ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47 (2010) 335-338
Sarah J.K. Pearce, The Land of the Body: Studies in Philo's Representation of Egypt. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 208. Tibingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. xxviii + 365 pages. ISBN10: 3-16-149250-1, ISBN-13: 978-3-16-149250-1.
Of the many Greek authors who wrote about Egypt, Philo is especially
interesting because of his privileged position as an inhabitant of Alexandria
and a member of the Jewish community there under Roman rule. As one of the
most important interpreters of the Septuagint and reader in the synagogue of
Alexandria, Philo had two mental "images" of Egypt at his disposal: the Egypt
where he was living and the Egypt of the Torah. To understand his take on
either "image" we need to know how each influenced the other.
There is an important difference between the "exegetical" writings of Philo
and the so-called "historical" treatises (Legatio ad Gaium and In Flaccum). In
the latter, one finds the real face of Philo and his actual relation to the Egypt
he had daily contact with. His is the only witness of the first pogrom against
the Jewish community of Alexandria. In an attempt to prove the providence of
God to his people, Philo attacks the "Egyptian mob." His contempt for it is also
noticeable in his interpretation of Egyptian elements in the Pentateuch.
This book offers a complete analysis of each and every aspect of Egypt in
Philo's writings. The book is organised into eight chapters, the first of them
"Philo's Contexts." A complete analysis of the historical background of Philo
helps the reader understand the peculiar situation of the philosopher and the
historical events which took place in his lifetime and were probably very influential in the development of his thought. Also in the first chapter, there is
an analysis of his intellectual background, his audience, his writings, and his
allegorical and philosophical method.
Chapter 2, entitled "Egyptians in Philo's world," is well constructed and
fully documented. Here the author deals with one of the "Egypts" mentioned
above, the Egypt in which Philo lived and the contemporary historical situation. Though brief, there is a discussion of Philo's criticism of the Egyptian
population, defined as "snobbish contempt," and his position is analysed
against the background of other authors. It is very interesting to understand
the point of view of the authors of antiquity in their evaluation of reality. In
this case, Philo is a representative of a community in great trouble, and as an
ambassador to the emperor Caligula, he reports as an upper class witness.
He belongs to a tradition which cultivated contempt for the Egyptians and
everything Egyptian, but his position makes him one of the most interesting
figures in this tradition.