Philo on divine forgiveness

Timmers, F. J. (2022). Philo of Alexandria on divine forgiveness (Doctoral dissertation). Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University.

Abstract: “This study investigates the meaning of divine forgiveness in the thought of Philo of Alexandria. Did Philo share in the common philosophical disregard for seeking divine pardon? Could he still encourage his readers to seek God’s pardon when they have done evil, while he at the same time explained to them that God cannot be hurt nor angered by human evil or made to change his mind? Can divine pardon have a meaningful place within the well-considered thought of a Hellenistic intellectual at all? This study shows that in the case of Philo of Alexandria the answer to this question is affirmative. Yes, divine amnesty has a meaningful place within Philo’s thought, while he managed to avoid implications he and other contemporary intellectuals considered inappropriate. He saw divine pardon as a vital manifestation of God’s goodness, allowing humans to purge their minds from the evil thoughts that have overwhelmed them and caused them to commit evil, to re-establish the control of good reason and welcome God’s wisdom to form their thoughts, words and acts, so that they think, speak and act rationally, as their Creator intended them when he created humans in his own image.”

Open Access is available here:

Philo’s Jewish Law

A full text of a PhD dissertation submitted in 2015:

Yedidya Etzion, Philo’s Jewish Law: Uncovering the Foundations of a Second-Temple System of Jewish Law

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in Near Eastern Studies.

The author presents his work thus:

Among Philo of Alexandria’s many writings, he dedicated quite-a-few treatises to the exposition of Jewish Law. The purpose of this dissertation is to identify what is distinctive in Philo’s approach towards Jewish law and to reveal the ideological, hermeneutical and practical considerations behind it. In addition, I have presented the study of Philo’s Jewish lawfrom a comparative point of view, introducing many Second-Temple –and especially rabbinic texts–in order to better understand the processes underlying the development of Jewish law in Late-Antiquity and Philo’s place in it. I analyze the relationship between Philo’s own different writings and genres such as law, narrative and allegory, as well.

The dissertation deals with five major halakhic subjects: the halakhic implications of both the Septuagint and Speech-Acts, Marital laws, The Sabbath, and the Temple Cult and Priesthood.

My examination of Philo’s law raises the following observations:

1.Philo reflects an internalization of Hellenistic concepts and values while implementing these concepts into distinctively Jewish practices. Occasionally, laws which were shaped by Greco-Roman concepts found their way into other halakhic corpora. This phenomenon attests to a process through which rabbinic traditions were influenced by Greek ideas through the agency of Jews like Philo.

2.At times, Philo shared certain halakhic traditions with other Palestinian corpora, while at others he reflected a totally independent approach. While in certain cases Philo’s independence can be accounted for by his essential, distinctive views in quite a few cases Philo represents an early stage in the development of halakha.

3.Philo’s formulation of Jewish law gives weight to ideological (predominantly Greek), exegetical and practical considerations. Among the exegetical considerations I identify several midrashic interpretations, some of which are similar to other Second-Temple and rabbinic traditions. This does not render Philo as “eclectic” but rather his approach is a typical example for the formulation of Jewish law in Late-Antiquity. Philo’s most distinctive feature with respect to Jewish law is his view of Jewish law as a cure against excessive desires (ἐπιθυμίας) through the exercise of self-control (ἐγκράτεια). While Philo lacks a conception of defined measures for the fulfillment of religious obligations, this is consistent with both the early stage Philo represents in the development of halakha and with the view of Jewish law as geared towards self-improvement, rather than appeasing or pleasing God.24. Philo indeed reflects certain sentiments, which could be characterized as “Diasporic”, but more than a representative of a Diasporic version of Judaism, Philo should be understood as a representative of Greek-Speaking Jews, a group which was part of the Social reality ofPalestine, as well. 5.Philo’s most distinctive feature with respect to Jewish law is his view of Jewish law as a cure against excessive desires (ἐπιθυμίας) through the exercise of self-control (ἐγκράτεια). While Philo lacks a conception of defined measures for the fulfillment of religious obligations, this is consistent with both the early stage Philo represents in the development of halakha and with the view of Jewish law as geared towards self-improvement, rather than appeasing or pleasing God.

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.)

Runesson on

By way of a post on Facebook, I became aware of the page of prof. Anders Runesson (University of Oslo). Anders has uploaded a lot of his articles. Some of the pdf copies are somewhat blurry, a little hard to read and difficult to index (at least for my NotaBene Orbis indexer), but most of them are good, both in visibility and content.

To my surprise, I find that his Ph.D. dissertation (from Lund, Sweeden) is also available on this site, in pdf format. Only that volume alone makes this site worthy of a visit. It is one of the really great dissertations published in Sweeden in the last decades (and by great, I do not just mean the number of pages…).

Have a look. Enjoy.

New Dissertation on Deut 32


Research Fellow at the School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway, Tina Dykesteen Nilsen, have submitted her dissertation to the School and her work has now been accepted as worthy of the public defense thus:

Wednesday September 30, at 5.15-6.00 am, Nilsen will deliver her test lecture over the given topic:

“Moses in biblical memory across the different genres of literature”.

Thursday October 1., at 10 pm Nilsen will publicly defend her thesis: The Origins of Deuteronomy 32: Intertextuality, Memory, Identity.

Her opponents will be: Professor Diana Edelman, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, and Professor Karl William Weyde, Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo.

The work of the evaluation commitee has been led by professor Magnar Kartveit, School of Mission and Theology, and her mentor has been professor Knut Holter, School of Mission and Theology.

Her abstract runs thus: “Ever since its Mosaic authorship was questioned more than 150 years ago, the origins of Deut 32:1–43 have been disputed, forming the raison d’être of this dissertation. The dissertation is structured in three parts. Part One gives an introductory chapter, situating the thesis in relation to other quests, and explaining the research question: What is the compositional relationship of Give Ear to other texts, and what are its origins? Chapter Two summarizes research history, looking at criteria that have been used for dating the text, with conclusions ranging from the eleventh to the fourth century BCE. It also presents views on the compositional relationship of Deut 32:1–43 to other biblical texts. Chapter Three prepares the ground for my research by establishing the text from the perspectives of delimitation, integrity, relation to narrative framework and textual criticism. Part Two focusses on what and when. Chapter Four outlines theories and methods of intertextuality, particularly from a diachronic perspective. Chapters Five to Eight asks what is similar and dissimilar when Deut 32:1–43 is compared to a wide but ever narrowing range of other texts, looking at metaphors and similes, lexemes and phrases, lexical fields, linguistic features, forms, themes and parallel texts. Chapter Nine builds on the results from these analyses when shifting focus to when Deut 32:1–43 was composed, concluding that it is probably contemporaneous with Isa 1; 34–35; 56–66, placing it in the first half of the Persian period. Part Three focusses on why and by whom. Chapter Ten looks at theories of social memory and social identity formation and how these are applied to biblical texts, particularly from the Persian period. Using these theories as frameworks, Chapter Eleven asks why Deut 32:1–43 may have been written, discussing the text both within and without its present setting in Deuteronomy. Chapter Twelve pushes the question of who may have composed Deut 32:1– 43, using hypotheses of scribal activities to argue for an origin within an isaianic group of scribes in Yehud. The dissertation provides contributions in the following research areas: the origins of Deut 32:1–43; the relationship of Deut 32:1–43 and other texts; the relationship of Deuteronomy and the Book of Isaiah; memory and identity as constructed in Deut 32:1–43; the larger debate on memory and identity in Yehud, particularly in my proposal that some texts may negotiate between different positions; the larger debate on the origins of the Hebrew Bible in light of texts as scribal products, particularly my proposal of loose groups that interact, allowing for texts crossing boundaries. “

Her dissertation is availably in extenso by clicking HERE (pdf file)

The Vermes Quest

Cand.theol. Hilde Brekke Møller delivered today (May 13) the public defence of her PhD dissertation at The School of Theology, Norway. Her thesis is about ‘The Vermes Quest: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research.’

IMG_0607Cand.theol. Hilde Brekke Møller delivered today (May 13) the public defence of her PhD dissertation at The School of Theology, Norway. Her thesis is about The Vermes Quest: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research.

Ordinary opponents was professor drHelen Bond, Edinburgh (1) and professor drCraig A. Evans, Acadia, Nova Scotia (2). Professor drKarl Olav Sandnes is the third member of the examination committee. The public defense was chaired by rector Vidar L. Haanes.


In recent years, historical accounts of the so-called ‘quest for the historical Jesus’ have assigned an important role to Geza Vermes (1924–2013). Through the lens of his work on the historical JesusThe Vermes Quest contributes to the on-going debate of how the history of the quest should be written. The primary research question is: What has Vermes’s significance been for Jesus research? Answers to this main research question are sought through the following specific interrogations: What has Vermes’s role been in the coming of the third quest? To what extent and in what ways are Vermes’s suggestions about Jesus reiterated and debated within the third quest?

It is often claimed that Vermes’s book Jesus the Jew. A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels(1973) contributed to a significant change within mainstream Jesus research, typically labelled the third quest. Many Jesus scholars, notably E. P. Sanders, J. D. Crossan, J. P. Meier, and C. A. Evans, have interacted with Vermes’s suggestions. However, scholarly assessments of the import of Vermes’s publications are brief and ambiguous. This thesis explores the significance of Vermes’s Jesus research for the conceived change within Jesus research in the 1980s, and also within third quest Jesus research, by looking into the reception of Vermes’s book(s) by Jesus scholars and reviewers.

In Jesus the Jew, Vermes displays how features of the Synoptic Jesus correspond to genuinely Jewish expressions of his timeFor instance, he interprets Jesus’s self-reference as “the son of man” in light of a corresponding Aramaic term found in various ancient texts. Above all, Vermes compares Jesus to other miracle workers known to us primarily from rabbinic literature. He suggests that Jesus was a miracle working holy man like them; what Vermes calls a hasid

Vermes’s attention to the Jewishness of Jesus, his work on the son of man-problem, and hisdescription of Jesus as a hasid have been the most widely discussed parts of Vermes’scontribution. These issues have therefore been chosen for the examination of Vermes’ssignificance. The material for the thesis consists of parts of Vermes’s books that address the selected topics, as well as scholarship from the past forty years that deal with them. The book Jesus the Jew receives most attention due to its prominent role in the scholarly reception of Vermes’s suggestions. 

The study demonstrates that Vermes’s significance for the change in scholarship has been overstated. Scholars who did take notice of Vermes’s book Jesus the Jew in the 1970s and 1980s did not present Vermes as initiator or catalyst for change. Further, the study shows that Vermes’s suggestion that Jesus was a hasid has been widely noticed. few scholars have included parts of the theory in their own portrayals of Jesus. However, a large majority of scholars who discuss the hasid theory have set out to prove Vermes wrong. The hasid theoryhas therefore been widespreadbut its significance is limited, since it has not gained wide assent. Similarly, Vermes’s work on the son of man issue has been widely noticed within the debate of this particular issue, but it has had virtually no significance for Jesus research as suchthough there are exceptions to this rule. 

These research historical explorations of Vermes’s work shed light on underplayed aspects of previous research, and on the state of affairs for recent research. Most profoundly, the study challenges the rhetoric of current scholarship which portrays a dichotomy between recent and earlier research with regards to two matters: First, it takes issue with the purported ignorance of Jesus’s Jewishness within earlier Jesus research (which is believed to have been put right in recent years)Secondly, it challenges the professed (and allegedly unprecedented)theologically disinterested and genuinely historical orientation of recent research.


Her dissertation can be downloaded here:


Judeans in the Greek Cities of the Roman Empire

A new book is about to be published by Brill that should be interesting to Philo readers, especially those interested in his social history, social world or political world and circumstances:

Bradley Ritter, Judeans in the Greek Cities of the Roman Empire. Rights, Citizenship and Civil Discord.
(Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 170) Leiden; Brill, May 2015 (€126,00 / $163.00).

The publishers presentation is thus:

In the first century CE, Philo of Alexandria and Josephus offer vivid descriptions of conflicts between Judeans and Greeks in Greek cities of the Roman Empire over various issues, including the Judeans’ civic identity, the extent of their obligations to local cities and cults, and the potential security threat they posed to those cities. This study analyzes the narratives of these conflicts, investigating what citizenship status Judeans enjoyed, their political influence and whether they enjoyed the right to establish institutions for observing their ancestral worship. For these narratives to be understood properly, it should be assumed that many Judeans were already citizens of their cities, and that this status played a central role in those conflicts.

You can find a description of the contents here. Contents. I am looking forward to this book, both because it is relevant for my own present writing, and because it might provide some more insights for understanding the social world of Philo, especially sinece it appears to be written by a classicist.



Persecution in 1 Peter

persecution1petThis work, which is a slightly revised version of a doctoral thesis carried out under the supervision of David G. Horrell and submitted to the University of Exeter in 2010, is an impressive piece of work:

Travis B. Williams, Persecution in 1 Peter. Differentiating and Contextualizing Early Christians Suffering.
Supplements to Novum Testamentum 145. Brill; Leiden, 2012.

This book is probably the most comprehensive study available concerning the topic of persecution in 1 Peter. While there have been many previous studies in forms of articles, and a few larger sections in some commentaries (cf. the older volume of Selwyn), this volume will probably remain a standard presentation and a must reading for students of 1 Peter for years to come both because of its comprehensive discussion and its tightly knit argumentation.
The study consists of eight chapters (pp. 3-335), 4 appendices (pp. 339-386), and an impressive bibliography, comprising 59 pages. If we consider each of these pages to contain 25 references (I counted some), that amounts to a bibliography of 1475 books and articles! Hence the book is also a gold mine of persecution-related bibliography.
There will be a review of the book later on SBL Bible Review.
The contents of the book can be seen here.

Williams has also written several smaller studies on 1 Peter that is worth mentioning. I am here thinking of these works:
‘Reconsidering the imperatival participle in 1 Peter,’ Westminster Theological Journal 73 (2011):59-78.
________. “Suffering from a Critical Oversight: The Persecutions of 1 Peter within
Modern Scholarship.” Currents in Biblical Research 10. (2012): 275-292.
‘Benefiting the Community through Good Works? The Economic Feasibility of Civic Benefaction in 1 Peter,’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 9 (2013) forthcoming.
‘Visuality Vivid Description and the Message of 1 Peter The Significance of the Roaring Lion 1 Pet. 5.8,’ Journal of Biblical Literature 132 (2013): 697-716.

Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Epistle of James

kvammenA former student at The School of Theology and Mission, Stavanger-Norway, now the executive general secretary of the Norwegian Bible Society, Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen is about to have her PhD dissertation published at Brill:

Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen,
Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Epistle of James.James 2:1-13 in its Roman Imperial Context
(Biblical Interpretation Series 119. Leiden; Brill, 2013).

I am glad to see this news and to bring it further on both for the profit of Ingeborg, and because I was the leader of the assessment board for her dissertation a few years ago. Now it can be accessable for a wider readership. It is, alas, somewhat expensive, but hopefully a library near you will buy it.

The publisher presents the book thus:

Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Epistle of James offers an interpretation of Jas 2:1-13 putting the text in the midst of the Roman imperial system of rank. This study shows that the conflict of the text has more to do with differences of rank than poverty and wealth. The main problem is that the Christian assemblies are acting according to Roman cultural etiquette instead of their Jewish-Christian heritage when a Roman equestrian and a beggar visit the assembly. They are accused of having become too Roman. From a postcolonial perspective, this is a typical case of hybrid identities. Additional key concepts from postcolonialism, such as diaspora, ’othering’ and the binarisms coloniser/colonised, centre/margin, honour/shame, power/powerless are highlighted throughout the study.

The One God and the Many

My PhD student from Cameroon, Rev Ruben Ngozo – lecturer in New Testament studies, Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon – defended his PhD thesis in a public disputation on August 24, here at The School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger -Norway.

The title of Rev Ngozo’s thesis is The One God and the Many Gods: Monotheism and Idolatry in 1 Cor 8:1-11:1 in Light of Philo’s Writings, and the thesis has been supervised by Professor Torrey Seland. External members of the doctoral committee – who also served as opponents in the public defence – were Professor Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole, United Bible Societies (Nairobi) & University of Pretoria (South Africa), and Professor Karl Olav Sandnes, Norwegian School of Theology (Oslo). The internal member of the committee has been Postdoc. Anna Rebecca Solevåg. The disputation was headed by Prorector for research Knut Holter. A summary of the thesis is available here.