Philo's Portrayal of Moses in the Context of Ancient Judaism

By Robertson, Stuart D. | Shofar, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Philo's Portrayal of Moses in the Context of Ancient Judaism


Robertson, Stuart D., Shofar


Philo's Portrayal of Moses in the Context of Ancient Judaism, by Louis H. Feldman. Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity Series, Vol. 15 . Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. 542 pp. $80.00.

Professor Feldman is widely acknowledged to be the leading Josephus scholar of our generation. In this volume Feldman applies to Philo's Moses the kind of analysis he brought to bear on Josephus' study of biblical personalities.

Why should Feldman devote such careful scrutiny to Philo? Because Philo is a unique figure in late antiquity, a devout Jew, but well versed in the Greek translation of the Bible at a time when many of the rabbis lamented the existence of this translation. He was from a noble Jewish family respected in Alexandria, the leading cultural center of the Hellenistic world. He was the uncle of Tiberius Julius Alexander, a general in the clean-up operation of Titus, the emperor Vespasian's son, who led the final destruction of Jerusalem and its Second Temple in Jerusalem. He was a passionate defender of his people, personally going to Rome to intercede with the emperor after a brutal pogrom erupted in Alexandria in 38 CE, He was a learned philosopher who wrote of the Torah for the benefit of Judaism's "cultured despisers." Whereas Josephus was not highly esteemed by his people, Philo bears no such onus. Much of what he wrote has been preserved. His influence on early Christianity is obvious. For these reasons Feldmans study of Philo's Moses is welcome.

Feldman here studies Philo's Moses in "the Context of Ancient Judaism." This is a large arena. He studies not only Philo's Life of Moses but also what Philo writes of Moses in others of his works.

Ancient Judaism refers to a period of history as well as to a religious development within the saga of a people. Technically speaking, Feldman embraces Rabbinic Judaism too, an evolution of Judaism out of the ancient Judaism that began after the destruction of the first Temple. Some of this literature (e.g., the Apocrypha) was included in the standard Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It included the so-called Pseudepigrapha too, as well as Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible and the works of several other Hellenistic Jews who wrote of Moses. (During this period of history many non-Jewish writers wrote about Moses.)

What is Philo's place in this broad spectrum? What connections may be seen between Philo and others who wrote of Moses, particularly Josephus, his best known contemporary? More than that, how does Philo exhibit a worldview shaped not only by his Jewish identity but also by his place as a sophisticated philosopher in a rich Platonic tradition? Since those that wrote of Moses did not mention one another, except for those that, like Josephus, reply specifically to various canards against the Jews, the way to identify Philo's place in this broad spectrum requires looking in detail at what he wrote and what others from this period wrote, and then drawing inferences from the details. This is Feldmans accomplishment in this book.

This is a book packed with detail and analysis that would seem to be primarily of interest to a scholar of ancient Judaism. But the generally biblically literate reader interested in late antiquity would find this detail intriguing. Why? First because Feldman is a master teacher, clear in method, succint and pertinent in detail. Second, he is never overwhelming as he draws on the multiplicity of sources. Many of these sources are unfamiliar to the average person, but Feldman explains who these ancient writers were and why they are important. This book is like an encyclopedia, clearly organized, lucidly written.

Philo's Portrayal is divided into four sections:

I.

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