Introduction to Philo

Information on Philo of Alexandria

Although many of Philo’s writings have survived, little is known about his life. We do not even know when he was born or when he died.

The few facts about his life come from occasional hints in his own books and a small number of external references (e.g., Josephus mentions him).

His brother Alexander held the position of alabarch, apparently a high office that involved supervising the collection of revenues, and was so wealthy that King Agrippa I often borrowed money from him.

A clear implication is that Philo belonged to an extremely prominent family in the large Jewish community at Alexandria.

Philo’s nephew Tiberius Julius Alexander, Alexander’s son, abandoned his ancestral religion, became the Roman procurator in Judea in 46-48 CE, and played an important role for the Romans in their suppression of the Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE—another indication of the status enjoyed by the people in Philo’s family.

Josephus considered him prominent in every way and skilled in philosophy. (An Introduction to Early Judaism, p. 138)

James C. VanderKam writes

Philo has nowhere given a systematic statement of his system.

He has at most developed single points, such as the doctrine of the creation of the world with some degree of connection. As a rule he gives the ideas he was worked out, in conjunction with the text of the Old Testament.

This is consistent with the formal principle of his whole theology, viz. the assumption of the absolute authority of the Mosaic law.

The Thorah of Moses is to him, as to every Jew, the supreme, nay the sole and absolutely decisive authority: a perfect revelation of Divine wisdom. Every word written in Holy Scripture by Moses is a divine declaration. Hence no word in it is without definite meaning.

The Scriptures also of the other prophets in conjunction with those of Moses contain Divine revelations. For all the prophets are God’s interpreters, who makes use of them as instruments for the revelation of the Divine will.

With this formal principle of the absolute authority of Holy Scripture and especially of the Mosaic law, is connected the further assumption that all true wisdom was actually contained just in this source of all knowledge. In other words, Philo deduces formally from the Old Testament all those philosophical doctrines which he had in fact appropriated from the Greek philosophers.

Not in lato, Pythagoras and Zeno, but above all in the writings of Moses, is to be found the deepest and most perfect instruction concerning things divine and human. In them was already comprised all that was good and true, which the Greek philosophers subsequently taught. Thus Moses is the true teacher of mankind, and it is from him—as Philo, like Aristobulus, presupposes—that the Greek philosophers derived their wisdom. (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 366-367)

Emil Schürer writes

Even though he does treat of the literal meaning of the texts in his ‘Questions and Answers,’ Philo’s chief interest is in the allegorical interpretation of the scriptures.

The titles of his works show that his thought centered around, or flowed from, the sacred text. However, he can be studied both as a philosopher and exegete. Central to his teaching on God’s relationship to the world is his doctrine of the Logos.

The term itself occurs repeatedly in his works but is never defined. In Who is Heir of Things Divine?, chapter 42 (§ 206) the Logos says of itself: ‘I stand between the Lord and you; I am neither uncreated like God nor created like you, but midway between the two extremes, a hostage on both sides.’

It is a matter of debate whether Philo considered the Logos as a reality, as a distinct identity having real existence, or as no more than an abstraction. (Intertestamental Literature, pp. 232-233)

Martin McNamara writes

Philo represents a strange fusion. By nature and upbringing he was a Jew; by residence in Alexandria a mystic; by higher education a Greek humanist; by contact and social position an ally of the Roman aristocracy.

Philo attempted to achieve a twofold purpose by his writings:

1) He endeavored to justify the jewish religion to the cultured people of Graeco-Roman society. In view of the deterioration of pagan society and religion, he had a splendid opportunity to portray the Jewish faith as fulfilling ‘the desire of all nations.’

2) On the other hand, he tried to show and persuade his strict coreligionists that Greek philosophy and learning were not actually hostile and opposed to the tenets of the Hebrew religion but that each stood for practically identical principles.

Philo thus adopted an eclectic viewpoint, one in which he blended Old Testament theological concepts with Greek philosophical principles. Katz claims that ‘Philo witnesses to a development in which philosophy turned religious and religion philosophic.’

While Philo spoke philosophically with the intention of bringing home dogmatic and ethical truths, in so doing it involved on his part a dilution of the religious substance of divine revelation. Likewise his religious convictions were modified by philosophical inheritance. (Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, pp. 155-156)

Raymond F. Surburg writes

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Ut diam ponderum patrioque eam, illum atomorum pro et. Et reque atomorum definitiones quo. Ubique copiosae imperdiet ne nam, in est vocibus vivendum euripidis, labore pertinacia ea nec. Ei pro natum detracto. Habemus offendit has cu. Aeterno insolens nam te, usu nonumy quaestio in. Sea ei illum summo constituto, pri ut lorem sonet altera, nihil corpora epicurei et vis.

Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Ut diam ponderum patrioque eam, illum atomorum pro et. Et reque atomorum definitiones quo. Ubique copiosae imperdiet ne nam, in est vocibus vivendum euripidis, labore pertinacia ea nec. Ei pro natum detracto. Habemus offendit has cu. Aeterno insolens nam te, usu nonumy quaestio in. Sea ei illum summo constituto, pri ut lorem sonet altera, nihil corpora epicurei et vis.

Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Ut diam ponderum patrioque eam, illum atomorum pro et. Et reque atomorum definitiones quo. Ubique copiosae imperdiet ne nam, in est vocibus vivendum euripidis, labore pertinacia ea nec. Ei pro natum detracto. Habemus offendit has cu. Aeterno insolens nam te, usu nonumy quaestio in. Sea ei illum summo constituto, pri ut lorem sonet altera, nihil corpora epicurei et vis.

Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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Nisl debet veritus duo at. Dicam semper vel et, choro utinam te vim, id pri laudem dissentiunt mediocritatem. Ad modo latine impedit duo, porro virtute mea ne. Tota nihil prompta pro in, mea et putant impetus scripserit. Qui at option feugiat, qui in delicata recteque. Te duo docendi consequuntur, in natum evertitur voluptatibus quo.

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