Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus

By Michael E. Stone | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
Philo of Alexandria

Feder Borgen

One of the main aims of this study is to show that Philo (c. 10 B.C.E. to 45 C.E.) was basically following Jewish exegetical principles when commenting on the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses, for the benefit of Jewish and Hellenistic readers. As a Hellenistic Jew, he wrote in Greek and was also familiar with the popular philosophies of his day. These Greek approaches he incorporated into his exegesis, but he claimed that the true wisdom of the Greeks was derived from the Bible.

The proportion of influence to be ascribed to Judaism and to Hellenistic philosophy respectively in the writings of Philo has been much debated. Some scholars hold that the Greek language and culture of his writings are only a veneer on a thoroughly Jewish mentality.1 Others find that Philo was the complete Hellenist, using Greek culture on the Jewish religion while defending and propagating it.2 What is not sufficiently regarded in either view is that Philo’s aim was definitely practical—to bring his readers to follow the revealed Law of the Pentateuch. Here, as elsewhere, no sharp distinction should be drawn between Hellenistic and Palestinian Judaism.3

The first part of this study will be an account of Philo’s writings, summed up under three heads—‘Exposition of the Laws of Moses’; allegorical interpretations; thematic writings, including the philosophical ones. A systematic treatment of aspects of Philo’s background and thought follows. Finally, there is a short study of the surviving fragments of Aristobulus, a predecessor of Philo.3a


The Exposition of the Laws of Moses

Some works of Philo follow in general the chronology of the Pentateuch. They are parts of one comprehensive work, which may be designated as the

1 See Bentwich, Philo Judaeus, 8.

2 Bousset, Religion des Judentums, 449-52; Windisch, Frömmigkeit’, Leisegang, ‘Philo’, 1-50; id. Der heilige Geist; Reitzenstein, Mysterienreligionen, 223ff.; Bréhier, Les Idées; Pascher, Königsweg; Goodenough, Light; Jonas, Gnosis 2/1, 38.

3 See Lieberman, Hellenism; id. Greek; Meyer, Hellenistisches; Hengel, Hellenism; Cf. Safrai, ‘Relations’; Sandmel, Philo’s Place, XX and XXIII.

3a Quotations and English titles of works are according to Colson, Philo Works, as also abbreviations of Latin titles (see ibid. vol. 1, pp. xxiii-xxiv).

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