Philo Judaeus

PHILO JUDAEUS (fī'lō jū-dē'ŭs). Jewish scholar and philosopher, born in Alexandria about 20 b.c. Alexandria had an old tradition of Jewish scholarship, and Philo sprang from a rich and priestly family. Few details are known of his life, save that in a.d. 39 he took part in an embassy to Rome to plead the case of the Jews whose religious privileges, previously wisely recognized by Rome, were menaced by the mad Caligula. Philo lived until 50 and was a prolific author. His writings include philosophical works, commentaries on the Pentateuch, and historical and apologetic works in the cosmopolitan tradition of Alexandrian Jewry, which had long sought to commend its literature to the Gentile world. Hence Philo’s development of an allegorical interpretation of the OT. His aim was to show that much of the philosophy of the Greeks had been anticipated by the Jews. He was also, like Paul of Tarsus, a citizen of two worlds and sought to synthesize his own Hellenistic and Hebraic traditions. His doctrine of God most notably reveals this synthesis. His doctrine of the Logos is discussed earlier (see Logos). The Logos, in Philo’s rendering of the Greek doctrine, was simultaneously the creative power that orders the universe and also a species of mediator through whom people know God. John seems therefore to have had Philo’s philosophy in mind when he wrote the first eighteen verses of the fourth Gospel, sharply personal though John’s interpretation is. Others, too, were influenced by Philo’s mysticism and principles of exegesis. Clement and Origen used his works; and the Latin fathers, generally following his methods of allegorical interpretation, established a tradition of exegesis that still finds favor in some quarters.——EMB


OR alexandrinus. Jewish writer. Living in the time of Christ, his blending of OT monotheism with Greek philosophy anticipated early Christian thought, notably on the “Word” in creation. Probably past middle age in a.d. 40, he was included then in a deputation to the Roman emperor after anti- Jewish rioting at Alexandria. Philo's extensive writings include Jewish apologetic, Pentateuchal criticism, and descriptions of Jewish monastic sects, e.g., the Essenes.* Philosophically he embraced the then fashionable amalgam of Stoicism and Platonism. He combined the abstractness of the philosophers' Supreme Being with the intensely personal, moral Yahweh. Similarly his concept of the divine “Word” (Logos*) unites Hebrew and Greek ideas-it represents the creative word of Genesis 1, the personalized “Wisdom” of Proverbs 8, the vehicle of God's activity (cf. Isa. 55:11), the World of Forms (see Platonism), and the immanent principle of natural-cum-moral law which Stoicism also called logos. Elsewhere Philo uses such terms as Son of God, Ideal Man, and Paraclete.

More Greek than Hebrew, but also anticipating Christianity, is his stress on spirit (pneuma) at the expense of body; in Philo this is related to asceticism and to mysticism, a type of religious ecstasy (“sober drunkenness”) typical of the age (see also Plotinus). Philo links philosophy to the Pentateuch through allegory, a method widely used in the Greek world for giving relevance to mythology and early poetry. Much early Christian exposition of Scripture follows his lead-see e.g., Ambrose* and Origen.* His Jewish loyalties were only intensified by his contact with Greek culture, which he saw as offering favorable conditions for the propagation of Judaism, with its monotheism and strong practical morality, as a world-religion.

I. Heinemann, Philons griechische und jüdische Bildung (1932); E.R. Goodenough, An Introduction to Philo Judaeus (1939); H. Lewy (ed.), Philo (1946); H.A. Wolfson, Philo (1947); C.H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953).