The Vision Of God In Philo And John: A Comparative Study -- By: Donald A. Hagner

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 14:2 (Spring 1971)
Article: The Vision Of God In Philo And John: A Comparative Study
Author: Donald A. Hagner


The Vision Of God In Philo And John:
A Comparative Study

Donald A. Hagner*

Philo of Alexandria was an eclectic Jewish philosopher of the first century A.D. who by means of unrestrained allegorizing attempted to discover within the Scriptures of the Greek Old Testament all the truths of Hellenistic philosophy. Philo, indeed, is perhaps the best representative we have of Hellenistic Judaism, combining in his person both the mind of a philosopher and the heart of a deeply religious man.

So effective is Philo both as philosopher and religious devotee and in his synthesis of Hellenistic and Jewish concepts, that two of the most prominent Philonic scholars are at odds concerning which is more central to Philo and which thus leads to the most adequate understanding of Philo as a whole. H. A. Wolfson understands Philo to be essentially a creative philosopher1 who while freely employing the vocabulary of the mystery religions2 ever “compromised” with them, and thus remained uneffected by their thought.3 Consequently Wolfson minimizes the mystical element in Philo’s writings devoting, for example, only a very few pages to the vision of God in Philo,4 placing the brief discussion in his chapter of “Proofs of the Existence of God”! In strong contrast to Wolfson is E. R. Goodenough who in his book By Light, Light, understands Philo to be essentially a mystic, the proponent of a Mystic Judaism which before Philo had not only been influenced by, but had adopted as its own, the concept of Mystery as found in the Hellenistic religions.5 The genius of this Mystic Judaism, and in no small measure the genius of Philo, lay in the discovery of the Mystery within the Old Testament itself, so that the claim could be made that it was the Greeks who had borrowed it from Judaism and not vice-versa. Accordingly, Goodenough insists that the Mystery, i.e. salvation in terms of the vision of God, is central to Philo; this is the subject of all his writings, and this alone provides the key to understanding him.6

*University of Manchester, Assistant Professor of Bible, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

Of course, within the limits of this paper, no attempt can be made to debate this question. When two such competent scholars disagree the dilettante had best remain silent. Goodenough’s remark, however, does seem appropriate: “Perhaps I have overemphasized the mystical side of Phi...

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