Academic journal article Antichthon

Rethinking the Other in Antiquity: Philo of Alexandria on Intermarriage

Academic journal article Antichthon

Rethinking the Other in Antiquity: Philo of Alexandria on Intermarriage

Article excerpt


The fundamental traditions of Judaism preserve strict prohibitions against intermarriage with outsiders. The interpretation of such prohibitions in ancient Jewish literature provides our main evidence for Jewish attitudes towards intermarriage with non-Jews, and underpins discussions about the marital habits of ancient Jews. While the scriptural commentary of the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, represents a substantial body of material on this topic, scholars remain very divided in their interpretation of his attitudes and their significance for Jewish intermarriage in antiquity, a problem compounded by the absence of detailed studies of Philo's evidence. This article explores Philo's reading of the prohibitions against intermarriage in his commentary On the Special Laws, devoted to the rationalising of the laws of Moses, as represented in the Greek Pentateuch. It argues that Philo's interpretation of the prohibitions against intermarriage does not resolve questions about the relative prevalence or absence of Jewish intermarriage in Philo's era. But, through his actualisation and rationalisation of the prohibitions, exploiting the rich resources of the Greek intellectual tradition, Philo underlines the crucial importance of these prohibitions for his contemporaries, as a means of preserving the Jewish community and its foundations in the monotheistic tradition.

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In just over a decade, Erich Gruen has decisively transformed the landscape for the study of Hellenistic Judaism. Beginning with Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition, Gruen presents a compelling new picture of self-confident Jewish communities at home in the diaspora; of Jewish authors steeped in Greek culture, engaging it with great creativity to refashion their heritage in the form of the traditions of the Bible. Rather than seeing the encounter between Greeks and Jews as a 'zero-sum contest in which every gain for Hellenism was a loss for Judaism and vice versa',1 Gruen makes a compelling case that, far from diluting Jewish distinctiveness, Jewish appropriation of Hellenism profoundly enriched Jewish heritage and self-understanding in antiquity.

In Grueris approach to Jewish history and culture, a strikingly central role is played by the Jewish scholar, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE - c. 50 ce) - as a key witness to the realities of Jewish experience in and identification with Alexandria; of diaspora Jews' commitment to Jerusalem, and of a bold engagement with Hellenic culture as a rich resource for interpreting the traditions of the Bible.2 The central place given by Gruen to Philo is rarely seen in earlier accounts of ancient Judaism, in which Philo was so often placed on the margins - on account of his elite social context and profound immersion in Greek culture, his differences from the traditions of the Rabbis whose Judaism would become normative in later centuries, and his appropriation by Christian theologians. Gruen's presentation of Philo marks a real turning point for histories of ancient Judaism, reflecting with great sensitivity and accuracy the direction of recent scholarship on Philo, with a strong emphasis on Philo's devotion to the life of the Jewish community, his dazzling display of Greek learning put to the service of promoting Jewish beliefs and practices as the highest expression of wisdom and virtue, and, finally, his fundamental contribution as the foremost Jewish exegete of the Greek Bible, ft is a pleasure and privilege to offer this study to Erich Gruen in appreciation of and out of admiration for his outstanding work in Jewish Studies.

Philo of Alexandria on the Prohibition of Intermarriage

As a Jew immersed in the traditions of Jewish Scripture, Philo was confronted by the fact, aptly observed by Gruen, that:

[I]ntermarriage between Israelites and non-Israelites began with the patriarchs. It included none other than Abraham, Joseph, other sons of Jacob, Moses, and David - not to mention Solomon and his nest of foreign wives . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.