Book Reviews

A Brief Guide to Philo

Kenneth Schenck Louisville 2005-03-01

Schenck has written a much-needed introduction to the world, life, and writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo. Though this book is relatively short, Schenck has maintained a good balance between depth and breadth of coverage.

A Brief Guide to Philo begins with an analysis of the various labels scholars have given to Philo over the years, such as Philo the mystic and Philo the philosopher. Schenck then summarizes what is known about Philo’s life and writings. Chapter three focuses on Philo’s concept of Judaism as well as the significance of his embrace of Hellenism. Then the author discusses Philo’s view of the world, including his relationship to the Greek philosophical traditions, his concept of the heavenly and earthly realities, and his ethics. In chapter five Schenck draws a number of correlations between Philo’s writings and those of the New Testament and the early church fathers. The sixth chapter has a brief summary of each of Philo’s extant writings, which Schenck has conveniently arranged in the order in which he believes students should read Philo (beginning from the easiest historical writings to the more difficult allegorical commentaries). The book concludes with a nineteen-page topical index that serves as a useful quick reference for beginning and intermediate students of Philo’s works.

A Brief Guide to Philo is lucidly written for an audience with little or no previous background in second-temple Judaism, though more advanced students will find this work equally helpful and stimulating. In addition on nearly every page Schenck defines terms such as “diaspora” and “Septuagint,” which some readers may not be familiar with. Schenck has exerted every effort to make his work accessible to the widest possible audience.

A second and equally important feature of this book is the author’s intentional appeal to students of philosophy and the New Testament. His desire is to provide more than an informative introduction; he also wants to demonstrate “how to use his [Philo’s] corpus to shed light on questions raised by other disciplines” (p. 7, italics his). For Schenck, it is not enough that one knows about Philo; his works should be read and utilized in one’s understanding of philosophy, Christianity, and Judaism. For this reason he spends almost a third of the book explaining connections between Philo’s thought and Judaism, the New Testament, and first-century Hellenistic philosophy. His tantalizing connections entice students to mine the depths of Philo for their own studies.

Another value of this book is its numerous references to primary and secondary literature. Besides whetting the readers’ appetite by showing them what Philo has to say, Schenkck then points them to some of the best scholarly treatments where they can delve more deeply. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in early Judaism, New Testament backgrounds, or Hellenistic philosophy.

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