abstract).

The paper was originally presented at a conference on Philo’s Readers: Affinities, Reception, Transmission and Influence, held at Yale University on 30 March – 2 April 2014 (see here). Runia is the author of the renowned book, Philo in Early Christian Literature (CRINT III,3; Van Gorcum, Assen/ Fortress Press, 1993), which deals with Philo in early Christian literature up to the fifth century. Now we have at least ‘an exploration’ into the following millenium; hopefully there is more to come from the desk of prof. Runia in the coming years!

The great Library at Alexandria

Due to a link on James Darlack’s FaceBook page, I was made aware of yet another article on the great library of Alexandria (for other links, se my Resource Pages for Biblical Studies, page ).

This other article is named “The Great Library of Alexandria?”, and is to be found at Its purpose and content is described thus:

Was the Great Library a library in the modern professional sense of the word, or perhaps it was a kind of proto-library containing a large collection of texts? In order to explore these questions and to bring clarity to the topic of the Great Library, this paper will examine the founding and history of the Great Library and illustrate its purpose and philosophy. Finally this paper will then analyze the Great Library according to established library criteria. Section I will provide an overview of the founding, intellectual achievements, and fall of the Great Library. Section II will review the characteristics of the Great Library according to modern professional criteria.

Another article on the ancient Library is to be found here, posted in 2013.

Greg Sterling on Philo

“Are the works of Philo important for our understanding of the New Testament and Christian origins? I suggest that they are. In fact, I think that the Philonic corpus is the single most important body of material from Second Temple Judaism for our understanding of the development of Christianity in the first and second centuries. Perhaps this will strike you as an extravagant claim in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Josephian corpus. I would not deny the importance of either of these corpuses for the study of the New Testament and Christian origins. I am convinced, however, that the Philonic corpus helps us to understand the dynamics of early Christsianity more adequately than any other corpus. I do not want to suggest that Philo or his corpus was directly responsible for the development of Christian thought, but that his corpus is a window into the world of Second Temple Judaism in the Diaspora that formed the matrix for Christian theology.”


Gregory E. Sterling, “‘Philo Has Not Been Used Half Enough’:
The Significance of Philo of Alexandria for the Study of the New Testament,’
in Perspectives in Religious Studies 30.3 (2003):251-269, here p. 252.