Friday, May 11, 2012

“Seeing God in Philo of Alexandria: Means, Methods, and Mysticism,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 43.2 (2012): 147–179

My second article on Philo's preeminent mystical experience, seeing God.

For Philo of Alexandria, seeing God represents the pinnacle of human experience. This essay examines three important aspects of that experience: the effectual means of the vision, the methods employed in evoking it, and the function and influence of Philo’s mysticism in the experience. While in some contexts Philo emphasizes the singular role of God in empowering the contemplative ascent and affording the vision, many others highlight the part played by human effort. Philo’s accounts of the practices that evoke the ascent and vision of God are also varied. Though Platonic philosophical contemplation and the practice of virtue are occasionally implicated, in most cases exegetical text work is instrumental. Finally, while some have attempted to divorce Philo’s mystical praxis from the vision of God, contending that “seeing” is simply a metaphor for “knowing” (i.e., “achieving a rational awareness of God’s existence”), a number of factors indicate the importance of Philo’s mysticism in the experience and suggest that an actual, mystical visual encounter underlies and informs these textual representations.