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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Philo's guide to decoding the Hebrew Bible

Postby Ishtar » Tue Jul 15, 2008 6:48 am

I thought it wasn't appropriate to take up too much of the Syrian Palestinian Archaeology thread on the philosophy of the Gnostics and in particular, Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE to 50 CE). So I’m opening up a new thread here and, knowing how difficult some of us find it to understand how the Bible can be allegorical, and even if so, which bits … I’ve copied this over from the Wiki entry on Philo as it describes how he decoded the Bible.

I won’t put it in quotes as it will make it difficult to read.

So this is it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo

Philo bases his hermeneutics on the assumption of a twofold meaning in the Bible, the literal and the allegorical…..

The two interpretations, however, are not of equal importance: the literal sense is adapted to human needs; but the allegorical sense is the real one, which only the initiated comprehend. Hence Philo addresses himself to the μύσται ("initiated") among his audience, by whom he expects to be really comprehended[9].

He has special rules that direct the reader to recognize the passages which demand an allegorical interpretation, and which help the initiated to find the correct and intended meaning.

These passages are such as contain:

(1) the doubling of a phrase
(2) an apparently superfluous expression in the text
(3) the repetition of statements previously made
(4) a change of phraseology—all these phenomena point to something special that the reader must consider
(5) An entirely different meaning may also be found by a different combination of the words, disregarding the ordinarily accepted division of the sentence in question into phrases and clauses
(6) The synonyms must be carefully studied; e.g., why λαὸς is used in one passage and γένος in another, etc
(7) A play upon words must be utilized for finding a deeper meaning; e.g., sheep (πρόβατa) stand for progress in knowledge, since they derive their name from the fact of their progressing (προβαίνειν)
(8) A definite allegorical sense may be gathered from certain particles, adverbs, prepositions, etc.; and in certain cases it can be gathered even from
(9) the parts of a word; e.g., from διά in διάλευκος
(10) Every word must be explained in all its meanings, in order that different interpretations may be found
(11) The skillful interpreter may make slight changes in a word, following the rabbinical rule, "Read not this way, but that way." Philo, therefore, changed accents, breathings, etc., in Greek words
(12) Any peculiarity in a phrase justifies the assumption that some special meaning is intended: e.g., where μία ("one") is used instead of πρώτη ("first"; Gen. i.5), etc. Details regarding the form of words are very important
(13) the number of the word, if it shows any peculiarity in the singular or the plural: the tense of the verb, etc.
(14) the gender of the noun
(15) the presence or omission of the article
(16) the artificial interpretation of a single expression
(17) the position of the verses of a passage
(18) peculiar verse-combinations
(19) noteworthy omissions
(20) striking statements
(21) numeral symbolism

Philo found much material for this symbolism in the Hebrew Bible, and he developed it more thoroughly according to the methods of the Pythagoreans and Stoics. He could follow in many points the tradition handed down by his allegorizing predecessors[12].
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Postby kbs2244 » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:42 am

Looks like the rules any good translator would follow.
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Postby pattylt » Tue Jul 15, 2008 1:41 pm

I am definitely going to watch this thread. Do we actually have any of Philo's interpretations of passages of the bible? Any of his numerology?
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Postby Minimalist » Tue Jul 15, 2008 1:54 pm

Seek and ye shall find, Patty.

http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/


Scroll down, there's a whole section on Philo
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Postby Grumpage » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:32 pm

Ishtar

I glanced at the Syrian Palestinian thread and could make neither head nor tail of it, so good for you that you’ve broken away and given us newcomers a chance, but…

1. I still don’t know what it’s about. How about a brief summary?

2. Your list is mind-numbing. Without concrete examples I’m stuck.

3. I’ve come across dual interpretations before but I’m not sure where. It might have been Avicenna and Islamic theology but I’m not sure. What I do recall is that my immediate reaction then as now was to question the point of it. I simply cannot see the purpose of dual interpretations except to conceal meaning from (some, many, most?) people. Why do that? What about the folk who miss out? This strikes me as being a meritocracy without merit. If a higher power is behind this then God help most of us. The Gnostics have lot to answer for.

4. If a text is long and complicated (e.g. the Old Testament) there will be people who insist it has hidden depths. Before entering their arcane world one should question their motives and simply ask ‘why?’. I have never found the answer convincing.
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Postby Ishtar » Tue Jul 15, 2008 3:06 pm

Grumpage wrote:Ishtar
I glanced at the Syrian Palestinian thread and could make neither head nor tail of it, so good for you that you’ve broken away and given us newcomers a chance, but…

1. I still don’t know what it’s about. How about a brief summary?


I'm sorry there is so much of this, Grumpage. But that's because there just is so much of it. I really only post it for complete nutters like myself who are obsessed with this line of enquiry and who will gobble up reams and reams of this stuff without complaint because well... that's what we do, fwiw. I figure if people aren't interested, they will just keep scrolling. That's what I would do.

You're asking for a summary, but really what I've posted on the SPA thread about the Gnostics is a summary. It's distilled from over a dozen books studied over many years.

Perhaps it would be easier if you could tell me which particular aspects you don't understand and would like to know more about and why. That way I can tailor a reply just for you.

Grumpage wrote:
2. Your list is mind-numbing. Without concrete examples I’m stuck.


Grumpage, it's not my list that's mind-numbing. You have to blame Philo of Alexandria for that. It's his list.

There are a number of threads, though, where we've discussed the possibility of stories in the Bible being allegories.

One is about whether it's an allegory based on astrology, and there's a lot in there: http://archaeologica.boardbot.com/viewt ... 51&start=0

But what we're discussing now is whether it's an allegory of the Gnostics. You can read an introductory article about their beliefs here: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlintro.html

I should reiterate that I'm not a Gnostic and neither do I believe in it. I'm merely examining it because I believe it is at the root of Christianity.

Grumpage wrote:
3. I’ve come across dual interpretations before but I’m not sure where. It might have been Avicenna and Islamic theology but I’m not sure. What I do recall is that my immediate reaction then as now was to question the point of it. I simply cannot see the purpose of dual interpretations except to conceal meaning from (some, many, most?) people. Why do that? What about the folk who miss out? This strikes me as being a meritocracy without merit. If a higher power is behind this then God help most of us. The Gnostics have lot to answer for.


Well, my purpose here it not to judge the Gnostics. I'm trying to keep this to a straightforward historical discussion about who they were and why I believe that they were original Christians. Having said that, I should point out that mystic knowledge was kept secret from the masses in every single religion at the time - it was the preserve of an eltite priesthood. They even make Jesus say in the Gospels that the true knowledge is not for the masses ...so you can't really blame the Gnostics for that when it was a worldwide and ancient practice.

Grumpage wrote:
4. If a text is long and complicated (e.g. the Old Testament) there will be people who insist it has hidden depths. Before entering their arcane world one should question their motives and simply ask ‘why?’. I have never found the answer convincing.
:lol:

That's cool. My own research has led me to a different opinion and the reasons why, we have been discussing. Maybe you find it difficult to understand allegory - to read sub-text and hidden meanings. I know some people do ... it's not a criticism. It's just a fact that everyone has different strengths and weakness, and I have plenty of the latter. :lol:
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Postby Ishtar » Tue Jul 15, 2008 3:18 pm

Grumpage, the introduction for which I provided a link in my last post contains quite a good summary of Gnosticism historically.

Here's an extract:

In the initial century and a half of Christianity -- the period when we find first mention of "Gnostic" Christians -- no single acceptable format of Christian thought had yet been defined. During this formative period, Gnosticism was one of many currents moving within the deep waters of the new religion. The ultimate course Christianity, and Western culture with it, would take was undecided at this early moment. Gnosticism was one of the seminal influences shaping that destiny.

That Gnosticism was, at least briefly, in the mainstream of Christianity is witnessed by the fact that one of its most influential teachers, Valentinus, may have been in consideration during the mid-second century for election as the Bishop of Rome.3

Born in Alexandria around 100 C.E., Valentinus distinguished himself at an early age as an extraordinary teacher and leader in the highly educated and diverse Alexandrian Christian community. In mid-life he migrated from Alexandria to the Church's evolving capital, Rome, where he played an active role in the public affairs of the Church. A prime characteristic of Gnostics was their claim to be keepers of sacred traditions, gospels, rituals, and successions – esoteric matters for which many Christians were either not properly prepared or simply not inclined.

Valentinus, true to this Gnostic predilection, apparently professed to have received a special apostolic sanction through Theudas, a disciple and initiate of the Apostle Paul, and to be a custodian of doctrines and rituals neglected by what would become Christian orthodoxy.4 Though an influential member of the Roman church in the mid-second century, by the end of his life Valentinus had been forced from the public eye and branded a heretic by the developing orthodoxy Church.

While the historical and theological details are far too complex for proper explication here, the tide of history can be said to have turned against Gnosticism in the middle of the second century. No Gnostic after Valentinus would ever come so near prominence in the greater Church. Gnosticism's emphasis on personal experience, its continuing revelations and production of new scripture, its asceticism and paradoxically contrasting libertine postures, were all met with increasing suspicion. By 180 C.E. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, was publishing his first attacks on Gnosticism as heresy, a labor that would be continued with increasing vehemence by the church Fathers throughout the next century.

Orthodoxy Christianity was deeply and profoundly influenced by its struggles with Gnosticism in the second and third centuries. Formulations of many central traditions in Christian theology came as reflections and shadows of this confrontation with the Gnosis.5

But by the end of the fourth century the struggle was essentially over: the evolving ecclesia had added the force of political correctness to dogmatic denunciation, and with this sword so-called "heresy" was painfully cut from the Christian body. Gnosticism as a Christian tradition was largely eradicated, its remaining teachers ostracized, and its sacred books destroyed. All that remained for students seeking to understand Gnosticism in later centuries were the denunciations and fragments preserved in the patristic heresiologies. Or at least so it seemed until the mid-twentieth century.
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Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 16, 2008 6:40 am

Ishtar

Can we just clear the air on something first? You write:

Maybe you find it difficult to understand allegory - to read sub-text and hidden meanings. I know some people do ... it's not a criticism. It's just a fact that everyone has different strengths and weakness, and I have plenty of the latter.


Please do not patronise me. Please do not presume what I may or may not find difficult to understand. If I do not understand or have difficulties with something then it is for me to tell you - not the other way around.

Ok, now that I've got that off my chest...

I'm still not sure what this thread is about. I assumed that because you started a new thread you might be putting forward a question, a problem, an issue or controversy, anything that might permit focus for discussion. It would really be appreciated if you were to do this.

On the other hand, if this is simply a continuation of the SPA thread then I shall promptly withdraw (probably).
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Postby Ishtar » Wed Jul 16, 2008 7:01 am

Woah .... ! Now I know why you're called Grumpage! :lol:

I made it very clear a number of times that the purpose of this discussion, continued from the SPA thread, is to determine whether the Gnostics were the original Christians.

It's not my fault that you don't have the background knowledge to understand what we're talking about here. And if you're going to be rude to me when all I'm doing is trying to give you the help that you asked me for - to clarify it all for you with links to further reading, summaries and explanations - then I won't be replying to any more of your posts.
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Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 16, 2008 9:46 am

This exchange is now at an end.
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Postby Forum Monk » Wed Jul 16, 2008 2:04 pm

Grumpage wrote:This exchange is now at an end.


Why are you quitting?

Ishtar is often guilty of a common fallacy in argumentation known as post hoc reasoning. It works like this:

A preceded B therefore A caused B.

Many debunkers of later religious belief erroneously conclude that because similar beliefs preceeded later beliefs, the later beliefs are a consequence of the earlier ones. It is not that simple.

http://skepdic.com/posthoc.html
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Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 16, 2008 2:44 pm

Forum Monk

Thank you - I appreciate it - but I know when to bail out.
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Postby Ishtar » Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:00 pm

Monk - if you think you can put this disagreement you and I are having over Gnosticism and Christianity to bed with a little homily on post-hoc reasoning, all I can say is ... boy are you in trouble! :lol:

Is that all you've got? :D
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Postby Forum Monk » Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:28 pm

Ishtar wrote:Monk - if you think you can put this disagreement you and I are having over Gnosticism and Christianity to bed with a little homily on post-hoc reasoning, all I can say is ... boy are you in trouble! :lol:

Is that all you've got? :D


Well I have casually been doing some research, not knocking myself out due to time constraints. You've been on it five years, me about 5 days off and on.

Next Tues, the young'un flys off to europe with her house guest. Then things around here should be a little quieter.
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Postby Ishtar » Wed Jul 16, 2008 9:51 pm

OK, I know, Monk.

:lol:

Just thought I'd respond with a little joshing to your sabre rattling, there!

:lol:

I'll give you a little encouragement .... I haven't been on it solidly for five years. It just rears its head intermittently when it crosses over something else I've been researching.

So it seems to be time now to get my conclusions on it out the open and see if it does stand up to scrutiny.

I look forward to the discussion.

:lol:
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