Online Encyclopedia

PHILO

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 413 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
PHILO, often called PHILO JUDAEUS, Jewish philospher, appears to have spent his whole life at Alexandria, where he was probably born c. 20—10 B.C. His father Alexander was alabarch or arabarch (that is, probably, chief farmer of taxes on the Arabic side of the Nile), from which it may be concluded that the family was influential and wealthy (Jos. Ant. xviii. 8, I). Jerome's statement (De vir. ill. II) that he was of priestly race is confirmed by no older authority. The only event of his life which can be actually dated belongs to A.D. 40, when Philo, then a man of advanced years, went from Alexandria to Rome, at the head of a Jewish embassy, to persuade the emperor Gains to abstain from claiming divine honour of the Jews. Of this embassy Philo has left a full and vivid account (De legatione ad Gaium). Various fathers and theologians of the Church state that in the time of Claudius he met St Peter in Rome; I but this legend has no historic value, and probably arose because the book De vita contemplativa, ascribed to Philo, in which Eusebius already recognized a glorification of Christian monasticism, seemed to indicate a disposition towards Christianity. Though we know so little of Philo's own life, his numerous extant writings give the fullest information as to his views of the universe and of life, and his religious and scientific aims, and so enable us adequately to estimate his position and importance in the history of thought. He is quite the most important representative of Hellenistic Judaism, and his writings give us the clearest view of what this development of Judaism was and aimed at. The development of Judaism in the diaspora (q.v.) differed in important points from that in Palestine; where, since the successful opposition of the Maccabee age to the Hellenization which Antiochus Epiphanes had sought to carry through by force, the attitude of the nation to Greek culture had been essentially negative. In the diaspora, on the other hand, the Jews had been deeply influenced by the Greeks; they soon more or less forgot their Semitic mother-tongue, and with the language of Hellas they appropriated much of Hellenic culture. They were deeply impressed by that irresistible force which was blending all races and nations into one great cosmopolitan unity, and so the Jews too on their dispersion became in speech and nationality Greeks, or rather " Hellenists." Now the distinguishing character of Hellenism is not the absolute disappearance of the Oriental civilizations before that of Greece but the combination of the two with a preponderance of the Greek element. So it was with the Jews, but in their case the old religion had much more persistence than in other Hellenistic circles, though in other respects they too yielded to the superior force of Greek civilization. This we must hold to have been the case not only in Alexandria but throughout the diaspora from the commencement of the Hellenistic period down to the later Roman Empire. It was only after ancient civilization gave way before the barbarian immigrations and the rising force of Christianity that rabbinism became supreme even among the Jews of the diaspora. This Hellenistico-Judaic phase of culture is sometimes called " Alexandrian," and the expression is justifiable if it only means that in Alexandria it attained its highest development and flourished most. For ' Euseb., H. E. ii. 17, 1; Jer. ut supra; Phot. Bibl. Cod. Io5; Suid., s.v. 4:^ixwr."409 here the. Jews began to busy themselves with Greek literature even under their clement rulers, the first Ptolemies, and here the law and other Scriptures were first translated into Greek; here the process of fusion began earliest and proceeded with greatest rapidity; here, therefore, also the Jews first engaged in a scientific study of Greek philosophy and transplanted that philosophy to the soil of Judaism. We read of a Jewish philosopher Aristobulus in the time of Ptolemy VI. Philometor, in the middle of the 2nd century B.C., of whose philosophical commentary on the Pentateuch fragments have been preserved by Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius. So far as we can judge from these, his aim was to put upon the sacred text a sense which should appeal even to Greek readers, and in particular to get rid of all anthropomorphic utterances about God. Eusebius regards him as a Peripatetic. We may suppose that this philosophical line of thought had its representatives in Alexandria between the times of Aristobulus and Philo, but we are not acquainted with the names of any such. Philo certainly, to judge by his historical influence, was the greatest of all these Jewish philosophers, and in his case we can follow in detail the methods by which Greek culture was harmonized with Jewish faith. On one side he is quite a Greek, on the other quite a Jew. His language is formed on the best classical models, especially Plato. He knows and often cites the great Greek poets, particularly Homer and the tragedians, but his chief studies had been in Greek philosophy, and he speaks of Heraclitus, Plato, the Stoics and the Pythagoreans in terms of the highest veneration. He had appropriated their doctrines so completely that .he must himself be reckoned among the Greek philosophers; his system was eclectic, but the borrowed elements are combined into a new unity with so much originality that at the same time he may fairly be regarded as representing a philosophy of his own, which has for its characteristic feature the constant prominence of a fundamental religious idea. Philo's closest affinities are with Plato, the later Pythagoreans and the Stoics .2 Yet with all this Philo remained a Jew, and a great part of his writings is expressly directed to recommend Judaism to the respect and, if possible, the acceptance of the Greeks. He was not a stranger to the specifically Jewish culture that prevailed in Palestine; in Hebrew he was not proficient, but the numerous etymologies he gives show that he had made some study of that language? His method of exegesis is in point of form identical with that of the Palestinian scribes, and in point of matter coincidences are not absolutely rare.' But above all his whole works prove on every page that he felt himself to be thoroughly a Jew, and desired to be nothing else. Jewish " philosophy " is to him the true and highest wisdom; the knowledge of God and of things divine and human which is contained in the Mosaic Scriptures is to him the deepest and the purest. If now we ask wherein Philo's Judaism consisted we must answer that it lies mainly in the formal claim that the Jewish people, in virtue of the divine revelation given to Moses, possesses the true knowledge in things religious. Thoroughly Jewish is his recognition that the Mosaic Scriptures of the Pentateuch are of absolute divine authority, and that everything they contain is valuable and significant because divinely revealed. The other Jewish Scriptures are also recognized as prophetic, i.e. as the writings of inspired men, but he does not place them on the same lines with the law, and he quotes them so seldom that we cannot determine the compass of his canon. The 2 The fathers of the Church have specially noticed his Platonism and Pythagoreanism; an old proverb even says, with some exaggeration, +] IIaarwv aXwsti'ec ,' End of Article: PHILO
[back]
HENRY PHILLPOTTS (1778-1869)
[next]
PHILO OF BYZANTIUM

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.