Philo's guide to decoding the Hebrew Bible

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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rich
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Post by rich » Thu Jul 24, 2008 12:07 pm

I don't think the Romans would have minded a religion that condemned the Jewish god Yahweh. Why should they bother? They probably figured it was good for their cause.
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin

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Post by Minimalist » Thu Jul 24, 2008 12:14 pm

The Roman writer, Celsus, as preserved in Origen's work, "Contra Celsus" gives us an idea of what a late second century Roman writer thought of "Yahweh."
"You are fond of saying that in the old days this same most high god made these and greater promises to those who gave heed to his commandments and worshipped him. But at the risk of appearing unkind, I ask how much good has been done by those promises have done either the Jews before you or you in your present circumstances. And would you have us put out faith in such a god? Instead of being masters of the whole world, the jews today have no home of any kind."
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Ishtar » Thu Jul 24, 2008 1:09 pm

I never really think of the Gnostics as any kind of political force. For one thing, they were never organised enough. For another, political power doesn't seem to be uppermost in their minds - rather spiritual illumination was their goal and, to be frank, until the Literalists grabbed the political agenda in the 3rd-4th centuries, and began a campaign to stamp out the Gnostics, they had no need of any political power.

However, Josephus does mention Philo in his Antiquities - in a political capacity. Philo led an embassy to the court of the emperor Caligula, to represent the views of the Jews in Alexandria who were refusing to worship Caligula's statue.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo
We find a brief reference to Philo by the first century Jewish historian Josephus. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus tells of Philo's selection by the Alexandrian Jewish community as their principal representative before the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula.

He says that Philo agreed to represent the Alexandrian Jews in regard to civil disorder that had developed between the Jews and the Greeks in Alexandria (in Egypt). Josephus also tells us that Philo was skilled in philosophy, and that he was brother to an official called Alexander the alabarch.

According to Josephus, Philo and the larger Jewish community refused to treat the emperor as a god, to erect statues in honor of the emperor, and to build altars and temples to the emperor. Josephus says Philo believed that God actively supported this refusal. This portrait of Philo aligns with the character of Philo revealed in his own writings, as discussed below.

Josephus' comments about Philo are so brief that we can quote them here in full:

"There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish inhabitants and the Greeks; and three ambassadors were chosen out of each party that were at variance, who came to Gaius. Now one of these ambassadors from the people of Alexandria was Apion, (29) who uttered many blasphemies against the Jews; and, among other things that he said, he charged them with neglecting the honors that belonged to Caesar; for that while all who were subject to the Roman empire built altars and temples to Gaius, and in other regards universally received him as they received the gods, these Jews alone thought it a dishonorable thing for them to erect statues in honor of him, as well as to swear by his name.

Many of these severe things were said by Apion, by which he hoped to provoke Gaius to anger at the Jews, as he was likely to be.

But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, (30) and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius's words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself." [Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.8, § 1, Whiston's translation (online)

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Post by Minimalist » Thu Jul 24, 2008 1:57 pm

I never really think of the Gnostics as any kind of political force.

Apparently neither did anyone else but it does seem odd that Josephus, in running through the main philosophies then extant in the area does not mention them even in passing. He does mention the Essenes who were definitely a minor factor compared to the pharisees and sadducees. It's just a curious omission....unless the gnostics had been chased out of Judaea by the powers that be over the years.

BTW, Philo's embassy to Gaius (the written version of which contains a blistering commentary on the crimes of Pilate...but somehow fails to mention that he killed "jesus") was a failure. Caligula ordered Publius Petronius, then governor of Syria, to install the statues in the temple and Petronius procrastinated long enough to allow the praetorian guard enough time to kill Caligula. Failing that, the Great Revolt would most likely have broken out in 41 instead of 66 when Nero and Gessius Florus seem to have been on the same page when it came to provoking the Jews.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Ishtar » Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:20 pm

The thing is Min, they weren't known as the Gnostics, so he wouldn't mention them as such. This is just a term that scholars have given these groups later because their knowledge was gnosis, the kind gained from transcendance and visions and caused by the one thing that they had all had in common - the initiation as described earlier.

The Ebionites were definitely in Jerusalem in the first century, but they may have been too small and quiet to attract the attentions of Josephus. Remember, if there was no human Jesus who died on the cross in Jerusalem then there would have been no fuss or razamatazz to draw attention to his followers. The Ebionites were the hard core Jewish Gnostic Christians, led by James the Just, who didn't want Gentiles to be given the secret teachings. Paul had to go and negotiate with them, and ended up giving them money to get them to agree, or at least not to put up a fight.

The Simonians, although Samaritans, were radical internationalists who wandered around all over the region.

The Naasenes were based in Phrygia.

The Therapeutics (Jewish Gnostics) also all over the place but mainly in Alexandria.

The Paulists were at Corinth and the other churches of Asia Minor.

I think you may be making a mistake, Min, in concentrating your search purely on Jerusalem for the original Christians. The Jesus story may be set there - but who's to say it wasn't composed by homesick Jews in Alexandria, where most of the Jews lived in those days? Or in any of the other places around the Mediterranean were Jews were living then? It's basically a Greek/Egyptian Mystery story anyway, with just a local Jewish flavour superimposed on top.

There just weren't that many Jews living in Jerusalem at the time and those that were in charge of the religion there would have had no interest in a New Age messiah - and they never recognised him anyway.
Last edited by Ishtar on Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Ishtar » Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:29 pm

Minimalist wrote: BTW, Philo's embassy to Gaius (the written version of which contains a blistering commentary on the crimes of Pilate...but somehow fails to mention that he killed "jesus").
:lol: :lol:

Brilliant, Min!

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Post by Ishtar » Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:37 pm

Interesting snippet:
Mariamme em Phrygia, the Sister of Philip the Apostle.

Hippolytus says the Nassenes or Ophites in Phrygia claimed to have
received their doctrines from Mariamme, the sister of Philip the
apostle. The references to her in the "Sophia of Jesus Christ,"
which probably originated in Ophite circles, imply that she received
secret revelations from Christ. Apparently the author of the "Acts
of Philip" wanted to snatch Mariamme away from these Gnostics and
give her lodging in his own theological camp, for according to him
she accompanied her brother to Hierapolis in order to refute the
Ophites.
Dennis Ronald MacDonald. The Legend and the Apostle, The Battle for
Paul in Story and Canon. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983)
39.]

rich
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Post by rich » Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:50 pm

I still can't see how any group or sect that would claim the OT god Yahweh was evil would even consider naming the central character of their story with anything to do with Yahweh - ie Jesus - unless he was supposed to be evil. I still see it as a contradiction. The gnostics belief in a higher god than yahweh goes totally against it. If anything, why didn't they give him a different name than one that would have any correlation with yahweh? Afterall, if they were the ones who made the story, then they could name him anything. To me it still points to a different sect that started it.
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin

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Post by Minimalist » Thu Jul 24, 2008 3:18 pm

I guess the point is that Josephus makes no reference to any group which even looks like the gnostics, Ish. A rose...by any other name...would still smell.... or something like that.

AS for Jerusalem...I'm just looking where they said he was. It is a little like the old joke about a kid who is looking for something in the street. A man asks what he's looking for?

"I dropped a dime on the lawn over there," the kid replies.

"Well," reasons the man, "if you dropped it on the lawn why look for it in the street?"

"Are you kidding" says the kid, " I'd never find it in all that high grass."
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Minimalist » Thu Jul 24, 2008 3:19 pm

Jews didn't think Yahweh was "evil," Rich. They just though he was a bit on the stern side.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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Post by Forum Monk » Thu Jul 24, 2008 5:36 pm

rich wrote:I still can't see how any group or sect that would claim the OT god Yahweh was evil would even consider naming the central character of their story with anything to do with Yahweh - ie Jesus - unless he was supposed to be evil. I still see it as a contradiction. The gnostics belief in a higher god than yahweh goes totally against it. If anything, why didn't they give him a different name than one that would have any correlation with yahweh? Afterall, if they were the ones who made the story, then they could name him anything. To me it still points to a different sect that started it.
Rich, you're being confused by the liberal use of terminology which is contradictory and oxymoronic. As I have said before, there is no such thing as a gnostic christian. One is either gnostic or christian. There is no such thing as a gnostic jew. One is either gnostic or jewish. There is no such thing as a christian jew. You get the idea.

The terminology is mutually exclusive. I get confused reading a lot of these posts as well, so don't feel bad. The fundamental hebrews at no time considered YHWH evil. That is absolute blasphemy for one of them to make such a claim and to them YHWH was the creator God. To the gnostics, the creator god was evil. Big juxtaposition in those two concepts. To the cristian, Christ is the creator God and no christian would ever consider Christ evil, so again major juxtaposition.

These are very fundamental and basic beliefs upon which so much of the religions are built. For me it doesn't matter is one belief preceded the other or not. They are completely opposite at the most foundational level to claim that one was the forebear of the other seems nearly ludicrous. But I am not going to say it is absolutely false. There are definite links between the systems. I can see how gnostics merged philosophical ideas from many of the great religions and cultures of their day. But I am certain, christians and jews would never have accepted the core beliefs of the gnostics. That's not to say, certain, former christians or jews were not attracted to its ideas.

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Post by Forum Monk » Thu Jul 24, 2008 6:17 pm

BTW Rich, Having reread your posts and mine, I do want to clarify, one thing. In my previous post, I am not claiming you made the generalizations and claims there were gnostic christians or such. Your point about YHWH is well taken.

I want to be clear that I am pointing out the opposition of the idealolgies at a very basic level argues against the christian world-view rising out of the gnostic view.

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Post by Forum Monk » Thu Jul 24, 2008 6:25 pm

Ishtar wrote:
Minimalist wrote: Still, Ish it's a long time from Nicaea to 367 and still the good bishop felt it necessary to write a warning to the recalcitrant. It would appear that the holy mythology of the Roman World joyfully converting to Christianity as soon as Constantine said to is somewhat exaggerated.
It's around 40 years, Min. So yes, you're right .... it's the good ole PR guys at the Vatican at it again!

One of the main purposes of the 1st Niceane Council was to establish the Creed, and the reason for that was to separate the Literalists from the Gnostics. So they had to stand there and say:


1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and the life everlasting.
Amen.

In other words, that Jesus had been a human being who lived and died and will come again. It was deliberately designed to exclude the Gnostics. They even had to say that they believe in the holy catholic Church in the same breathe as saying that they believe in the holy spirit, and they still have to say it today. Freakin' brainwashing if you ask me...
I think you are somewhat right that the creed is intentionally designed to be a concise statement of the most fundamental christian beliefs and so they are a rejection of the gnostic principles. But I do not think, the creed was targeted toward gnostics in particular.

One nitpick: The statement #9 references the holy catholic (small letter 'c') church which means holy universal church. It does not favor the Catholic (capital 'C') denomination. Even protestants will recite the creed with that understanding.

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Post by Forum Monk » Thu Jul 24, 2008 7:09 pm

Ishtar wrote:OK Monk, this is the first throw of the dice in the new Paul debate under the parameters of only using the seven aforementioned epistles that all scholars agree are genuine.
I am ok with the above parameters but I have problems with the this one which I will delve into below:
I think the only way forward is for you to find examples of where he is purported to be criticising the Gnostics, and see if they stand up to scrutiny.
If Paul was a transmitter of the mysteries - the secret teachings and the initiations - he would have been preaching a dual message (just as Jesus is portrayed as doing,...
If we go into this, it can get pretty deep and complex. A lot of people think that the christian religion is outward ritual, rules of conduct, fear and trembling, icons and symbolism. But its not, that's the institution which is one day a week and really has very little to do with the day to day lives of individuals on a personal level. Christianity thrives on a personal level that is not touched by one's circumstances, place and time. It is really what KB frequently mentions and in reference to his "primitive christians" who were not bound to the "law". It is dualistic in nature because there is an outer church and an inner church; there are the called and the uncalled; the repentant and the unrepentant; those who are christian in appearance and those who are in heart. There are many dualisms and Paul addresses them in his writings. He often differentiates greeks and barbarians and jews. The very nature of spiritual/physical is daulistic. So the gnostics have not exclusivity with dualistic philosophy and so if one address a daulistic topic he is not by default, gnostic.
So Monk, we will find evidence of both kinds of teachings among Paul’s genuine letters – the Literalist and the Gnostic. Thus I wonder if trading quote for quote is going to achieve anything in this case?
How can we examine Paul's teachings and make judgements about his world-view without looking at what he wrote? Its all we have left of him. And finally, with regard to this point:
I think the only way forward is for you to find examples of where he is purported to be criticising the Gnostics, and see if they stand up to scrutiny.
I can't comply because at the time Paul was writing, the gnostic sects were not the threat some may think they were. I am willing to bet Paul simply saw it as another school of greek philosophy.

Edit to add: btw I am hardly a religous scholar, and have no religious training apart from childhood Sunday school. I am not sure if I can properly address any of the really deep teachings of christianity. I don't feel qualified and may end up confusing people.

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Post by Ishtar » Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:47 pm

Minimalist wrote:I guess the point is that Josephus makes no reference to any group which even looks like the gnostics, Ish. A rose...by any other name...would still smell.... or something like that.
I think you rely too heavily on Josephus, Min.

And as I will point out again, the only 'Gnostics' in the area were the Essenes (who Josephus does mention, and who Eusebius says in his Histories followed the Way like Christians of his time) and the Ebionites, who are attested to the time of the destruction of the temple [70 CE] by polemics against them from the early Church Fathers.


The Ebionites (Greek: Ἐβιωναῖοι Ebionaioi from Hebrew; אביונים[citation needed], Ebyonim, "the Poor Ones") were an early Jewish Christian sect that lived in and around Judea and Palestine from the 1st to the 4th century.[1]

To throw light on the views, practices and history of the Ebionites, modern scholars attempt to reconstruct information from the available sources. Much of what is known about the Ebionites derives from the Church Fathers, who wrote polemics against the Ebionites, whom they deemed heretical Judaizers.[1][2] Some scholars agree with the substance of the traditional portrayal as an offshoot of mainstream Christianity attempting to reestablish Jewish Law.[3][4] According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Ebionite movement may have arisen about the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (AD 70).[5] Others have argued that the Ebionites were more faithful to the authentic teachings of Jesus and constituted the mainstream of the Jerusalem church before being gradually marginalized by the followers of Paul of Tarsus.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

In contrast to mainstream Christianity, the Ebionites insisted on a universal necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites,[12] which they interpreted in light of Jesus' expounding of the Law.[13] They regarded Jesus as a mortal human messianic prophet but not as divine, revered his brother James as the head of the Jerusalem Church and rejected Paul of Tarsus as an "apostate of the Law"[citation needed]. Their name suggests that they placed a special value on religious poverty.

Some scholars distinguish the Ebionites from other Jewish Christian groups, e.g. the Nazarenes,[14] while others believe the two names refer to the same sect and that noted disagreements among Jewish Christians do not correspond with these names.[15] Still others contend that the term was not used to describe a single group at all, but rather denoted any group of Christians of that time who sought to adhere both to Jesus and the Jewish law.
I like your joke about the long grass, but I think you too are concentrating your search too narrowly for the early Christians. You are falling into the same silo thinking that enabled the church to pull the wool over everyone's eyes for so long. The Jews were not confined within the borders of Palestine at that time, and in fact, the greater majority of them lived elsewhere. Most of these Gnostic sects were internationalist and cosmopolitan in nature and stretched from Greece and Asia Minor to Egypt and so on.

Like you say, you can't even find a recognisable Jerusalem at that time, that fits into the one described in the gospels. That should be a big indication that the story was composed elsewhere and is not an attempt to record history.

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