Home > Early Christianity, History, New Testament Studies Monograph Series > Philodemus and the New Testament World

Philodemus and the New Testament World

Brill Academic Publishers | December 2003 | ISBN-10: 9004114602 | 434 pages | PDF | 1.5 MB

The fifteen essays in this volume, rooted in the work of the Hellenistic Moral Philosophy and Early Christianity Section of the SBL, examine the works of Philodemus and how they illuminate the cultural context of early Christianity. Born in Gadara in Syria, Philodemus (ca. 110-40 BCE) was active in Italy as an Epicurean philosopher and poet. This volume comprises three parts; the first deals with Philodemus’ works in their own terms, the second situates his thought within its larger Greco-Roman context, and the third explores the implications of his work for understanding the earliest Christians, especially Paul. It will be useful to all readers interested in Hellenistic philosophy and rhetoric as well as Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.

This volume has its origins in the work of the Hellenistic Moral Philosophy and Early Christianity Section of the Society of Biblical Literature. The group itself was first established as a consultation of the SBL at its annual meeting in 1990. It was created to address topics— that is, philosophical tÒpoi—that were of common concern both to the moral philosophers of the late Roman republic and early empire and to the leaders of the early Christian movement. The membership of the group has included both New Testament scholars and classicists, with the intention of promoting cooperation and conversation between two interconnected, but too often disciplinarily exclusive, fields of inquiry.

Beginning in 1991 with the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Kansas City, Missouri, the group focused its attention on the tÒpow of friendship as it was addressed by the moral philosophers on the one hand and the authors of the New Testament books on the other. The group’s continuing discussion has produced two earlier collections of essays, both edited by John T. Fitzgerald: Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speech: Studies on Friendship in the New Testament World, SuppNT 82 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), and Greco-Roman Perspectives on Friendship, SBLRBS 34 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1997). The former volume featured an essay on “Frank Speech, Flattery, and Friendship in Philodemus” by Clarence E. Glad, as well as a section of four essays examining “Parrhsa in the New Testament,” including essays by David E. Fredrickson (writing on the Pauline epistles), S. C. Winter (Acts), Alan C. Mitchell, S. J. (Hebrews), and William Klassen (the Johannine corpus).

The interest among the members of the Hellenistic Moral Philosophy and Early Christianity Group in the work of Philodemus, and more particularly their concentration on his treatise Per‹ parrhs¤aw, clearly arose specifically out of their concern with the tÒpow of friendship and its attendant virtues. At the same time, the group’s work has produced specific benefits for all those interested in Philodemus’ work, most notably the first modern-language translation of Per‹ parrhs¤aw. Members of the group first undertook translation of Philodemus’ treatise in 1993; the final translation was published in 1998 as Philodemus: On Frank Criticism (David Konstan, Diskin Clay, Clarence E. Glad, Johan C. Thom, James Ware, trans., SBLTT 43, Graeco- Roman 13 [Atlanta: Scholars, 1998]). The present volume is something of a companion to that translation, and the editors hope it will prove of interest to classicists and biblical scholars alike. In the Introduction that follows this preface, John T. Fitzgerald discusses the renaissance of scholarly interest in Epicureanism in general and the works of Philodemus in particular, and provides some of the pertinent bibliography on other authors whose work is found among the Herculaneum papyri.

The volume’s fourteen essays are divided among three major sections. The first is devoted to Philodemus’ ethical, theological, rhetorical, aesthetic, and historical works. Here the reader will find David Armstrong’s essay on Philodemus’ treatise De Morte, Diskin Clay’s examination of the relationship of Philodemus’ On Frank Criticism to his histories of the Academic and Stoic philosophers, Dirk Obbink’s article on the distinctions between Epicurean philosophical communities and religious cults as revealed in the books from Herculaneum, and David Sider’s essay on Philodemus’ philosophical epigrams. Also included here is L. Michael White’s essay on the physical state of the manuscript of Per‹ parrhs¤aw (PHerc. 1471).

The second section is concerned with Philodemus’ thought and works within the context of the Greco-Roman world. Elizabeth Asmis discusses the topic of wealth in the work of Philodemus and among the Epicureans, while David Balch compares the Epicureans’ attitudes towards wealth with those of the Cynics. Robert Gaines addresses the development of rhetorical theory in the works of Cicero and Philodemus, while Pamela Gordon investigates the role of women in the Epicurean community, and Glenn S. Holland exposes Lucian of Samosata’s appropriation of philosophical parrhs¤a as a license and rationale for his satirical attacks against the philosophical schools of his day.

The third section addresses Philodemus and the New Testament world. Benjamin Fiore traces the recommended use of parrhs¤a in the Pastoral epistles. J. Paul Sampley deals specifically with Paul’s use of parrhs¤a in his letters to the churches in Galatia and inCorinth, and Bruce Winter writes on Philodemus and Paul on rhetorical delivery. Finally, John T. Fitzgerald provides an overview of Gadara of the Decapolis, that places Philodemus’ native city—a largely Gentile enclave in Syria—in its historical, cultural, and religious context.

The editors would like to express their gratitude to the editorial board and especially to Margaret M. Mitchell and David P. Moessner, the executive editors of the series Supplements to Novum Testamentum at E. J. Brill for their assistance and support, and for including thisvolume in that series. We wish also to thank them for their patience and understanding in awaiting this volume, which has taken an unduly long time to prepare, and we extend the same thanks to all of the volume’s contributors, who likewise have been patient and supportive while this volume was in preparation. Finally, the editors trust that readers from a variety of backgrounds and academic orientations will find this collection useful and illuminating, and that it will contribute to a better understanding both of Epicurean philosophy in general, and the work of Philodemus in particular Scholarly assessments of Philodemus in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often sharply negative. Domenico Comparetti and Giulio De Petra, for example, described him in 1883 as “an obscure, verbose and unauthoritative Epicurean of the days of Cicero.”1 Sir John Pentland Mahaffy, writing in 1906, contemptuously dismissed him as “a very tenth-rate pupil” of Epicurus and condemned him as being “morally as bad as bad could be.” A similar verdict about Philodemus’ works was given in 1908 by Ethel Ross Barker, who said that they were “quite third-rate in character” and thus “of little or no value as philosophy or as literature.”

This generally low appraisal of Philodemus, which was often accompanied by a hostile attitude toward the Epicurean tenets which he espoused, began to change during the course of the twentieth century. By the century’s end a more positive estimate of Philodemus had emerged among most scholars. This heightened current appreciation is the result of at least four converging factors. First, contemporary scholars, building upon the work of their predecessors, have a generally better understanding of Epicureanism and often are more sympathetic toward it.8 The school was much more diverse and innovative than most previous scholars had imagined,9 and this new perspective on Epicureanism is partly the result of paying greater attention to Philodemus’ works, which reveal several important internal debates within the school10 and “contain a wealth of information about Epicureanism as practiced among the Greek-speaking inhabitants of Italy in the first century a.c.e.”

Second, some of Philodemus’ works are largely transcripts of lectures (sxola¤) given by his teacher Zeno of Sidon, who was “probably the most important Epicurean philosopher after Epicurus” himself. Of particular importance is the work On Signs, which Philodemus compiled from two or three sets of lecture notes. A work of logic, it “is one of the most interesting documents in the history of scientific method” and “may be regarded as the first systematic defence of induction.”

Yet Philodemus’ significance is not due simply to his transmission of Zeno’s thoughts. A third factor in the rise of a more just assessment of Philodemus is the growing awareness that in his own writings henot only “greatly surpassed the average literary standard to which most Epicureans aspired” but also developed certain original ideas, especially in the theory of art.16 His epigrams were particularly noteworthy, so much so that he is now regarded as “one of the finest epigrammatists of antiquity.”

Fourth, there is an increasing recognition of Philodemus’ importance for understanding the intellectual, cultural, social, and theological world of his day. A man of wide-ranging interests and intellectual curiosity, he was “highly regarded in educated Roman circles” and influenced a number of writers, especially poets. Indeed, allusions to and imitations of his poems are found in Catullus, Horace, Propertius, Vergil, Ovid, and perhaps others, and his On Poems is now widely regarded as “a major source on Hellenistic poetics.” In terms of philosophy, he was not, to be sure, a conspicuously original thinker, but he was certainly the leading Epicurean philosopher of his day and was already recognized as such by Asconius in the mid-fifties of the first century a.c. Indeed, it is virtually certain that Cicero, who knew Philodemus (Fin. 2.119; Pis. 68–72) and had frequently heard Zeno, Philodemus’ teacher, lecture (Nat. d. 1.59; Tusc. 3.38), made use of Philodemus’ De pietate (On Piety) in writing Book 1 of his De natura deorum, especially 1.25–41.27 In writing this work Cicero may also have drawn on Book 3 of Philodemus’ De dis (On the Gods).28 Similarly, it has been suggested that Philodemus may have been one of Cicero’s sources for Book 1 of his De finibus. That Seneca was acquainted with some of Philodemus’ epigrams as well as certain of his philosophical treatises, such as De morte, is also a distinct possibility.

This new evaluation of Philodemus has arisen particularly in the last thirty years, when there has been a strong resurgence of interest by classicists and literary critics in his works. Credit for this contemporary appreciation must be given, above all, to the late Professor Marcello Gigante in Naples, Italy, who, together with his students, took the lead in editing or re-editing many of the papyrus texts that contain Philodemus’ works. These papyri were discovered more than two centuries ago—in 1752–1754 to be precise—at several locations within a villa in the city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed along with Pompeii when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 a.c. Owing to the papyrus rolls found there, this house is commonly known as The Villa of the Papyri. Its owner, often identified as Lucius Cal purnius Piso Caesoninus, cos. 58 (the father-in-law of Julius Caesar), had an enormous library consisting of some 1000 books. The papyri contain not only the works of Philodemus but also those of other Epicurean philosophers, including Epicurus and his close friend Metrodorus of Lampsacus as well as other Epicureans from later periods, including Colotes of Lampsacus, Carneiscus, Polystratus, Demetrius of Laconia, Lucretius, and perhaps even Lucius Manlius Torquatus (praetor 49 a.c.e.), the spokesman for Epicureanism in Cicero’s De finibus.43 Other Epicurean writers are also represented in the Herculaneum papyri, though their identity is unknown. There are also a few non-Epicurean works, including two or three treatises by the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus, a Latin hexameter poem on events following the battle at Actium (including Octavian’s capture of Pelusium in 30 a.c.e., Cleopatra’s lethal experiments on criminals, and the encampment of the Roman army before the walls ofAlexandria), a fragment of Book 6 of Ennius’ Annales, and some lines from the comedian Caecilius Statius’ The Money-Lender. Students of Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism, and early Christianity increasingly have begun to take a lively interest in this Philodemean renaissance. The publication of this collection of essays in a series devoted to the investigation of the New Testament within its ancient context is a reflection of this growing interest, and the editors as well as contributors hope that these studies will lead to a greater awareness of Philodemus and his importance for the New Testament world.

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