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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Inspired Interpretive Texts by Named Individuals

Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BCE 50 CE) left behind a rich legacy of writings including theological essays, allegorical interpretations, explications of biblical laws, and questions and answers on Genesis and Exodus. Composed in Greek within the Hellenized community of Alexandria, which never recovered from its decimation in the 2nd century ce, his works, which interpret the Septuagint (Greek) rather than Hebrew texts, were apparently lost to later Jewish exegetes and philosophers. Indeed, he was appropriated so completely by some Christians that he was retrospectively regarded as a Christian. Only centuries later, during the Reformation, was it recalled that Philo Christianus had in fact been Philo Judaeus. This recognition generated renewed interest by Jewish scholars and repudiation by some Christian theologians. To this day, some scholars interpret Philo as a proto‐Christian, while others view him as a proto‐rabbinic Jew.

Philo's challenge was different from the challenge confronting the authors of Jubilees or the Genesis Apocryphon. They had to authorize, to an exclusively Jewish audience, what they took to be authentic Judaism, in the face of rival practices and interpretations. Philo, in contrast, had to authorize Judaism itself to both Jews and non‐Jews, within the relatively new context of the Hellenistic competition of cultures, a competition that was at the same time political, especially in light of the even newer Roman empire's quest to authorize itself through the appropriation of the Greek philosophical and literary heritage.

The place of Judaism within this new Roman world was far from clear. On the one hand, the significance of the Greek heritage was now as universal as the empire itself sought to be. Near Eastern cultures, which enjoyed the mystique of antiquity and exoticism, could legitimize themselves by identifying their gods with Greek gods and their teachings with Greek teachings. On the other hand, religious syncretism did not cohere easily with Jewish monotheism, and the Mosaic law, which seemed primarily to address Jews alone, was in danger of appearing parochial, thus rendering it potentially threatening to Rome and potentially insignificant to Hel‐lenized Jews.

Thus, in Philo's world, the authority of Mosaic law itself was a live issue. One of his primary objectives was to show through interpretation that biblical texts have universal significance. Philo claimed (Mos. 2:12):

That Moses himself was the best of all lawgivers in all countries, better in fact thanany that have ever arisen among either the Greeks or the barbarians, and that his laws are most excellent and truly come from God….

To be sure, Mosaic law is particular in the sense that it is binding in all its details only for the particular people of Israel. This law does, however, have universal significance in virtue of its special relation to natural law (Mos. 2:14):

But Moses is alone in this, that his laws, firm unshaken, immovable, stamped, as it were, with the seals of nature herself, remain secure from the day when they were first enacted to now, and we may hope that they will remain for all future ages as though immortal, so long as the sun and moon and the whole heaven and universe exist.

Philo used a variety of methods to demonstrate this point. For example, he read the creation story in Genesis as a treatise on philosophical cosmology, akin to Plato's Timaeus, and he interpreted many laws and rituals as having an allegorical level of meaning, at which they signify philosophical doctrines of importance to Gentiles as well as Jews. Philo's immediate influence seems to have been greatest upon Christian interpreters, such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria. But his methods and ideas, transmitted through various intermediaries, resurfaced among medieval Jewish philosophers, for whose biblical interpretation his works serve as a paradigm, although it is likely they did not directly know his writings.

As in Jubilees, Philo perceived the need to explain why the Torah begins not with the revelation of the law at Sinai, but with the stories of creation and the ancestors (Abr. 5):

First he [Moses] wished to show that the enacted ordinances are not inconsistent with nature; and secondly that those who wish to live in accordance with the laws as they stand have no difficult task, seeing that the first generations before any at all of the particular statutes was set in writing followed the unwritten law with perfect ease, so that one might properly say that the enacted laws are nothing else than memorials of the life of the ancients, preserving to a later generation their actual words and deeds.

The point of the narratives was not to convey laws written on heavenly tablets, as it was for Jubilees. Instead, their point was to convey the unwritten law of nature, which was embodied in the exemplary lives of the ancestors. Indeed, the enacted laws peculiar to Israel had to be understood solely as memorials of the lives of these sages. This universalistic interpretation was intended to emphasize, not to undermine, the need for Jews to preserve their particular traditions and observances. But it implied that Jews could only observe the law properly if they understood it not only legally, but also philosophically.

In this spirit, Philo found in biblical narratives a meaning that was both cosmological and psychological. For example, he read the conflict between Cain and Abel as a conflict between the archetype of evil and the archetype of holiness, hence as an allegorical representation of moral conflict within a single human soul. Every detail related about the brothers—their names, their chosen professions, their conceptions of God and their actions—conveyed a moral lesson about the impression of vice or virtue. Thus Cain's name, which Philo derives from the Hebrew verb meaning “to possess,” shows that the root of all evil is the belief that humans are possessors of what properly belongs to God. In contrast, Abel's “name means ‘one who refers (all things) to God’” (Sacr. 2 ). Similarly, Cain chose to till the soil, a profession that involved him with earthly and inanimate objects, not with preparation for a future life. In contrast (QG 1:59): “Abel's choice of work as a shepherd is understood as preparatory to rulership and kingship.” It is hardly surprising, then, that God preferred Abel's sacrifice. Cain's reaction—the jealous fratricide—onlyexacerbated his problem by removing the possibility of coming under Abel's virtuous influence (Det. 68 ):

It would have been to the advantage of Cain, the lover of self, to have guarded Abel; for had he carefully preserved him, he would have been able to lay claim only to a mixed “half and half” life indeed, but would not have drained the cup of sheer unmitigated wickedness.

Thus vice is self‐destructive. To be sure, Abel died while Cain survived (Post. 39 ):

But in my judgement and in that of my friends, preferable to life with impious men would be death with pious men; for awaiting those who die in this way there will be undying life, but awaiting those who live in that way there will be eternal death.

But hope never perishes. When God asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” this shows, according to Philo, that repentance is always possible and that we are consequently responsible for our actions (QG 1:68):

Why does he who knows all ask the fratricide, “Where is Abel, your brother?” He wishes that man himself of his own will shall confess, in order that he may not pretend that all things seem to come about through necessity. For he who killed through necessity would confess that he acted unwillingly; for that which is not in our power is not to be blamed. But he who sins of his own free will denies it, for sinners are obliged to repent. Accordingly he (Moses) inserts in all parts of his legislation that the Deity is not the cause of evil.

Philo's philosophical approach to biblical narratives differed significantly from the approach of Jubilees and kindred works. But Philo also repeatedly connected these narratives to laws mentioned later in the Torah. For example, he connected the story of Cain and Abel to the law that requires that first fruits be brought as an offering. The point was not to show, as Jubilees intended, that the narratives were implicitly legal texts, but that Mosaic law provided solutions for the moral problems confronting all humans. The law is designed to implant healthy theological convictions, to efface evil impressions and to reinforce good ones. Thus, for example, the tiller of soil is commanded to bring the first fruits as an offering to God, and to profess God's dominion over a land to which the farmer is ultimately foreign. Philo's analysis of Cain brings out the wisdom of this law, which is shown to manifest a deep understanding of the human soul.

Thus Philo's interpretations are not wholly unlike the reworkings of biblical traditions found in Jubilees and similar works. But Philo does not present his interpretations as versions of the texts they interpret. Indeed, he could not “rewrite the Bible,” since he accepted the story told by the Letter of Aristeas to authorize the Septuagint (see “Jewish Translations of the Bible,” pp. 2005–20). According to the Letter, Ptolemy Philadelphus had commissioned a Greek translation of the Bible, which was then produced by seventy Jewish elders who worked in isolation on the island of Pharos, but miraculously produced a single text. Thus, in his relationship to the biblical texts, Philo was more like interpreters after canonization than like his Second Temple contemporaries in the land of Israel.

Philo occasionally presented his interpretations as results of his own insight, but he did this only on occasion, and more frequently appealed to other sources of authority. He invoked “the traditions of the fathers” and claimed divine inspiration. He even insisted, when he interpreted the creation story in Genesis as a philosophical cosmology, that “it is Moses who lays this down, not I” (Opif. 24–25). On the one hand, Philo's self‐conscious use of the first‐person pronoun exhibits his sense of his own independent activity as an interpreter. On the other hand, he continues to efface himself.

Another important source for pre‐rabbinic Jewish interpretations is the voluminous writingsof Flavius Josephus, or Joseph bar Matthias (37–100 CE). From the age of 30, Josephus spent his life in Rome during the reigns of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. He devoted his life to retelling the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world (i.e., retelling the history of the Jews beginning with the beginning of Genesis) until the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman conquest, focusing on the Jewish war with Rome, in which he had participated. At a time when the Jews were under severe attack and criticism, he sought to explain and glorify those who lived in accordance with the law of Moses.

Josephus himself was a member of the priestly aristocracy and was well educated in the traditions of Jewish interpretation. Scholars have noted his extensive supplementation and interpretation of biblical passages. Yet he claimed only to present Scripture itself (Ant. 1.17 ):

The precise details of our Scripture records will, then, be set forth, each in its place, as my narrative proceeds, that being the procedure that I have promised to follow throughout this work, neither adding nor omitting anything.

This self‐effacing claim is, perhaps, best understood in light of Josephus's understanding of what it means to “read” Scripture, i.e., interpret the authoritative texts in the context of the wealth of authoritative interpretation. It is clear that, by the time of Josephus, there was already an extant body of interpretive material that shaped the way Jews read and transmitted the books of Tanakh. When Josephus promised neither to add nor to omit, he did not mean that he would convey only the letter of these books, without also conveying the expansions and interpretations which he considered authoritative.

For example, while in Gen. ch 18 we are told only of Sodom's wickedness, Josephus provides his readers with an extensive gloss on the nature of that wickedness ( Ant. 1.194–95 ):

Now, about this time the Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from Him, hated foreigners and avoided any contact with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance, and not only to uproot their city, but to blast their land so completely that it should yield neither plant nor fruit whatsoever from that time forward.

Other Second Temple texts—e.g., Wisd. 19.14 and Sir. 16.8 —reflect the tradition that arrogance was the principal sin of the Sodomites. In addition, Josephus often explains and justifies actions that may have seemed morally questionable. So, for example, Josephus explained or even justified Joseph's concealment of his own identity (Ant. 2.99 ):

It was in order to discover news of his father and what had become of him after his own departure that he so acted; he moreover desired to learn the fate of his brother Benjamin, for he feared that by such a ruse as they had practiced on himself, they might have rid the family of him also.

This expansion resembles other Second Temple attempts to explain the characters and motivations of biblical personalities. But, living in Rome immediately after the Roman conquest, Josephus had an additional reason to cast Jewish tradition in a light that was morally favorable.

Like Philo, Josephus sometimes claimed divine authority for his writings. Thus he claimed to be a divine messenger who had to present the inspired word of God (J.W. 3.392–408; Ant. 10.78–79 ). Indeed, as an eyewitness to the destruction of the Second Temple, he implicitly and repeatedly identified himself with the prophet Jeremiah, who both prophesied and witnessed the destruction of the First Temple. Like Josephus, Jeremiah wasalso a priest—hence one of those entrusted with the faithful preservation of the records of the history of the Jewish people, which, as Josephus adds, “will continue to be preserved with scrupulous accuracy” ( Ag. Ap. 1.29 ). Clearly, Josephus understood himself to be exercising this priestly and prophetic office, carrying on the work of Scripture transmission through his own inspired interpretations.

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