Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey

By David T. Runia | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Philo Christianus

1. How Philo became a Church Father honoris causa

Philo the Jew from Alexandria lived from about 15 BC to 50 AD. His life thus exactly coincides with that of Jesus, whose life and teachings led to the foundation of the Christian Church. It is hardly surprising that neither Jesus himself or the nascent Christian communities are mentioned in Philo’s writings. He does tell us in one of his treatises that he used to travel to Jerusalem in order to pray and offer sacrifices,1 so it is not entirely impossible that he was actually present in the city during the dramatic events of the end of Jesus’ life, which are recorded in full detail in the New Testament and briefly alluded to by Josephus.2

Yet three centuries later Philo was regarded as an important witness to the beginnings of the Church, and by the end of the Patristic period he had virtually achieved the status of a Church Father. It is by no means rare that extracts from his works in the Byzantine Catenae are headed with the lemma

, Philo the Bishop.3 It was because of this process of ‘adoption’ that a large proportion of his writings have survived to this day. I wish to commence my survey of Philo’s fate in the Christian tradition with a brief account of the story of Philo’s Christianization.4 This will form a valuable piece of background information to be borne in mind as we proceed through the centuries. In this chapter I will present the bare outlines of the story. Further aspects will be later filled in as we study the individual authors whose testimony is involved.

1Prov. 2.107.

2 The superficial resemblances between the Carabas incident recorded by Philo in Flacc. 36– 40 and the crowning of Jesus described in Matt. 27:27–31, Mark 15:16–20, John 19:2–3 has often struck scholars; see Giordano (1974). On the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (Jos. Ant. 18.63–64 I have been persuaded by the observations in Schürer (1973–87) 1.428, which advocate its partial authenticity. Schreckenberg most recently, at SchreckenbergSchubert (1992) 39, concludes that ‘it could very well contain a genuine nucleus’.

3 Cf. Royse (1991) 14–15 (with further references).

4 Surprisingly no single study has collected together all the material on Philo’s ‘Christianization’ in a manner that can easily be consulted. Best collection of details in Bruns (1973a); cf. also Conybeare (1895) 318ff., Billings (1919) 1–3.

-3-

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