Philo of Alexandria

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Philo of Alexandria originally named Philo Judaeus was born in 20 BCE and died in 50 CE in Alexandria, Egypt, Roman Empire. The name of his parents is unknown but we know that he came from a wealthy well-known family, his father was granted a Roman citizenship from Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar.

He visited the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem once in his period. Philo was a contemporary of the Messiah and his Apostles. He visited the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem once during his life. He and his brothers were educated in the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria and the culture of ancient Rome. They were also educated in Ancient Egyptian culture, Greek philosophy and in the traditions of Judaism, especially in the study of Jewish traditional literature.

Some believed this lack of credit or sympathy for Philo by the Rabbinic leadership was because of his selection of allegorical rather than exacting translations of the Hebrew Bible, however it was likely because of his analysis of Rabbinic scholars, referring to their works and ideas were “full of Sybaritic profligacy and licentiousness to their everlasting shame”, “eager to give a specious appearance to infamous actions, to secure notoriety for disgraceful deeds”, and, that he “disregards the envious disposition of such men, and shall narrate the true events of Moses’ life” of which Philo felt were unjustly covered over.

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According to Josephus, he was inspired by Aristobulus of Alexandria and the Alexandrian school. The solitary occasion in his life that can be dated is his cooperation in the international haven to Rome in 40 CE; whereby he addressed the Alexandrian Jews in an appointment to the Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Caligula) following a common struggle between the Alexandrian Jewish and Greek communities.

Works

Some of his works have been preserved in Greek, while others have remained through Armenian translations, and a smaller number remains in a Latin translation. Specific date of writing and original plan of organization is not known for much of the text referred to Philo. Most of his existing work deals with the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Within this corpus are three categories.

– Quaestiones (“Inquiries”) – short verse-by-verse exposition: four books on the Book of Genesis and two on the Book of Exodus. All six books are preserved through an Armenian translation, which was published by Jean-Baptiste Aucher in 1826. Comparison with surviving Greek and Latin fragments recommends the translation as literal and accurate so far as it goes, but suggests that some of the original content is missing. There are thought to be twelve original books, six on Genesis and six on Exodus.

– Allegorical Commentary – longer exegesis explaining esoteric meanings; the surviving text deals only with the Book of Genesis, with the notable omission of Genesis 1.

– “Exposition of the Law” – more straightforward synthesis of topics in the Pentateuch, probably written for gentiles as well as Jews.

Philo is also credited with writing:

– Apologies for Judaism including On the Life of Moses, On the Jews, and On the Contemplative Life.

– Historical works (describing current events in Alexandria and the Roman Empire), including Against Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius.

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– Philosophical works including Every Good Man Is Free, On the Eternity of the World, On Animals, and On Providence, the latter two surviving only through Armenian translation.

– Works now lost, but mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea.

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