Respecting Other Gods, Philo on Inspiration

1. Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint (New York: T&T Clark, 2004) 123.

A context from the [LXX] translator’s cultural settings may have influenced Exod. 22.27, where theous, ‘gods’, renders elohim, whereas the immediate context requires ‘judges’.  Buchner suggests that the translator is making a gracious gesture to his polytheistic milieu[;] the rendering, however, could be understood as automatic rather than contextual.  The example shows how difficult it can be to define a translator’s intention.

Exodus 22:27 reads “Elohim you shall not curse, and rulers among your people you shall not curse.”  In Hebrew, elohim is technically plural and means “gods,” yet the Hebrew Bible often uses it in a singular sense to refer to the one God of Israel or individual pagan deities (e.g., Dagon).  For Exodus 22:27, the LXX translates elohim as “gods,” perhaps implying that the Israelites should not curse any god, even those of pagan nations.  The Israelites are not to worship them, mind you, for they are to serve YHWH alone; but they are still to respect the gods of foreign nations, in the sense of not cursing them.  

That reminds me of Jude 1:8-10, in which Jude criticizes those who speak evil of dignities or of things they don’t understand.  Jude contrasts these people with the archangel Michael, who did not blaspheme Satan when they were disputing over the bones of Moses.  Rather, Michael told Satan, “The LORD rebuke you.”  Jude’s sentiment seems to be that Satan was a dignitary who deserved some respect, even though we should still wish for God to put him in his place.

I remember hearing a sermon a long time ago at the Feast of Tabernacles by Ron Dart entitled “The Devil’s Tracks.”  Dart’s point was that Satan’s activity in the world was serious business, so the Pentecostals who say “We’re going to grab that old devil by the tail tonight!” are seriously off-base.  I wonder if Christians who rebuke the devil are also mistaken.

Although Jude 1:8-10 seems to say that people should respect Satan and leave judgment to God, Luke 10:19 presents Jesus giving his disciples the ability to tread over snakes and scorpions—power over the enemy.  Believers have a role in obstructing Satan’s activity and resisting him in their lives.  So how do we balance this tension (BryanL’s favorite word!)?  Maybe we do so by opposing Satan while remembering that the spiritual powers are dignitaries we do not understand, meaning puny creatures like us are in no place to blaspheme them.   

2. Folker Siegert, “Early Jewish Interpretation in a Hellenistic Style,” Hebrew Bible, Old Testament: The History of Interpretation I/1: Antiquity, ed. Magne Saebo (1996) 171.

Siekert states the following about Philo’s view on the inspiration of the Scriptures:

As regards inspiration, Philo’s views seem heterogeneous.  In the first instance, the author of the Pentateuch is Moses.  He is Israel’s lawgiver…This seems to differ from the Rabbi’s conception where YHWH speaks immediately in the Torah…He makes an apologetic concession to Hellenistic culture in which a hero of the past and a great author is more credible—and no less venerable—than a voice from heaven.

But Moses is more than a legislator; he is a prophet, and even the greatest of the prophets.  Sometimes, and not indeed rarely, Moses is the recipient of a prophetic gift that outweighs any activity of his own.  Moses is in a trance when the Lord speaks through him in the first person.  In handing over the Decalogue and on other occasions Moses is in mechanical resonance with the divine power that sets him in movement.  At this level the Philonic (and Platonic) concept of ‘inspiration’ excludes any intellectual activity on the side of humans; and it includes a kind of mechanical causation mediated by the material pneuma of Stoic cosmology.  Like a stringed instrument struck by a plectron, Moses just utters sounds. 

A few pages later, Siekert quotes a statement by Philo in G 17.264f (whatever that is) that the same kind of inspiration Moses received can overtake the readers of the Torah:

When the light of God shines, the human light sets; when the divine light sets, the human dawns and rises.  This is what regularly befalls the fellowship of the prophets.  The mind is evicted at the arrival of the divine Spirit, but when that departs the mind returns to its tenancy.  Mortal and immortal may not share the same home.  And therefore the setting of reason and the darkness which surrounds it produce ecstasy and inspired frenzy…

Philo appears to define inspiration as a form of possession.

A while back, I wrote a post on Philo and inspiration entitled Inspiration, Toleration, Meditation, in which I say that Philo defines inspiration as the prophet receiving an insight from God and putting it into his own words.  As I heard a Seventh-Day Adventist say in a Sabbath School class, “The Bible is thought-inspired, not word-inspired.”  I was quoting an article by Yehoshua Amir, which said that Philo didn’t believe prophets were like Delphic Oracles, who uttered incomprehensible sounds while in the grip of the God; rather, the biblical prophets critically judged the sounds and derived a reasonable meaning from them.

It turns out that Philo may have been more nuanced, for Philo believed there were times when Moses was completely under the power of the divine, meaning he wasn’t really in the picture as far as the shaping of the revelation was concerned.  From what Siegert says, my impression is that there were times when Moses’ intellectual activity was a part of the revelation, and there were times when it was not.

My mind turns to two topics.  First of all, the inspiration of the Bible.  One problem with saying that God dictated the Bible word-for-word to man is that the Bible’s writings have different styles.  Fundamentalists have approached this topic in at least two ways.  Some say that God speaks through the personalities of the authors of the Bible, which would account for their different styles and emphases.  Others claim that God still spoke the Bible word-for-word, but he chose to use different styles.  After all, is not God a lover of variety?  Look at the variety in nature—the different colors and flowers and animals, etc.

Second, Pentecostal experiences.  When Pentecostals speak in tongues or prophesy, are they possessed by a spirit?  Is the human element of them totally subordinated to the divine when they are in their rapturous state?  Based on the few I’ve talked with over the years, my impression is “no.”  One Pentecostal told me his tongues-experience was like experiencing God in prayer: God was doing something, but he was cooperating in some way with the divine.  The tongues flowed from his prayer and praise to God.  That coincides with what Paul says in I Corinthians 14:32: “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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