Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Universal Sabbath; Powers and God's Personality; Ethics; Who Said

For my write-up today on The Cambridge Companion to Philo, I'll do what I did yesterday: I'll refer to some things that stood out to me in each essay that I read (or began to read, or finished reading).

1.  I finished Christina Termini's "Philo's Thought within the Context of Middle Judaism".  I especially appreciated her discussion of the Sabbath in Philo's thought, for I am interested in the question of ancient Jewish beliefs regarding the relationship of the Gentiles to the Mosaic Torah (perhaps because I grew up in churches that held that the Sabbath is commanded for everyone----Jews and Gentiles).  On page 117, Termini states that Philo regarded the Sabbath as "a holy, public, and universal holiday that celebrates the birthday of the world."  According to Termini, Philo thought that people in ancient times forgot the weekly calendar, and so it was re-established under Moses (Life of Moses 1.205-207; 2.263-269).  Termini cites Decalogue 96, in which Philo states that there are other peoples who keep a holy day every month, but the Jews keep the Sabbath every seventh day.  Termini appears to be arguing that Philo believed that the Sabbath was somehow applicable to the Gentiles.  Perhaps she's right, for Philo in Decalogue 100 says that it would be a good thing if people set aside a day for rest and philosophical contemplation.  But did Philo maintain that Gentiles were commanded to keep the Sabbath?  At the present time, I'm rather skeptical, for Philo in Decalogue 98 presents the Sabbath as something that God commanded for "this state", namely, Israel.

2.  The next essay that I read was Roberto Radice's "Philo's Theology and Theory of Creation".  Like Termini, Radice wrestles with the issue of how Philo conceptualized the "powers" that were a part of God----were they actual beings, or were they metaphorical descriptions of how God acts, or what?  Radice seems to treat them as intermediate beings, but what I thought as I read Termini and Radice's treatments of this issue is that perhaps Philo wasn't fully consistent about what the powers were.

I especially liked Radice's discussion on pages 126-127 about how Philo conceived of God.  At times, Philo appears to regard God as personal, which would accord with the Hebrew Bible.  At other times, however, Philo seems to view God as impersonal and to regard the personal depictions of God in the Hebrew Bible as anthropomorphisms for common people, and that would accord more with ancient philosophy.  Radice states on page 127 that Philo's position was probably between these two poles: that God has a personality in the sense that he has thoughts, like human beings, and yet God is above human beings, in terms of both thoughts and also God's "physical aspect" (Radice's words).

3.  The next essay, Carlos Levy's "Philo's Ethics", was probably my favorite one in the book.  Philo was an ascetic, and he arguably drew from Stoicism.  But did Philo agree with the Stoic notion that the passions should be extirpated?  Levy argues that he did not.  Levy notes passages where Philo supports moderation (which Abraham exercises in grieving for Sarah), sees a legitimate role for some passions (i.e., procreation), or does not encourage people to jump into philosophical contemplation immediately but rather to prepare themselves for it, through education or political involvement.

4.  I started Folker Siegert's "Philo and the New Testament".  What stood out to me in this essay was Siegert's discussion of who said the words that are in the Scriptures.  Siegert says that, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Psalms are believed to contain the words of the Holy Spirit, words that the Father addressed to the Son, and words of the Son himself.  Similarly, Philo treated the words of Jacob in Genesis 37:10 (in which Jacob rebukes Joseph for his dream) as uttered by the orthos logos.  They were Jacob's words, in a sense, and yet they were much more.

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