Philo on Genesis 14.

I recently stumbled over the following article on the Web. It is written by Dr. Ellen Birnbaum, published on October 17, 2018, and last updated on March 18, 2023:

‘What Caused the War Between the Kings? Philo’s Dual Interpretation,’

Birnbaum presents her article thus: “In his account of Abraham’s life, the first-century thinker Philo of Alexandria skillfully interprets the bewildering details in the story of the war between the four and five kings. Understanding the tale on a literal and allegorical level, he offers intriguing suggestions about what motivates both powerful rulers and forces within the soul.”

Furthermore, Dr. Birnbaum writes (excerpted by me:TS): “Modern scholars have noted a disjunction between the story of the war between the four and five kings in Genesis 14 and the surrounding narrative about Abraham.  E. A. Speiser, for example, observes: “Genesis xiv stands alone among all the accounts in the Pentateuch, if not indeed in the Bible as a whole.  The setting is international, the approach impersonal, and the narration notable for its unusual style and vocabulary.” 

“Beyond its incompatibility with the surrounding narrative, the chapter itself presents a number of bewildering details.  It opens with a list of kings with strange names from unfamiliar places.  A group of these kings served one of them, Chedorlaomer, for twelve years but rebelled in the thirteenth.  Before we learn more about this uprising, though, we must first wade through another confounding list of peoples and lands subdued by Chedorlaomer.  It is a relief to reach the end of Gen 14:9, which summarizes the conflict simply as “four kings against the five.” 

“Who are all of these kings and where are these various places?  Moreover, why did five kings revolt against the other four, and why and how is this battle relevant to the rest of the stories in Genesis?”

Philo of Alexandria: “These problems did not go unnoticed by the first-century biblical interpreter Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.E.-50 C.E).  Living in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, Egypt, Philo was thoroughly immersed in both Jewish tradition and Greek culture.  In fact, he firmly believed that the best of Greek teachings were already anticipated by the Jewish lawgiver Moses. 

Influenced by the Platonic distinction between body and soul, Philo believed that besides their literal meaning, the Mosaic writings contained deeper truths about the soul.  To uncover these truths, he used allegorical interpretation, whereby he understood concrete details to symbolize abstract values.  According to this approach, for example, Abram’s departure from the land of the Chaldeans symbolizes the soul’s leaving behind a way of thinking that equates creation with the Creator. 

Philo fully demonstrates this dual approach when he discusses the war between the kings in a biographical treatise on Abraham known as On the Life of Abraham (Abr.).  It appears that he intends this treatise for a broad audience, which may have included both Jews and non-Jews, whether friendly or hostile.  Since he wishes to present the Mosaic teachings in the best possible light, Philo reshapes the biblical narratives to make them as interesting and appealing as he can, while at the same time showing them to convey moral or religious lessons.”

The reader should read the rest of the article, using this link:


Tempel, Lehrhaus, Synagoge,- and Philo!

Christian A. Eberhart, Martin Karrer, Siegfried Kreuzer, und Martin Meiser, (Hrg.),
Tempel, Lehrhaus, Synagoge
Orte jüdischen Gottesdienstes, Lernens und Lebens. Festschrift für Wolfgang Kraus
Publisher: Ferdinand Schøningh, 2020.

Two articles in this volume are directly related to Alexandria/Philo:

Consequences of the Desecration and Destruction of Alexandrian Synagogues as Spaces of Learning and Living. An Orientation Based on Philo’s In Flaccum and Legatio ad by Gert J. Steyn, pp. 57–77

Philos Vorstellung vom Lehrer nach De posteritate Caini, 138–142.146–147. By  Eberhard Bons, pp. 103–118.

The marvelous websites of Rob Bradshaw

There are some websites that are more interesting than others, some blogs that are more rewarding to visit than others, and some sites that are just impressive. I follow several via Feedly; highly recommended.

Today I just wanted to pay my respect and gratefulness to the site, established and upheld by Rob Bradshaw, a graduate of Bangor University and Mattersey Hall Bible College. Rob is passionate about Christian theology and church history and about making theological resources freely available for those who want them. This is currently being done in addition to a full-time job.

He runs several sites. Let me just provide his own description of these:

  1. hosts over 25,000 full text theological articles linked into bibliographies on each book of the Bible. It also covers such subjects as hermeneutics, biblical languages, criticism, language, etc. – in short almost everything connected with the Bible and its study.
  2. throws its net slightly wider, providing material on a range of theologies and theologians, as well as specific doctrines such as the Trinity, for example. The section on practical theology seeks to provide material on how theology is applied in daily life, in such areas as politics and ethics.
  3. covers church history until the rise of the medieval Papacy (c.600 AD).
  4. takes over where leaves off, covering church history from the rise of the Papacy to the time of the Reformation.
  5. – covers church history during and after the Reformation.
  6. provides material relating to the archaeology of the lands of the Bible.
  7. provides resources for students of Christian missions from the first Century onwards [currently under development].

The purpose of all this is (again in his own words):

To make high quality theological freely material available throughout the world, thus providing Bible teachers and pastors with the resources they need to spread the Gospel in their countries. This is achieved by:

  1. Digitising and uploading in co-operation with authors and publishers, rare and out-of-print theology books and articles. Over 32,000 articles are now available for free download.
  2. Providing detailed bibliographies for Seminary level students and ministers.
  3. Providing a single cross-linked resource made up of seven websites, some of which are under development.

What a purpose! What an achievement!


Anders Runesson new professor in Oslo, Norway

RunessonAfter 12 years in Canada, Anders Runesson has returned to Scandinavia. This summer, he started in his new position as professor in the New Testament at the Faculty of Theology.

Anders Runesson started his academic career at Lund University. Here he took a BA in Jewish Studies, M.Div. and M.A. in Religious Studies, and his Ph.D in 2001. After finishing his Ph.D. at Lund, he worked there at a research project on the Formation of Christian Identity.
Then, in 2003, he was offered the position as Assistant Professor in Early Christianity and Early Judaism at McMaster University in Canada.
“After twelve good years at McMaster I now look forward to working with colleagues and students at the Faculty of Theology in Oslo”, Runesson tells us.

Read more about this here.

Electronic Resources for Classicists

A tremendous resource is available at this address: Electronic Resources for Classicists
Developed and maintained by Maria Pantelia, University of California, Irvine. It has been added to my Resource Pages for Biblical Studies, in the subsection called Resources for studying the Greco-Roman world.

It contains links to electronic journals, bibliographical indices, course materials, e-text archives etc., etc.

Facebook and Religious Studies

There are many opinions out there about Facebook (FB); some spend much too much time on it (and they admit that), some are dependent on a daily basis (and they deny it), others (so they at least say) can abstain from it, others (so they say), are not even inscribed as members.

I, for my self, must admit that once being a member, it is hard to quit. Hence I try to make the best out of it. I have namely discovered that there are several very interesting groups, focusing on interesting religious, even Biblical topics, in a scholarly way. Here is some groups I can recommend (you can find them by logging in and using the search function at the top of the FB page):

Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamentum

The program unit’s general description is to read and discuss ancient Greek materials that provide insight into the literary and religious worlds of early Christianity and to read and discuss papers that analyze early Christian texts in dialogue with Hellenistic materials.

228 members.

ALMMG – Ancient Levant and Mediterranean multidisciplinary Gathering

ALMMG is a gathering of archaeologists,
historians and multidisciplinary scientists interested in the ancient Near East, Levant and Mediterranean, and in the study of archeo-industry. The essence of the gathering is to form a free, social-professional network, sharing data and views, and encouraging scientific discussions and cooperation among members, through interdisciplinary collaboration.
ALMMG is a forum for individuals, scholars and graduate students, practicing in ancient Levantine and Mediterranean prehistory and history, and in the various disciplines involved in the study of ancient history and archaeology.

2359 members.

This group is closed; one have to apply for membership by writing one of the administrators.

Enoch Seminar: Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins

This is a scholarly page devoted to the study of ancient Judaism. The Enoch Seminar ( was born in 2001. Its goal is to bring together international specialists in Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins. We have four major activities: (1) the biennial Enoch Seminar (with its Proceedings); (2) the biennial Enoch Graduate Seminar; (3) the biennial Nangeroni Meetings; (4) “4 Enoch: The Online Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins”

Public group;  58 members.

IOQS – International Organization for Qumran Studies

The International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS) is an international collaboration platform for scholars in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. The IOQS was founded in the summer of 1989 in Groningen at an international conference. The website of the IOQS is hosted by the Groningen Qumran Institute. Eibert Tigchelaar of the K.U.Leuven is Executive secretary of the IOQS.

Public group.  436 members

However, The IOQS facebook group was established as a forum for communication among active scholars in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls Studies. Requests by non-specialists to join the group will be considered on the basis of demonstrated interest in the academic study of the Scrolls and related literature. If you would like to be considered for membership in the facebook group, but are not a published author in this field, then you may write to group admin to request such consideration.

History of Religions

History of Religions’ group deals with the scientific study of religions in order to emphasize as many perspectives as possible within this field of study.

Closed group. 1311 members.

A few comments:

These are the 5 religious FB groups I am most familiar with; there might be several others; write a comment if you want to pinpoint some others.

All of these groups are meant for scholarly discussions; as you see, some of them are even closed to non.members. But for all of them it will be that participants are expected to have some sort of scholarly education or even expertise.

Next posting will be about FB groups related to the study of the Bible, especially the New Testament. Stay tuned!  🙂

Congratulations to prof. Joan Taylor at Kings College, London

Joan TaylorJoan Taylor held her inauguration lecture last week (May 1st) as a Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at Kings College, School of Arts and Humanities, Theology and Religious Studies.
Her topic chosen for the lecture was: Mary Magdalene and the case of missing Magdala, and it is summarized thus on the Department’s webpage:

Traditionally, Mary Magdalene is assumed to have come from a place called Magdala, meaning ‘the Tower’. However, there is no such place mentioned in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, though there was a small village attested in rabbinic literature as Migdal Nuniya (‘Tower of Fish’), lying just one mile north of Tiberias, and many other villages called ‘Tower of [Something]’ in Galilee and wider Judaea. The place called ‘Magdala’ or ‘Migdal’ in Israel today, 3.5 miles north of Tiberias, continues a Byzantine identification, from the fifth or sixth centuries CE when pilgrim sites were plotted in Palestine, and it is often assumed that the earlier sizeable town now coming to light there was called Tarichaea-Magdala. However, Josephus clearly indicates that Tarichaea lay south of Tiberias, and that this town north of Tiberias was called Homonoia. This lecture will explore Mary’s name ‘the Magdalene’, the actual location of her home village, and the possibility that her epithet may be understood as a double-entendre, meaning ‘the Tower-ess’: a nickname like others Jesus gave to his closest apostles.

Prof. Taylor will be well-known to Philo-scholars and others interested in Philo of Alexandria. She has written, i.a., a book on Jewish Women Philosophers of First Century Alexandria. Philoæs Therapeutae’ Reconsidered (Oxford 2003), and is now (probably inter alia,) engaged in writing a commentary on Philo’s De vita contemplativa (The Contemplative Life), for the Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series (PACS).

Congratulations to Joan Taylor for her new position!

PS: Sorry, Joan, for stealing the picture from your Facebook page, but I had no other!   🙂


Language learning and Bible Software

Almost about 4 years ago, I had a posting discussing the future of Hebrew in theological curriculums; see   Exit learning Hebrew?. I did not draw any firm conclusions, just presenting some pro and contra arguments.

Now we have a group of at least three fabulous Bible Software programs (Accordance, Bibleworks and Logos Bible Software), that should make us rethink not only how we teach the Biblical languages, but also what such programs might represent to our present students, and perhaps not at least what help they can offer when our students go out and start working in the parishes.

I don’t use to quote extensively from other blogs or colleagues’ writings, but this time I would like to present some input by quoting extensively from a brief article by Joel B. Green, published in Fuller, Theology, News & Notes:

“I think about . . .  working with biblical languages. What difference should it make to the way we prepare Christian leaders for working with biblical texts that we now have shelves full of commentaries that work with Greek and Hebrew, numerous lexical aids on which to draw, and Bible software on our computers? What difference does it make that I can access many of those tools from web-supported devices that I can wear on my belt and carry into an adult education class or into the local coffee shop? In the last couple of decades, the world of biblical study has been revolutionized. Should we continue to use slide rules? Will we allow graphing calculators? Should the way we prepare students for working with Scripture change on account of the increasing availability of tools that do so much of the heavy lifting for us?

When entering the office of a pastor or teacher, I invariably survey the books. And I find myself looking for the placement of this pastor’s Greek New Testament, her copy of the Greek-English lexicon, and maybe even the companion Hebrew Bible and Hebrew-English lexicon. Most of the time, those books are present and accounted for, but they are across the room from her desk, and are older editions, versions of those texts current when she was in seminary. It is hard not to conclude that work in the original languages, required in seminary, has not been her constant companion since graduation. Can we prepare students for working with Scripture in the original languages in ways that actually make a difference long-term? Might the increased availability of language-based tools assist us in this work?

It is true, of course, that some of our students and graduates want and need advanced expertise in the biblical languages. Fuller Seminary has been and wants continually to be a school whose graduates contribute to biblical and theological scholarship at the highest level. Advanced work with the biblical languages for such people is simply a prerequisite, and Fuller Seminary will continue to provide language instruction that serves the church in this way.

It is also true that not all of our students are called to contribute to biblical and theological scholarship at the highest level. What capacity for working with Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible is needed for the community worker in San Jose, California, or the pastor in San José, Costa Rica? For such Christian leaders, we are mapping an alternative route, one that accounts for the technological advances that are changing our lives in so many ways. Rather than asking them to devote long hours to flipping endless vocabulary cards and memorizing verb charts, we show them how they might immediately access that information and then how to use that information as they work through a biblical text. The bottom line is that basic information about a term is readily available—number, case, and the like; what is needed, then, is instruction and practice around what to do, what exegetical judgments to make, once this information is in hand. Those students and graduates will be able to work easily with original language tools like Bible-study software, lexicons, and resources like the Word Biblical Commentary. And, we trust, they will continue to do so throughout their ministries.”

I quote this with approval, but I have a certain feeling, that we are just at the beginning of exploring what Biblical Software might represent for both our curriculums, our teaching and learning,- and for our students and their future work as pastors.

Digital Resources for Religion in Late Antiquity

Via I came over a wonderful blog resource for religion in antiquity, called Hieroi logoi: Digital Resources for Religion in Late Antiquity.
The blogger (Paul Dilley), University of Iowa, presents the project thus: “The purpose of this blog is to discover and review all websites relevant to the study of the religions of Late Antiquity, here understood broadly as the period between Alexander the Great (3rd century BCE) and Muhammad (6th-7th century CE). My goal is gradually to create a centralized information portal on this subject, extensively categorized and tagged, for scholarly research and teaching, as well as the interested public. Some of these sites are well known, others obscure; some straightforward to use, others difficult; some are well-funded collaborative efforts, others are more informal. Caveat lector! But all have their interest..”
Looking around on this website I found several I would like to include in my Resource Pages for Biblical Studies.

SBL and Technology II: Powerpoint banned at SBL?

I arrived well back in Norway a couple of hours ago today; it was a long travel, and the time difference is great; 9 hours. But I will probably be OK tomorrow. That is, I have to, because I am supposed to lecture on text criticism. and that is such a boring topic to many, that I at least have to be quite awake myself. 🙂

At the SBL/AAR Annual Meeting this year in San Fransisco I attended several sessions: first and foremost the three sessions on Philo of Alexandria, then also several others more related to the New Testament.

I am a big fan of using some sort of visualization in my lectures, often Powerpoint, but also simple handouts. I have never hear my students complain over them. But has Powerpoint been banned at SBL? Most of those I attended, and I looked into several others sessions, were almost completely free from any Powerpoint slides, or – what might have worked even better to many – any handouts, providing me with the main arguments of the papers.

We had some discussion about this lack of pedagogy several years both on my blog and on some others, but things seem not to have changed.

See Mark Goodacre here,  and see Stephen Carlson’s updated entry on Hypotyposeis, Torrey Seland’s update in Philo of Alexandria blog, David Meadows’s comments in RogueClassicism and Edward Cook in Ralph the Sacred River.

But when some lecturers are speaking so fast, in their various  dialects, as if they were reading a 45 minutes lecture in 30 minutes, I still get frustrated. And I am here not thinking particularly of the Philo sessions; that would be unfair, but it relates to some general impressions.

Remember: I, and many others, have been traveling for 15-20 hours, we may have a severe jet lag, I for my part, is  an European that have some problems with some of the American dialects. I want to get the main arguments, but the lecturer is speaking too fast, I want to keep note on the most important references, but they pass by too rapidly. I am not spending 2000 dollars plus, traveling half around the world, to hear somebody READ a paper in a way that tells me s/he (it is mostly he) has forgotten that he is supposed to communicate. I want some sense for pedagogy too; not necessarily power-point, but some handouts with the main arguments is  not too much to expect.

I went to a session on Disputed Paulines; one guy used powerpoint, and he had handouts with copies of all the powerpoint slides. They contained all his arguments, and the supporting Bible references. I could go home, having attended the lecture, and still being able to think over his arguments by help of those slides.

Well, that was my out blow for the day; as you might understand I have traveled long today! 🙂
But I am quite serious too; I think the organizers of sessions should demand from the lecturers that they present proper handouts. Some use handouts, presenting some particular texts they are discussing. I prefer handouts with the main structure and arguments of their papers. I presume both the discussions in the sessions, and the outcome for each and one of the listeners would be much greater then.