Its Nature and Function (According to Philo)
Offering a close reading of the writings of Philo of Alexandria, William Gilders pursues a “literary ethnography” that analyzes the gap between Philo’s presentation of the symbolic significance of sacrificial action and the effective practice of sacrifice in his period. Philo is unique among his Jewish contemporaries in his concern to address the meanings of sacrifice in conceptual terms, and the concepts he develops are quite specific to his distinctive context. Written by a highly-literate Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria, Philo’s arguments can only be decoded in light of his specific cultural lexicon. A similar concern with symbolic meanings, however, is mirrored in the work of cultural anthropologists and scholars of religion today, who also seek universal meanings for what may well have been provisional acts. As such, both Philo and contemporary scholars mistake symbolism for practice, thereby overlooking the cultural and historical contingency of all interpretation.
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