Philo's scholarly inquiries into the story of paradise

Maren R. Niehoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Philo is our earliest extant witness to an exegetical interest in paradise among Alexandrian Jews. While no fragment of Demetrius' questions has survived on this topic and neither Aristeas, Artapanus nor Ezekiel the Tragedian were interested in it, Philo provides evidence of a lively discussion in the first century ce. These discussions relate to specific motifs in the story of paradise, but reflect a more fundamental controversy about reading strategies of Scripture. Were scholarly methods to be applied or not? Was the idea of myth in Scripture acceptable or should the text rather be interpreted allegorically?. In these distinctly hermeneutical matters Alexandrian Jews went their own distinct way, often using surprisingly modern methods of scholarship and anticipating their brethren in the Land of Israel for several centuries. The author of the Book of Jubilees, who is the first to expand on the story of paradise in the Land of Israel, paraphrases the biblical story, adding significant material only on the issue of Shabbat observance. 1 Enoch 32.3 and the Testament of Levi 18.10, the dates of which are very uncertain, introduce apocalyptic and eschatological perspectives, which are also developed in the New Testament (Luke 23.43, Rev. 2.7). In these works the biblical text is not in itself an object of inquiry, but rather serves symbolical functions in an overall religious framework. Indeed, it is only rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah, redacted probably in the early fifth century, which shows a similarly scholarly approach with attention to each verse.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationParadise in Antiquity
Subtitle of host publicationJewish and Christian Views
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780511760648
ISBN (Print)9780521117869
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2010.


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