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Philo of Alexandria’s interpretation of the Jewish cultus

Prax, S. (1972) Philo of Alexandria’s interpretation of the Jewish cultus. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Philo of Alexandria holds a significant place in the intellectual environment in which Christianity originated and an examination, therefore, of his thought is of value in appreciating the influences which affected the development of that religion. The aspect of his thought considered in this study is his treatment of the Jewish cultus. The two major English works on Philo published during this century are by H.A. Wolfson and E.R. Goodenough respectively. The former sees Philo primarily as a philosopher and says little of his cultic or mystical interest. Goodenough, however, maintains that Philo transformed the Jewish cultus into a Hellenistic mystery. Turning to the writings of Philo, his treatment of various aspects of the cult are considered in turn, beginning with the Temple. From this it emerges that, on the one hand, he reads a spiritual meaning into the various parts of the Temple and, on the other, uses the Temple imagery to describe his personal mysticism. This twofold approach is also employed in his treatment of the remainder of the cult, namely the priesthood, sacrifice and the festivals. It is important that the two methods used by Philo in handling cultic material be clearly distinguished from each other. The spiritualising of the cult is very different from the metaphorical use of cultic imagery to describe another type of religion and passages in which the latter method is being used are not indicative of Philo's attitude to the cult, a fact which Goodenough fails to appreciate. Contrary to Goodenough's view, Philo did not turn the Jewish cultus into a mystery, rather he held it in tension with his personal mysticism in a way which enabled him to remain a practising Jew while continuing his study of mystic philosophy.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1972
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:42

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