Philo of Alexandria under the magnifier

He was a contemporary of Jesus and his writings are described as a treasure. International researchers are taking a renewed interest in Philo of Alexandria.

Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish scribe who lived in the period 20 B.C. – 50 A.D.

His writings may have been overlooked in the past but international researchers are now paying renewed attention to Philo of Alexandria, delving into his life and works.

Researchers from Yale University and Nord University are taking the lead.

Yale and Nord taking the lead

– Philo of Alexandria is significant for exploring the context of the New Testament.

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Keen on Philo: Professor Gregory Sterling (left) and Professor Per Jarle Bekken (Photo: Private).

Those are the words of Professor Per Jarle Bekken at Nord University. Together with Professor Gregory Sterling, Dean of the School of Divinity, Yale University, he will chair the research seminar that is taking place between 2018 and 2022.

– The “Philo and Early Christianity” seminar aims to create cooperation between Yale and other universities in countries like the UK, Germany and Scandinavia.

– The goal is for this to lead to publications as well as to the development of top-notch international research applications, Bekken says. He also teaches Christianity, Religion and Life Stance for students enrolled on the primary teacher education programmes at Nord University.

The New Testament

The decision to create a separate seminar about Philo was made in August during the Annual Conference of the SNTS, the international society of New Testament researchers.

Professor Bekken is among those researchers in the world who are most familiar with the works of Philo.
Bekken has published two level-2 monographs* in which he has applied materials from Philo to shed new light on the texts of Paul as well as the gospel of John.

He is currently working on his third monograph.

Diaspora Judaism

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At the time of Jesus and Paul: Philo of Alexandria lived from 20 B.C. to 50 A.D. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bekken points to three reasons why Philo in particular deserves his own seminar.

– First of all, he left behind a veritable library of texts, and he lived at the same time as both Jesus and several of the New Testament writers, such as e.g. Paul.

– Secondly, he is representative of the diaspora Judaism that constitutes the context of the New Testament writings.

– It is easy to overlook the fact that the New

Testament writings were written both by and to Jews and representatives from other ethnic groups living in such a diaspora context. In this way, the writings of Philo are a treasure in and of themselves and they constitute our most important source of information about various traditions in diaspora Judaism as well as about genuine historic conditions that constitute the background for the New Testament and the emergence of the early church, Bekken says.

Roots in multicultural Antiquity

- Thirdly, multicultural environments and trends are reflected in Philo’s writings, based on Greek, Roman and Jewish traditions from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem respectively, during the first century A.D.

- These traditions also constitute the foundation for our own humanist and Christian cultural heritage. Basic research based on historic sources such as the writings of Philo and the New Testament are thus of key importance of understanding more of our own values and traditions that are rooted in multicultural Antiquity, Bekken says.

SNTS Facts

Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS) is an international society of researchers of the New Testament.

The SNTS holds annual research conferences. This year’s conference took place in Pretoria, South Africa in August. The 2018 conference will take place in Athens, Greece.

* Bekken has published the following monographs with materials from Philo:
- "The Word is Near You: Paul`s Use of Deuteronomy 30:12–14 in a Jewish Context" (De Gruyter, 2007).
- "The Lawsuit Motif in John`s Gospel from New Perspectives: Jesus Christ, Crucified Criminal and Emperor of the World (Brill, 2015).