Philo of Alexandria's Exposition of the Tenth Commandment

Philo of Alexandria's Exposition of the Tenth Commandment

Hans Svebakken
Copyright Date: 2012
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bzqj
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  • Book Info
    Philo of Alexandria's Exposition of the Tenth Commandment
    Book Description:

    In his comprehensive exposition of the Tenth Commandment (Spec. 4.79-131), Philo considers the prohibition "You shall not desire": what sort of desire it prohibits (and why) and how the Mosaic dietary laws collectively enforce that prohibition. This volume offers the first complete study of Philo's exposition, beginning with an overview of its content, context, and place in previous research. In-depth studies of Philo's concept of desire and his concept of self-control provide background and demonstrate Philo's fundamental agreement with contemporary Middle-Platonic moral psychology, especially in his theory of emotion (pathos). A new translation of the exposition, with commentary, offers a definitive explanation of Philo's view of the Tenth Commandment, including precisely the sort of excessive desire it targets and how the dietary laws work as practical exercises for training the soul in self-control.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-619-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-32)

    The Septuagint version of Exodus 20:17, translated literally, reads as follows:

    You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, nor his field, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his beast of burden, nor any of his flock, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.¹

    This is the last of the Ten Commandments,² and although Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 b.c.e.–50 c.e.) must have known the full biblical version,³ he cites the Tenth Commandment simply as “You shall not desire” (οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις), indicating that in his view the principle...

  7. CHAPTER TWO PHILO ON DESIRE (EΠIΘYMIA)
    (pp. 33-80)

    Understanding Philo’s exposition of οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις depends on a clear understanding of his concept of ἐπιθυμία, including its source, nature, function, and problematicmalfunction. Philo’s concept of ἐπιθυμία depends in turn on his concept of the soul, in particular hismoral psychology—his understanding of how various elements of the soul’s structure and function relate to questions of morality. This chapter begins with a survey of the basic moral psychology of Philo’s Middle-Platonic contemporaries, especially their concept of a fundamental bipartition between rational and non-rational components within the soul and their concept of various non-rational capacities whose normal operation includes...

  8. CHAPTER THREE PHILO ON SELF-CONTROL (EΓKPATEIA) AND PRACTICE (AΣKHΣIΣ)
    (pp. 81-108)

    Philo considers non-rational desire (ἐπιθυμία) a necessary, even useful component of human life, but its innate and invariable tendency to pursue pleasure (ἡδονή) apart from rational calculation (λογισμός) threatens human well being. The initial danger lies in the ability of ἐπιθυμία to oppose and overpower the dictates of reason, to compel moral agents to pursue pleasure against their better judgment in an instance of ἀκρασία (“lack of self-control”). When an otherwise benignemotionoverpowers reason in this way, it becomes a malignantpassion, and Middle Platonists conceptualized this transformation as an impulse (ὁρμή) becoming “immoderate” (ἄμετρος) as it transgresses the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR PHILO’S EXPOSITION OF THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY
    (pp. 109-183)

    In his exposition of the Tenth Commandment, Philo uses the conceptual nexus of ἐπιθυμία, ἐγκράτεια, and ἄσκησις as an overarching framework for his work. Within this framework, his concept ofdesirefigures most prominently, since a substantial attempt to explain the prohibition οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις requires also a substantial concept of ἐπιθυμία—substantial enough to enable a precise statement of whatexactlythe Tenth Commandment prohibits. For Middle Platonists, the operation of ἐπιθυμία can represent either a perfectly natural, amoralemotion(πάθος) or an immoralpassion(πάθος), depending on whether or not reason stays in control. Reading οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις as a...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE SUMMARY AND LINES OF FURTHER RESEARCH
    (pp. 184-188)

    In the course of a larger, systematic exposition of the Decalogue, Philo offers inSpec.4.78b–131 an extended, detailed exposition of the Tenth Commandment, which he reads—despite its clearbiblicalformulation as a prohibition of desire for the goods of a neighbor—as a prohibition of desireitself(οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις). Capitalizing on the prominence of ἐπιθυμία in contemporary ethical discourse about the “passions” (πάθη), Philo frames his interpretation of the Tenth Commandment along philosophical lines, explaining the prohibition in light of Middle-Platonic theories of how desire operates within and endangers the human soul. Philo couples this theoretical reflection...

  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 189-209)
  12. INDICES
    (pp. 210-228)