I started The Cambridge Companion to Philo. Philo was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt during the first century C.E. In this post, I’ll comment on what stood out to me in each essay that I have read so far in this book.
1. The first essay was Daniel Schwartz’s “Philo, His Family, and His Times”. Philo’s family was prominent and wealthy, and that’s probably what gave Philo the time and the resources to write. (Philo never mentions a patron.) His brother Alexander was a tax official, had an import-export business, and administered the Egyptian property of the daughter of Mark Antony and the mother of Claudius. Regarding Philo’s family, Philo interacts with the views of a nephew when he writes about the notions that animals have souls and that there is no divine providence (and I conclude from a later essay in the book that Philo disagreed with these ideas). Philo represented Alexandrian Jews before the Roman emperor, Gaius Caligula, after Gaius put a statue in the Jerusalem Temple in retaliation against Jews who tore down an altar that had been built to Gaius in Jamnia. According to Schwartz, Philo tended to downplay the importance of Israel as a holy place—-seeing Judaism as a matter of the heart and mind rather than location—-and yet Philo displayed loyalty to his people and Jerusalem before Gaius.
2. The second essay was James Royse’s “The Works of Philo”. On page 62, Royse says that “Jewish culture in Alexandria was virtually extinguished after the revolt of 115-117 CE.” And yet, Christians preserved and transmitted Philo’s writings. As Royse notes, some Christians even believed that Philo was one of their own!
3. The third essay was Adam Kamesar’s “Biblical Interpretation in Philo”. I would probably have to read the essay again to see where Philo differed from pagan exegesis. What I got in my latest reading, however, was that Philo had a rather eclectic approach to the Scriptures. Philo did not regard the Torah as myth, in the sense of being a fictional epic, for he saw it as a didactic document. And yet, Theodore of Mopsuestia thought that Philo was treating the Torah as myth because Philo allegorized—-Philo held that the Scriptures symbolized Greek philosophical truths—-like pagan exegetes who held that there was more to Homer than meets the eye. Did Philo disregard the literal sense of the Scriptures? On the one hand, there were times when Philo maintained that there had to be a deeper spiritual meaning to the text because the literal meaning did not make sense, and that may imply that Philo sometimes viewed the literal meaning as something to disregard. On the other hand, there were also times when Philo upheld the literal meaning in addition to the allegorical meaning, and Philo also regarded the characters in the biblical stories as moral or spiritual examples—-which coincides with a respect for the literal level of the text.
4. I did not finish the fourth essay, Cristina Termini’s “Philo’s Thought within the Context of Middle Judaism”. I’ll finish it soon! But I did read some of her insights on Philo’s view of the divine. In blogging through Goodenough’s By Light, Light and other books and articles, I have wondered: Did Philo regard the parts of God (if you will)—-the Logos, justice, etc.—-as beings in their own right, or rather as ways to describe the actions of only one being, God. My impression was that Goodenough somewhat contradicted himself on this issue—-sometimes Goodenough appeared to deny that they were beings in their own right in Philo’s thought, whereas other times he presented them as angels. Termini mentions apparent inconsistencies in how Philo portrays the relationship between the Logos and Sophia (wisdom)—-Sophia generates the Logos in union with God, Sophia is the Logos, Sophia is from the Logos—-and she states on page 100: “The fluidity of these schemes reveals the metaphorical orientation of the terminology employed to designate personified Wisdom more than it indicates inconsistency in Philo’s theology.”