Christianity in Jewish Terms

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky; David Novak et al. | Go to book overview

The Writings and Reception of
Philo of Alexandria

HINDY NAJMAN

As early as the inauguration of the Second Temple community under Ezra the scribe, authoritative Scripture played a central role in constituting Jewish life. Instead of appealing to a king or a prophet, the people consulted scribes whose authority rested on their access to the sacred Scripture that represented Israel's past and present covenantal relationship with God. Because much of Scripture had been written for earlier generations, scribes needed not only to read but also to interpret Scripture, to render it relevant and applicable under new conditions. As differences of interpretation emerged, various groups claimed that their interpretations captured the true meanings of the ancient laws and narratives. Sometimes they asserted that like Scripture itself, their interpretations were divinely inspired. Interpretive disagreements sometimes grew into sectarian divisions, and, ultimately, some groups could no longer recognize other groups as members of the same religious community. This dynamic contributed to the eventual parting of ways between rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, both of which emerged out of the interpretive practices of various Jewish groups in the late Second Temple period. Despite their differences, the reading and interpretation of Scripture remained central to both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Indeed both Judaism and Christianity inherited a wealth of shared interpretations of their sacred Scripture, although each tradition developed these interpretations in distinct and sometimes opposing ways. The study of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.) makes a singular and unusual contribution to our understanding of the parallel and overlapping histories of Jewish and Christian scriptural interpretation. Philo, who lived before Judaism and Christianity separated into two distinct religions, left behind a rich legacy of exegetical writings--including philosophical essays, allegorical interpretations, explications of

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