Philo was a popular and prominent Hellenistic Jewish Biblical philosopher who was also known as Philo of Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia, “Philon,” and Philo the Jew. He used intellectual metaphor to harmoniously merge and connect Greek philosophy with Jewish customs. His methods incorporated both Jewish interpretation and Stoic philosophy. Philo’s writings did not receive a warm reception. When he described his exegesis to them, “the sophists of literalness,” as he addressed them, “opened their eyes superciliously.” He was the Jewish community’s head in Alexandria. His writings provided a clear picture of Judaism in the Diaspora. Plato, Aristotle, the Neo-Pythagoreans, the Cynics, and Stoicism all inspired Philo’s philosophies. He was the first to attempt to bring revealed religion and philosophic reason together. Until the contemporary time began, his work had almost no influence. Philo also influenced the third and fourth century A.D. church fathers Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Gregory of Nyssa. Scholars have conflicting feelings about his method.
Childhood and Adolescence in Philo
Philo was born in Alexandria in the year 20 BC, most likely under the name Julius Philo. He was born into an aristocratic family that had lived in Alexandria for many years. Philo’s ancestors and family lived during the reigns of the Ptolemaic dynasty and the Seleucid Empire. His parents’ identities are unknown, although he came from an aristocratic, respectable, and wealthy family.
Though the specific details is uncertain, Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar granted Roman citizenship to his father or paternal grandfather. Alexander the Alabarch and Lysimachus were Philo’s two brothers. His family was connected to the Judean Priesthood, the Hasmonean Dynasty, the Herodian Dynasty, and the Julio-Claudian Dynasty in Rome. He lived at the time of Jesus of Nazareth and The Apostles of Jesus, although he did not mention them in his writings. Philo and his siblings had had a good education. They studied Alexandrian Hellenistic and Roman culture, as well as Ancient Egyptian culture and, to a lesser extent, Judaism’s traditions, as well as Jewish traditional literature and Greek philosophy.
Josephus’ Point of View
The knowledge on Philo comes primarily from the writings of Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish historian. According to Josephus’ work “Antiquities of the Jews,” Philo was chosen as the principal envoy before the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula by the Jewish population of Alexandria. Philo had agreed to represent the Alexandrian Jews in the civil war that had erupted between the Jews and the Greeks in Alexandria, he said. He went on to say that Philo was clever and skilled in philosophy, and that he was also the brother of Alexander the Alabarch, a high-ranking official. According to Josephus, Philo and the majority of the Jewish community refused to regard and treat the emperor as a God. They also resisted the emperor’s gratitude statues, as well as the construction of shrines and temples to him. Philo believed that God actively cherished this rejection, according to Josephus.
Philo claimed in his “Embassy to Gaius” that he was a member of an embassy sent to the Roman Emperor Caligula by Alexandrian Jews. He claimed to have a petition with him that detailed the plight of Alexandria’s Jews and asked the emperor to safeguard their rights. Philo detailed their hardships in a way that Josephus neglected in order to argue that the Jews of Alexandria were simply victims of Alexandrian Greek aggression during the civil war. Philo also stated that his people regarded him as possessing exceptional caution due to his age, knowledge, and education.
Philo’s statement shows that he was a middle-aged man about the year 40 AD. Caligula’s desire to erect a monument of himself in the Jerusalem temple was interpreted by Philo as a provocation, and he wrote, “Are you declaring war on us because you believe we would not bear such humiliation, but will fight for our laws and die in defense of our national traditions? Because you couldn’t possible be unaware of the consequences of your endeavor to adopt these innovations in our sanctuary.” Throughout his career, he was a staunch supporter of the Jews’ will to overthrow the emperor.
In “Flaccus,” he alluded to his own time in the city by describing how the situation of Alexandrian Jews in Egypt changed after Gaius Caligula became Emperor of Rome. Philo explained to the majority of the Jews in Egypt that Alexandria “had two classes of inhabitants, our own nation and the people of the country,” and that “the whole of Egypt was inhabited in the same manner,” and that “the Jews who inhabited Alexandria and the rest of the country from the Catabathmos on the Libyan side to the Ethiopian borders were not less than a million of men.”
“There are five districts in the city, named after the first five letters of the written alphabet, of which two are dubbed the quarters of the Jews, because the primary portion of the Jews lives in them,” he remarked, referring to Alexandria’s large Jewish community. According to Philo, Flaccus, the Roman governor of Alexandria, let a group of people to erect statues of the emperor Caius Caligula in Alexandrian Jewish synagogues, an unusual provocation. The synagogues may have been stopped by force, as Philo noted that Flaccus “was destroying the synagogues and not even leaving their name.” Flaccus “issued a proclamation in which he called us all foreigners and aliens… permitting any one who was motivated to proceed to murder the Jews as prisoners of war,” Philo wrote in response.
The crowds “drove the Jews altogether out of four quarters, and squeezed them all into a very tiny fraction of one… while the populace, overrunning their deserted houses, turned to plunder, and divided the booty among themselves as if they had acquired it in war,” Philo said. “They stoned them and thousands of others with all kinds of misery and tortures, and freshly developed cruelties,” he continued, “because whenever they encountered or caught sight of a Jew, they stoned him, or beat him with sticks.”
“The most brutal of all their persecutors burned whole families, men with their wives, and infant children with their parents, in the midst of the city, sparing neither age nor young, nor the innocent helplessness of infants,” he added. Some men were severely abused and dragged till they died, while “those who performed these things, mimicked the suffering, like people employed in the production of theatrical farces,” according to Philo. Other Jews were killed via torture. Flaccus was eventually dismissed from the government as well as from the city, and he was sentenced to death.
Death of Philo
Philo died in the year 50 AD. His death has yet to be determined.
Estimated Net Worth
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