Philo of Alexandria (JUDAISM IN THE 1 ST CENTURY A.D.)
	by Simon Dubnov 

	Shortly before the emergence of the apostles of Christianity, there
appeared in the Judeo-Hellenic Diaspora a thinker who became the
apostle of philosophical Judaism. Philo of Alexandria, or Philo Ju-
deaus, was a superior representative of the Hebrew spiritual aristo-
cracy outside of Judea. Nurtured by two cultures, the Judean and the
Hellenic, Philo regarded as his vocation the creation of a synthesis of
both cultures, the creation of a harmonius view of the universe from
their higher philosophical esthetic dements. In keeping with this, his
problem was likewise twofold: to explain to the Jews the philosophic
significance of the teachings of their faith, while revealing to the
Greeks the profundities of the religious and moral wisdom of Judaism.
	Philo addressed himself to the higher minds of Jewish and Greek
society, to the international intellectuals. He did not pretend to the
role of a religious teacher, yet he created a religious philosophy and
played a major role in the transition of the Greco-Roman world from
paganism to monotheism.
	Of Philo's personal life we know only what pertains to his partici-
pation in the legation to Caligula after the Alexandrian massacre of
33 A.D. To judge by what Philo tells us, he was already old
at the time of his journey-therefore the height of his activity must
be confined to the beginning of the 1st century of the Christian era;
he was a junior contemporary of Hillel. Philo belonged to a notable
family in Alexandria, where his brother, Alexander Lysimachus, was
an "alabarch" and an influential member of the Council of Elders.
That the philosopher himself also took part in civic activities is at-
tested to by the mission undertaken at a crucial time. In one of his
books (Of Special Laws, 111 : 1) Philo complains of communal cares
which called him away from the contemplative life. He was evidently
in touch with Agrippa I, whose kinsman his brother had become (the
first marriage of the famous Berenice, Agrippa's daughter, was to
Marcus, the son of Alexander Lysimachus). Philo tells us that he once
journeyed to Jerusalem to pray at the Great Temple and make an
offering. His participation in the legation to Caligula during the agita-
tion in Judea made his name popular in the Jewish metropolis also.
Mentioning Philo as the head of this mission, Flavius Josephus, his
younger contemporary, calls him a "most famous man and one versed
in philosophy."
	Philo unified his knowledge of Jewish writings with his broad Hel-
lenic education. Greek literature and the philosophy of Plato, of the
Stoics and Pythagoreans, enriched his thinking to the same extent as
had the Torah. and the teachings of the prophets. Although he wrote
all his works in Greek, the language of the Diaspora, and consistently
cited the Bible according to the Septuagint, he was undoubtedly
familiar with the tongue of his people and the original biblical texts.
This is evident from the etymological explanations of Hebrew words
and biblical names in his works. If in his quotations he adhered to the
Septuagint, at times even the repeating of its errors, it was because
this was a translation already canonical in the Judean-Hellenic Dias-
pora, read in the synagogues and accessible to pagans also. Philo was
also familiar with the oral teachings, which were developing in the
Judea of that day. In the foreword to his life of Moses he tells us his
book was based not only on Holy Scriptures but also on the oral tra-
dition of the "Elders of the people." In his works one finds explana-
tions of the laws of the Torah, in the spirit of Pharisaic interpretations
which subsequently were incorporated in the Mishnah, as well as
didactic morals drawn from biblical stories, reminiscent of expositions
of the Talmudic Haggadah and Midrash."
	He could call Greek "our dialect" and even repeat the antique
division of mankind into Greeks and barbarians, but he never separ-
ated himself either from his nation or from Jerusalem, his spiritual
center, and he bore high the banner of Judaism. The Bible was for
him a great revelation which contained (sometimes in cryptic form)
eternal, universal truths. The Hebrew were to Philo a chosen people,
the "high priest and prophet of all mankind." The massacre he lived
through in his old age, the humiliating audience with Galigula, the
struggle against the Judophobes in Apion's party-all these must have
influenced his mood. The historical and philosophical reflections called
forth by the events are expounded in two books of his, Against
Flaccus and Legation to Gaius. In these he develops, with the inspira-
tion of a prophet, the basic idea that all persecutors of the Judeans
are doomed to an ignominious end, while Judaism is eternal, for it is
the bearer of eternal truths.
	The religious and philosophical ideas of Philo are expounded in
two extensive groups of his writings. One expounds systematically the
teachings of the Pentateuch, derived from the history of the creation
of the universe, the lives of the patriarchs, and the Mosaic laws. This
group includes the books Of the Creation of the Universe, Life of
Abraham, Life of Joseph, Life of Moses, Of the Decalogue, and Of
Special Laws. The second group includes an extensive commentary on
the stories in the Book of Genesis, m which, allegorically, by generaliz-
ing them in a series of psychological and ethical conclusions, he sets
forth his own interpretations. (Allegories of the Holy Laws, Of Cheru-
bim and the Sword of Fire, Of the Offerings of Abel and Cain, Of
the Progeny of Cain, Of the Agriculture of Noah, Of Sobriety, Of
Giants, Of the Confusion of Tongues, Of the Wanderings of Abra-
ham, Of Dreams and Manifestations of God.) Outside these main
cycles there is a series of Philo's individual works: a catechism for the
Pentateuch, Questions and Answers; a treatise of the Stoics and the
Essenes, the previously mentioned Delegation to Gaius and Against
Flaccus, as well as several books which have not survived, but are
mentioned by the writers of antiquity, predominantly by the Church
	Philo's basic philosophical principles are propounded more syste-
matically in his Of the Creation of the Universe, According to Moses.
In this he introduces directly the ideas of Plato and the Stoics, adjust-
ing them in the spirit of ethical monotheism. In his opinion, the story
of the creation of the universe, as given in the Bible, precedes the
Mosaic laws, for the purpose of demonstration; "the Cosmos and
the Law are in accord with each other, and that he who is true to
the Law becomes precisely thereby a citizen of the Cosmos [kosmo-
polites], inasmuch as he always directs his actions in accordance with
the will of Nature, which governs the universe." Here Philo clearly
conveys the Stoic idea that the moral law is cosmic, that morality con-
sists of living in keeping with the laws of nature (secundum naturam
vivere). This cosmic law Philo finds in Moses' teachings and in the
Torah. Defending the dogma of the manifestation of God's will in the
act of Creation and disputing Aristotle's opinion concerning the "non-
eternal and non-created" nature of the universe, Philo also maintains
the idea of dualism of God and universe, i.e., the independent
 existence of god over the universe, creating and governing it, On the
last point he conflicts with the pantheism of the Stoics and their
teachings of "universal Reason" and spiritualized matter." both
identical with God; he is defending the transcendance of Divinity
against His eminence in the universe.
But he also includes in the biblical cosmogony all the teachings
of Plato on creative idea-prototypes. In the very beginning, "on the
first day of Creation," the universe of "ideas," or abstract models,
original types of things, was created. In keeping with the original
types of the ideal universe, the visible real universe was created, as
an architect builds a city according to his plans.
The visible universe has its original type in God's creative thought.
It is in this sense that one should understand the biblical expression
that man was created in the image and likeness of God. And not only
man but the entire universe is created in the image--or according to
the model-of God. Going further, Philo unifies in a single common
force the separate "ideas" or creative forces standing between God
and the universe. Herein lies the root of the teaching of emanation
which in Philo's hands is crowned by the idea of the Logos-godlike
Reason, or the Word as a direct reflection of Divinity. The Logos is
the union of creative ideas (the "Idea of ideas," in Plato's terminology)
and the creative Word of God (as expressed in the Bible: "And God
said, Let there be light !"). The Logos is defined by Philo as that instru-
ment with which God created the universe and is directing it (the
Platonic Demiurge), now as an intermediary between God and man,
as the "first-born son of God," "Archangel" standing above all the
angels of God-the first-created Ideas. Philo uses all these comparisons
for a graphic exposition of his metaphysics, but subsequently the
dogmas of the church derived from these comparisons. The church
drew the deductions it desired as to the real existence of a Son of God,
or a second God, while the Cabalists of the Middle Ages drew from
the same comparisons the teaching of the "sephiroth," or the emana-
tions of Divinity.
	From the arguments in his treatise, Of the Creation of the Uni-
verse, Philo deduces these obligatory truths, or dogmas: "The man
who has deeply impressed upon his soul [the beliefs] that God exists
and governs, that the truly Essential One is but One, that He has
created the universe and is constantly taking thought of His creation-
such a man will lead a blessed life, in keeping with the demands of
	Philo treads the firm ground of psychology and ethics in those parts
of his system treating the lives of the heroes of the Bible. The biog-
raphies represent ~'unwritten laws," (agraphoi nomoi), as he put it;
they are the incarnation of the moral testaments of the men who
lived before the Revelation of Sion and before the proclamation by
Moses of these testaments. The latest scholarly criticism sees the
patriarchs as incarnate national-historical types; Philo, who considered
the patriarchs real people, at the same time saw them as personifica-
tions of moral truths or laws: it is not in vain that the Bible first
presents images of men who lived by the Law, and only then presents
the laws themselves. The living examples come before the written
behests. The biography of Abraham is entitled, The Life of a Sage Who
Attained Perfection Through Learning,' or, the First Book of Un-
written Laws. Abraham represents the prototype of the sophos, or
sage, who has attained virtue under the guidance of God. Joseph
represents the statesman. Philo often interprets individual moments in
Abraham's life allegorically. God's command to Moses, "Get thee. 
from thy father's house," enjoins an inner renunciation of inherited
Chaldean paganism for a true realization of God.
	A special place in Philo's system of biblical philosophy is held by
his extensive treatise, Of the Life of Moses. In his chronological
arrangement of the biographies of the patriarchs, this book is dis-
tinguished for its exposition, its tone of fervent apologetics and striving
to prove to the Hellenes the grandeur of the Hebrew lawgiver. In his
introduction, Philo notes the glory of Mosaic laws had penetrated to
the "ends of the world," but that the personality of the lawgiver "has
not been found worthy of the attention of Hellenic writers, as a con-
sequence of inimicality and the contrariness between the laws of Moses
and those of the lawgivers of other nations." Philo reproaches Greek
writers for wasting time in composing "comedies and shameful disso-
lute books of verse and prose," instead of depicting the lives of the
luminaries of humanity. He transformed the biography of Moses into
a didactic tale in the manner of Cyropaedia of Xenophon, and vividly
embellishes the life of the hero. Having described in the first part the
life of Moses, Philo depicts in the second part three of Moses' aspects:
leader and lawgiver, priest, and prophet. Referring to Plato's aphorism
that any state would he fortunate in having a philosopher as its ruler,
he remarks that this combination was achieved by Moses. In all the
countries of Asia and Europe the laws of Moses were attracting atten-
tion. The sacred books of the Hebrews had been translated into Greek
during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and the Hellenic world
should, he said, appreciate their great truths.
	A similar evaluation of the laws of the Pentateuch is given in the
two treaties by Philo, Of the Ten Commandments and Of Special
Laws. In explaining the meaning of each Commandment, Philo pauses
lengthily at the ban against any depiction of Divinity, at the same
time exposing the beautiful Greek cult of anthropomorphous statues
and the hideous Egyptian animal cult. The Ten Commandments
given on Sinai represent ten general categories under which all the
other "special" laws of Moses can be grouped." These special laws are
given a moral significance by Philo, even to the ritual sacrificial offer-
ings, but he is particularly enraptured with the laws of society of the
Pentateuch, based upon the principles of human equality and love for
man. For instance, the laws dealing with the poor and with strangers,
with leaving a part of the harvest for the needy, and with sabbatical
and jubilee years. These norms evoke from Philo a rapturous perora-
tion: "Is it possible not to bow down before laws which accustom the
rich to give of their goods to the needy, and to comfort the poor?
Doesn't the law authorizing the return of property to widows, orphans
and the dispossessed once every seven years deserve high esteem ?"
"The Sabbath rest that invigorates the body and soul, the periodic fasts
that accustom one to temperance, the laws of chastity and cleanliness
-they deserve the attention of all enlightened people, regardless of
	In the second group of his works, commentaries to the Book of
Genesis, Philo uses the allegorical method almost exclusively. The
Allegory of the Holy Laws, the first book of this series, begins with
the typical commentary on the biblical passage, "And the heaven and
the earth were finished, and all the host of them." "Moses refers
symbolically to Reason as heaven," Philo states, "because only
judicious beings dwell in it"; and he refers to Feeling as earth, because
feeling is connected with the earthy substance. "The world of Reason
includes everything incorporeal, immaterial and abstract; the world of
Feeling embraces everything corporeal, physical and perceived by the
senses." Alongside this metaphysical allegory there is another, psycho-
logical and ethical. The four rivers of the land of Eden, where Adam
lived, personify the chief virtues: Wisdom, Moderation, Valor, and
Justice. Adam and Eve represent the keystones of spirit and emotion.
Just as the woman is subordinate to man, so must emotion yield to
the spirit; passion must submit to reason, because only under strict
discipline of the spiritual forces is a truly moral life possible. The
efforts to interpret the entire Bible allegorically or symbolically are
suggestive of the method of the philosopher-Stoics, who interpreted
in the same manner Homer's mythology and Hesiod's theogony, and
turned the myths into symbols of cosmic events and imbued them
with philosophical ideas. But the allegorical method was not the result
of misgivings about the truth of biblical narratives. Philo was con-
vinced the Holy Scriptures had a latent meaning, to be fathomed
only by a philosopher, a man of wisdom who can extract the philo-
sophic system from the cover of religious legends inherent in them. In
a similar manner, the talmudists, distinguished in interpreting the
Torah pes hat (literal sense) and derash (interpretation), and the
Cabalists later maintained that the Torah harbors two equal meanings,
open and secret.
	While reading Philo's lengthy commentary on the first parts of
Genesis, it is hard to free oneself of the impression that these are
discourses addressed to an audience, then recorded for posterity. The
entire commentary is written in sermon form. Every chapter begins
with a biblical passage, followed by its interpretation. It is quite
possible that Philo actually preached sermons in a synagogue on the
meaning of the weekly "Portion" of the Torah on a given Sabbath.
Since the Greek version of the Torah was read in Alexandrian syna-
gogues, the sermons were also in Greek. In his discourses, Philo utilized
the more characteristic methods of those Palestinian homiletic
preachers, whose sermons eventually formed the voluminous literature
of the Aggada and the Midrashim. The manner of interpreting biblical
words, the utilizing of parables and comparisons and rhetorical ques-
tions-all this is unusually similar in Philo and the Aggadists. There
are frequent similarities in substance, in the very essence of the
commentary. This may not be mere chance, since Philo had the
opportunity to become familiar with synagogue preaching in Palestine
during his sojourn in Jerusalem, or through the propagandists of the
"oral teaching" who wandered throughout the Diaspora.
Imbued with the teaching of ethical monotheism, Philo discerned
in the Jewish people the eternal bearer of religious-philosophical
revelation that would enlighten mankind. He believed the Jews were a
chosen people, according to the Prophets: "Israel is the light of the
nations." The Jewish mission is spiritual: "The Jewish people is in
such an attitude toward mankind as a priest is to the government."
"If such a person [wise and righteous] finds himself in a city, he is the
head of that city; if an entire city consists of such individuals, it is the
head of the entire country; but if an entire nation consists of such
individuals, it is for all peoples the same as the head is to the body."
Philo dreamed of universal Judaism, disseminated through passive
and active propaganda of the Jewish people, but he did not propose
assimilation or internal ferment among other peoples. This Hellenized
Jew, whose language was Greek, forbade intermarriage with Greeks,
since children of such unions could, under influence of a pagan parent,
defect from monotheism."
	Philo's younger contemporaries, the apostles of Christianity, also
dreamed of universal monotheism. But they, by compromises, fashioned
the Christological system that does not permit union with pure mon-
otheism. Philo did not enter any dogmatic compromises. He was even
further from the antinomism of Paul, who, denying the national
discipline of the Torah, severed the bond between the old and the
new faith. Philo was aware of numerous supplementary
"protective" laws in the Torah, and of the Palestinian Halachah. He
insisted all the laws of the Torah be strictly observed, because in every
law he discerned a great cosmic or ethical idea which the law sym-
bolized. With his predilection to allegory and symbolism, he reproached
those freethinkers of Alexandria who "regarded the written laws as
symbols of intellectual events and were remiss in observing them."
He felt such individuals would be justified if they were living in the
desert, or if they were mere souls without bodies. He said people who
live in society cannot be content merely with the "naked truth"-they
have to manifest the truth in their deeds."
	Nevertheless, this greatest apostle of Judaism of that time did not
leave any deep mark 9n the history of Judaism. On a par with
numerous apocryphas, Philo's works were not incorporated in the
exclusive area of Judaism or included in the chosen national writings,
so that they were later read only by the Church Fathers and were
preserved by their efforts. This was because Philo's works appeared at
a time when Judea seethed with revolt against Rome. Between the
Jews and the Greco-Roman world was an unbridged gulf. The advo-
cates of Judaism in the Judeo-Hellenist Diaspora and the literary
apostles attempted to bridge the gulf, but the Diaspora was shaken by
the severe blows after the fall of the Jewish center (the destruction of
the Temple in Egypt, and the decline of the Alexandrian Jewish com-
munity after a series of pogroms). The religious zeal that had once
mounted in the place of political fanaticism would make no concession
to Hellenic culture. Greek philosophy (chochmat jewanit) was banned.
Forbidden works also included those of Philo, because he seasoned his
works with elements of Greek philosophy. The bridge between Judaism
and Hellenism was used only by Christianity, which made great
concessions to the pagan culture. Paul the Apostle, in his letters, and
the author of the Fourth Gospel, as well as later Church Fathers,
utilized many of Philo's ideas, which they adapted to their needs.
But his own people repudiated his thoughts from their narrowed
philosophic horizon. They could not distinguish between Philo's
universalism, rooted in national Judaism, and the universalism of the
creators of Christianity, directed against national Judaism. They made
no distinction between the thinker who, like the ancient prophets,
regarded Judaism as a beacon for mankind, and those agitators who
wished to submerge that beacon in the ocean of humanity. The tragedy
of that epoch lay in the Jews' inability to distinguish between their
apostles and their apostates during the hard struggle with a hostile

Philo Judaeus - (c. 25 B.C. - c. 50 A.D.)

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