Torrey Seland, «Saul of Tarsus and Early Zealotism. Reading Gal 1,13-14 in Light of Philo’s Writings», Vol. 83 (2002) 449-471
One of the most consistent features in the portraits of Saul of Tarsus in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters accredited to Paul, is the fervent zeal of his youth. The zeal of the young Saul has been dealt with in several studies, drawing on the issue of zealotry in Palestine, but the conclusions reached are rather diverse. The present study suggests that the often overlooked phenomenon of zealotry in the writings of Philo of Alexandria should also be considered. The material from Philo does not support the view that the early zealots formed any consistent movement or party, but that they were vigilant individuals who took the Law in their own hands when observing cases of gross Torah transgressions.
One of the most consistent features in the portraits of Saul of Tarsus in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters accredited to Paul, is the fervent zeal of his youth. According to Acts he described himself as "educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God" (Acts 22,3); in Gal 1,14 Paul writes that he "advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers" (..., perissote/rwj zhlwth_j u(pa/rxwn tw=n patrikw=n mou parado/sewn; cf. also Phil 3,6: kata_ zh=loj diw/kwn th_n e)kklhsi/an). But what kind of zealot might he have been?
The references of Paul in regards to his zeal have been dealt with in several studies. Most of these studies point out that Paul’s zeal should be read in light of the zealotry in vogue in the first century C.E. Palestine; but the results of these investigations are varied and the conclusions concerning the nature of his zeal are rather diverse. Some of this confusion may be due to the fact that not all of the relevant information about zealotry at the time of Paul has been taken into consideration1. The present study will try to remedy part of this failure by pointing to the often overlooked phenomenon of zealotry in the writings of the Jewish scholar and philosopher Philo of Alexandria. Even though he lived in Alexandria, he was not without contact with Palestine traditions, and he visited Palestine at least once (Prob. 64)2. Philo has, moreover, several references to both zeal and zealotry that should be drawn upon when searching for the possible nature and character of Paul’s zealotry.
It is the thesis of the present article that Philo’s expositions of zeal for God/Torah, particularly his considerations of violent zealotry, strongly support the view that the early zealots probably did not form