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Philo


Philo, c. 20 BC - 50 AD, was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher. Very little is known of his personal life except he was of a noble family of Alexandria in Egypt. His brother headed the Jewish community in Egypt and was mentioned by Josephus. Being a dedicated scholar, Philo acquired knowledge in literature, philosophy, and the sciences. His writings mainly concerning the Pentateuch were preserved by the early Christian Church in their original Greek, and influenced the early Church Fathers including Ambrose, Origen, and Clement.

His writings surrounding the Pentateuch included such topics as On the Creation, On the Life of Moses, Allegorical Interpretation, On Dreams, and Questions and Answers on Genesis. Additionally, he produced philosophical treatises on such varied subjects as providence and the eternity of the world. His historical works were of great importance for understanding the plight of the Jews of Alexandria. Philo had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he offered prayers and sacrifices in the Temple. Also, he led a delegation of Jews to the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula to protest the anti-Jewish decrees of the Roman commissioner, Flaccus of Egypt. His philosophy was strongly influenced by Storicism and Platonism.

Philo described God as a "transcending virtue, transcending knowledge, transcending the good itself and the beauty itself," and he made a clear distinction between the world of opinion and the world of truth. The only ultimate realities for Philo were God and the soul, and it is the soul that connects humanity to God. He saw three Jewish patriarchs as archetypes for reaching union with God through learning, Abraham, nature, Isaac, and training, Jacob, and he argued that the Jewish law was not only superior on an earthly level, but carried the ultimate symbolic meaning. Traces of Philo's influence are to be found in the Mishnah. A.G.H.


Sources:

Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 750
Schreiber, Mordecai, The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, Rockville, Maryland, Schreiber Publishing, 2nd. ed., 2001, p. 205