Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time

Article excerpt

Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time, by Peder Borgen. NovTSup 86. Leiden/ New York/Cologne: Brill, 1997. Pp. x + 332. $106.00.

As Peder Borgen's introductory chapter shows, there have been various assessments of Philo's work. Some have seen him as a mystic, attracted to the Hellenistic mystery religions (although he invariably speaks of them with contempt; Judaism is the true "philosophy"). Wolfson called him "no mere dabbler in philosophy, but a philosopher in the grand manner"; indeed, he regards Philo's writings as the most significant influence in philosophy for the next fifteen centuries. The more recent trend, however, has been to regard him as primarily an exegete, and this is the line that Borgen follows, with a significant qualification: not just an exegete, but an exegete for his time. These last three words are quite important.

Two of Philo's works, Legatio and In Flaccum, are neither philosophical nor exegetical but historical, and consequently appear somewhat as anomalies. In Spec. Leg. 3.1-6 Philo speaks of being distracted from the study that was his primary interest and plunged into a sea of political concerns and anxieties, and scholars often see here an allusion to the conflicts that occasioned these two treatises, but they remain to some extent apart, of subsidiary interest. The real Philo is the exegete who with his allegorical method contrived to read Greek philosophy between the lines of the Jewish scriptures, and so prepared the way for Christian fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Borgen's approach, however, makes it possible to understand these two treatises not in isolation but closely together with his exegetical writings. They demonstrate that "a central context for Philo, as also for the Alexandrian Jews in earlier times, was the relationship and interaction between the Jewish community and its non-Jewish surroundings," a context "in various ways reflected in his expository writings."

Borgen begins by setting out that context with chapters on "Philo and his Worldand "The Historical Perspective," outlining the tensions and conflicts that developed between the Jews and their pagan neighbors, particularly after the Roman conquest of Egypt; he then devotes several chapters to discussion of Philo's exegetical method, with ample illustration through analysis of various treatises. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.