Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Impossible Yoke: Part VII

This post continues my series dealing with Timo Laato's perception of Jewish anthropology around the NT period in Paul and Judaism: An Anthropological Approach (1995). This time we will focus on Laato's reading of Philo (25BC - AD40) and Josephus (born AD37/38). All of the information here from Laato's book can be found on pages 71-72.

Starting with Philo (Quod deus sit immutabilis 10, 45-50; though I will only quote this in part):

But man, possessed of a spontaneous and self-determined will, whose activities for the most part rest on deliberate choice, is with reason blamed for what he does wrong with intent, praised when he acts rightly of his own will...But the soul of man alone has received from God the faculty of voluntary movement, and in this way is made like to Him, and thus being liberated, as far as might be, from that hard and ruthless mistress, necessity, may justly be charged with guilt, in that it does not honor its Liberator. And therefore it will rightly pay the inexorable penalty which is meted to ungrateful freedmen...

As Laato himself notes on page 71, Philo's ideas about human free will fit nicely with the rest of the literature we have surveyed. According to Philo, people have inside them the ability to reason out what is good and what is bad and should be praised for choosing the good and should be counted as guilty for choosing the bad. It seems to me that Philo's anthropology at this point is indifferent, not unlike most of what we have seen up to this point. One can choose good but one can also choose bad. The last part of the quote that Laato provides, in which Philo comments on Duet 30:15,19, may shed some light on this however:

So then in this way He put before us both truths; first that men have been made with a knowledge both of good and evil, its opposite; secondly, that it is their duty to choose the better rather than the worse, because they have, as it were, within them an incorruptible judge in the reasoning faculty, which will accept all that right reason suggests and reject the promptings of the opposite.

Here Philo does take a legitimately positive turn. He seems to say that an incorruptible part of one's reason will (says Philo with confidence!) accept that which is reasonable (the good) and reject the opposite (the evil). This is unabashedly positive. Philo is not saying that everyone will choose the good, because some unreasonably ignore this inner judge, but he does seem to say that simply submitting passively to reason will lead one down the correct path.

Now we turn to Laato's reading of Josephus, whom he paraphrases as follows (drawing from De bello Iudaico 2:119-166; Antiquitates Iundicae 13:171-173, 18:11-25):

The Essenes refer all things (including the evil and the doing of evil) back to divine predestination. The Sadducees in contrast believe that good and evil originate in human free will alone. The Pharisees on the other hand do indeed ascribe all things to destiny and God. To do right or wrong depends on the person himself, although destiny play a part in any case.

So according to Laato's understanding of Josephus (which seems sound by the way) he would say that the Essenes have a negative anthropology, while the Sadducees and Pharisees have varying positive views of anthropology. My complaint will sound familiar: the fatalism of the Essenes does seem to highlight the fact that humans do not contribute to their religious standing before God but the freedom of the will that is advocated by the Sadducees and Pharisees is not entirely positive because it does not assume that all will choose correctly (it "depends on the person himself").

What I have tried to highlight time and again in this series is that the doctrine of free will may be illustrative of one having a more positive anthropology than a fatalist, but it still does not make a clear and overt positive anthropology.

I will end this series with the next post in which I will critique Laato's conclusion to this matter and offer some of my summations.

The Impossible Yoke: Part I
The Impossible Yoke: Part II
The Impossible Yoke: Part III
The Impossible Yoke: Part IV
The Impossible Yoke: Part V
The Impossible Yoke: Part VI
The Impossible Yoke: Part VIII

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