Pharisaism And Hellenism

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I shall not attempt in this lecture to cover the whole field of Pharisaism in its contact with Hellenism, or to examine the influence of that contact on the text of the Septuagint. My subject will be almost entirely the literature of Hellenistic Judaism of the orthodox Pharisaic type; even about that, I shall have to put forward some rather unorthodox views, which I shall have to ask you to accept without anything like an adequate investigation of the evidence.

Our sources fall into three main classes. The first is that vast and ill-ordered library which goes under the name of Philo of Alexandria; we may couple with his works the first ten chapters of the Book of Wisdom, one of the great masterpieces of the religious literature of the world. The second class of sources professes to deal not directly with religion or the philosophy of religion, but with history, or what professes to be history. But it is almost true to say that for the Judaism of the beginning of our era the distinction between history and philosophy is a distinction of degree, not of kind. All history is a history of God's dealings with man: all true philosophy is an understanding of God in the light of those dealings.* The works of Josephus are primarily historical, but they throw a great deal of

* Cf. the conventional method of expounding a system of doctrine by means of a summary of the history of the Old Testament, in which incidents are selected or emphasized as a proof of the speaker's argument.

light on the religious outlook of Hellenistic Judaism. Josephus, though a Jew of Jerusalem, is a thorough Hellenist in his outlook. To Josephus we may add a large number of fragments, mainly preserved by Eusebius, from Jewish writers of the 150 years before the beginning of our era, when we first find a Jewish literature developing at Alexandria. Our third class are the Christian sources, notably the Pauline Epistles. They must be used with caution; converts seldom do justice to the faith they have left, and we can seldom be quite certain that the beliefs which they express were not formed or accepted after conversion. None the less they are important; especially we must remember that St Paul is the only Pharisee, in the strict sense of the word, whose relations with Hellenism we can study at first-hand; and we can check him to a large extent by what we know of Judaism and Christianity from other sources.

Unquestionably our most important source is Philo. In the first place he is by far the most voluminous* It is usual to hear that Philo was an eccentric Jew who dabbled in philosophy and believed in something called the Logos. He is usually dismissed as a curious but unimportant by-product of the Hellenistic age. One could hardly find a more erroneous view. Philo is not an eccentric philosopher, nor even an eclectic philosopher. He is a compiler. It is usually recognized that he has incorporated a large part of the commentary of Posidonius on the Timaeus of Plato. But, unless I am very much mistaken, he has incorporated also large sections of many other writings. As a result we can find in him a whole body of traditional teaching of the schools and synagogues of Alexandria, often in a digested form, but quite often recognizable. We shall come shortly to a remarkable case in point, his treatment of the divine Wisdom. I can here only express the opinion that a vast amount of work remains to be done on Philo; as an individual he is intensely dull; but as a quarry he yields valuable results. The relative importance of the other sources will appear from the extent to which we use them.

The main scene of the contact of Judaism with Hellenistic thought was Alexandria. The dominant tradition of philosophy here was the later form of Stoicism, a system largely affected by Platonism and Pythagoreanism. Now this school of thought had what we may almost call a bible, or at least a book of Genesis of its own, the Timaeus of Plato.* In that dialogue we have a cosmogony which may be that of Plato, based on Pythagoras, or it may be a Pythagorean cosmogony which Plato has preserved. It does not concern us to ask how far it is Plato's own, nor even what is the real meaning of a very difficult and disputed work. What matters is the interpretation of it by the Alexandrine Stoics. According to their interpretation, we have first the one supreme God of the cosmos, whom it is hard to find and impossible to describe. He is perfectly good and He desired therefore to communicate His goodness to others, so He decided to create the universe. He first created a perfect pattern of the material world, which contained in itself the pattern of all things in the universe. From this pattern, which was a living and divine being, He proceeded to

* Cf. Bouche-Leclerq, UAstrologie Grecque, p. 20. Macrobius, In Somn. Scip. 11, 5 and 7, "reconciles" Vergil and Cicero with all the enthusiasm and ingenuity of a modern defender of infallibility.

fashion the material universe; this is composed of fire and earth, joined to one another by air and water, the stages through which fire and earth merge into one another. The laws of harmony uniting them are those which find their expression in the seven notes of the musical scale. The heavenly bodies were created as gods by the supreme deity; the living creatures on earth were made by them, and among the living creatures on earth is man, made of partly divine and partly material components, mortal yet also immortal.

The simplest exposition of the main ideas of the Timaeus with which I am acquainted is that of F. H. Brabant.* Whether it is an accurate exposition of the meaning of the dialogue I must leave to Platonic scholars. It is certainly an accurate exposition of the way in which it was interpreted by Philo and accommodated by him to Jewish thought, and so passed into Christian theology. It is to be presumed that it represents the interpretation of Posidonius, the main source of that blend of Platonism, Pythagoreanism and Stoicism which dominates Philo and the Greek Fathers. In the later Stoics the divine pattern becomes the divine element of reason, which is also fire in its most refined and ethereal form. This element as a whole is concentrated in the firmament of heaven, but also pervades the whole universe. Man, the microcosm, corresponds precisely to the universe, the macrocosm. In him the divine element of fire or reason is concentrated in the heart, which the dominant Stoic view regarded as the seat of reason, yet it also pervades the whole body; the reason apprehends what the senses

* Time and Eternity in Christian Thought (Bampton Lectures for 1936), pp. 10-21.

feel, only because it is diffused throughout the whole body. Thus we have a strict parallelism between man and the universe, since there is in both a concentration of the divine element in the dominant part,* yet at the same time it is diffused everywhere. According to the Timaeus there should be beyond all this a transcendent creator; but the Stoics vary. Sometimes they seem to have had simply a divine reason pervading the whole; sometimes they seem to have followed the Timaeus more closely and to have retained a transcendent deity, a divine principle which was equated to the firmament, as well as the divine pattern of the universe, which is the reason pervading the universe. That is why in Philo the Logos is sometimes the divine pattern of the cosmos, and seems to have an independent existence of its own, while sometimes it appears to be simply the immanent divine reason which pervades it. I doubt whether the Stoics of the time had a consistent system: Philo certainly has nothing of the kind. What the Stoics cared for was a philosophy which should retain the older Stoic belief in God as the immanent reason of the universe, but at the same time allow that measure of transcendence which is necessary, if we are to think of God as a being whom we can worship. The fact that they regarded God as composed of an infinitely ethereal fire and therefore in the last resort material, must not mislead us. They seem to have been driven to this view by the argument of the later Academics, that you cannot conceive of anything which is purely spiritual. The Stoics failed to see that the answer is that you can conceive it; you cannot imagine it, in the sense that

* The rjy^iioviKov.

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you cannot form a mental picture of it, but you can conceive of it as possibly existing. In any case, the concession did not interfere with the spirituality of their view of the universe.

Such in outline was the Stoic cosmogony. In theory it was monotheistic; in practice, it might or might not be. If God is immanent in all things, you can worship anything, on the ground that you are worshipping not it, but God present in it. So you could worship the planets or the forces of nature, while by the aid of allegory any myth could be interpreted as a vehicle of divine truth, and the cult which was based on it could claim the adherence of a reasonable man. On the other hand Stoicism was intensely ethical. Man was a divine soul in a material body; he must live up to his true nature, the divine element of reason in him. The four great virtues, prudence, courage, justice and temperance, must be the ruling principles of his life. Stoicism was entirely concerned with righteousness.

This was the philosophy of Alexandria. Judaism found it entirely congenial. The Greek might boast that Plato had taught that God is one: Moses had taught it long before, and probably Plato had borrowed it. Judaism too had its doctrine of a divine element which was God's agent in creation, His purpose for the world and the power by which He ruled it, in the form of the divine Wisdom. The figure of the divine Wisdom, as it meets us in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, is the great mystery of post-exilic Judaism. Here I must be dogmatic and be content to state that there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the figure of Wisdom in these two books represents any Greek influence on Judaism. I am pretty confident that even in Proverbs, as certainly in Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom is a personification of the Torah, and that it is in its origin a deliberate substitution for the great Egyptian goddess Isis, modified in Ecclesiasticus by features taken from Astarte; the two great goddesses Astarte and Isis had been identified from time immemorial.1 The adoption was an attempt to counteract the ever-present danger that Judaism would revert to its old habit of adding the "Queen of Heaven" to the Pantheon; it substituted for her the semi-personified Torah as an object not of worship but of reverence and affection. It is possible that the personification represents an unconscious psychological "compensation", but I think it is a deliberate and very successful expedient for safeguarding monotheism.* At the same time it asserts the valuable truth that God is bound by His own law; for the Torah is not an arbitrary code of laws, but an expression of the divine nature.

Anyhow Judaism could claim not merely that Moses had known that God is one long before Plato, but also that the divine pattern of the universe, which is also the divine power immanent in it, had been known to the great King Solomon when he wrote the book of Proverbs. The effect of contact with Greek thought on the figure of Wisdom was twofold. Wisdom became less obviously the personification of the Torah and became far more the divine power immanent in the cosmos, the rational element in man and the ruling power in the life of the wise man. In other words, it becomes the infused divine principle of Stoic cosmogony ; and if you read the portrait of the wise man who

* I hope to defend this view fully in an article to be published in the near future in the Journal of Theological Studies: the evidence on which it rests demands a treatment which would be impossible here.

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