« Phillpots, Henry Philo of Alexandria Phylo Byblius »

Philo of Alexandria


I. Life.

Philo of Alexandria (b. about 20 B.C.; d. about 42 A.D.) stands as the leading exponent of the Jewish-Alexandrine religious philosophy, and in its influence upon the literature of the Christian Church its foremost representative. The incomplete biography of him is derived from statements in his own works and from incidental passages in Josephus (Ant., XVIII., viii. 1, XX., v. 2), Eusebius (Hist. eccl., ii. 4–5; Eng. transl., NPNF, 2 ser., i. 107–109; Præparatio evangelica, viii. 13–14; Eng. transl., 2 vols., Oxford, 1903), Jerome (De vir. ill., xi.), Isidore of Pelusium, Photius, and Suidas. From these it appears that Philo was of a rich, prominent family, brother of Alexander Lysimachus, alabarch of the Jews at Alexandria. Whether he was of priestly descent (Jerome) and whether his name was Jedediah or this was merely a free rendering of the name Philo by later Jewish writers remain uncertain. In 39 or 40 A.D. he appeared as the representative of the Jews of Alexandria 39before Caligula at Rome to regain the privileges lost through the acts of the imperial governor Publius Avilius Flaccus in conjunction with the bloody atrocities of the hostile Greek party. The mission secured no promise of relief; but the accession of Claudius brought the restoration of their rights and the release of their imprisoned alabarch; and under Claudius, Philo wrote the report of the expedition to Rome. At what time he sojourned in Palestine is uncertain.

II. Works.

1. Lost and Spurious.

Of his works, Eusebius (Hist. eccl., ii. 18; Eng. transl., ut sup., 119–122) gives a fair but incomplete enumeration; but some of the writings mentioned thus, as well as others in the later accounts of Jerome, Photius, and Suidas, are extant, if at all, in fragments only. All but meager fragments is lost of the important work "Counsels for the Jews," no doubt identical with the "Apology for the Jews" mentioned by Eusebius; likewise three books of "Questions and Answers on Exodus," two books of the "Allegory of the Sacred Laws," one book of "On Rewards," and the same of "On Numbers." Peter Alexius refuted the charge brought by a forgotten Socinian theologian of the seventeenth century that a Christian author toward the close of the second century composed the collective writings of Philo and ascribed them to him. This untenable hypothesis was taken up in the last century by a hypercritic of Jewish descent, Kirschbaum by name, who assumed, however, a gigantic fraud by several Christian authors. More consideration is due to recent attacks on individual works; such as, for instance, against the apparent composite character of De incorruptibilitate mundi, against the "Dissertations on Samson and Jonah" from the Armenian, the Interpretatio Hebraicorum nominum, and the Liber antiquitatum Biblicarum printed in the sixteenth century in Philo's name. The last three are certainly not genuine. Weighty objections have been raised by recent critics against the authenticity of De vita contemplativa, some of whom claim its origin to have been from the monk Falsarius at the close of the third century; because (1) of its connection with the writing Quod omnis probes liber of which it is claimed to be a continuation; (2) the author is more limited in his cosmic view than Philo and has in mind the monastic mode of thought; and (3) it was never mentioned before Eusebius, who seeks to establish thereby the historical priority of the Therapeutæ (q.v.). However, this argument makes too much of the silence before Eusebius; besides, the diction is decidedly of the period of Philo, and the descent of the manuscript as well as the Jewish character of its contents speak also for its authenticity.

2. Exegetical.

The genuine or unquestioned works of Philo fall into three groups: the exegetical on the Pentateuch, the philosophical, and the political. The exegetical is the most replete and comprehensive and is subdivided as to contents into the cosmogonical, historical, and legislative writings. Of the cosmogonical, De mundi opificio is an allegorical explanation of the creation in Genesis. The historical writings, called also allegorical or genealogical, present a historico-allegorical elucidation of Genesis chapter by chapter. Those of legislative content present ethical considerations with reference to the decalogue and Hebrew ritual based on the codes in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

3. Philosophical and Political.

The philosophical works belonging to Philo's earlier period and challenged by the modern critics on account of difference of content with that of the later works are, De incorruptibilitate mundi; Quod omnis probus liber; and De vita contemplativa. To these belong the Quæstiones et solutiones in Genesin et Exodum, a brief catechetical explanation of the Pentateuch originally in five books, partly preserved in a Latin translation and partly recovered in an Armenian translation; and, from the Armenian, De providentia (2 books); and Alexander seu de ratione brutorum. The political or historico-apologetical writings for the cultured class of Jews and heathen in common, with an apologetical tendency in favor of the first, embrace, De vita Mosis; the "Counsels for the Jews"; "Unto Flaccus"; and "Embassy to Gaius" [Caligula], the last two important for autobiographical notices, and forming books iii. and iv. respectively of a more comprehensive work of five books, "On the Fate of the Jews under Emperor Gaius," the fourth and fifth of which bore the common title, "On the Virtues."

III. Doctrines.

1. Relationship and Scope.

Philo stands as the most conspicuous figure and the culminating point of a long development marked by the confluence of Jewish monotheism and Hellenic cosmogony. This movement is represented at Alexandria in the middle of the third century before Christ by the peripatetic Aristobulus, who already shows the tendency of allegorizing and of abstracting the conception of deity from Biblical anthropomorphism by the intrusion of intermediate entities. The allegorizing of Philo is said to have gathered up into a mighty basin all the streams of Alexandrine hermeneutics from the past and discharged them again into multiple streams and rivulets of the later exegesis of Judaism and Christianity. He knew all the important Greek philosophers, from whom he cited freely; but first for him was Plato, from whom he derived his philosophical content, while in his method of extravagant allegorizing he imitated the Stoics. These allegorized the Greek myths in the effort to philosophize the multiple forms of popular religion and reduce them to simple fundamental principles; so did Philo in dealing with the Biblical and legal forms and cultic prescriptions of the Jews, in the interest, however, of monotheism. In his adherence to a living personal Creator and Ruler of the universe, revealed through Moses, and choosing Israel from the world races as his peculiar possession, he did not waver. Moses to him is the prophet of all prophets and his law the essence of all wisdom and doctrine of virtue; and waiving his privilege of constructing an independent cosmology he presents his cosmological views in the form of a great practico-speculative commentary on the Pentateuch. He disapproves of the heretical sects of Judaism, and lavishes warm praise on the pious Essenes. The 40emphasis of Philo is positive; faith and piety are the supreme virtues. His positive faith is saturated with an ardent mysticism; not that of absorption in divine contemplation, but rather that sustained on the one hand throughout his monotheistic ethical point of view and on the other throng out his philosophical consciousness, ever alert to penetrate to the nature of things. Philo was thus the first monotheistic theologian in this cosmopolitan sense and the predecessor of the Alexandrine school.

2. On God in Himself.

In his doctrine of God he distinguished strictly between God in himself and God revealed, as demanded by his Old-Testament theistic point of view as well as his Platonic dualism of spirit and matter. On the one hand, he rejects the pantheistic view and the deification of creatures; on the other, the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic view. God in himself is absolute, incorporate, and outside of the material universe; comprehending all, yet uncomprehended. He is outside of time and space, and in his being unknowable. The only name by which God can be designated is therefore pure being (to on or ho ōn). Though without real attributes yet in contrast with created being certain marks can not be avoided, such as immutability, unity, simplicity, absolute freedom, and beatitude, without lack of anything, self-sufficiency, whereby he stands in relation to nothing and is none of the created beings. God is called "the Good" only in the sense that he is the source of all good; "Light," in the figurative, only as the divine source, as much brighter than the visible lights as the sun exceeds the darkness.

3. God Revealed; Creation.

God, as revealed, on the other hand, is also immanent in his relation with the universe and is the all-filling, all-penetrating, leaving no vacuum. He is the author of the universe and first cause on whom depends the world of spirits and sense. A series of attributes arise from his relations with the universe; such as omnipotence, by virtue of which he is almighty and the efficient cause of all; omniscience, all-knowing the present and all-fore seeing the future; and wisdom, whereby he transcends the counsel and reason of mankind. Three corollaries follow his creative power: the material, the means, and the object. (1) The stuff was the matter (hylē), the relative nothing (me on). Time is evolved from formless matter; and, not in time but with time becoming, heaven and earth were created. Creation in six days is to be taken figuratively, six being a symbol of perfection and representing the relative order and not time. This conception of creation taken from the Timæus of Plato is fundamentally nothing else than the absolute rational plan of creation springing from the Logos of God (cf. Origen and Origenistic Controversies). This Logos is the means by which the universe was created and the object was God's beneficence as love and as free self-impartation to his creatures.

4. Intermediate Potencies; the Logos.

Between God the Infinite and the finite, imperfect universe there is a wide gap which is, however, removed by being filled with divine potencies (dynameis), which are peculiar mediating beings or concepts, represented on the one hand as active powers, self-revelations, or attributes of God; on the other, as personal beings of a spiritual kind. Incomprehensible in number they submit to classification; namely, into the well-doing and the primitive powers. At the head of the former is the agathotes through whom God made the universe and at the head of the other is the archē, through whom be rules it. But higher than these two at the summit of the series of all mediate beings, constituting their principle of unity, appears the divine Logos. He is their father and leader, the first-born. Are the others angels, he is the archangel. He stands in immanent relation with God and proceeds from him, whereas the others proceed from the Logos. He is sometimes called second God or image of God; his administrator, tool, and mediator. As mediator, through him the world was made. In him subsisted at the beginning of creation heaven and earth; i.e., the body of ideals. He is the seat of ideals which by partition or separation he projects from himself. Through him God imprints the intermediate potencies, which have their seat in the Logos, upon matter; hence his is called "seal of God." As the bond of unity, God holds together, supports, and directs all through him. He is also represented as the high-priest and advocate for men with God. The synonym "word" (hrēma; Gen. i. 3; Ps. xxxiii. 6; Deut. viii. 3) used sometimes by Philo indicates that the Logos was to him equivalent to the Biblical term of the Old Testament instrument of creation and governance of the world.

5. Man.

At the conclusion of the work of creation, God made first the heavenly man through the Logos; i.e., the preexistent ideal man, in his pretemporal, spiritual, unsexual eternal state, untainted by sin and truly in the divine image. Subsequently, the earthly man, made not by the Logos alone but with the aid of the lower potencies, was deficient in the perfect image of God and was, in advance, subject to the possibility of sinning. Indeed, his higher soul (nous) came from the creative, living breath of God, but in the creation of his lower soul (with its earthly reason, nous geïnós) as well as his body, several angelic potencies or demiurges cooperated. After the earthly man had lived seven years in Paradise, or the realm of virtues, especially of piety and wisdom, he was sexually differentiated by the formation of woman from him and he entered the state of temptation and sin. The results of the fall are partly physical and partly ethical, the latter being the increasing degeneration of Adam's descendants, impure from birth. A partial image of God remains as freedom of will and rational perception; by these the fallen retain unbroken connection with God, particularly through the Logos through whom God reveals himself. Many men fail to apprehend God because of their guilt; only the consecrated who know how to rise above the earthly may enter into closer relations with him. In the special Scripture revelation, Moses is the earthly mediator of a revelation which shows Israel to be the chosen and the possessed of God, just as the Logos is the heavenly mediator.


6. The Scriptures.

The Scriptures—Philo having in mind the Septuagint—are capable of a double sense, and must not be understood otherwise than as allegorical. The immediate sense is the literal, fit only for weaker minds; it is the outer integument which the mediate or allegorical sense penetrates and fills as the soul does the body. The formal criteria for preferring the allegorical are, (1) when the literal represents something unworthy of God; (2) when there is apparent contradiction; and (3) when the text itself is figurative. In a series of instances a deeper sense is implied, (1) by a duplication of expression; (2) a redundant word or words; (3) repetition with slight variation; and (4) play of words and the like.

7. Ethics.

In the doctrine of the moral law Philo stands on strict monotheistic, Old-Testament ground; in the doctrine of virtue he adheres to Plato and the Stoics. The divine moral law appears to him the entire natural and moral, world comprehending order. The law of Moses is the visible transcript of the natural law. The Hebrew ceremonial law requires in all points a spiritual or allegorical interpretation. The virtues are arranged in the order of importance according to the Platonic-Stoic scheme, with the exception that piety is supreme. The strict ascetic retirement of the Therapeutæ and Essenes is commended for the culture of the virtues. The Logos is given an important place in the ethical sphere, as the teacher of virtues, the conqueror of evils, and the heavenly model for men. He operates on the one hand in the human conscience as judge; on the other, as mediator before God for man.

8. Eschatology.

In his doctrine on immortality and retribution, so far as it affects the individual, Philo stands on Hellenic ground; in his expectation for the future of the people of God, he is Jewish particularist. Man is designed to be immortal by virtue of his godlike nature. Actual immortality is attained through virtue, especially piety; also by philosophy, apprehended and realized in life. Though the life of the sinner continues after death, yet it is not really immortal; this property belongs to those only who carry their blessedness attained in this world into the highest ether of the world beyond, where they behold God. The fate of the godless is that the punishment which sin carries within itself in this world, such as fear, sadness, and strife, continues into the next. The misery involved in sin is the place of its condemnation and not the mythical Hades. Philo knows nothing of a trans-mundane hell as a place for torment, the devil, or malevolent angels.

IV. Later Influence.

Philo's religious philosophy exerted a profound influence upon the early Christian theology and the development of Christianity. It has been termed "an outline of the kernel of Christian history formed by the Jew Philo before it went into effect," and the Logos doctrine has been called "the Jewish prologue of Christianity." But such generalizations can be supported only so far as the coincidences of individual concepts and expressions of Philo with those of the New Testament and some of the early Christian writers. The teachings of Philo differ as much as possible from the fundamental doctrines of Christianity regarding the person and work of Christ. In his treatment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament he either preoccupies himself with abstractly spiritualistic allegory or with a one-sided national hope, stopping short of a deeper ethical interpretation. His Logos doctrine is one only in name with that of the New Testament; the former is a cosmic potency without true personal character, the latter is above all else a personal being of ethical godlike significance. The former is unrelated to the theocratic national expectations of Israel; the latter is the incarnate Son of the Father, the Messiah. However, this is not equally true of the influence of Philo upon the formal dogma and exegesis of the Fathers, which were both far-reaching and persistent. As already upon Josephus and upon the later exegetes of the Targum and the Midrash, the Cabalists, and the religious philosophers of the Middle Ages; so the influence of Philo's phraseology and allegorical exegesis shows itself upon a considerable number of the early Christian writers, particularly of the Alexandrian school; and even in a certain sense upon New-Testament writers like Paul, John, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Of the Greek Fathers, especially Barnabas, Justin, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement, Origen, Eusebius, and, among the Latino, Ambrose and Jerome, show a similar influence.

(O. Zöckler†.)

Bibliography: The best ed. of the "Works" is by L. Cohn and P. Wendland, in an editio major and minor, vols. i.–v. and ix., Berlin, 1896–1909. There is also an editio stereotypa in course of issue from Leipsic, vols. i., v., vi., 1898–1905; The editio princeps by A. Turnebus was issued Paris, 1552; an edition which has long been standard is that by T. Mangey, 2 vols., London, 1742. There is an Eng. transl. by C. D. Yonge, 4 vols., London, 1854–55; and a new Germ. transl. was began under the editorship of L. Cohn, Vol. i., Breslau, 1909. Special mention should be made of Neu entdeckte Fragmenta Philos, ed. P. Wendland, Berlin, 1891; Fragments of Philo Judæus, newly ed., J. R. Harris, Cambridge, 1886; and the Eng. transl., Philo about the Contemplative Life, by F. C. Conybeare, Oxford, 1895 (contains a full bibliography). Very useful as covering the whole subject are: DCB, iv. 357–388 (a notable discussion); Schürer, Geschichte, iii. 487–562, Eng. transl., II., iii. 321–381; DB, extra vol., pp. 197–208; and Vigouroux, Dictionnaire, fasc. xxxi., cols. 300–312. Consult further: J. Bryant, The Sentiment of Philo Judæus, London, 1798; C. G. L. Grossmann, Quæstiones Philoneæ, part 1, De theologiæ Philonis fontibus et auctoritate, Leipsic, 1829; A. Gfrörer, Philon and die alexandrinische Theosophie, Stuttgart, 1831; A. F. Dähne, Geschichtliche Darstellung der jüdisch-alexandrinischen Religionsphilosophie, 2 vols., Halle, 1834; F. Keferstein, Philo's Lehre vom den göttlichen Mittelwesen, Leipsic, 1846; J. Bucher, Philonische Studien, Tübingen, 1848; C. Morgan, An Investigation of the Trinity of Plato and Philo, London, 1853; J. T. Delaunay, Philon d’Alexandrie, Paris, 1867; M. Heinze, Lehre vom Logos, Leipsic, 1872; B. Bruno, Philo, Strauss und Renan, and das Urchristenthum, Berlin, 1874; J. W. Lake, Plato, Philo and Paul; or the pagan Conception of a "Divine Logos" the Basis of the Christian Dogma, Edinburgh, 1874; C. Siegfried, Philon von Alexandrien als Ausleger des Alten Testaments, Jena, 1875; H. Soulier, La doctrine du logos chez Philon d’Alexandrie, Turin, 1876; F. Klasen, Die alttestamentliche Weisheit and der Logos der jüdisch-alexandrinischen Philosophie, Freiburg, 1878; J. Réville, Le Logos d’après Philon d’Alexandrie, Geneva, 1877; P. E. Lucius, Die Therapeuten . . . Eine kritische Untersuchung der Schrift "De vita contemplativa," Strasburg, 1879; J. Réville, La Doctrine du logos dans le quatrième evangile et dans les œuvres de Philon, Paris, 1881; S. Weiss, Philo von Alexandrien and Moses Maimonides, Halle, 1884; J. Drummond, Philo 42Judæus, or the Jewish-Alexandrian Philosophy in its Development and Completion, 2 vols., London, 1888; H. von Arnim, Quellenstudien zu Philo van Alexandrien, Berlin, 1888; L. Massebieau, Le Classement des œuvres de Philon, Paris, 1889 M. Freudenthal, Die Erkenntnisslehre Philos von Alexandria, Berlin, 1891; P. Wendland and O. Kern, Beiträge zur Geschichte der grieschischen Philosophie und Religion, pp. 1–75, Berlin, 1895; C. G. Montefiore in JQR, vii (1895), 481–545 (a florilegium); A. Aall, Geschichte der Logosidee in der grieschischen Philosophie, 2 parts. Leipsic, 1896–99; E. Herriot, Philon le juif, Paris 1898; S. Tiktin, Die Lehre von den Tugenden und Pflichten bei Philo, Bern, 1898; T. Simon, Der Logos, Leipsic, 1902; W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, Berlin, 1903; P. Krüger, Philo and Josephus als Apologeten des Judenthums, Leipsic, 1906; J. Martin, Philon, Paris, 1907; P. Heinisch, Der Einfluss Philos auf die älteste christliche Exegese, in Altestamentliche Abhandlungen, ed. J. Nikel, Münster, 1908; Les Idées Philosophiques et religieuses de Philon d’ Alexandrie, Paris, 1908; K. S. Guthrie, The Message of Philo-Judæus of Alexandria, Chicago, 1909; H. Windisch, Die Frömmigkeit Philos and ihre Bedeutung für das Christenthum, Leipsic, 1909; N. Bentwich, Philo-Judæus of Alexandria, Philadelphia, 1910; K. S. Guthrie The Message of Philo Judæus of Alexandria, London, 1910; works on the history of Israel, e.g., H. Ewald, Geschichte, vi. 257–312, and on the history of philosophy.

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