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Re: [John_Lit] knowledge of Philo in fisrt century Palestine

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  • fmmccoy
    ... From: Jeffrey B. Gibson To: Sent: Saturday, January 17, 2004 3:47 PM Subject: Re:
    Message 1 of 28 , Jan 20, 2004
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Jeffrey B. Gibson" <jgibson000@...>
      To: <johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Saturday, January 17, 2004 3:47 PM
      Subject: Re: [John_Lit] knowledge of Philo in fisrt century Palestine


      > As is probably already clear, I think the fundamental premise from which
      Frank draws his conclusions (i.e., the premise that "most, if not all,
      well-educated Palestinian Jews would have read his works from the
      perspective of the various types of Palestinian Judaism rather than from the
      perspective of Greek-Hellenistic philosophy") is highly dubious. It is
      itself grounded in several questionable assumptions about
      (a) the nature of Palestinian Judaism (e.g. that it was not Hellenized),
      (b) what currents of thought a "well educated Palestinian Jew" would have
      been familiar with, and
      (c) what it was that would have been foremost in the minds of "well educated
      Palestinian Jews" when they read works that were steeped in Hellenistic

      My view has become slightly more nuanced since writing to Jeffrey Gibson

      In particular, I now grant that the urban elite in Palestine, the uppermost
      1-2% of the population (primarily consisting of the Herodians, the high
      priestly aristocracy, the landed gentry, and the highest Roman officials),
      had educations that would have made them familiar with most, if not all, of
      the various Greek/Hellenistic philosophies. Further, most, if not all, of
      those who belonged to the urban elite who were of Jewish descent probably
      practiced a form of Judaism that was neither apocalyptic not messianic. They
      were inclined to believe that Rome ruled because this was God's will and,
      furthermore, they were inclined to believe that their high status in society
      was due to their having God's favor.

      However, as respects the other tiers of Palestinian society, I still think
      that this was not the case. For example, let us take the next
      socio-economic class, the retainer class, which perhaps was 5% of the
      Palestinian population. Here, with the exception of Gentiles who belonged
      to this class, I think that educations would only rarely have included the
      reading of Greek/Hellenic philosophy works. Further, I think that most of
      the Jews in Palestine belonging to the retainer class would have practiced a
      form of Judaism that was apocalyptic and/or messianic.

      As respects the nature of Palestinian Judaism, there is no question but that
      it was Hellenized. This is quite a different matter, though, than saying
      that many Palestinian Jews read Plato. Outside of the 1-2% belonging to the
      urban elite, I think this was uncommon.

      > There is nothing to my mind that makes Frank's premise valid. Indeed, it
      seems to me that FRanks own claims about
      (a) who it was from among the inhabitants of first century Palestine who
      were likely to have possessed Philo's works (each and every one of them
      advocates of Hellenization),
      (b) the level of education these folks possessed, and
      (c) the likelihood that they had the personal libraries that others of their
      wealth and station had,
      show that his premise is fundamentally without merit.

      Yes, I think, the first Palestinian Jews to possess Philo's works did belong
      to the urban elite: who were advocates of Hellenization, whose educations
      did involve a broad exposure to Greek/Hellenistic philosophy, and who were
      the type of people to typically have personal libraries. In particular, I
      think that the first Palestinian Jews to possess the works of Philo came
      from that segment of the urban elite consisting of those who either were
      near kin of Philo or else personally knew near kin of Philo.

      However, I also think that, once copies of Philo's works came in to the
      posession of some in this segment of the Palestinian urban elite, there
      was a diffusion of copies of these works outwards to others in the
      Palestinian urban elite and downwards to those in the Palestinian retainer

      It's with Jewish people in this retainer class that, I think, there would
      have been the interpretation of Philo from an apocalyptic and/or messianic
      perspective rather than from a Greek/Hellenic philosophical perspective.

      In particular, it is with this class of people that we might expect to find
      some interpreting Philo's Logos to be the fulfiller of one or more awaited
      messianic figures.

      In "The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John"
      (Harvard Theological Review, 94:3, 2001, p.245), Daniel Boyarin states, "In
      1962, J.A.T. Robinson noted that there was much in the Gospel of John that
      seemed to indicate a close connection with first-century Palestinian realia,
      but that 'it could still be argued that the Logos theology (for which the
      [Dead Sea Scrolls] provide no parallel) locates the Gospel both in place and
      time at a considerable remove from the Palestinian scene which it purports
      to describe.'"

      However, if Philo's works had spread to Palestine and gotten into the hands
      of some of those in the retainer class thinking in messianic terms, then the
      presence of a messianic Logos theology in the Gospel of John is not contrary
      to the other evidence suggesting that the sitz im leben for the Johannine
      community and the gospel writer was Palestine.

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 15
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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