The rules of our Five Questions interview series are simple: we send authors a long list of questions. Some are serious; some are . . . not so serious. They choose their five favorites and respond.
Our guest today is Torrey Seland, who is professor emeritus of New Testament and former dean of studies at the School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway, and editor of the new book Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria.
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What led you to put together Reading Philo?
The book started out as a Scandinavian project, originating in Finland, but when the project stalled and I took over, I wanted to make a book that would be the go-to book for students entering the world of Philo studies. Furthermore, I realized that we had to include more Philonic scholars than those available in the Scandinavian or Nordic countries; hence we invited several additional scholars from around the globe to join us, and they all agreed to contribute to the volume. The book is about why and how to read Philo, and every chapter is meant to contribute to that focus: why is Philo important, and for whom, and how are we to read him?
What makes the book such a unique contribution?
I would like to think that what makes this book unique is its practical focus on how and why to read Philo. There are already several very good handbooks to Philo out there in the market today, but this one distinguishes itself by focusing on how and why Philo is relevant, and by offering guidance to readers as they start out on their journeys into Philo’s literary and social world. Philo himself is not easy reading, and even though no introductory handbook can replace reading his own works, some practical help acclimating to his world may be welcome.
Whom do you envision reading and using this volume?
I state several times in the book that it should be relevant for MA and especially PhD students starting to deal with Philo. But in fact, I think that both interested general readers and seasoned scholars might find something relevant and worthwhile in the volume. As Philo was living as a Jew in the western Diaspora in the first century C.E., he can offer wisdom to both Jews and Christians coming to terms with what it means to live as a minority group in this world and how to cope with the challenge of establishing a contrasting yet secure identity within the dominant culture. In addition, the works of Philo are highly relevant for students of both ancient philosophies and the development of early Christian theologies.
What are you reading right now for work?
I retired last summer, so — in theory — I should have plenty of time to read, but everyday life often seems to have other things in store for me. Nevertheless, I am trying to dig into the world of post-colonial theories and perspectives. This is necessary for me to understand one of the most popular trends in both historical and biblical studies these days. And in fact, as I read more into the subject, I am beginning to wonder if post-colonial theories and perspectives may have something meaningful to contribute to our understanding of the life and works of the Jews in the western Diaspora.
What are you doing when you’re not reading, writing, teaching, or answering questions for EerdWord?
Well, that’s a hard question. Anyway, I know what I would like to do: besides being a husband, father, and grandfather, I would definitely like to be able to play more golf!
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Table of Contents for Reading Philo
Introduction and Motivation
Philo of Alexandria: An Introduction
Philo of Alexandria in Context
Philo as a Jew
Philo as a Citizen: Homo politicus
Philo — An Interpreter of the Laws of Moses
Philo and Classical Education
“The Jewish Philosophy”: Reading Moses via Hellenistic Philosophy according to Philo
Gregory E. Sterling
Why and How to Study Philo
Why Study Philo? How?
Philo’s Exposition of the Law and Social History: Methodological Considerations
Philo’s Relevance for the Study of Jews and Judaism in Antiquity
Philo’s Relevance for the Study of the New Testament
Per Jarle Bekken
Philo in the Patristic Tradition: A List of Direct References
David T. Runia
Click to order Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria.