Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey

By David T. Runia | Go to book overview

Preface

Most introductory accounts of the writings and thought of Philo of Alexandria reserve a little space, usually at the end, in order to point out that his works were preserved through their reception in the Christian tradition. If their survival had been left in the hands of his fellow Jews, these precious documents would have been lost to posterity, together with almost the entire heritage of Alexandrian Judaism. While I was doing research for my doctorate on Philo’s use of Plato’s Timaeus, this aspect of the reception of his writings and thought increasingly began to intrigue me. The rivalry between the Church and the Synagogue from the very start of the Christian movement is well-known. Why did the Christians take the trouble to preserve the works of this particular Jewish writer? What did they find in them that they found attractive and useful? Did these writings come to exercise any influence on the development of Christian thought? When I looked for answers to these questions, I found that the whole subject had received no more than a cursory and scattered treatment in the scholarly literature. If one wished to learn more about this theme, there was no satisfactory account to which one could turn. So I began to do some initial research on the subject.

Some time afterwards, in 1987, I was approached by Peter Tomson and Pieter van der Horst, members of the Advisory Board of this series. They asked whether I would be prepared to contribute a monograph on the theme of Philo’s reception in the Christian tradition. In the light of my research plans it seemed only logical to accept the invitation, yet I was very hesitant. The terrain was dauntingly vast, requiring investigation into numerous authors and works, beginning with the New Testament and going right through into the Byzantine and Medieval periods. How could one expect to cover this entire field with any degree of competence, especially when much of the pioneering work was yet to be done? These misgivings were countered by a fruitful suggestion. Tomson suggested that the best course would be to aim at a survey of the subject, based in the first place on the results of existing scholarship, which could be augmented by my own findings, and could also give some pointers in the direction of further research on the subject. I found the suggestion attractive, and the result is this book. The background I have outlined will explain why secondary literature assumes a greater prominence in my study than is normally the case. Many a time I had to resist the temptation to delve more deeply into in-

-xiii-

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