The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

COSMIC GODS AND PRIMORDIAL
CHAOS IN HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN PHILOSOPHY:
THE CONTEXT OF PHILO'S INTERPRETATION OF
PLATO'S TIMAEUS AND THE BOOK OF GENESIS

JOHN DILLON


Introduction

In view of the particular perspective of this conference, it seems appropriate to me to approach the theme that I have been assigned from the point of view of a thinker who, while thoroughly steeped in the biblical and wider Jewish tradition, is yet thoroughly alert to the latest tendencies in Hellenic philosophy, and that is Philo of Alexandria.

In the work with which he inaugurates his exposition of the Jewish Laws, the De opificio mundi, Philo, as we know, expounds the higher significance of Moses' account of divine cosmogony in the first chapter of Genesis with a constant eye on the Timaeus of Plato. Such a statement is no longer news, especially after the magisterial investigations of David Runia;1 what still does merit some discussion, however, is precisely what interpretation of the Timaeus Philo is working with, and the answer to that is not simple at all. It is the investigation of this question which will lead us, I hope, to a more accurate view of how the relations between an active, or demiurgic, principle and a passive, primordially chaotic, material principle were understood in the later Hellenistic and early Roman Imperial period.

1 In his monograph Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato, Leiden 1986, and,
more recently, in his contribution to the Philo of Alexandria Commentary series, Philo
of Alexandria: On the Creation of the Cosmos according to Moses; Introduction, Translation and
Commentary
, Leiden 2001

-97-

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