Philo, Questions on Genesis

LCL 380: viii-ix

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Aucher in their Armenian dictionary published in Venice in 1836 in two large volumes.

With the help of this material I have ventured to reconstruct many of the philosophical and religious terms used by Philo in passages which are no longer extant in Greek. These reconstructions are not all to be regarded as certain but most of them, I think, are probably correct. At the same time I have tried to improve upon Aucher’s Latin translation of the Armenian version. A good many of the inaccuracies in his pioneer rendering are really the fault of the ancient Armenian translator. Others result from Aucher’s failure to divine the Greek idiom underlying a literal Armenian rendering. In calling attention to Aucher’s deficiencies I am in a sense repaying the great debt I owe him for helping me to see the meaning of many a difficult passage. It would be ungrateful of me to let it appear that my knowledge of Armenian remotely approaches his.

To one of my students, Mr. Edward Hobbs, I am indebted for help in reading proof. To my friend Professor H. A. Wolfson, whose book on Philo is a fine contribution to knowledge, I owe several good suggestions about the solution of problems of Greek philosophy.

The firm of R. and R. Clark has, as always, been remarkably accurate in printing.

R. M.

University of Chicago

16 November 1951

Introduction I

Philo’s Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus is, as its name indicates, a brief commentary in the form of questions and answers on the first two books of the Pentateuch, and in its form resembles Hellenistic (pagan) commentaries on the Homeric poems.

To each question concerning the meaning of a Biblical expression or verse Philo gives a twofold answer; one refers to the literal meaning (τὸ ῥητόν), and the other to the allegorical meaning (τὸ πρὸς διάνοιαν,a τὸ συμβολικόν). The allegorical interpretation may be subdivided into three kinds: the physical (i.e. cosmological or theological), the ethical or psychological, and the mystical. Sometimes Philo’s comment contains only one kind of allegorical interpretation, sometimes two, and occasionally all three.

Thus Philo’s twofold method of interpretation is a forerunner of the fourfold method used by Rabbinic and Patristic commentators. His “literal” interpretation corresponds to the “literal” or “historical” interpretation of the Church Fathers and to the pešat of the Rabbis. His “physical” interpretation corresponds to the “allegorical” interpretation of the Church Fathers and to the remez of the Rabbis. His “ethical” interpretation corresponds to the “moral” interpretation of the Church Fathers and to the deraš of the Rabbis. His mystical interpretation corresponds to the “anagogical” interpretation