Philo   [ca. 15 BCE - 50 CE]

Alexandrian Jewish contemporary of Herod, Jesus & Paul, who interpreted the Torah in terms of Platonic & Stoic philosophy. He was brother of the wealthy aristocrat, Alexander Lysimachus, whose apostate son, Tiberius Alexander, later became Roman procurator of Judea. In 38 CE Philo led a delegation to Caligula at Rome to seek relief from anti-Jewish riots promoted by Flaccus, the Roman governor of Alexandria. 

How much Philo was influenced by or influenced other Hellenized Jews has been disputed. His works were preserved by Alexandrian Christians & influenced the development of Christian philosophy & scriptural exegesis. Philo regularly gives abstract psychological allegorizations of details in the biblical texts, many of which would be philosophically problematic if taken literally. Works excerpted here are:

  • On the Creation of the World -- interpretation of Gen 1 in terms of Plato's Timaeus & the Stoic concept of the Logos.

  • Allegorical Interpretation of the Law -- based on the stories of Adam & Eve (Gen 2:1-3:19).

  • On the Cherubim -- based on the expulsion from Eden & the birth of Cain (Gen 3:24-4:1).

  • On the Sacrifices of Cain & Abel -- based on the primal sibling rivalry (Gen 4:2-4).

  • The Worse is Apt to Attack the Better -- based on the first murder (Gen 4:8).

  • On Cain's Exile -- based on Gen 4:16.

  • The Unchangeableness of God -- based on the description of God's regret for creating humans (Gen 6:4-12).

  • On Husbandry -- traditionally called "On Agriculture," based on Gen 9:20-21.

  • On Noah's Work -- also called "On Planting," based on Gen 9:20.

  • On the Confusion of Tongues -- based on the story of the tower of Babel (Gen 9:1-9).

  • On Abraham's Migration -- based on the story of the promised land (Gen 12:1-3).

  • Who is Heir of Things Divine? -- based on the story of God's covenant with Abraham (Gen 15:2-18).

  • On the Special Laws -- allegorization of the Ten Commandments.

  • Every Good Man is Free -- Essenes portrayed as models of moral virtue.

  • On Flaccus -- Detailed historical account interpreting the downfall of a Roman prefect of Alexandria who encouraged anti-Jewish riots in the first year of Caligula's reign (38 CE) as proof of divine favor for Jews.

  • Delegation to Gaius - first hand report of his unsuccessful mission to Rome, composed shortly after his return (40 CE).

[Edition used: Philo. Works (in Loeb Classical Library). Ed. F. H. Colson & G. H. Whitaker. Vols 1-5, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929-1933. Vols 6-10, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1935-1942].

Other resources on line:

Perspective on the World of Jesus

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