I know Henk Spierenburg as one of the best Dutch Theosophical writers. He wrote massive books about all kinds of Theosophical subjects, but he is mostly known for gigantic archivical work. He wrote books for like example “The Vedanta Commentaries Of HBP” (HP Blavatsky) or “The Buddhism of HPB” for which he explored all of HPB’s work to find references to the Vedanta or Buddhist teachings. In this way Spierenburg has absorbed, digested and poored into a readable form massive amounts of literature into bigger and smaller books which always have big indexes and are perfect reference books. I am glad that Spierenburg also decided to use his talents for non-Theosophical work. However many of Spierenburg’s books are written or translated in English, I haven’t been able to find another than Dutch version of this one. Since it is still quite new, maybe there will be an English version in the future?
The book this review is called in English “The Philonic Secret Doctrine” and subtitled “The Kabbala of Philo of Alexandria” which gives enough information what this book is about. Philo the Jew or Philo of Alexandria was born about 15 to 10 BC and died somewhere between 40 and 50 AD. The two names given to Philo tell a lot about him. He lived in Alexandria, the Greek city in northern Egypt that was founded by Alexander the Great around 300 BC. Alexandria had a large Jewish population with people from different Judaic movements. Many of these Jews had lived in Alexandria for a few generations and didn’t speak the Hebrew language anymore. Therefor some time before Philo was born, a Greek translation of the ‘Hebrew Bible’ was made which is the well-known “Septuagint”. Philo wrote lengthy comments on the Septuagint and Spierenburg took a lot of quotes from these writings.
Philo wrote a massive amount of material which for the largest part didn’t survive to our times. Quite a lot of material only came to us in translations, for example in Armenic. In 2000 years about 10.000 pages have been written about Philo and his philosophy and Spierenburg has studied a large part of both the remaining texts of and about Philo to write this relatively short book.
To the subtitle then. The Kabbala is said to have come into being in the times that the Muslims occupied Spain which had led to a very healthy crossbreed between cultures and which caused a lot of ‘new philosophy’ to be born. This was, say, 400 BC. Spierenburg -however- took up the goal to prove that the well-known Kabbalistic tree of life (Sephirothic tree) can already be found in Philo’s texts, which would mean that it’s origins are a lot older than most experts of today think. Of course this isn’t too strange, since Kabbalism is an outcome of four centuries of development of the Merkavah-mysticism based on the Talmud and Midrash. These already excisted in Philo’s time.
The result of Spierenburg’s search is not only a nice introduction to Kabbalism and Philo’s esotericism, but also nice to read and original comments on well-known parts from the old testament, obvious inspirational ideas for doctrines that would come up many centuries later and a nice new look on the Kabbalistic tree. It is true that Spierenburg sometimes really had to search and sometimes even didn’t find too much evidence for his propositions or the placing of some ‘virtue’ or whatever on the tree, but he is not afraid to admit that. Especially around the end I had the feeling that there was a bit too much searching for something he wanted to find, but overall this is a nice a very well-readable book about the contemporary mystic of Jesus of Nazareth.
For the time being, only for Dutch readers though.