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date: 24 October 2020

Philon (4), 'Philo'

Philon (4), ‘Philo’, often known as Philo Judaeus, philosopher, writer and political leader, was the leading exponent of Alexandrian-Jewish culture (see alexandria(1)), and, together with Josephus, the most significant figure in Jewish-Greek literature. Philo's voluminous works were a formative influence on Neoplatonism and on Christian theology, from the New Testament on. His family was prominent in the Jewish diaspora and in the service of Rome in the east. The two sons of his brother, Alexander the Alabarch, were Marcus Iulius Alexander, husband of Iulius Agrippa (1) I's daughter Berenice (4), and Tiberius Iulius Alexander. The only fixed date in Philo's own life is ce 39/40, when, as an old man, he led the Jewish embassy to Gaius (1); see section on Gaius and the Jews. Apart from those events, he himself seems to have confined his activities to the Alexandrian Jewish community. He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but need not otherwise have had much contact with Palestine. Virtually all his surviving works were apparently preserved in the library of Caesarea (2) built up by Origen (1) and then by Eusebius, who catalogues most of them at HE 2. 18. Some three-quarters of the corpus consists of exposition of the Pentateuch, in three series, whose order of writing is unclear: Quaestiones, which are brief catechetical commentaries in the form of questions and answers, Legum allegoria, a more extended and systematic exegesis, and Exposition, which sets out the Mosaic laws. The Life of Moses was perhaps a separate enterprise, as also the De vita contemplativa, where the way of life of a group of Egyptian Jewish ascetics called the Therapeutai is described. Two tracts, In Flaccum and the De legatione ad Gaium, probably originally part of one larger composite work, give a graphic account of the persecutions of the Jews of Alexandria under Gaius and of their political consequences. The In Flaccum details the divine punishment inflicted on the persecutors of the Jews (see avillius flaccus, a.).

Philo operated within the Greek philosophical tradition and deployed an elaborate Greek literary language. At the same time, he was entirely at home with the Greek Torah on which his commentaries were based. The sole authority of the Mosaic law was fundamental to him. His apparently derivative Hebrew etymologies are often adduced as proof that he did not know Hebrew, but the question remains open. Allegorical interpretation is the hallmark of Philonic exegesis, but he did not reject the plain meaning of scripture and criticized certain extreme allegorizers. His ontology was markedly Platonic: to provide a medium for the operation of a perfect God upon an imperfect world, he introduced a range of mediating powers, notably dunameis and the logos. Philo's ethics are close to Stoicism, and there are echoes of Stoicism in his theology; but for him true morality is imitation of the Deity. His influence on patristic writing was profound and in later Christianity he was viewed as a Christian.


L. Cohn, P. Wendland, and S. Reiter, Philonis Opera Quae Supersunt, 1–6 (ed. maior, 1896–1930, repr. 1962; ed. minor 1896–1915).Find this resource:

F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, Loeb, Philo Judaeus 1–10.Find this resource:

Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ 3.2 (1987), 809–89.Find this resource:

Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2. 21. 1 (1984).Find this resource:

H. A. Wolfson, Philo (1947).Find this resource:

E. R. Goodenough, An Introduction to Philo Judaeus (1962).Find this resource:

D.T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (1986).Find this resource:

D. T. Runia, Philo in Early Christian Literature (1993).Find this resource:

P. Borgen, Philo of Alexandria (1997).Find this resource:

S. J. K. Pearce, The Land of the Body (2007).Find this resource:

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