The Historical Jesus in Context

By Amy-Jill Levine; Dale Allison Jr. et al. | Go to book overview
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Philo of Alexandria

Gregory E. Sterling

The treatises of Philo of Alexandria are one of the most important sources for our understanding of the exegetical traditions and religious practices of Diaspora Jews in the first century CE. Unfortunately, we know little about Philo's life, although we know more about his family. Eusebius of Caesarea thought that Philo “was inferior to none of the illustrious people in office in Alexandria” (Hist. Eccl. 2.4.2). This may be a hyperbolic claim, yet we should not dismiss it too quickly. Philo's brother, Julius Gaius Alexander, moved in elite circles in the empire. He not only held a civic post in Alexandria (Josephus, Ant. 18.159, 259; 19.276–77; 20.100) but also had close ties to the Herodian family and through them to the imperial family. It is probable that Berenice, the mother of Agrippa I, was the avenue by which Alexander was appointed the guardian of the Egyptian estates of Antonia (Josephus, Ant. 19.276), the daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia and mother of Germanicus and Claudius the emperor (Suetonius, The Divine Claudius 1.6; 3.2; 11.2). The basis for such associations was undoubtedly Alexander's wealth. He not only lent Agrippa I 200,000 drachmas on an occasion when the big spender was in financial straits (Josephus, Ant. 18.159–60) but also covered nine of the doors of the Jerusalem Temple with gold and silver (Josephus, War 5.201–5).

The connections also were possible because Alexander and Philo probably had triple citizenships in the Jewish community of Alexandria, the Greek city of Alexandria, and the Roman Empire. The last is accentuated by the career of Alexander's most famous son, Tiberius Julius Alexander, who is one of the most impressive examples of an individual from the East who worked his way through the cursus honorum. He began with a minor post in Egypt (OGIS 663) but quickly assumed more important responsibilities such as the governorship of Judea in 46–48 CE (Josephus, War 2.220, 223; Ant. 20.100–103), the governorship of Syria (unpublished inscription), a position on Corbulo's staff in 63 CE during the sensitive negotiations with Parthia over Armenia (Tacitus, Annals 15.28.3), the governorship of Egypt in 66–70 CE (Corpus Papyrorum Judicarum [CPJ] 418b; Josephus, War 2.309; Tacitus, Annals 11.1), Titus's chief of staff during the first


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