By Norman Bentwich
It is a melancholy reflection upon the history of the Jews that they have failed to pay due honor to their two greatest philosophers. Spinoza was rejected by his contemporaries from the congregation of Israel; PhiloJudaeus was neglected by the generations that followed him. Maimonides, our third philosopher, was in danger of meeting the same fate, and his philosophical work was for long viewed with suspicion by a large part of the community. Philosophers, by the very excellence of their thought, have in all races towered above the comprehension of the people, and aroused the suspicion of the religious teachers. Elsewhere, however, though rejected by the Church, they have left their influence upon the nation, and taken a commanding place in its history, because they have founded secular schools of thought, which perpetuated their work. In Judaism, where religion and nationality are inextricably combined, that could not be. The history of Judaism since the extinction of political independence is the history of a national religious culture; what was national in its thought alone found favor; and unless a philosopher’s work bore this national religious stamp it dropped out of Jewish history.
Philo certainly had an intensely strong Jewish feeling, but his work had also another aspect, which was seized upon and made use of by those who wished to denationalize Judaism and convert it into a philosophical monotheism. The favor which the Church Fathers showed to his writings induced and was balanced by the neglect of the rabbis.
It was left till recently to non-Jews to study the works of Philo, to present his philosophy, and estimate its value. So far from taking a Jewish standpoint in their work, they emphasized the parts of his teaching that are least Jewish; for they were writing as Christian theologians or as historians of Greek philosophy. They searched him primarily for traces of Christian, neo-Platonic, or Stoic doctrines, and commiserated with him, or criticized him as a weakkneed eclectic, a half-blind groper for the true light.
Even during the last hundred years, which have marked a revival of the historical consciousness of the Jews, as of all peoples, it has still been left in the main to non-Jewish scholars to write of Philo in relation to his time and his environment. The purpose of this little book is frankly to give a presentation of Philo from the Jewish standpoint. I hold that Philo is essentially and splendidly a Jew, and that his thought is through and through Jewish. The surname given him in the second century, “Judaeus,” not only distinguishes him from an obscure Christian bishop, but it expresses the predominant characteristic of his teaching. It may be objected that I have pointed the moral and adorned the tale in accordance with preconceived opinions, which—as Mr. Claude Montefiore says in his essay on Philo—it is easy to do with so strange and curious a writer. I confess that my worthy appeals to me most strongly as an exponent of Judaism, and it may be that in this regard I have not always looked on him as the calm, dispassionate student should; for I experience towards him that warmth of feeling which his name, Φιλων, “the beloved one,” suggests. But I have tried so to write this biography as neither to show partiality on the one side nor impartiality on the other. If nevertheless I have exaggerated the Jewishness of my worthy’s thought, my excuse must be that my predecessors have so often exaggerated other aspects of his teaching that it was necessary to call a new picture into being, in order to redress the balance of the old.
Although I have to some extent taken a line of my own in this Life, my obligations to previous writers upon Philo are very great. I have used freely the works of Drummond, Schürer, Massebieau, Zeller, Conybeare, Cohn, and Wendland; and among those who have treated of Philo in relation to Jewish tradition I have read and borrowed from Siegfried (Philon als Ausleger der heiligen Schrift), Freudenthal (Hellenistische Studien), Ritter (Philo und die Halacha), and Mr. Claude Montefiore’s Florilegium Philonis, which is printed in the seventh volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review. Once for all Mr. Montefiore has selected many of the most beautiful and most vital passages of Philo, and much as I should have liked to unearth new gems, as beautiful and as illuminating, I have often found myself irresistibly attracted to Mr. Montefiore’s passages. Dr. Neumark’s book, Geschichte der jüdischen Philosophie des Mittelalters, appeared after my manuscript was set up, or I should have dealt with his treatment of Philo. With what he says of the relation of Plato to Judaism I am in great part in agreement, and I had independently come to the conclusion that Plato was the main Greek influence on Philo’s thought.
To these various books I owe much, but not so much as to the teaching, influence, and help of one whose name I have not the boldness to associate with this little volume, but whose notes on my manuscript have given it whatever value it may possess. The index I owe to the kindly help of a sister, who would also be nameless. Lastly I have to thank Dr. Lionel Barnett, professor of Sanscrit at University College, London, and my father, who read my manuscript before it was sent to the printers. The one gave me the benefit of his wide and accurate scholarship, the other gave me much valuable advice and removed many a blazing indiscretion.
February 28, 1907.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AT ALEXANDRIA
The three great world-conquerors known to history, Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon, recognized the pre-eminent value of the Jew as a bond of empire, an intermediary between the heterogeneous nations which they brought beneath their sway. Each in turn showed favor to his religion, and accorded him political privileges. The petty tyrants of all ages have persecuted Jews on the plea of securing uniformity among their subjects; but the great conqueror-statesmen who have made history, realizing that progress is brought about by unity in difference, have recognized in Jewish individuality a force making for progress. Whereas the pure Hellenes had put all the other peoples of the world in the single category of barbarians, their Macedonian conqueror forced upon them a broader view, and, regarding his empire as a world-state, made Greeks and Orientals live together, and prepared the way for a mingling of races and culture. Alexander the Great became a notable figure in the Talmud and Midrashim, and many a marvellous legend was told about his passing visit to Jerusalem during his march to Egypt. [Comp. Leviticus Rabba 13.] The high priest—whether it was Jaddua, Simon, or Onias the records do not make clear—is said to have gone out to meet him, and to have compelled the reverence and homage of the monarch by the majesty of his presence and the luster of his robes. Be this as it may, it is certain that Alexander settled a considerable number of Jews in the Greek colonies which he founded as centers of cosmopolitan culture in his empire, and especially in the town by the mouth of the Nile that received his own name, and was destined to become within two centuries the second town in the world; second only to Rome in population and power, equal to it in culture. By its geographical position, the nature of its foundation, and the sources of its population, and by the wonderful organization of its Museum, in which the records of all nations were stored and studied, Alexandria was fitted to become the meeting-place of civilizations.
There was already a considerable settlement of Jews in Egypt before Alexander’s transplantation in 332 B. C. E. Throughout Bible times the connection between Israel and Egypt had been close. Isaiah speaks of the day when five cities in the land of Egypt should speak the language of Canaan and swear to the Lord of hosts (xix. 18); and when Nebuchadnezzar led away the first captivity, many of the people had fled from Palestine to the old “cradle of the nation.” Jeremiah (xliv) went down with them to prophesy against their idolatrous practices and their backslidings; and Jewish and Christian writers in later times, daring boldly against chronology, told how Plato, visiting Egypt, had heard Jeremiah and learnt from him his lofty monotheism. Doubt was thrown in the last century upon the continuance of the Diaspora in Egypt between the time of Jeremiah and Alexander, but the recent discovery of a Jewish temple at Elephantine and of Aramaic papyri at Assouan dated in the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. E. has proved that these doubts were not well founded, and that there was a well-established community during the interval.
From the time of the post-exilic prophets Judaism developed in three main streams, one flowing from Jerusalem, another from Babylon, the third from Egypt. Alexandria soon took precedence of existing settlements of Jews, and became a great center of Jewish life. The first Ptolemy, to whom at the dismemberment of Alexander’s empire Egypt had fallen [Comp. Josephus, Ant. IX. 1.], continued to the Jewish settlers the privileges of full citizenship which Alexander had granted them. He increased also the number of Jewish inhabitants, for following his conquest of Palestine (or Coele-Syria, as it was then called), he brought back to his capital a large number of Jewish families and settled thirty thousand Jewish soldiers in garrisons. For the next hundred years the Palestinian and Egyptian Jews were under the same rule, and for the most part the Ptolemies treated them well. They were easy-going and tolerant, and while they encouraged the higher forms of Greek culture, art, letters, and philosophy, both at their own court and through their dominions, they made no attempt to impose on their subjects the Greek religion and ceremonial. Under their tolerant sway the Jewish community thrived, and became distinguished in the handicrafts as well as in commerce. Two of the five sections into which Alexandria was divided were almost exclusively occupied by them; these lay in the north-east along the shore and near the royal palace—a favorable situation for the large commercial enterprises in which they were engaged. The Jews had full permission to carry on their religious observances, and besides many smaller places of worship, each marked by its surrounding plantation of trees, they built a great synagogue, of which it is said in the Talmud, “He who has not seen it has not seen the glory of Israel.” [Sukkah 51b.] It was in the form of a basilica, with a double row of columns, and so vast that an official standing upon a platform had to wave his head-cloth or veil to inform the people at the back of the edifice when to say “Amen” in response to the Reader. The congregation was seated according to trade-guilds, as was also customary during the Middle Ages; the goldsmiths, silversmiths, coppersmiths, and weavers had their own places, for the Alexandrian Jews seem to have partially adopted the Egyptian caste-system. The Jews enjoyed a large amount of self-government, having their own governor, the ethnarch, and in Roman times their own council (Sanhedrin), which administered their own code of laws. Of the ethnarch Strabo says that he was like an independent ruler, and it was his function to secure the proper fulfillment of duties by the community and compliance with their peculiar laws. [Quoted by Josephus, Ant. XIV. 7.]Thus the people formed a sort of state within a state, preserving their national life in the foreign environment. They possessed as much political independence as the Palestinian community when under Roman rule; and enjoyed all the advantages without any of the narrowing influences, physical or intellectual, of a ghetto. They were able to remain an independent body, and foster a Jewish spirit, a Jewish view of life, a Jewish culture, while at the same time they assimilated the different culture of the Greeks around them, and took their part in the general social and political life.
At the end of the third and the beginning of the second century Palestine was a shuttlecock tossed between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids; but in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (c. 150 B. C. E.) it finally passed out of the power of the Ptolemaic house, and from this time the Palestinian Jews had a different political history from the Egyptian. The compulsory Hellenization by Antiochus aroused the best elements of the Jewish nation, which had seemed likely to lose by a gradual assimilation its adherence to pure monotheism and the Mosaic law. The struggle of Judas Maccabaeus was not so much against an external foe as against the Hellenizing party of his own people, which, led by the high priests Jason, Menelaus, and Alcimus, tried to crush both the national and the religious spirit. The Maccabaean rule brought not only a renaissance of national life and national culture, but also a revival of the national religion. Before, however, the deliverance of the Jews had been accomplished by the noble band of brothers, many of the faithful Palestinian families had fled for protection from the tyranny of Antiochus to the refuge of his enemy Ptolemy Philometor. Among the fugitives were Onias and Dositheus, who, according to Josephus [Ant. XII. 5, 9, XX. 10.], became the trusted leaders of the armies of the Egyptian monarch. Onias, moreover, was the rightful successor to the high-priesthood, and despairing of obtaining his dignity in Jerusalem, where the office had been given to the worthless Hellenist Alcimus, he conceived the idea of setting up a local center of the Jewish religion in the country of his exile. He persuaded Ptolemy to grant him a piece of territory upon which he might build a temple for Jewish worship, assuring him that his action would have the effect of securing forever the loyalty of his Jewish subjects. Ptolemy “gave him a place one hundred and eighty furlongs distant from Memphis, in the nomos of Heliopolis, where he built a fortress and a temple, not like that at Jerusalem, but such as resembled a tower.” [Josephus, Bell. Jud. VII. 10.] Professor Flinders Petrie has recently discovered remains at Tell-el-Yehoudiyeh, the “mound of the Jews,” near the ancient Leontopolis, which tally with the description of Josephus, and may be presumed to be the ruins of the temple.
It is difficult to arrive at an accurate idea of the nature and importance of the Onias temple, because our chief authority, Josephus [Comp. the passages in the “Antiquities” above and the Bell. Jud. V. 5.], gives two inconsistent accounts of it, and the Talmud references [Menahot 109, Abodah Zarah 52b.] are equally involved. But certain negative facts are clear. First, the temple did not become, even if it were designed to be, a rival to the temple of Jerusalem: it did not diminish in any way the tribute which the Egyptian Jews paid to the sacred center of the religion. They did not cease to send their tithes for the benefit of the poor in Judaea, or their representatives to the great festivals, and they dispatched messengers each year with contributions of gold and silver, who, says Philo [De Leg. II. 578.], “travelled over almost impassable roads, which they looked upon as easy, in that they led them to piety.” The Alexandrian-Jewish writers, without exception, are silent about the work of Onias; Philo does not give a single hint of it, and on the other hand speaks [Comp. De Mon. I. 5.] several times of the great national center at Jerusalem as “the most beautiful and renowned temple which is honored by the whole East and West.” The Egyptian Jews, according to Josephus, claimed that the prophecy of Isaiah had been accomplished, “that there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt” (Is. xix. 19). But the altar, it has recently been suggested [Dr. Hirsch, in The Jews’ College Jubilee Volume, p. 39.], was rather a “Bamah” (a high place) than a temple. It served as a temporary sanctuary while the Jerusalem temple was defiled, and afterwards it was a place where the priestly ritual was carried out day by day, and offerings were brought by those who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Though the synagogue was the main seat of religious life in the Diaspora, there was still a desire for the sacrificial worship, and for a long time the rabbis looked with favor upon the establishment of Onias. But when the tendency to found a new ritual there showed itself, they denied its holiness. [Menahot 119.] The religious importance of the temple, however, was never great, and its chief interest is that it shows the survival of the affection for the priestly service among the Hellenized community, and helps therefore to disprove the myth that the Alexandrians allegorized away the Levitical laws.
During the checkered history of Egypt in the first century B. C. E., when it was in turn the plaything of the corrupt Roman Senate, who supported the claims of a series of feeble puppet-Ptolemies, the prize of the warriors, who successively aspired to be masters of the world, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian, and finally a province of the Roman Empire, the political and material prosperity of the Alexandrian Jews remained for the most part undisturbed. Julius Caesar and Augustus, who everywhere showed special favor to their Jewish subjects, confirmed the privileges of full citizenship and limited self-government which the early Ptolemies had bestowed. [Comp. Ant. XIV. 14-16.] Josephus records a letter of Augustus to the Jewish community at Cyrene, in which he ordains: “Since the nation of the Jews hath been found grateful to the Roman people, it seemed good to me and my counsellors that the Jews have liberty to make use of their own customs, and that their sacred money be not touched, but sent to Jerusalem, and that they be not obliged to go before the judge on the Sabbath day nor on the day of preparation for it after the ninth hour,” i. e., after the early evening. [Ant. XVI. 7.] This decree is typical of the emperor’s attitude to his Jewish subjects; and Egypt became more and more a favored home of the race, so that the Jewish population in the land, from the Libyan desert to the border of Ethiopia, was estimated in Philo’s time at not less than one million. [Philo, In Flacc. 6.]
The prosperity and privileges of the Jews, combined with their peculiar customs and their religious separateness, did not fail at Alexandria, as they have not failed in any country of the Diaspora, to arouse the mixed envy and dislike of the rude populace, and give a handle to the agitations of self-seeking demagogues. The third book of the Maccabees tells of a Ptolemaic persecution during which Jewish victims were turned into the arena at Alexandria, to be trodden down by elephants made fierce with the blood of grapes, and of their deliverance by Divine Providence. Some fiction is certainly mixed with this recital, but it may well be that during the rule of the stupid and cruel usurper Ptolemy Physcon (c. 120 B. C. E.) the protection of the royal house was for political reasons removed for a time from the Jews. Josephus [C. Apion. II. 5.] relates that the anniversary of the deliverance was celebrated as a festival in Egypt. The popular feeling against the peculiar people was of an abiding character, for it had abiding causes, envy and dislike of a separate manner of life; and the professional anti-Semite [I have used the word anti-Semite because, though the hatred at Alexandria was not racial, but national, it has now become synonymous with Jew-hater generally.], who had his forerunners before the reign of the first Ptolemy, was able from time to time to fan popular feelings into flame. In those days, when history and fiction were not clearly distinguished, he was apt to hide his attacks under the guise of history, and stir up odium by scurrilous and offensive accounts of the ancient Hebrews. Hence anti-Jewish literature originated at Alexandria.
Manetho, an historian of the second century B. C. E., in his chronicles of Egypt, introduced an anti-Jewish pamphlet with an original account of the Exodus, which became the model for a school of scribes more virulent and less distinguished than himself. The Battle of Histories was taken up with spirit by the Jews, and it was round the history of the Israelites in Egypt that the conflict chiefly raged. In reply to the offensive picture of a Manetho and the diatribes of some “starveling Greekling,” there appeared the eulogistic picture of an Aristeas, the improved Exodus of an Artapanus. Joseph and Moses figured as the most brilliant of Egyptian statesmen, and the Ptolemies as admirers of the Scriptures. The morality of this apologetic literature, and more particularly of the literary forgeries which formed part of it, has been impugned by certain German theologians. But apart from the necessities of the case, it is not fair to apply to an age in which Cicero declared that artistic lying was legitimate in history, the standard of modern German accuracy. The fabrications of Jewish apologists were in the spirit of the time.
The outward history of the Alexandrian community is far less interesting and of far less importance than its intellectual progress. When Alexander planted the colony of Jews in his greatest foundation, he probably intended to facilitate the fusion of Eastern and Western thought through their mediation. Such, at any rate, was the result of his work. His marvellous exploits had put an end for a time to the political strife between Asia and Europe, and had started the movement between the two realms of culture, which was fated to produce the greatest combination of ideas that the world has known. Now, at last, the Hebrew, with his lofty conception of God, came into close contact with the Greek, who had developed an equally noble conception of man. Disraeli, in his usual sweeping manner, makes one of his characters in “Lothair” tell how the Aryan and Semitic races, after centuries of wandering upon opposite courses, met again and, represented by their two choicest families, the Hellenes and the Hebrews, brought together the treasures of their accumulated wisdom and secured the civilization of man. Apart from the question of the original common source, of which we are no longer sure, his rhetoric is broadly true; but for two centuries the influence was nearly all upon one side. The Jew, attracted by the brilliant art, literature, science, and philosophy of the Hellene, speedily Hellenized, and as early as the third century B. C. E. Clearchus, the pupil of Aristotle, tells of a Jew whom his master met, who was “Greek not only in language but also in mind.” [Quoted in C. Apion. I. 22.] The Greek, on the other hand, who had not yet comprehended the majesty of his neighbor’s monotheism, for lack of adequate presentation, did not Hebraize. In Palestine the adoption of Greek ways and the introduction of Greek ideas proceeded rapidly to the point of demoralization, until the Maccabees stayed it. Unfortunately, the Hellenism that was brought to Palestine was not the lofty culture, the eager search for truth and knowledge, that marked Athens in the classical age; it a bastard product of Greek elegance and Oriental luxury and sensuousness, a seeking after base pleasures, an assertion of naturalistic polytheism. And hence came the strong reaction against Greek ideas among the bulk of the people, which prevented any permanent fusion of cultures in the land of Israel.
The Hellenism of Alexandria was a more genuine product. The liberal policy of the early Ptolemies made their capital a center of art, literature, science, and philosophy. To their court were gathered the chief poets, savants, and thinkers of their age. The Museum was the most celebrated literary academy, and the Library the most noted collection of books in the world. Dwelling in this atmosphere of culture and research, the Hebrew mind rapidly expanded and began to take its part as an active force in civilization. It acquired the love of knowledge in a wider sense than it had recognized before, and assimilated the teachings of Hellas in all their variety. Within a hundred years of their settlement Hebrew or Aramaic had become to the Jews a strange language, and they spoke and thought in Greek. Hence it was necessary to have an authoritative Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures, and the first great step in the JewishHellenistic development is marked by the Septuagint version of the Bible.
Fancy and legend attached themselves early to an event fraught with such importance for the history of the race and mankind as the translation of the Scriptures into the language of the cultured world. From this overgrowth it is difficult to construct a true narrative; still, the research of latter-day scholars has gone far to prove a basis of truth in the statements made in the famous letter of the pseudo-Aristeas, which professes to describe the origin of the work. We may extract from his story that the Septuagint was written in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, about 250 B. C. E., with the approval, if not at the express request, of the king, and with the help of rabbis brought from Palestine to give authority to the work. But we need not believe with later legend that each of the seventy translators was locked up in a separate cell for seventy days till he had finished the whole work, and that when they were let out they were all found to have written exactly the same words. Philo gives us a version of the event, romantic, indeed, but more rational, in his “Life of Moses.” [De V. Mos. II. 6, 7.] He tells how Ptolemy, having conceived a great admiration for the laws of Moses, sent ambassadors to the high priest of Judaea, requesting him to choose out a number of learned men that might translate them into Greek. “These were duly chosen, and came to the king’s court, and were allotted the Isle of Pharos as the most tranquil spot in the city for carrying out their work; by God’s grace they all found the exact Greek words to correspond to the Hebrew words, so that they were not mere translators, but prophets to whom it had been granted to follow in the divinity of their minds the sublime spirit of Moses.” “On which account,” he adds, “even to this day there is in every year celebrated a festival in the Island of Pharos, to which not only Jews but many persons of other nations sail across, reverencing the place in which the light of interpretation first shone forth, and thanking God for His ancient gift to man, which has eternal youth and freshness.” It is significant that Philo makes no mention in his books of the festival of Hanukah, while the Talmud has no mention of this feast of Pharos; the Alexandrian Jews celebrated the day when the Bible was brought within reach of the Greek world, the Palestinians the day when the Greeks were driven out of the temple. At the same time the celebrations in honor of the Septuagint and of the deliverance from the Ptolemaic persecution are remarkable illustrations of a living Jewish tradition at Alexandria, which attached a religious consecration to the special history of the community.
It is not correct to say with Philo that the translator rendered each word of the Hebrew with literal faithfulness, so as to give its proper force. Rather may we accept the words of the Greek translator of Ben Sira: “Things originally spoken in Hebrew have not the same force in them when they are translated into another tongue, and not only these, but the law itself (the Torah) and the prophecies and the rest of the books have no small difference when they are spoken in their original language.” [Preface to Ecclesiasticus.]
From the making of the translation one can trace the movement that ended in Christianity. By reading their Scriptures in Greek, Jews began to think them in Greek and according to Greek conceptions. Certain commentators have seen in the Septuagint itself the infusion of Greek philosophical ideas. Be this as it may, it is certain that the version facilitated the introduction of Greek philosophy into the interpretation of Scripture, and gave a new meaning to certain Hebraic conceptions, by suggesting comparison with strange notions. This aspect of the work led the rabbis of Palestine and Babylon in later days, when the spread of Hellenized Judaism was fraught with misery to the race, to regard it as an awful calamity, and to recount a tale of a plague of darkness which fell upon Palestine for three days when it was made [Tract. Soferim I. 7.]; and they observed a fast day in place of the old Alexandrian feast on the anniversary of its completion. They felt as the old Italian proverb has it, Traduttori, traditori! (“Translators are traitors!”). And the Midrash in the same spirit declares [Tanhuma ast yb.] that the oral law was not written down, because God knew that otherwise it would be translated into Greek, and He wished it to be the special mystery of His people, as the Bible no longer was.
The Septuagint translation of the Bible was one answer to the lying accounts of Israel’s early history concocted by anti-Semitic writers. As we have seen, the Alexandrian Jews began early to write histories and re-edit the Bible stories to the same purpose. And for some time their writings were mainly apologetic, designed, whatever their form, to serve a defensive purpose. But later they took the offensive against the paganism and immorality of the peoples about them, and the missionary spirit became predominant. Alexander Polyhistor, who lived in the first century, included in his “History of the Jews” fragments of these early Jewish historians and apologists, which the Christian bishop Eusebius has handed down to us. From them we can gather some notion of the strange medley of fact and imagination which was composed to influence the Gentile world. Abraham is said to have instructed the Egyptians in astrology; Joseph devised a great system of agriculture; Moses was identified variously with the legendary Greek seer Musaeus and the god Hermes. A favorite device for rebutting the calumnies of detractors and attracting the outer world to Jewish ideas, was the attachment to some ancient source of panegyrics upon Judaism and monotheism. To the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and the Greek historian Hecataeus, who wrote a history of the world, passages which glorify the Hebrew people and the Hebrew God were ascribed. Still more daring was the conversion into archaic hexameter verse of the stories of Genesis and Exodus, and of Messianic prophecies in the guise of Sibylline oracles. The Sibyl, whom the superstitious of the time revered as an inspired seeress of prehistoric ages, was made to recite the building of the tower of Babel, or the virtues of Abraham, and again to prophesy the day when the heathen nations should be wiped out, and the God of Israel be the God of all the world. Although the fabrication of oracles is not entirely defensible, it is unnecessary to see, with Schürer, in these writings a low moral standard among the Egyptian Jews. They were not meant to suggest, to the cultured at any rate, that the Sibyl in one case or Heraclitus in another had really written the words ascribed to them. The so-called forgery was a literary device of a like nature with the dialogues of Plato or the political fantasies of More and Swift. By the striking nature of their utterances the writers hoped to catch the ear of the Gentile world for the saving doctrine which they taught. The form is Greek, but the spirit is Hebraic; in the third Sibylline oracle, particularly, the call to monotheism and the denunciation of idolatry, with the pictures of the Divine reward for the righteous, and of the Divine judgment for the ungodly, remind us of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah; as when the poet says [Orac. Sib., ed. Alexandre, III. 8.], “Witless mortals, who cling to an image that ye have fashioned to be your god, why do ye vainly go astray, and march along a path which is not straight? Why remember ye not the eternal founder of All? One only God there is who ruleth alone.” And again: “The children of Israel shall mark out the path of life to all mortals, for they are the interpreters of God, exalted by Him, and bearing a great joy to all mankind.” [lbid., III. 195.] The consciousness of the Jewish mission is the dominant note. Masters now of Greek culture, the Jews believed that they had a philosophy of their own, which it was their privilege to teach to the Greeks; their conception of God and the government of the world was truer than any other; their conception of man’s duty more righteous; even their conception of the state more ideal.
The apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon, which was probably written at Alexandria during the first century B. C. E., is marked by the same spirit. There again we meet with the glorification of the one true God of Israel, and the denunciation of pagan idolatry; and while the author writes in Greek and shows the influence of Greek ideas, he makes the Psalms and the Proverbs his models of literary form. “Love righteousness,” he begins, “ye that be judges of the earth; think ye of the Lord with a good mind and in singleness of heart seek ye Him.” His appeal for godliness is addressed to the Gentile world in a language which they understood, but in a spirit to which most of them were strangers. The early history of the Israelites in Egypt comes home to him with especial force, for he sees it “in the light of eternity,” a striking moral lesson for the godless Egyptian world around him in which the house of Jacob dwelt again. With poetical imagination he tells anew the story of the ten plagues as though he had lived through them, and seen with his own eyes the punishment of the idolatrous land. He ends with a paean to the God who had saved His people. “For in all things Thou didst magnify them, and Thou didst glorify them, and not lightly regard them, standing by their side in every time and place.”
At this epoch, and at Alexandria especially, Judaism was no self-centered, exclusive faith afraid of expansion. The mission of Israel was a very real thing, and conversion was widespread in Rome, in Egypt, and all along the Mediterranean countries. The Jews, says the letter of Aristeas, “eagerly seek intercourse with other nations, and they pay special care to this, and emulate each other therein.” And one of the most reliable pagan writers says of them, “They have penetrated into every state, and it is hard to find a place where they have not become powerful.” [Comp. Strabo, Frag. 6, Didot.] Nor was it merely material power which they acquired. The days had come which the prophet Amos (viii. 11) had predicted, when “God will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” The Greek world had lost faith in the poetical gods of its mythology and in the metaphysical powers of its philosophical schools, and was searching for a more real object to revere and lean on. The people were thirsting for the living God. And in place of the gods of nature, whom they had found unsatisfying, or the impersonal world-force, with which they sought in vain to come into harmony, the Jews offered them the God of history, who had preserved their race through the ages, and revealed to them the law of Moses.
The missionary purpose was largely responsible for the rise of a philosophical school of Bible commentators. The Hellenistic world was thoroughly sophisticated, and Alexandria was distinguished above all towns as the home of philosophical lectures and bookmaking. One of Philo’s contemporaries is said to have written over one thousand treatises, and in one of his rare touches of satire Philo relates [De Post. C. 24.] how bands of sophists talked to eager crowds of men and women day and night about virtue being the only good, and the blessedness of life according to nature, all without producing the slightest effect, save noise. The Jews also studied philosophy, and began to talk in the catchwords of philosophy, and then to re-interpret their Scriptures according to the ideas of philosophy. The Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch was to the cultured Gentile an account in rather bald and impure Greek of the history of a family which grew Into a petty nation, and of their tribal and national laws. The prophets, it is true, set forth teachings which were more obviously of general moral import; but the books of the prophets were not God’s special revelation to the Jews, but rather individual utterances and exhortations: and their teaching was treated as subordinate to the Divine revelation in the Five Books of Moses. Those, then, who aimed at the spread of Jewish monotheism were impelled to draw out a philosophical meaning, a universal value from the Books of Moses. Nowadays the Bible is the holy book of so much of the civilized world that it is somewhat difficult for us to form a proper conception of what it was to the civilized world before the Christian era. We have to imagine a state of culture in which it was only the Book of books to one small nation, while to others it was at best a curious record of ancient times, just as the Code of Hammurabi or the Egyptian Book of Life is to us. The Alexandrian Jews were the first to popularize its teachings, to bring Jewish religion into line with the thought of the Greek world. It was to this end that they founded a particular form of Midrash—the allegorical interpretation, which is largely a distinctive product of the Alexandrian age. The Palestinian rabbis of the time were on the one hand developing by dialectic discussion the oral tradition into a vast system of religious ritual and legal jurisprudence; on the other, weaving around the law, by way of adornment to it, a variegated fabric of philosophy, fable, allegory, and legend. Simultaneously the Alexandrian preachers—they were never quite the same as the rabbis—were emphasizing for the outer world as well as their own people the spiritual side of the religion, elaborating a theology that should satisfy the reason, and seeking to establish the harmony of Greek philosophy with Jewish monotheism and the Mosaic legislation. Allegorical interpretation is “based upon the supposition or fiction that the author who is interpreted intended something ‘other’ (αλλο) than what is expressed”; it is the method used to read thought into a text which its words do not literally bear, by attaching to each phrase some deeper, usually some philosophical meaning. It enables the interpreter to bring writings of antiquity into touch with the culture of his or any age; “the gates of allegory are never closed, and they open upon a path which stretches without a break through the centuries.” In the region of jurisprudence there is an institution with a similar purpose, which is known as “legal fiction,” whereby old laws by subtle interpretation are made to serve new conditions and new needs. Allegorical interpretation must be carefully distinguished from the writing of allegory, of which Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” is the best-known type. One is the converse of the other; for in allegories moral ideas are represented as persons and moral lessons enforced by what purports to be a story of life. In allegorical interpretation persons are transformed into ideas and their history into a system of philosophy. The Greek philosophers had applied this method to Homer since the fourth century B. C. E., in order to read into the epic poet, whose work they regarded almost as a Divine revelation, their reflective theories of the universe. And doubtless the Jewish philosophers were influenced by their example.
Their allegorical treatment of the Bible was intended, not merely to adapt it to the Greek world, but to strengthen its hold on the Alexandrian Jews themselves. These, as they acquired Hellenic culture, found that the Bible in its literal sense did not altogether satisfy their conceptions. They detected in it a certain primitiveness, and having eaten further of the tree of knowledge, they were aware of its philosophical nakedness. It was full of anthropomorphism, and it seemed wanting in that which the Greek world admired above all things—a systematic theology and systematic ethics. The idea that the words of the Bible contained some hidden meanings goes back to the earliest Jewish tradition and is one of the bases of the oral law; but the special characteristic of the Alexandrian exegesis is that it searched out theories of God and life like those which the Greek philosophers had developed. The device was necessary to secure the allegiance of the people to the Torah. And from the need of expounding the Bible in this way to the Jewish public at Alexandria, there arose a new form of religious literature, the sermon, and a new form of commentary, the homiletical. The words “homiletical” and “homily” suggest what they originally connoted; they are derived from the Greek word ομιλια, “an assembly,” and a homily was a discourse delivered to an assembly. The Meturgeman of Palestine and Babylon, who expounded the Hebrew text in Aramaic, became the preacher of Alexandria, who gave, in Greek, of course, homiletical expositions of the law. In the great synagogue each Sabbath some leader in the community would give a harangue to the assembly, starting from a Biblical text and deducing from it or weaving into it the ideas of Hellenic wisdom, touched by Jewish influence; for the synagogues at Alexandria as elsewhere were the schools (Schule) as much as the houses of prayer; schools, as Philo says, of “temperance, bravery, prudence, justice, piety, holiness, and in short of all virtues by which things human and Divine are well ordered.” [De V. Mos. II. 28.] He speaks repeatedly of the Sabbath gatherings, when the Jews would become, as he puts it, a community of philosophers [Comp. De Decal. 20.], as they listened to the exegesis of the preacher, who by allegorical and homiletical fancies would make a verse or chapter of the Torah live again with a new meaning to his audience. The Alexandrian Jews, though the form of their writing was influenced by the Greeks, probably brought with them from Palestine primitive traces of allegorism. Allegory and its counterpart, allegorical interpretation, are deeply imbedded in the Oriental mind, and we hear of ancient schools of symbolists in the oldest portions of the Talmud. [Comp. Yer. Berakot 24c.] At what period the Alexandrians began to use allegorical interpretation for the purpose of harmonizing Greek ideas with the Bible we do not know, but the first writer in this style of whom we have record (though scholars consider that his fragments are of doubtful authenticity) is Aristobulus. He is said to have been the tutor of Ptolemy Philometor, and he must have written at the beginning of the first century B.C.E. He dedicated to the king his “Exegesis of the Mosaic Law,” which was an attempt to reveal the teachings of the Peripatetic system, i. e., the philosophy of Aristotle, within the text of the Pentateuch. All anthropomorphic expressions are explained away allegorically, and God’s activity in the material universe is ascribed to his Δυναμις, or power, which pervades all creation. Whether the power is independent and treated as a separate person is not clear from the fragments that Eusebius [Praep. Evang. VIII. 10, XIII. 12.] has preserved for us. Aristobulus was only one link in a continuous chain, though his is the only name among Philo’s predecessors that has come down to us. Philo speaks, fifteen times in all, of explanations of allegorists who read into the Bible this or that system of thought [Comp. De Abr. 15 and 37, De Jos. II. 63, De Spec. Leg. III. 32, De Migr. 89.] regarding the words of the law as “manifest symbols of things invisible and hints of things inexpressible.” And if their work were before us, it is likely that Philo would appear as the central figure of an Alexandrian Midrash gathered from many sources, instead of the sole authority for a vast development of the Torah. We must not regard him as a single philosophical genius who suddenly springs up, but as the culmination of a long development, the supreme master of an old tradition.
If the allegorical method appears now as artificial and frigid, it must be remembered that it was one which recommended itself strongly to the age. The great creative era of the Greek mind had passed away with the absorption of the city-state in Alexander’s empire. Then followed the age of criticism, during which the works of the great masters were interpreted, annotated, and compared. Next, as creative thought became rarer, and confidence in human reason began to be shaken, men fell back more and more for their ideas and opinions upon some authority of the distant past, whom they regarded as an inspired teacher. The sayings of Homer and Pythagoras were considered as divinely revealed truths; and when treated allegorically, they were shown to contain the philosophical tenets of the Platonic, the Aristotelian, or the Stoic school. Thus, in the first century B.C.E., the Greek mind, which had earlier been devoted to the free search for knowledge and truth, was approaching the Hebraic standpoint, which considered that the highest truth had once for all been revealed to mankind in inspired writings, and that the duty of later generations was to interpret this revealed doctrine rather than search independently for knowledge. On the other hand, the Jewish interpreters were trying to reach the Greek standpoint when they set themselves to show that the writers of the Bible had anticipated the philosophers of Hellas with systems of theology, psychology, ethics, and cosmology. Allegorism, it may be said, is the instrument by which Greek and Hebrew thought were brought together. Its development was in its essence a sign of intellectual vigor and religious activity; but in the time of Philo it threatened to have one evil consequence, which did in the end undermine the religion of the Alexandrian community. Some who allegorized the Torah were not content with discovering a deeper meaning beneath the law, but went on to disregard the literal sense, i. e., they allegorized away the law, and held in contempt the symbolic observance to which they had attached a spiritual meaning. On the other hand, there was a party which adhered strictly to the literal sense (το ρητον) and rejected allegorism. [Quod Deus 11, De Abr. 36.] Philo protested against these extremes and was the leader of those who were liberal in thought and conservative in practice, and who venerated the law both for its literal and for its allegorical sense. To effect the true harmony between the literal and the allegorical sense of the Torah, between the spiritual and the legal sides of Judaism, between Greek philosophy and revealed religion—that was the great work of Philo-Judaeus.
Though the religious and intellectual development of the Alexandrian community proceeded on different lines from that of the main body of the nation in Palestine, yet the connection between the two was maintained closely for centuries. The colony, as we have noticed, recognized whole-heartedly the spiritual headship of Jerusalem, and at the great festivals of the year a deputation went from Alexandria to the holy sanctuary, bearing offerings from the whole community. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, special synagogues, where Greek was the language [Comp. Acts of the Apostles VI. 9, and Tosef. Meg. III. 6.], were built for Alexandrian visitors. Alexandrian artisans and craftsmen took part in the building of Herod’s temple, but were found inferior to native workmen. [Yoma 83a.] The notices within the building were written in Greek as well as in Aramaic, and the golden gates to the inner court were, we are told by Josephus [Bell. Jud. V. 5.], the gift of Philo’s brother, the head of the Alexandrian community. Some fragments have come down to us of a poem about Jerusalem in Greek verse by a certain Philo, who lived in the first century B.C.E., and was perhaps an ancestor of our worthy. He glorifies the Holy City, extols its fertility, and speaks of its everflowing waters beneath the earth. His greater namesake says that wherever the Jews live they consider Jerusalem as their metropolis. The Talmud again tells how Judah Ben Tabbai and Joshua Ben Perahya, during the persecution of the Pharisees by Hyrcanus, fled to Alexandria, and how later Joshua Ben Hanania [Comp. Niddah 69b, Sotah 47a.] sojourned there and gave answers to twelve questions which the Jews propounded to him, three of them dealing with “the Wisdom.” The Talmud has frequent reference to Alexandrian Jews, and that it makes little direct mention of the Alexandrian exegesis is explained by the distrust of the whole Hellenistic movement, which the rise of Christianity and the growth of Gnosticism induced in the rabbis of the second and third centuries. They lived at a time when it had been proved that that movement led away from Judaism, and its main tenets had been adopted or perverted by an antagonistic creed. It was a tragic necessity which compelled the severance between the Eastern and Western developments of the religion. In Philo’s day the breach was already threatened, through the anti-legal tendencies of the extreme allegorists. His own aim was to maintain the catholic tradition of Judaism, while at the same time expounding the Torah according to the conceptions of ancient philosophy. Unfortunately, the balance was not preserved by those who followed him, and the branch of Judaism that had blossomed forth so fruitfully fell off from the parent tree. But till the middle of the first century of the common era the Alexandrian and the Palestinian developments of Jewish culture were complementary: on the one side there was legal, on the other, philosophical expansion. Moreover, the Judaeo-Alexandrian school, though, through its abandonment of the Hebrew tongue, it lies outside the main stream of Judaism, was an immense force in the religious history of the world, and Philo, its greatest figure, stands out in our annals as the embodiment of the Jewish religious mission, which is to preach to the nations the knowledge of the one God, and the law of righteousness.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PHILO
“The hero,” says Carlyle, “can be poet, prophet, king, priest, or what you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born into.” [“Heroes and Hero-Worship,” ch. 3.] The Jews have not been a great political people, but their excellence has been a peculiar spiritual development: and therefore most of their heroes have been men of thought rather than action, writers rather than statesmen, men whose influence has been greater on posterity than upon their own generation. Of Philo’s life we know one incident in very full detail, the rest we can only reconstruct from stray hints in his writings, and a few short notices of the commentators. From that incident also, which we know to have taken place in the year 40 C. E., we can fix the general chronology of his life and works. He speaks of himself as an old man in relating it, so that his birth may be safely placed at about 20 B.C.E. The first part of his life therefore was passed during the tranquil era in which Augustus and Tiberius were reorganizing the Roman Empire after a half-century of war; but he was fated to see more troublesome times for his people, when the emperor Gaius, for a miserable eight years, harassed the world with his mad escapades. In the riots which ensued upon the attempt to deprive the Jews of their religious freedom his brother the alabarch was imprisoned [Ant. XIX. 5.]; and he himself was called upon to champion the Alexandrian community in its hour of need. Although the ascent of the stupid but honest Claudius dispelled immediate danger from the Jews and brought them a temporary increase of favor in Alexandria as well as in Palestine, Philo did not return entirely to the contemplative life which he loved; and throughout the latter portion of his life he was the public defender as well as the teacher of his people. He probably died before the reign of Nero, between 50 and 60 C.E. In Jewish history his life covered the reigns of King Herod, his sons, and King Agrippa, when the Jewish kingdom reached its height of outward magnificence; and it extended probably up to the ill-omened conversion of Judaea into a Roman province under the rule of a procurator. It is noteworthy also that Philo was partly contemporary with Hillel, who came from Babylon to Jerusalem in 30 B.C.E., and according to the accepted tradition was president of the Sanhedrin till his death in 10 C.E. In this epoch Judaism, by contact with external forces, was thoroughly self-conscious, and the world was most receptive of its teaching; hence it spread itself far and wide, and at the same time reached its greatest spiritual intensity. Hillel and Philo show the splendid expansion of the Hebrew mind. In the history of most races national greatness and national genius appear together. The two grandest expressions of Jewish genius immediately preceded the national downfall. For the genius of Judaism is religious, and temporal power is not one of the conditions of its development.
Philo belonged to the most distinguished Jewish family of Alexandria [Photius, Cod. 108.], and according to Jerome and Photius, the ancient authorities for his life, was of the priestly rank; his brother Alexander Lysimachus was not only the governor of the Jewish community, but also the alabarch, i. e., ruler of the whole Delta region, and enjoyed the confidence of Mark Antony, who appointed him guardian of his second daughter Antonia, the mother of Germanicus and the Roman emperor Claudius. Born in an atmosphere of power and affluence, Philo, who might have consorted with princes, devoted himself from the first with all his soul to a life of contemplation; like a Palestinian rabbi he regarded as man’s highest duty the study of the law and the knowledge of God. [Comp. De Confus. 15.] This is the way in which he understood the philosopher’s life [Comp. De Mon. I. 6.]: man’s true function is to know God, and to make God known: he can know God only through His revelation, and he can comprehend that revelation only by continued study. hmkx bbl aybnw, God’s interpreter must have a wise heart [Comp. Maimonides, Moreh II, ch. 36.], as the rabbis explained. Philo then considered that the true understanding of the law required a complete knowledge of general culture, and that secular philosophy was a necessary preparation for the deeper mysteries of the Holy Word. “He who is practicing to abide in the city of perfect virtue, before he can be inscribed as a citizen thereof, must sojourn with the ‘encyclic’ sciences, so that through them he may advance securely to perfect goodness.” [L. A. I. 135.] The “encyclic,” or encyclopaedic sciences, to which he refers, are the various branches of Greek culture, and Philo finds a symbol of their place in life in the story of Abraham. Abraham is the eternal type of the seeker after God, and as he first consorted with the foreign woman Hagar and had offspring by her, and afterwards in his mature age had offspring by Sarah, so in Philo’s interpretation the true philosopher must first apply himself to outside culture and enlarge his mind with that training; and when his ideas have thus expanded, he passes on to the more sublime philosophy of the Divine law, and his mind is fruitful in lofty thoughts. [Comp. De Cong. 6 ff.]
As a prelude to the study of Greek philosophy he built up a harmony of the mind by a study of Greek poetry, rhetoric, music, mathematics, and the natural sciences. His works bear witness to the thoroughness with which be imbibed all that was best in Greek literature. His Jewish predecessors had written in the impure dialect of the Hellenistic colonies (the κοινη διαλεκτος), and had shown little literary charm; but Philo’s style is more graceful than that of any Greek prose writer since the golden age of the fourth century. Like his thought, indeed, it is eclectic and not always clear, but full of reminiscences of the epic and tragic poets on the one hand, and of Plato on the other [Comp. Croiset, Histoire de la littérature grecque, V, pp. 425 ff.], it gives a happy blending of prose and poetry, which admirably fits the devotional philosophy that forms its subject. And what was said of Plato by a Greek critic applies equally well to Philo: “He rises at times above the spirit of prose in such a way that he appears to be instinct, not with human understanding, but with a Divine oracle.” From the study of literature and kindred subjects Philo passed on to philosophy, and he made himself master of the teachings of all the chief schools. There was a mingling of all the world’s wisdom at Alexandria in his day; and Philo, like the other philosophers of the time, shows acquaintance with the ideas of Egyptian, Chaldean, Persian [Comp. Mills, “Zoroaster, Philo, and Israel.”], and even Indian thought. The chief Greek schools in his age were the Stoic, the Platonic, the Skeptic and the Pythagorean, which had each its professors in the Museum and its popular preachers in the public lecture-halls. Later we will notice more closely Philo’s relations to the Greek philosophers: suffice it here to say that he was the most distinguished Platonist of his age.
Philo’s education therefore was largely Greek, and his method of thought, and the forms in which his ideas were associated and impressed, were Greek. It must not be thought, however, that this involved any weakening of his Judaism, or detracted from the purity of his belief. Far from it. The Torah remained for him the supreme standard to which all outside knowledge had to be subordinated, and for which it was a preparation. [Comp. Quis Rer. Div. 43, De Judice II, De V. Mos. II. 4.] But Philo brought to bear upon the elucidation of the Torah and Jewish law and ceremony not only the religious conceptions of the Jewish mind, but also the intellectual ideas of Greek philosophy, and he interpreted the Bible in the light of the broadest culture of his day. Beautiful as are the thoughts and fancies of the Talmudic rabbis, their Midrash was a purely national monument, closed by its form as by its language to the general world; Philo applied to the exposition of Judaism the most highly-trained philosophic mind of Alexandria, and brought out clearly for the Hellenistic people the latent philosophy of the Torah.
Greek was his native language, but at the same time he was not, as has been suggested, entirely ignorant of Hebrew. The Septuagint translation was the version of the Bible which he habitually used, but there are passages in his works which show that he knew and occasionally employed the Hebrew Bible. [Ritter, Philon und die Halacha.] Moreover, his etymologies are evidence of his knowledge of the Hebrew language; though he sometimes gives a symbolic value to Biblical names according to their Greek equivalent, he more frequently bases his allegory upon a Hebrew derivation. That all names had a profound meaning, and signified the true nature of that which they designated, is among the most firmly established of Philo’s ideas. Of his more striking derivations one may cite Israel, larsy, the man who beholdeth God; Jerusalem, Mwlvwry, the sight of peace; Hebrew, yrbe, one who has passed over from the life of the passions to virtue; Isaac, qxuy, the joy or laughter of the soul. These etymologies are more ingenious than convincing, and are not entirely true to Hebrew philology, but neither were those of the early rabbis; and they at least show that Philo had acquired a superficial knowledge of the language of Scripture. Nor can it be doubted that he was acquainted with the Palestinian Midrash, both Halakic and Haggadic. At the beginning of the “Life of Moses” he declares that he has based it upon “many traditions which I have received from the elders of my nation,” [Comp. De V. Mos. I. 1, In Flacc. 23 and 33, De Mut. Nom. 39.] and in several places he speaks of the “ancestral philosophy,” which must mean the Midrash which embodied tradition. Eusebius also, the early Christian authority, bears witness to his knowledge of the traditional interpretations of the law. [Praep. Evang. VIII. v.]
It is fairly certain, moreover, that Philo sojourned some time in Jerusalem. He was there probably during the reign of Agrippa (c. 30 C. E.), who was an intimate friend of his family, and had found a refuge at Alexandria when an exile from Palestine and Rome. In the first book on the Mosaic laws [De Mon. II. 1-3.] Philo speaks with enthusiasm of the great temple, to which “vast assemblies of men from a countless variety of cities, some by land, some by sea, from East, West, North, and South, come at every festival as if to some common refuge and harbor from the troubles of this harassed and anxious life, seeking to find there tranquillity and gain a new hope in life by its joyous festivities.” These gatherings, at which, according to Josephus [Comp. Bell. Jud. VI. 9. 3.], over two million people assembled, must, indeed, have been a striking symbol of the unity of the Jewish race, which was at once national and international; magnificent embassies from Babylon and Persia, from Egypt and Cyrene, from Rome and Greece, even from distant Spain and Gaul, went in procession together through the gate of Xistus up the temple-mount, which was crowned by the golden sanctuary, shining in the full Eastern sun like a sea of light above the town. Philo describes in detail the form of the edifice that moved the admiration of all who beheld it, and for the Jew, moreover, was invested with the most cherished associations. Its outer courts consisted of double porticoes of marble columns burnished with gold, then came the inner courts of simple columns, and “within these stood the temple itself, beautiful beyond all possible description, as one may tell even from what is seen in the outer court; for the innermost sanctuary is invisible to every being except the high priest.” The majesty of the ceremonial within equalled the splendor without. The high priest, in the words of Ben Sira (xlv), “beautified with comely ornament and girded about with a robe of glory,” seemed a high priest fit for the whole world. Upon his head the mitre with a crown of gold engraved with holiness, upon his breast the mystic Urim and Thummim and the ephod with its twelve brilliant jewels, upon his tunic golden pomegranates and silver bells, which for the mystic ear pealed the harmony of the world as he moved. Little wonder that, inspired by the striking gathering and the solemn ritual, Philo regarded the temple as the shrine of the universe [Comp. De V. Mos. II. 4.], and thought the day was near when all nations should go up there together, to do worship to the One God.
Sparse as are the direct proofs of Philo’s connection with Palestinian Judaism, his account of the temple and its service, apart from the general standpoint of his writings, proves to us that he was a loyal son of his nation, and loved Judaism for its national institutions as well as its great moral sublimity. His aspiration was to bring home the truths of the religion to the cultured world, and therefore he devised a new expression for the wisdom of his people, and transformed it into a literary system. Judaism forms the kernel, but Greek philosophy and literature the shell, of his work; for the audience to which he appealed, whether Jewish or Gentile, thought in Greek, and would be moved only by ideas presented in Greek form, and by Greek models he himself was inspired.
Philo’s first ideal of life was to attain to the profoundest knowledge of God so as to be fitted for the mission of interpreting His Word: and he relates in one of his treatises how he spent his youth and his first manhood in philosophy and the contemplation of the universe. [De Spec. Leg. III. 1.] “I feasted with the truly blessed mind, which is the object of all desire (i. e., God), communing continually in joy with the Divine words and doctrines. I entertained no low or mean thought, nor did I ever crawl about glory or wealth or worldly comfort, but I seemed to be carried aloft in a kind of spiritual inspiration and to be borne along in harmony with the whole universe.” The intense religious spirit which seeks to perceive all things in a supreme unity Philo shares with Spinoza, whose life-ideal was the intuitional knowledge of the universe and “the intellectual love of God.” Both men show the pursuit of righteousness raised to philosophical grandeur.
In his early days the way to virtue and happiness appeared to Philo to lie in the solitary and ascetic life. He was possessed by a noble pessimism, that the world was an evil place [Comp. De Migr. 4, L. A. III. 45.], and the worldly life an evil thing for a man’s soul, that man must die to live, and renounce the pleasures not only of the body but also of society in order to know God. The idea was a common one of the age, and was the outcome of the mingling of Greek ethics and psychology and the Jewish love of righteousness. For the Greek thinkers taught a psychological dualism, by which the body and the senses were treated as antagonistic to the higher intellectual soul, which was immortal, and linked man with the principle of creation. The most remarkable and enduring effect of Hellenic influence in Palestine was the rise of the sect of Essenes [Comp. Graetz, “History of the Jews” III. 91 ff.], Jewish mystics, who eschewed private property and the general social life, and forming themselves into communistic congregations which were a sort of social Utopia, devoted their lives to the cult of piety and saintliness. It cannot be doubted that their manner of life was to some degree an imitation of the Pythagorean brotherhoods, which ever since the sixth century had spread a sort of monasticism through the Greek world. Nor is it unlikely that Hindu teachings exercised an influence over them, for Buddhism was at this age, like Judaism, a missionizing religion, and had teachers in the West. Philo speaks in several places of its doctrines. [Comp. Quod Omnis Probus Liber 11 ff.] Whatever its molding influences, Essenism represented the spirit of the age, and it spread far and wide. At Alexandria, above all places, where the life of luxury and dissoluteness repelled the serious, ascetic ideas took firm hold of the people, and the Therapeutic life, i. e., the life of prayer and labor devoted to God, which corresponded to the system of the Essenes, had numerous votaries. The first century witnessed the extremes of the religious and irreligious sentiments. The world was weary and jaded; it had lost confidence in human reason and faith in social ideals, and while the materialists abandoned themselves to hideous orgies and sensual debaucheries, the higher-minded went to the opposite excess and sought by flight from the world and mortification of the flesh to attain to supernatural states of ecstasy. A book has come down to us under the name of Philo [The authenticity of this book is elaborately discussed by Conybeare in his edition of it.] which describes “the contemplative life” of a Jewish brotherhood that lived apart on the shores of Lake Mareotis by the mouth of the Nile. Men and women lived in the settlement, though all intercourse between the sexes was rigidly avoided. During six days of the week they met in prayer, morning and evening, and in the interval devoted themselves in solitude to the practice of virtue and the study of the holy allegories, and the composition of hymns and psalms. On the Sabbath they sat in common assembly, but with the women separated from the men, and listened to the allegorical homily of an elder; they paid special honor to the Feast of Pentecost, reverencing the mystical attributes of the number fifty, and they celebrated a religious banquet thereon. During the rest of the year they only partook of the sustenance necessary for life, and thus in their daily conduct realized the way which the rabbis set out as becoming for the study of the Torah: “A morsel of bread with salt thou must eat, and water by measure thou must drink; thou must sleep upon the ground and live a life of hardship, the while thou toilest in the Torah.” [“Ethics of the Fathers” VI. 4.]
We do not know whether Philo attached himself to one of these brotherhoods of organized solitude, or whether he lived even more strictly the solitary life out in the wilderness by himself. Certainly he was at one period in sympathy with ascetic ideas. It seemed to him that as God was alone, so man must be alone in order to be like God. [De Mundi Op. I. 42.] In his earlier writings he is constantly praising the ascetic life, as a means, indeed, to virtue rather than as a good in itself, and as a helpful discipline to the man of incomplete moral strength, though inferior to the spontaneous goodness which God vouchsafes to the righteous. Isaac is the type of this highest bliss, while the life of Jacob is the type of the progress to virtue through asceticism. [Comp. De Migr. 6 ff.] The flight from Laban represents the abandonment of family and social life for the practical service of God, and as Jacob, the ascetic, became Israel, “the man who beholdeth God,” so Philo determined “to scorn delights and live laborious days” in order to be drawn nearer to the true Being. But he seems to have been disappointed in his hopes, and to have discovered that the attempt to cut out the natural desires of man was not the true road to righteousness. “I often,” he says [L. A. II. 21.], “left my kindred and friends and fatherland, and went into a solitary place, in order that I might have knowledge of things worthy of contemplation, but I profited nothing: for my mind was sore tempted by desire and turned to opposite things. But now, sometimes even when I am in a multitude of men, my mind is tranquil, and God scatters aside all unworthy desires, teaching me that it is not differences of place which affect the welfare of the soul, but God alone, who knows and directs its activity howsoever be pleases.”
The noble pessimism of Philo’s early days was replaced by a noble optimism in his maturity, in which he trusted implicitly in God’s grace, and believed that God vouchsafed to the good man the knowledge of Himself without its being necessary for him to inflict chastisements upon his body or uproot his inclinations. In this mood moderation is represented as the way of salvation; the abandonment of family and social life is selfish, and betrays a lack of the humanity which the truly good man must possess. [De Fuga 7ff.] Of Philo’s own domestic life we catch only a fleeting glimpse in his writings. He realized the place of woman in the home; “her absence is its destruction,” he said; and of his wife it is told in another of the “Fragments” that when asked one day in an assembly of women why she alone did not wear any golden ornament, she replied, “The virtue of a husband is a sufficient ornament for his wife.”
Though in his maturity Philo renounced the ascetic life, his ideal throughout was a mystical union with the Divine Being. To a certain school of Judaism, which loves to make everything rational and moderate, mysticism is alien; it was alien indeed to the Sadducee realist and the Karaite literalist; it was alien to the systematic Aristotelianism of Maimonides, and it is alien alike to Western orthodox and Reform Judaism. But though often obscured and crushed by formal systems, mysticism is deeply seated in the religious feelings, and the race which has developed the Cabbalah and Hasidism cannot be accused of lack of it. Every great religion fosters man’s aspiration to have direct communion with God in some super-rational way. Particularly should this be the case with a religion which recognizes no intermediary. The Talmudic conceptions of hawbn , prophecy, hnyks, the Divine Presence, and vdqh xwr, the holy spirit, which was vouchsafed to the saint, certainly are mystic, and at Alexandria similar ideas inspired a striking development. Once again we can trace the fertilizing influence of Greek ideas. Even when the old naturalistic cults had flourished in Greece, and political life had provided a worthy goal for man, mystical beliefs and ceremonies had a powerful attraction for the Hellene; and, when the belief in the old gods had been shattered, and with the national greatness the liberal life of the State had passed away, he turned more and more to those rites which professed to provide healing and rest for the sickening soul. Many of the Alexandrian Jews must have been initiated into these Greek mysteries, for Philo introduces into his exegesis of the law of Moses an ordinance forbidding the practice. [Comp. De Spec. Leg. II. 260.] He himself advocates a more spiritual mysticism, and it is a cardinal principle of his philosophy to treat the human soul as a god within and its absorption in the universal Godhead as supreme bliss, the end of all endeavor. He claimed to have attained, himself, to this union, and to have received direct inspiration. Giving a Greek coloring to the Hebrew notion of prophecy, “My soul,” he says, “is wont to be affected with a Divine trance and to prophesy about things of which it has no knowledge” [Comp. De Cherubim. 9]. . . . “Many a time have I come with the intention of writing, and knowing exactly what I ought to set down, but I have found my mind barren and fruitless, and I have gone away with nothing done, but at times I have come empty, and suddenly been full, for ideas were invisibly rained down upon me from above, so that I was seized by a Divine frenzy, and was lost to everything, place, people, self, speech, and thought. I had gotten a stream of interpretation, a gift of light, a clear survey of things, the clearest that eye can give.” [De Migr. 7-9.]
In his “Guide of the Perplexed,” [II, ch. 36ff.] Maimonides describes the various degrees of the vdqh xwr, or what we call religious “genius,” with which man may be blessed. He distinguishes between the man who possesses it only for his own exaltation, and the man who feels himself compelled to impart it to others for their happiness. To this higher order of genius Philo advanced in his maturity. He consciously regarded himself as a follower of Moses, who was the perfect interpreter of God’s thought. So he, though in a lesser degree, was an inspired interpreter, a hierophant (as he expressed it in the language of the Greek mystics) who expounded the Divine Word to his own generation by the gift of the Divine wisdom. When he had fled from Alexandria, to secure virtue by contemplation, he had as his final goal the attainment of the true knowledge of God, and as he advanced in age, he advanced in decision and authority. He was conscious of his philosophic grasp of the Torah, and the diffidence with which he allegorized in his early works gave place to a serene confidence that he had a lesson for his own and for future generations. Hoping for the time when Judaism should be a world-religion, he spoke his message for Jew and Gentile. We can imagine him preaching on Sabbaths to the great congregation which filled the synagogue at Alexandria, and on other days of the week expounding his philosophical ideas to a smaller circle which he collected around him.
Essentially, then, he was a philosopher and a teacher, but he was called upon to play a part in the world of action. Following the passage already quoted, wherein Philo speaks of the blessings of the life of contemplation that he had led in the past [Comp. De Spec. Leg. III. 1.], he goes on to relate how that “envy, the most grievous of all evils, attacked me, and threw me into the vast sea of public affairs, in which I am still tossed about without being able to make my way out.” A French scholar [Massebieau, Du classement des oeuvres de Philon.] conjectures that this is only a metaphorical way of saying that he was forced into some public office, probably a seat in the Alexandrian Sanhedrin; and he ascribes the language to the bitter disappointment of one who was devoted to philosophical pursuits and found himself diverted from them. Philo’s language points rather to duties which he was compelled to undertake less congenial than those of a member of the Sanhedrin would have been; and probably must refer to the polemical activity which he was called upon to exert in defending his people against misrepresentation and persecution. During the reign of Augustus and the early years of Tiberius (30 B.C.E. - 20 C.E.) the Roman provinces were firmly ruled, and the governors were as firmly controlled by the emperor. To Rectus, who was the prefect of Egypt till 14 C.E., and who was removed for attempted extortion, Tiberius addressed the rebuke, “I want my sheep to be shorn, not strangled.” But when Tiberius fell under the influence of Sejanus, and left to his hated minister the active control of the empire, harder times began for the provincials, and especially for the Jews. Sejanus was an upstart, and like most upstarts a tyrant; and for some reason—it may be jealousy of the power of the Jews at Rome—he hated the Jewish race and persecuted it. The great opponent of Sejanus was Antonia, the ward of Philo’s brother, and a loyal friend to his people; and this, too, may have incited Sejanus’ ill-feeling. Whatever the reason, the Alexandrian Jews felt the heavy hand, and when Philo came to write the story of his people in his own times, he devoted one book to the persecution by Sejanus. Unfortunately it has not survived, but veiled hints of the period of stress through which the people passed are not wanting in the commentary on the law.
There were always anti-Semites spoiling for a fight at Alexandria, and there was always inflammable material which they could stir up. The Egyptian populace were by nature, says Philo, “jealous and envious, and were filled moreover with an ancient and inveterate enmity towards the Jews,” [In Flacc. 5.] and of the degenerate Greek population, many were anxious from motives
Philo, indeed, never mentions Apion by name, but he refers covertly in many places to his insolence and unscrupulousness. [Comp. De Confus., passim.] Josephus wrote a famous reply to his attacks, refuting “his vulgar abuse, gross ignorance and demagogic claptrap,” [Josephus, C. Apion., Introduction.] and the fact that a Palestinian Jew thought this apology necessary, proves the wide dissemination of the poison. The disgrace and death of Sejanus seem to have brought a relief from actual persecution to the Alexandrian Jews; but the ill-will between the two races in the city smoldered on, and it only required a weakening of the controlling hand at Rome to set the passions aflame again. Right through Philo’s treatise “On the Confusion of Tongues,” we can trace the tension. As soon as Gaius, surnamed Caligula, came to the imperial chair, the opportunity of the anti-Semites returned. Gaius, after reigning well a few months, fell ill, was seized with madness, and proved how much evil can be done in a short space by an imbecile autocrat. Flaccus, the governor of Egypt, who had hitherto ruled fairly, hoping to ingratiate himself by misrule, allowed himself to be led by worthless minions, who, from motives of private greed, desired a riot at Alexandria; he was won over by the anti-Semites and gave the mob a free hand in their attacks upon the “alien Jews.” [In Flacc. 10.] The arrival of Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, who was on his way to his kingdom of Palestine, which the capricious emperor had just conferred upon him, excited the ill-will of the Alexandrian mob. Flaccus looked on while the people attacked the Jewish quarters, sacked the houses, and assailed everyone that came within their reach. The most distinguished Jews were not spared, and thirty members of the Council of Elders were dragged to the marketplace and scourged. Philo’s account gives a picture strikingly similar to that of a modern pogrom. The brutal indifference of Flaccus did not indeed avail to ingratiate him with the emperor, and he was recalled to Italy, exiled, and afterwards executed.
The recall of Flaccus did not, however, put an end to the troubles; the mob had got out of hand, the anti-Semitic demagogues were elated, and a fresh opportunity for outrage soon presented itself. The mad emperor, having exhausted ordinary human follies, went on to imagine himself first a god and then the Supreme God, and finally ordered his image to be set up in every temple throughout his dominion. The Jews could not obey the order, and the mob rushed into fresh excesses upon them, defiled the synagogues with images of the lunatic, and in the great synagogue itself set up a bronze statue of him, inscribed with the name of Jupiter. With bitterness Philo points out that it was easy enough for the vile Egyptians, who worshipped reptiles and beasts, to erect a statue of the emperor in their temples; for the Jews, with their lofty idea of God, it was impossible. Against the attack upon their liberty of conscience they appealed directly to Gaius. An embassy was sent to lay their case before him, and Philo went to Italy at the head of the embassy. “He who is learned, gentle, and modest, and who is beloved of men, he shall be leader in the city.” So said one of the rabbis of old, and the maxim is especially appropriate to Philo, who in name and deed was “beloved of men.” Philo has left us a very full account of his mission, so that this incident of his life is a patch of bright light, which stands out almost glaringly from the general shadow. The account is not merely, nor, indeed, entirely history. Looking always for a sermon or a subject for a philosophical lesson, Philo has tricked out the record of the facts with much moralizing observation on the general lot of mankind, and elaborated the part of Providence more in the spirit of religious romance than of scientific history. Yet the main facts are clear. Philo prepared a long philosophical “apologia” for the Jews and set out with five colleagues for Italy. Nor were the enemies of the Jews remiss; and Apion, the Alexandrian anti-Semite, was sent at the head of a hostile deputation. The emperor, Gaius, was in one of his most flippant moods and little inclined to listen to philosophical or literary disquisitions. At first he received the Jewish deputation in a friendly way, and led them to think that he was favorable; but when they came to plead their cause, they had a rude awakening. Philo, who was not likely to appreciate the bitter humor of the situation, tells [De Leg. 27 and 28.] with gravity that he expected that the emperor would hear the two contending parties in all proper judicial form, but that in fact he behaved like an insolent, overbearing tyrant. The audience—if it can be so called—took place in the gardens of the palace, and the emperor dragged the unfortunate deputation after him about the place, while he gave orders to his gardeners, builders, and workmen. Whenever they tried to put forward their arguments, he would rush ahead, enjoying the fright and dismay of his helpless victims. At times be would stop to make some ribald and jeering remark, as, “Why don’t you eat pork, you fools?” at which the Egyptians following loudly applauded. Philo and his comrades, half-dead with agony, could only pray; and in response to the prayer, says our moralizing chronicler, the emperor’s heart was turned to pity, so that he dismissed them without giving any hostile answer. According to Josephus, he drove them away in a passion, and Philo had to cheer his companions by assuring them of the Divine aid. [Ant. XVIII. 8. 1.]
The affair was a pathetic farce, and the Jewish actors in it bad a sorry time. The people about the palace, taking their lead from the emperor, treated them as clowns, and hissed and mocked them, and even beat them. The scene is somewhat revolting when one conjures up the picture of the aged Jewish philosopher being roughly handled by the set of ruffians and impudent slaves who surrounded a Roman emperor. Happily Gaius jeered once too often in his mad life. One Chaerea, a Roman of position, nursed an insult of the emperor, and stabbed him shortly after these events; and the world had the respite of a tolerably sane emperor before the crowning horror of Nero was let loose upon it.
The murder of the capricious tyrant released not only the Jews of Alexandria, but also the Jews of Palestine, from the burden of fear for their religion. The order had been given to set up a bronze statue of the emperor in the temple; the Roman governor Petronius was averse to obeying the edict, but the emperor insisted. King Agrippa, who had been but lately advanced by him to the kingdom of Judaea, interceded zealously on behalf of his people. Philo gives us an account of this appeal by the Jewish king [De Leg., ad fin.], which recalls at every turn the scenes of the book of Esther. We have again the fasting, the banquet, the emperor’s request, the appeal of the royal favorite for his people. One higher critic, indeed, has been found to suggest that the Biblical book really relates Agrippa’s intercession at Rome disguised in the setting of a Persian story. Agrippa secured for a short time the rescission of the fateful decree, but the capricious madman soon returned to his old frame of mind, and ordered his image to be set up immediately. Had not his death intervened, there would certainly have been rebellion in Palestine. As it was, the great revolt was postponed for thirty years. For a little the Jews prevailed over their adversaries; the anti-Semitic influences were put down in Judaea and in Alexandria, and in both places “there was light and joy and gladness for the Jews.” Their political privileges were reaffirmed by imperial decree, and Philo’s brother Alexander, who had been imprisoned, was restored to honor. [Ant. XIX. 5.] “It is fitting,” ran the rescript of Claudius, “to permit the Jews everywhere under our sway to observe their ancient customs without hindrance. And I charge them to use my indulgence with moderation, and not to show contempt for the religious rites of other peoples.”
The note of triumph rings through the political references to be found in the last parts of Philo’s allegorical commentary, and no doubt it was accentuated in the lost book which he added as an epilogue, or palinode, to his history of the embassy. God had again preserved his people, and discomfited their foes; recently-discovered papyri have revealed that the arch anti-Semites, Isidorus and Lampon, were tried at Rome and executed. Claudius was well-disposed to the Jewish race, and before the final storm there was a calm. Howbeit, after the death of Agrippa, in 44 C.E., Judaea became a Roman province, and under the rapacious governorship of Felix Florus and Cestius Gallus, the hostility of the people to the Romans grew more and more bitter. But in Alexandria there was tranquillity, or at least we know of no disquieting events during the next decade. “Old age,” said Philo, “is an unruffled harbor,” [Frag. preserved by John of Damascus, p. 404.] and the saying refers possibly to his own experience. For he must have died full of years and full of honors. Through his life he was the spiritual and philosophical guide, and finally he had become the champion of his people against their persecutors, giving dignity to their cause and inspiring respect even in their enemies. He was happy in the time of his death, for he did not live to see the destruction of the national home of his people and of that temple which he had loved to contemplate as the future center of a universal religion. The disintegration of his own community at Alexandria followed full soon on the greater disaster; the temple of Onias was dismantled and interdicted against Jewish worship by Vespasian in the year 73 C.E., and though, as has been noted, this was not in itself of great importance, it is symbolic of the uprooting of national life in the Diaspora as well as in Palestine itself. On the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. many of the extreme anti-Roman party, known as the Zealots, fled to Alexandria and stirred up rebellion and dissension. Nothing but disaster could have attended the outbreak, but it is a sad reflection that the governor who put it down and ruthlessly exterminated the rebels was none other than Tiberius Alexander, the nephew of Philo, who was in turn procurator of Judaea and Egypt. By another irony of history he had in the previous year been largely instrumental in securing for Vespasian, who was besieging Jerusalem, the imperial throne of Rome. [Comp. Ant. XX. 5.] With him ends our knowledge of Philo’s family, and it ends significantly with one who has ceased to be a Jew. The ruin of the Jewish-Alexandrian community was completed by a desperate revolt in the reign of Trajan, 114-117 C.E., after which they were deprived of their chief political privileges; and finally, after incessant conflicts with the Christians, they were expelled from the city by the all-powerful Bishop Cyril (415 C.E.).
Philo himself passed out of Jewish tradition within a short time, to become a Christian worthy. The destruction of the nation and the gradual severance of the Christian heresy from the main community compelled the abandonment of missionary activity and distrust of the work of its exponents. The dangerous aspect of the Alexandrian development was revealed. Its philosophical allegorizing might attract the Gentile to the Jewish Scriptures, but it also led the Jew away from his special conduct of life. The Alexandrian Church, which claimed to continue the tradition of Philo, departed further and further from the Jewish standpoint, and formulated a dogmatic creed that was utterly opposed to Jewish monotheism. A philosophical Judaism for the whole world was a splendid ideal, but unfortunately in Philo’s time it was incapable of accomplishment. The result of the attempt to found it was the establishment of a religion in which, together with the adoption of Hebraic teachings about God, certain ideas of Alexandrian mysticism became stereotyped as dogmas, and Jewish law was abrogated. When Babylon replaced Palestine as the center of Jewish intellect, the works of Philo, like the rest of the Hellenistic-Jewish literature, written as they were in a strange tongue, fell into disuse, and before long were entirely forgotten. The Christians, on the other hand, found in Philo a notable evidence for many of their beliefs and a philosophical testimony for the dogmas of their creed. They claimed him as their own, and the Church Fathers, to bind him more closely to their tradition, invented fables of his meeting with Peter at Rome and Mark at Alexandria. They traced, in the treatise “On the Contemplative Life,” a record of early Christian monastic communities, and on account of this book especially regarded Philo almost with the reverence of an apostle. To the Christian theologians of Alexandria we owe it that the interpretation of Judaism to the Hellenic world in the light of Hellenic philosophy has been preserved. Of the two Jewish philosophers who have made a great contribution to the world’s intellectual development, Spinoza was excommunicated in his lifetime, and Philo suffered moral excommunication after his death. The writings of both exercised their chief influence outside the community; but the emancipated Jewry of our own day can in either case recognize the worth of the thinker, and point with pride to the saintliness of the man.
PHILO’S WORKS AND METHOD
The first thing that strikes a reader of Philo is the great volume of his work: he is the first Jewish writer to produce a large and systematic body of writings, the first to develop anything in the nature of a complete Jewish philosophy. He had essentially the literary gift, the capacity of giving lasting expression to his own thought and the thought of his generation. Treating him merely as a man of letters, he is one of the chief figures in Greek literature of the first century. We have extant over forty books of his composition, and nearly as many again have disappeared. His works are one and all expositions of Judaism, but they fall into six distinct classes of exegesis:
I. The allegorical commentary, or “Allegories of the Laws,” which is a series of philosophical treatises based upon continuous texts in Genesis, from the first to the eighteenth chapter. Together with this, the best authorities place the two remaining books on the “Dreams of the Bible,” which are a portion of a larger work, and deal allegorically with the dreams of Jacob and Joseph.
II. The Midrashic commentary on the Five Books of Moses, for which we have no single name, but which was clearly intended to be an ethical and philosophical treatise upon the whole law.
III. A commentary in the form of “Questions and Answers to Genesis and Exodus,” which is incomplete now, and save for detached fragments exists only in a Latin translation. In its original form it provided a short running exegesis, verse by verse, to the whole of the first three books of the Pentateuch, and was contained in twelve parts.
IV. A popular and missionizing presentation of the Jewish system in the form of a “Life of Moses,” and three appended tractates on the virtues “Courage,” “Humanity,” and “Repentance.” Scholars [Comp. Massebieau, op. cit.] are of opinion that there are gaps in the extant “Life of Moses,” but the general plan of the work is clear. It is at once an abstract and an interpretation of Jewish law for the Greek world, and also an ideal biography of the Jewish lawgiver.
V. Philosophical monographs, not so intimately connected with the Bible as the preceding works; but in the nature of rhetorical exercises upon the stock subjects of the schools, which receive a Jewish coloring by reason of Biblical illustrations.
VI. Historical and apologetic works that set out the case of the contemporary Jews against their persecutors and traducers. Of these writings the larger part has disappeared, and of a portion of those which remain the genuineness has been doubted.
Lastly, there is a miscellaneous number of works ascribed to Philo, which all good scholars [Comp. Bernays, Ueber die unter Philos Werken stehenden Schriften περι της αφθαρσιας Κοσμου, and Siegfried, art. “Philo” in the Jewish Encyclopedia.] now admit to be spurious: “On the Incorruptibility of the World,” “On the Universe,” “On Samson,” and “On Jonah,” etc.
It will be seen from this classification of Philo’s works, that be has dealt in several ways with the Biblical material. The reason of this is partly that his mind developed, and the interpretation of his maturer years differed widely from that of his earliest writings. Partly, however, it arises from the fact that the different treatments were meant for different audiences, and Philo always took the measure of those whom he was addressing. His most representative works are “a triple cord” with which he binds the Jewish Scripture to Greek culture. For the Greek-speaking populace he set out a broad statement of the Mosaic law; for the cultured community of Alexandria, Jew and Gentile, a more elaborate exegesis, in which each character and each ordinance of the Pentateuch received a particular ethical value; and, finally, for the esoteric circle of Hellenic-Jewish philosophers, a theological and psychological study of the allegories of the law. Origen, the first great Christian exegete of the Bible and a close student of the Philonic writings, distinguished three forms of interpreting: the historical, the moral, and the philosophical; he probably took the distinction from Philo, who exemplifies it in his commentaries upon the Books of Moses.
Varied as is its scope, the religious idea dominates all his work, and endows it with one spirit. Whether he is writing philosophical, ethical, or mystical commentary, whether history, apology, or essay, his purpose is to assert the true notion of the one God, and the Divine excellence of God’s revelation to His chosen people. Thus he regards history as a theodicy, vindicating the ways of God to man, and His special providence for Israel; philosophy as the inner meaning of the Scriptures, revealed by God in mystic communion with His holy prophets [Quod Deus 86.], and, if comprehended aright, able to lead us on to a true conception of His Divine being. The greater part of the HellenisticJewish literature has disappeared, but Philo sums up for us the whole of the Alexandrian development of Judaism. He represents it worthily in both its main aspects: the infusion of Greek culture into the Jewish pursuit of righteousness, and the recommendation of Jewish monotheism and the Torah to the Greek world. Aristaeus, Aristobulus, and Artapanus are hardly more than names, but their spirit is inherited and glorified in Philo-Judaeus. His work, therefore, is more than the expression of one great mind; it is the record and expression of a great culture.
The chronology of Philo’s writings is as uncertain as the chronology of his life. Yet it is possible to trace a deepening of outlook and an increasing originality, if we work our way up from the sixth to the first division of the classification. It does not follow that the works were written in this order—and it may well be that Philo was producing at one and the same time books of several classes—but we may use this order as an ideal scale by which to mark off the stages of his philosophical progress. In the first place come the Υποθετικα, or apologetic works, which have a practical purpose. With these we may associate the moralizing history that dealt in five books respectively with the persecutions of Sejanus, Flaccus, and Caligula, the ill-starred embassy, and the final triumph of the Jews over their enemies. The Υποθετικα proper, as we gather from Eusebius, contained a general apology for Judaism, and an account of the Essenes—which have disappeared—and the suspected book on the Therapeutic sect known by the title “On the Contemplative Life.” Whether they received this generic name because they are suggestions for the Jewish cause, or because they are written to answer the insinuations (καθ υποθεσιν) of adversaries, is a moot point. But their general purport is clear: they were an apologetic presentation of Jewish life, written to show the falsity of anti-Semitic calumnies. The Jews are good citizens and their manner of life is humanitarian. The Essene sect is a living proof of Jewish practical socialism and practical philosophy, the Therapeutae show the Jewish zeal for the contemplative life.
Next we come to Philo’s philosophical monographs, which are not, as one might expect, the work of his mature thought, but rather the exercises of youth. Dissertations or declamations upon hackneyed subjects were part of the regular course of the university student at Alexandria, and Philo prepared himself for his Jewish philosophy by composing in the approved style essays upon “Providence,” “The Liberty of the Good,” and “The Slavery of the Wicked,” etc. What chiefly distinguishes them above other collections of commonplaces is the appeal to the Bible for types of goodness, and here again the Essenes figure as the type of the philosophical life. [Quod Omnis Probus Liber 12 ff.] The writer, while still engaged in the studies of the Greek university, is feeling his way towards his system of universal Mosaism.
This he expounds confidently and enthusiastically in his “Life of Moses.” Philo in this book is not any longer the apt pupil of Greek philosophers, nor the eloquent defender of the Jewish-Alexandrian community against lying detractors. He preaches a mission to the whole world, and he lays before it his gospel of monotheism and humanity. Each Greek school has its ideal type, its Socrates, Diogenes, or Pythagoras; but Philo places above them all “the most perfect man that ever lived, Moses, the legislator of the Jews [De V. Mos. I. 1.], as some hold, but according to others the interpreter of the sacred laws, and the greatest of men in every way.” And above all the ethical systems of the day he sets the law of life that God revealed to His greatest prophet: “The laws of the Greek legislators are continually subject to change; the laws of Moses alone remain steady, unmoved, unshaken, stamped as it were with the seal of nature herself, from the day when they were written to the present day, and will so remain for all time so long as the world endures. Not only the Jews but all other peoples who care for righteousness adopt them. . . . . Let all men follow this code and the age of universal peace will come about, the kingdom of God on earth will be established.” [De V. Mos. II. 5.] Nor is the Greek to fear the lot of a proselyte. “God loves the man who turns from idolatry to the true faith not less than the man who has been a believer all his life;” [“On Repentance,” II.] and in the little essays upon Repentance and Nobility, which are attached to the larger treatise, Philo appeals to his own people to welcome the stranger within the community. “The Life of Moses” is the greatest attempt to set monotheism before the world made before the Christian gospels. And it is truer to the Jewish spirit, because it breathes on every page love for the Torah. Philo in very truth wished to fulfill the law.
If Judaism was to be the universal religion, it must be shown to contain the ultimate truth both about real being, i. e. God, and about ethics; for the philosophical world in that age—and the philosophical world included all educated people—demanded of religion that it should be philosophical, and of philosophy that it should be religious. The desire to expound Judaism in this way is the motive of Philo’s three Biblical commentaries. The “Questions and Answers to Genesis and Exodus” constitute a preliminary study to the more elaborate works which followed. In them Philo is collecting his material, formulating his ideas, and determining the main lines of his allegory. They are a type of Midrash in its elementary stage, the explanation of the teacher to the pupil who has difficulties about the words of the law: at once like and unlike the old Tannaitic Midrash; like in that they deal with difficulties in the literal text of the Bible; unlike in that the reply of Philo is Agadic more usually than Halakic, speculative rather than practical. In these books [Comp. Treitel, Agadah bei Philo. Monatsschrift, 1909.], as has been pointed out, there are numerous interpretations which Philo shares with the Palestinian schools. A few specimens taken from the first book will illustrate Philo’s plan, but it should be mentioned that in every case he sets out the simple meaning of the text, the Peshat, as well as the inner meaning, or Derash.
“Why does it say: ‘And God made every green herb of the field before it was upon the earth’? (Gen. ii. 4.)
“By these words he suggests symbolically the incorporeal Idea. The phrase, ‘before it was upon the earth,’ marks the original perfection of every plant and herb. The eternal types were first created in the noetic world, and the physical objects on earth, perceptible by the senses, were made in their likeness.”
In this way Philo reads into the first chapter of the Bible the Platonic idealism which we shall see was a fundamental part of his philosophy.
“Why, when Enoch died, does it say, ‘And he pleased God’? (Gen. v. 24.)
“He says this to teach that the soul is immortal, inasmuch as after it is released from the body it continues to please.”
“What is the meaning of the expression, ‘And Noah opened the roof of the ark’? (Gen. viii. 13.)
“The text appears to need no interpretation; but in its symbolical meaning the ark is our body, and that which covers the body and for a long time preserves its strength is spoken of as its roof. And this is appetite. Hence when the mind is attracted by a desire for heavenly things, it springs upwards and makes away with all material desires. It removes that which threw a shade over it so as to reach the eternal Ideas.”
The “Questions and Answers” are essentially Hebraic in form, designed for Jews who knew and studied their Bible; and we can feel in them the influences of a training in traditional Mishnah and Midrash; but Philo passed from them to a more artistic expression and a more thoroughly Hellenized presentation of the philosophy of the Bible. This work is the largest extant expression of his thought and mission; it embraces the treatises which we know as “On the Creation of the World,” “The Lives of Abraham and Joseph,” “On the Decalogue,” and finally those “On the Specific Laws,” which are partly thus entitled and partly have separate ethical names, as “On Honoring Parents,” “On Rewards and Punishments,” “On Justice,” etc. Large portions of it have disappeared, notably the “Lives of Isaac and Jacob”; and also the “Life of Moses,” which was introductory to his laws. For the book which we have under that name does not belong to the series, but is separate. The purpose of the work broadly is to deepen the value of the Bible for the Jews by revealing its constant spiritual message, and to assert its value for the whole of humanity by showing in it a philosophical conception of the universe and its creation, the most lofty ethical and moral types, the most admirable laws, and, above all, the purest ideas of God and His relation to man. All that seems tribal and particularist is explained away, and the spiritual aspect of every chapter—of every word almost—of the Torah is emphasized. Philo expounds the sacred book, not of one particular nation, but of mankind. The Roman and Greek peoples were waiting for a religious message which should at once harmonize with rational ideas and satisfy their longing for God. All the philosophical schools were converting the scientific systems of the classical age into Τροποι Βιου, “plans of life,” and Philo challenges them all with a new faith which has as its basis a God who not only was the sole Creator and Ruler of the world, but who had revealed to man the way of happiness, and the good life, social as well as individual. To-day, when the world about us has accepted—or has professed to accept—the ethical law of the Bible, we are apt to regard the essentials of Judaism as the belief in One God and the observance of ceremonies. But to Philo Judaism was something more comprehensive. It was the spiritual life, and the Mosaic law is the complete code of the Divine Republic, of which all are or can be citizens. In the introduction to the “Life of Abraham,” Philo explains the scheme of his work [De Abr. 12.]:
“‘The Sacred Laws’ [as he regularly calls the Bible] were written in five books, of which the first Is entitled Genesis. It derives its title from the account of the creation which It contains, though it deals also with endless other subjects, peace and war, hunger and plenty, great cataclysms, and the histories of good and evil men. We have examined with great care the accounts of the creation in our former treatise [‘On the Making of the Universe’], and we now go on naturally to inquire into the laws; and postponing the particular laws, which are as it were copies, we will first of all examine the more universal, which are their models. Now men who have lived Irreproachable lives are these laws, and their virtues are recorded in the Holy Scriptures not only by way of eulogy, but in order to lead on those who read about them to emulate their life. They are become living standards of right reason, whom the lawgiver has glorified for two reasons: (1) To show that the laws laid down are consistent with nature [the conception of a natural law binding upon all peoples was one of the fixed ideas of the age]. (2) To show that it is not a matter of terrible labor to live according to our positive laws if a man has the will to do so; seeing that the patriarchs spontaneously followed the unwritten principles before any of the particular laws were written. So that a man may properly say that the code of law is only a memorial of the lives of the patriarchs. For the patriarchs, of their own accord and impulse, chose to follow nature, and, regarding her course with truth as the most ancient ordinance, they lived a life according to the law.”
Philo dwells affectionately on the patriarchs, because, as he held, they proved the Jewish life to be truest to man’s nature and to the highest ideal of humanity, and served therefore as examples to the Gentile world of the universal truth of the religion. The rabbis also took the patriarchs as the perfect type of our life, saying, “Everything that happens to them is a sign to future generations,” [Comp. Bereshit Rabba 47.] and again: “The patriarchs are the true hbkrm, manifestation of God.” But while he emphasized the broad moral teachings of Judaism exemplified by the patriarchs, Philo nevertheless upheld in its integrity the Mosaic law, and found in every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts a spiritual meaning. Even the details of the tabernacle offerings have their universal lesson when he expounds them as symbols. Voltaire speaks cynically of Judaism as a religion of sacrifices: Philo shows that the ritual of sacrifice suggests moral lessons. The command of the red heifer, a part of the law which was particularly subject to attack, emphasizes the law of moral as well as of physical cleanliness. The prohibition to add honey or leaven to the sacrifice [De Sac. et Victimis 5 and 6.] (Lev. ii. 13) points the lesson that all superfluous pleasure is unrighteous; and so on with each prescription.
The Mosaic code in his exposition is commensurate with life in all its aspects. It deals not only with the duties of the individual but also with the good government of the state. The life of Joseph is made the text of a political treatise, and throughout the books “On the Specific Laws,” the socialism of the Bible is emphasized [De Mon. II. 3 ff.], and held up as the ideal order of the future. The Jewish State is enlarged in Philo’s vision from a national theocracy into a world-city inspired by the two ideas of love of God and love of humanity. In this conception, no doubt, the influence of Greek philosophy is to be seen; the Jewish interpreter keeps before him the “Republic” of Plato, and the “Polity” of Aristotle. With him, however, the ideal state is not a vision “laid up in heaven”; [Comp. Plato, Rep. V, ad fin.] its foundation is already laid upon earth, its capital is Jerusalem, and it is the mission of his people to extend its borders till it embraces all nations [De Exsecr. II. 587.]—an idea which permeates the Jewish litany.
This commentary of the law is allegorical in the sense that beneath the particular law the interpreter constantly reveals a spiritual idea, but it is not allegorical in the sense that he makes an exchange of values. He is not for the most part reading into the text conceptions which are not suggested by it, but really and truly expounding; and where he gives a philosophical piece of exegesis, as when he explains the visit of the three angels to Abraham as a theory of the human soul about God’s being [De Abr. 3.], he does so with diffidence or with reference to authorities that have founded a tradition. It is quite otherwise with the last class of Philo’s work, the fruit of his maturest thought, with which it remains to deal.
Throughout the “Allegories of the Laws” he takes the verse of the Bible not so much as a text to be amplified and interpreted, but as a pretext for a philosophical disquisition. The allegories indeed are only in form a commentary on the Bible; in one aspect they are a history of the human soul, which, if they had been completed, would have traced the upward progress from Adam to Moses. It is not to be expected, however, that Philo should adhere closely to any plan in the allegories. Theology, metaphysics, and ethics have as large a part in the medley of philosophical ideas as the story of the soul. His Hebraic mind, even when fortified by the mastery of Greek philosophy, was unable to present its ideas systematically; it passed from subject to subject, weaving the whole together only by the thread of a continuous commentary upon Genesis. Parts of the work are missing, it is true, which adds to the seeming want of plan; and—greatest loss of all—the first part, which gave the philosophical account of the first chapter of Genesis, the first six days of creation, referred to as “The Hexameron” (το ‘Εξημερον), has disappeared. [Comp. L. A. II. 4.] Here must have been the general introduction to the allegories, wherein Philo declared his purpose and his method of exposition. The first treatise that we possess starts abruptly with a comment on the first verse of the second chapter, “‘And the heaven and earth and all their world were completed.’ Moses has previously related the creation of the mind and sense, and now he proceeds to describe their perfection. Their perfection is not the individual mind or sense, but their archetypal ‘ideas.’ And symbolically he calls the mind heaven, because in heaven are the ideas of the mind, and the sense he calls earth, because it is corporeal and material.” [L. A. I. 1.]
So in a rambling, unsystematic way Philo embarks upon a discourse on idealism and psychology, making a fresh start continually from a verse or a phrase of the Bible. The Biblical narrative in the earliest chapters offered a congenial soil for his explorations, but no ground is too stubborn for his seed. The genealogy of Noah’s sons is as fertile in suggestion as the story of Adam and Eve, for each name represents some hidden power or possesses some ethical import.
The allegorical commentary is clearly the work of Philo’s maturity, wherein he exhibits full mastery of an original method of exegesis. His allegories are no longer tentative, and he writes with the confidence of the sage, who has received not only the admiration of his people, but the inspiration of God. Another sign of their maturity is that asceticism seems no longer the true path to virtue, as it was to the author of “The Lives of the Patriarchs” and “The Specific Laws,” but, on the contrary, a moderate use of the world’s goods and a share in political life are marks of the perfect man. These characteristics bespeak the firmer hand and the profounder experience. Yet the series of works which form together Philo’s esoteric doctrine were certainly put together over a long period of years, as the varied political references indicate. It has indeed been suggested by a modern German scholar [Comp. Freudenthal, Hellenistische Studien.] that large parts were originally given in the form of detached lectures and sermons, and that Philo later composed them together into a continuous commentary, working them up with much literary elaboration. In support of this theory, it may be urged that several of the treatises contain political addresses to public audiences, notably the De Agricultura and De Confusione Linguarum, while in others there are invocations to prayer, or a summons to read a passage in the Bible, addressed apparently by the preacher to the Hazan, who had before him the scroll of the law. From Philo’s own statements we know that the wisest men used to deliver philosophical homilies upon the Bible on the Sabbath day; and it is natural that the man who was appointed to head the Jewish embassy to Gaius had made himself known in the past to his brethren for oratory and wisdom of speech. “Sermons,” said Jowett, “though they deal with eternal subjects, are the most evanescent form of literature.” The dictum is true for the most part, but occasionally the sermon, by its depth of thought, the universality of its message, and the beauty of its expression, has become part of the world’s heritage from the ages. Moreover, at Alexandria philosophy was associated with preaching. And the sermons of the Jewish-Hellenistic writer, in their style as well as in their thought, represent an epoch. Philo spoke in the language of the intellectual world of his day, and strove to associate the intellectual precepts of Hellenism with the Hebraic passion for righteousness. In his great moments, however, the Hebraic spirit towers supreme. “He was,” said Croiset, the historian of Greek literature, “the first Greek prose writer who could speak to God and of God to man with the ardent piety and reverence of the Jewish prophets.” [Croiset, op. cit. V, p. 427.]
It is a serious misconception to imagine that Philo’s philosophical allegories were meant for the general body of Alexandrian Jews. He frequently [Comp. De Cherubim, passim.] declares that he is speaking to a specially initiated sect, and warns his hearers not to divulge his teaching. The notion of an esoteric doctrine for the aristocracy of intellect had become a fixed idea in the Greek schools for three centuries, ever since the days of Aristotle; and whether through Greek influence or otherwise it had been generally adopted by the Jewish teachers. The rabbis of the Talmud derived from the first chapters of Genesis the inner mystery of the law, which was cognizable only by the sage; and the same idea is found in later Jewish tradition, which, expounding Paradise (odrp) as four stages of interpretation, each marked by a letter of the word, Peshat, Remez, Derash, and Sod (dwo), [Comp. Zohar III.] regarded the last as the final reward of the devoted seeker after God, as it is said in the Psalms, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him.” Jewish religious philosophers have in all ages designed their work for a select few. The Halakah, or way of life, is the fit study of the many. So Maimonides wrote his Moreh only for those who already were masters of the law. And Philo likewise at Alexandria taught an esoteric doctrine to an esoteric circle, which alone was fitted to receive the profoundest theology. [De Cherubim 9 and 14, De Somn. 8.] The allegories of the law do not take the place of the law itself, nor of its ethical ordinances. They are additional to the other exegesis and distinct, destined only for the man of learning. And as we shall see, he asserts emphatically in the midst of his allegories [De Migr. 12.] that the perception of the philosophical value does not release man from the practice itself. The wise man even as the fool must obey the law.
Why, it may be asked, does Philo artificially attach his philosophy to the Scriptures? He does so for two reasons: first, because he holds and wishes to prove that between faith and philosophy there is no conflict, and his generation worked out the agreement by this method; he does so also because he wishes to establish the Torah and Judaism upon a sure foundation for the man of outside culture. The pursuit of philosophy must have menaced the attachment to Judaism and challenged the authority of the Bible at Alexandria. A superficial knowledge of the materialistic or rationalistic theories, which were propagated respectively by the Epicurean and Stoic schools, was made the excuse for indifference to the law. Then as now the advanced Jew would mask his self-indulgence under the guise of a banal philosophy, and jeer easily at archaic myths and tribal laws. The dominating motive of Philo’s work is to show that the Bible contains for those who will seek it the richest treasures of wisdom, that its ethical teaching is more ideal and yet more real than that which hundreds of sophists poured forth daily in the lecture-theatres [De Post. C. 22.] to the gaping dilettanti of learning, and lastly that the cultured Jew may search out knowledge and truth to their depths, and find them expressed in his holy books and in his religious beliefs and practices. Philo frequently introduces into his philosophical interpretation a polemic against the disintegrating and demoralizing forces which were at work in the Alexandria of his day. His commentary therefore is a strange medley, compounded of idealistic speculation, theology, homiletics, moral denunciation, and polemical rhetoric. The idea, which is not uncommon, that Philo represents the extreme Hellenic development of Judaism, and that he gathered into his writings the opinions of all Greek schools to the ruin of his Jewish individuality, is utterly erroneous. In fact, he chooses out only the valuable parts of Greek thought, which could enter into a true harmony with the Hebraic spirit; and he not only rejects, but he attacks unsparingly those elements which were antagonistic to holiness and righteousness. With the enthusiasm of a Maccabee, if with other weapons, he fought against the bastard culture, which meant self-indulgence and the excessive attention to the body, the idol-worship, the degraded ideas of the Divine power, and the disregard of truth and justice, that were current in the pagan society about him. The seeking after sensual pleasure and luxury was the most glaring evil of his city—as the Talmud says [Midrash Esther I.], of ten parts of lust nine were given to Alexandria—and with every variety of denunciation he returns again and again to the charge. Epicureanism is detestable not only for its low idea of human life, but for its godless conception of the universe. Its theory that the world was a fortuitous concourse of atoms, which was governed by blind chance, and that the gods lived apart in complete indifference to men—this was to Philo utter atheism, and as such the greatest of sins. He attacked paganism not only in its crude form of idolatry [Comp. De Sac. II. 245.], but in its more seductive disguise of a pretentious philosophy. Always and entirely he was the champion of monotheism.
Nearly as godless, and therefore as vile in his eyes as the follower of Epicurus, is the follower of the Stoic doctrines. It has been shown that the Jews and the Stoics were continually in conflict at Alexandria; and the “Allegories of the Laws” are filled with attacks, overt and hidden, upon the Stoic doctrines. The Stoics, indeed, believed in one supreme Divine Power, not however in a transcendental and personal God, but a cosmic, impersonal, fatalistic world-force. [Comp. De Migr. 32.] To Philo this conception, with its denial of the Divine will and the Divine care for the individual, was as atheistic as the Epicurean “chance.” Equally repulsive to his religious standpoint was the Stoic dogma, that man is, or should be, independent of all help, and that the human reason is all-powerful and can comprehend the universe by its own unaided power. [Comp. De Post C, 11.] Repulsive also were their pride, their rejection of the emotions, their hard rationalism. The battle of Philo against the Stoics is the battle of personal monotheism against impersonal pantheism, of religious faith and revelation against arrogant rationalism, and of idealism against materialism. Hostile as he is to the Stoic intellectual dogmatism, Philo is none the less opposed to its converse, intellectual skepticism and agnosticism. Man, he is convinced, has a Divine revelation [Quaestiones in Gen. III. 33.] which he may not deny without ruin. He holds with Pope that we have
“Too much of knowledge for the Skeptic side,
and he attacks the Skeptics of the day who devoted their minds to destructive dialectical quibbling and sophistry [De Cong. 10.] instead of seeking for God and the human good. They are the Ishmaels of philosophy.
Philo’s polemic is directed less against the Greek schools in themselves than against the Jewish followers of the Greek schools. He saw the danger to Judaism in the teachings of these anti-religious philosophers, and deeply as he loved Greek culture, he loved more deeply his religion. He wanted to reveal a philosophy in the Bible which should win back to Judaism the men who had been captivated by foreign thought. In one aspect, therefore, his master-work is a plea for unity. The community at Alexandria was a very heterogeneous body; not only were the sects which had appeared in Palestine, the Sadducees, Samaritans, Pharisees, and Essenes, represented there too, but in addition there were parties who attached themselves to one or other of the Greek schools, the Pythagoreans, Skeptics, and the like, and lastly Gnostic groups, who cultivated an esoteric doctrine of the Godhead, and were lax in their observance of the law, which they held to be purely symbolical and of no account in its literal meaning. The mental activity which this growth of sects exemplified was in some respects a healthy sign, but it contained seeds of religious chaos, which bore their fruit in the next century. Men started by thinking out a philosophical Judaism for themselves; they ended by ceasing to be Jews and philosophers. Philo foresaw this danger, and he tried to combat it by presenting his people with a commentary of the Bible which should satisfy their intellectual and speculative bent, but at the same time preserve their loyalty to the Bible and the law. To the Greek world he offered a philosophical religion, to his own people a religious philosophy. Thus the allegorical commentary is the crowning point of his work, the offering of his deepest thought to the most cultured of the community; and though much of its detail had only relevancy for its own time, and its method may repel our modern taste, yet the spirit which animates it is of value to all ages, and should be an inspiration to every generation of emancipated Jews. That spirit is one of fearless acceptance of the finest culture of the age combined with unswerving love of the law and loyalty to catholic Judaism.
We have already treated of the general characteristics of Philo’s method of allegorical interpretation, but we must now consider rather more closely the way in which he employs it. The general principle upon which he depends is, that besides and in addition to the literal meaning which the Bible bears for the common man, it has a hidden and deeper meaning for the philosopher. It is, as it were, a sort of palimpsest; the writing on the top all may read, the writing below the student alone can decipher. With the rabbis Philo holds that the Torah was written “in the language of the sons of man,” [Comp. Berakot 51b, De Agric. 12, De Somn. II. 25.] but he believes with them again that it contains all wisdom. And if the ideas of reason do not appear in its literal meaning, then they must be searched out in some inner interpretation. Commenting on the verse in Genesis (xi. 7), “Let us confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech,” he says: “Those who follow the literal and obvious interpretation think that the origin of the Greek and barbarian languages is here described; [the contrast between Greek, on the one hand, and barbarian—in which Hebrew, it seems, is included—on the other, is remarkable]. I would not find fault with them, because they also, perhaps, employ right reason, but I would call on them not to remain content with this, but to follow me to the metaphorical renderings, considering that the actual words of the holy oracle are, as it were, shadows of the real bodies, and the powers which they reflect are the true underlying ideas.” [De Confus. 38.]
Elsewhere he tells a story of the condign punishment which befell a godless and impious man, perchance a Samaritan Jew, who made mock of the race of allegorical interpreters, jeering at the idea that the change of names from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah contained some deep meaning. He soon paid a fitting penalty for his wicked wit, for on some very trivial pretext he went and hanged himself. Which was just, says Philo; for such a rascal deserved a rascal’s death. [De Mut. Nom. 8.] It is noteworthy that the Talmud also lays stress upon the deep meaning of the patriarch’s change of name. [Comp. Bereshit Rabba 64.] “He who calls Abraham Abram,” said Bar Kappara, “transgresses a positive command” (hse twum). “Nay,” said Rabbi Levi, “he transgresses both a positive and a negative command (and commits a double sin).” Clearly this was a test-question and an article of faith, possibly because the letter h, which was added to the name, was a letter of mystical import in the opinion of the age. Both the rejection of the literal and the rejection of the allegorical value of the Bible, Philo regarded as impious, and he had to struggle against opposite factions that were one-sided. The true son of the law believes in both το ρητον and το εν υπονοιαις. [De Somn. I. 16 and 17.] Seeing that the Bible was the inspired revelation of God, who is the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge—this is Philo’s cardinal dogma—it is not to be supposed, on the one hand, that it was silent about the profoundest ideas of the human mind, or, on the other, that it contained ideas opposed to right reason and truth. Yet at first sight it seemed to lack any definite philosophy and to offer anthropomorphic views of God. Hence the true interpreter must use the actual words of the sage as metaphors, following the maxim, “Turn it about and about, because all is in it, and contemplate it and wax grey over it, for thou canst have no better rule than this.” [Comp. “Ethics of the Fathers” V. 25.] The principle upon which Philo, Saadia, Maimonides, and in fact the whole line of Jewish philosophical exegetes have worked, is that the “words of the law are fruitful and multiply”; or, as the Bible phrase runs, “The Torah which Moses commanded unto us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.” It is the separate inheritance of each generation, which each must cultivate so as to gather therefrom its own fruit.
The Halakah is the outcome of this devotion in one aspect, the philosophical exegesis in another. In the one case Jewish jurisprudence and the body of legal tradition, in the other, philosophical ideas inspired by outer civilization, are attached to the text of the Bible by ingenious devices of association. The device is partly a pious fiction, partly a genuine belief; in other words, the teachers honestly thought that there was respectively a hidden philosophical meaning in the Bible and an oral tradition, supplementary to the written law and arising out of it; but on the other hand they would not have urged that their particular interpretation alone was portended by the Scriptures. This is shown in the Talmud by the fact that different rabbis deduced the same lessons from different verses, and contrary laws from the same verse; in Philo by the fact that he often gives various interpretations of one text in different parts of his work. All that was claimed was that knowledge and truth must be primarily referred to the Divine revelation, and all law and practice to the authority of the Mosaic code. Philo, then, in the same way as the rabbis, deduces all his teaching from the Bible, not because he holds that it was explicitly contained there, but because he desires to give to his philosophical notions Divine authority. Like the rabbis, again, he suggests definite rules of interpretation which may always be applied (κανονες της αλληγοριας). [Comp. De Somn. I. 13.] He declares that every name in the Torah has a deep symbolical meaning, and symbolizes some power. [De Mut. Nom. 9.] Thus the names of the sons of Jacob typify each some moral quality, and these qualities together make the perfect man and the perfect nation. Reuben is “the son of insight” (Nbwar), Simeon is learning (Nwemv), Judah (hdwhy) stands for the praise of God. [De Somn. I. 5.] It may be noted, by the way, that all these values show traces of Hebrew etymology. Again, the synonyms in the Bible are to be carefully studied, while even particles and parts of words have their special value and importance. And the skillful exegete may for homiletical purposes make slight changes in a word, following the rabbinical rule [Berakot 10a.], “Read not so, but so.” Thus he plays upon the name Esau, and takes the Hebrew word as though it were written, not wse, but wse, a thing made. [De Cong. 12.] Whence he shows that Esau represents the sham (made-up) greatness, which is boastful and insolent and shameless. Philo is referring perhaps to Apion, the vainglorious anti-Semite, whom he often covertly attacks. Again, whenever there is repetition in the text, a deeper meaning is portended. Dealing with the verse, “Sarah the wife of Abraham took Hagar the Egyptian” (Gen. xvi. 3), Philo comments, that we already knew that Sarah was Abraham’s wife: why, then, does the Bible mention it again? And following certain values which he has made, he draws the lesson that the study of philosophy must always go together with the study of general culture. [De Cong. 14] These examples are not isolated; yet it is rather a barren science to search for the canons of Philo’s allegory, as Siegfried has done. For his allegory is a very flexible instrument, which can be employed at pleasure to deduce anything from anything. And Philo regards these “points of construction” as the excuse, not as the motive, of his ethical and philosophical teaching. He does not depend on such devices, for he wanders into allegory more often than not without any pretext of the kind.
The modern reader may consider the allegorical method artificial and unconvincing, even if he does not go so far as Spinoza, and say that it is “useless, harmful, and absurd.” [“Theologico-Political Tractate” VII.] We prefer to-day to show the inner agreement of philosophical with Biblical teaching, rather than pretend that all philosophy is contained within the Bible; and we accept the Bible as it stands, as a book of supreme religious worth, without requiring more of it. But that is mainly a difference of taste or of method, and in Philo’s day, and in fact down to the time of the sixteenth-century Renaissance, Jew and Gentile alike preferred the other way. For thought, ancient and mediaeval, was pervaded with the craving for authority or a plausible show of it. The Bible was not only the great book of morality, but the standard of truth, that from which knowledge in all its branches started, and that by which it was to be judged. As all knowledge came from God, so all knowledge was in God’s Book; and allegory was the method by which the intellectual conceptions of succeeding ages were attached to it.
The two main heads of Biblical interpretation which the Jewish religious genius developed, Peshat and Derash,—these represent two permanent attitudes of mind. In the first the commentator tries to get at the exact meaning of the text before him, to make its lesson clear and discuss the circumstances of the composition, the exact relations of its parts. He is satisfied to take the writer of the Biblical book for what he says in his own form of utterance. In the second the commentator is more anxious to inculcate ideas and lessons which do not arise obviously from the text, and to widen the significance of what he finds in the Bible. The interpretation ceases to be a mere exposition; it becomes creative or conciliating thought, and the interpreter becomes a religious reformer, a philosopher, a prophet. To this school Philo belongs, and the framework of his teaching or the ingenuity by which he develops it from his text is of small account. It is what he teaches and what he considers to be the vital things in religion and life to which we must pay attention. Judged on this ground Philo is a supreme master of Derash, and must take a place among the most creative of the interpreters of the Bible.
PHILO AND THE TORAH
Over and over again Philo declares that his function is to expound the law of Moses. Moses was the interpreter of God’s word to Israel; and Philo aspired to be the interpreter of the revelation of Moses to the Hellenistic world, “the living voice of the holy law.” He believed that Israel was a chosen people in the sense that it had received the Divine message on behalf of the whole human race [De Abr. 19.], a Kingdom of Priests, in that it occupied to other nations the position which the priest—using the word in the fullest sense—occupied to the common people. [De Mon. II. 6.] The Torah is God’s covenant, not only with one small nation, but with all His children, and its teachings are true for all times and for all places. “The Bible,” as Professor Butcher says [Harvard Studies, “Hellenism and Hebraism.”], “is the one book which appears to have the capacity of eternal self-adjustment, of uninterrupted correspondence with an ever-shifting and ever-widening environment.” Nowadays this appears a truism, but the truth first presented itself to the Jewish-Alexandrian community when they came in contact with external culture. The Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, free for the most part from outside influences, developed the Torah for the Jewish people, amplified the tradition, and determined the Halakah, the practical law. But the Alexandrian Jews in the first place found their own attitude to the Torah affected by their acquaintance with Greek ethics and metaphysics, and also found it necessary to interpret the Bible in a new fashion in order to make its value known to their environment. The Greek world required to be shown the general principle, the broad ethical idea in each ordinance. And thus it came about that the Alexandrian interpreters always emphasized the universal beneath the particular, the moral spirit beneath the forms.
It had been one of the chief functions of the prophets to demonstrate the moral import of the law. In their vision the God of Israel became the God of the universe, and His law of conduct was spread over all mankind. “For the law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah iv. 2). Philo in effect expounds Judaism in their spirit, though he speaks their message in the voice of Plato and to a people whose minds were trained in Greek culture. Yet it is significant that he wrote all his commentaries round the Five Books of Moses, and used the prophets and other Biblical books only to illustrate and support the Mosaic teaching, which contains the whole way of life and the whole religious philosophy. According to the rabbis also the Prophets formed only a complement to the Torah, “a species of Agadah”; [ Comp. Schechter, “Aspects of Rabbinic Theology,” p. 119.] and the prophetic vision of Moses was much clearer than that of his successors. Philo, too, clearly realized that Judaism was the religion of the law. His view of the Torah is what the modern world would call uncritical: that is to say, he accepts the idea that the whole of the Five Books was an objective revelation to Moses at Sinai. But though—or because—he is innocent of the higher criticism, and believes in the literal inspiration of the Torah, his conception is none the less enlightened and spiritual. The law—the Divine Logos—is not the enactment of an outside power, arbitrarily imposed, and to be obeyed because of its miraculous origin; it is the expression of the human soul within, when raised to its highest power by the Divine inspiration. Every man may fit himself to receive the Divine word, which is, in modern language, revelation. [Comp. De V. Mos. II. 9 and 10, III. 1.] Moses, then, is distinguished above all other legislators, not because he alone received it, but because he received it in its purest form, and because he was the most noble interpreter of it. It is for this reason that the law of Moses is of universal validity for conduct. The Divine spirit possessed him so fully that his Logos, or revelation, is eternally true, and by following it all men become fit to be blessed with the Divine gift themselves. This is true of the other prophets of the Bible to a smaller degree, and in a still minor degree Philo hoped that it was true of himself.
It should be premised that the “law of nature” was at the time of Philo an idea as widely accepted as “evolution” is to-day. Men believed that by a study of the processes of the universe the individual might discover the law of conduct that should bring his action into harmony with the whole. What the Greek philosophers declared to be the privilege of the few, Philo declared to have been imparted by God to His people as their law of life. Hence the Mosaic legislation is the code of nature and reason, and the righteous man directs his conduct in accordance with those rules of nature by which the cosmos is ordered. [L. A. I. 2.] Obedience to the law should not be obedience to an outward prescription, but rather the following out of our own highest nature. The ideal which the Stoic sage continually aspired for and never attained to—the life according to nature and right reason—this Philo claimed had been accomplished in the Mosaic revelation, handed down by God to Israel and through them to the world.
Before we deal with Philo’s treatment of the law in its narrower sense, it will be as well to consider briefly his interpretation of the historical parts of the Torah. Here likewise he finds ideas of natural reason and eternal truths embodied. To Philo, as we have seen, the Torah is a unity, and every part of it has equal validity and value. He had to contend against certain higher critics of his day, who declared that Genesis was a collection of myths (μυθων πλασματα). [Comp. De Mundi Op. 2.] Moreover, the long catalogues of genealogies in Genesis and the longer recitals of sacrifices in Leviticus and Numbers seemed to refute those who declared that every part of the Pentateuch was a Divine revelation. In the third book of the “Questions to Genesis” Philo directly grapples with this objection. Commenting on the verse (Gen. xv. 9), “Take for me a heifer of three years old and a goat of three years old,” etc., he says that in interpreting any part or any verse of Scripture we must look to the purpose of the whole and explain it from this outlook, “without dissecting or disturbing its harmony or disintegrating its unity.” Why should God, asked the scoffer, reveal these trivial or prolix details? Philo’s answer is in fact to spiritualize everything that is material, and universalize everything that is particular. While he believes in the literal inspiration of the Bible, he does not insist upon the literal truth of every word of it, and in the opening chapters of Genesis in particular, he treats the tales as symbolical or allegorical myths. His philosophical commentary on the creation, corresponding to the tysarb hsem of the rabbis, is found in the book De Mundi Opificio, which stands in modern editions at the head of his writings. Its main theme is to trace in the text the Platonic idealism, i. e., the theory that God first created transcendental, incorporeal archetypes of all physical and material things. Philo uses the double account of the creation of man in the first and second chapters of Genesis as clear evidence that the Bible describes—for those who have the mind to see—the creation of an ideal before the terrestrial man.
In the “Allegories of the Laws,” which is the profounder philosophical doctrine, the account of Adam and Eve is deliberately chosen by Philo as the text of a psychological treatise, in which he analyzes [Comp. L. A. I, passim.] the relations of the mind, the senses, and the pleasures, represented respectively by Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. The necessity of explaining the story symbolically is professedly based on the fact that otherwise we are driven to the idea that the Bible spoke inaccurately about God. “It is silly,” he says, “to suppose that Adam and Eve can have hidden themselves in the Garden of Eden, for God filled the whole.” We are driven then to suggest another meaning; and Philo passes into a homily about the false opinion of the man who follows the bidding of the senses (Eve) at the instigation of pleasure (the Serpent). [L. A. III. 12.]
The story of Cain and Abel is another piece of moral philosophy embodied in a concrete form. Abel symbolizes pious humility, Cain the deadly sin of atheism and intellectual pride, which denies the absolute and ever-present power of the Deity. Philo asks himself the question that other commentators have frequently raised, some in reverence, some in ridicule, “Who was Cain’s wife?” [De Post. C. 11.] And he answers that the Bible expression about the children of Cain cannot be taken literally, but suggests the union of the ill-ruled mind with impious opinions, which have as their issue false pride and sin.
Philo here treats the stories in the opening of Genesis as pure allegories, in which the men and women represent symbolically characters and qualities. It should be remembered, however, that these interpretations occur in the commentary where our author is not so much expounding the Torah as deducing secret doctrines from it. His proper exposition of the law proceeds from the book on the Creation to the lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then to the lives of Joseph and Moses. And in this commentary the Bible narrative is taken as historical truth: only in addition to the historical fact there is a moral and universal value in every figure and every episode. The patriarchs’ lives represent the unwritten law which the Greek world held in high honor, for it was considered to contain the broad principles of individual and social conduct, and to be prior logically and chronologically to the written codes. Moses, therefore, the perfect legislator, according to Philo, has presented in the three founders of the Hebrew race embodiments of the unwritten law of good conduct for all mankind. Each of them is a moral type of eternal validity and represents one of the ways in which blessedness may be attained. [De Abr. 3 ff.] Abraham represents the goodness which comes from instruction; Isaac, the spontaneous goodness that is innate, and the joy (or laughter) of the soul that is God’s gift to his favored sons; Jacob, the goodness that comes after long effort, through the life of practice and severe discipline. Before this triad, the Bible presents another group of three, who represent the virtues preparatory to the acquisition of perfect goodness: Enosh, Enoch, and Noah. [lbid. 6-10.] They typify respectively, as their names indicate, hope, repentance, and justice. It is a pretty thought, helped by an error in the Septuagint translation [The LXX renders the verse Gen. iv. 26, which is translated in the Authorized Version: “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord,” ουτος ηλπισεν επι τον των ολων πατερα; i. e., “He hoped in the Father of all.”], which sees in the name of the first (i. e., man, vwna) the symbol of hope. Hope, the commentator suggests, is the distinguishing characteristic of man [Quod Det. 38.] as compared with other animals, and hope therefore is our first step towards the Divine nature, the seed of which faith is the fruit. Next in order come repentance and natural justice, and from these stepping-stones we can rise to the higher self. Philo’s interpretation of these Bible figures would appear to have behind it an old Midrashic tradition. As far back as the book of Ben Sira, in the passage on “the Praises of Famous Men” (xliv), they are taken as typical of the different virtues, and Enoch notably is the type of repentance. In the first century the world was becoming incapable of understanding abstract ideas, and required ethics to be concretely embodied in examples of life. Philo found within the Jewish Scriptures what the Christian apostles later transferred to other events.
Joseph, whose life followed that of the patriarchs, is the type of the political life, the model of the man of action and ambition. Taken alone, this is inferior to the life of the saint and philosopher, but mixed with the other it produces the perfect man, for the truly good man must take his part in public life. The story of Joseph, then, illustrates the full humanity of Moses’ scheme, and it marks also, according to Philo, the great moral lesson, that if there be one spark of nobility in a man’s soul, God will find it and cause it to shine forth. [De Jos. 21.] For Joseph, until he comes down to Egypt, is not a virtuous man, but full of conceit and unworthy aspiration for supremacy; he shows his true worth when he is sold into slavery; and then by the Divine inspiration he becomes the ideal statesman. Very suggestive is Philo’s homily, by which he develops the Bible narrative, that the function of the statesman is to expound dreams [De Jos. 22.]; because his task is to interpret the life of man, which is one long dream of changing scenes, wherein we forget what has gone before, as the fleeting shadow leads us from childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to old age. Lastly, from the story of Joseph he draws the lesson that when the Hebrew has attained to a high position in a foreign land, as in Egypt, where there is utter blindness about the true God, he can and should retain his national laws [De Jos. 42.], and not assimilate the practices of his environment.
Eusebius [Hist. Ecclesiast. II. 18, 1.] mentions, among the works of Philo which he had before him, a book on “The Statesman,” in which doubtless the principles of government and social life were more fully treated. The book has disappeared, but the life of Joseph suffices to show that Philo recognized the place of public service in the human ideal.
Moses is not only the divinely inspired legislator, but he typifies also the perfection of the human soul, the highest example of the man at one with God, supreme as king, lawgiver, priest, and prophet. He is the link between God and man, the perfect interpreter of the Divine Word; and though Philo avoids the suggestion of any Divine power incarnate in man, he speaks imaginatively of the Logos of Moses [De V. Mos. III. 4ff.], i. e., his reason, as identical with the Logos of God, the Divine law of the universe. It is significant of his attitude to religion that he lays no stress upon the miracles of the Bible narrative. Not that he rationalizes them away; he rejects all rationalizing whatsoever; but he interprets them as great spiritual signs, rather than as diversions from the laws of nature. His allegory of the burning bush which Moses saw at Horeb is typical, and presents a truth to which the whole history of Israel bears witness. The weak thorn-bush, which was not consumed by the fire, is the image of the idea of Israel, which almost cries to the people in their misfortune: “Do not despair! Your weakness is your strength, and by it you shall wound race after race. You will be preserved by those who wish to destroy you, and you shall not perish. In evil days you shall not suffer, and when a tyrant thinks to uproot you, you shall shine forth the more in brighter glory.” [De V. Mos. II. 3.] The passage is typical also of the rhetorical artifice with which Philo, following the taste of the time, recommended the Bible to the Greeks.
We turn now to Philo’s treatment of the Mosaic legislation, the Torah in its narrower sense, which is to modern Jewry perhaps the most striking part of his commentary. His problem was the same as ours—to bring the ancient law into harmony with the ideas of a non-Jewish environment, and to show its essential value when tried by an external cultural standard. Briefly his solution is that he sees everything in the Torah sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity; and by his faithfulness to the law, combined with his spiritual interpretation of it, he stands forth as the greatest Jewish missionary of his age. Unfortunately for Judaism, depth of thought and philosophical judgment are not the qualities which mark the successful religious missionary. Philo’s philosophical treatment of the Torah was understood only of the few; the fanatical Pauline rejection of the law appealed to the masses. The spirit of the age demanded, indeed, the ethical interpretation of the Bible, and it was carried out in many ways, some true, some untrue to Judaism. Philo and Josephus tell us how Judaism was spreading over the world. [De V. Mos. II. 5, Josephus, C. Apion. II. 37.] “There is not any city of the Greeks,” says the historian, “nor of the barbarians, nor of any nation whatsoever, to which our custom of resting on the seventh day has not been introduced, and where our fasts and our dietary laws are not observed. . . . . As God Himself pervadeth all the universe, so hath our law passed through the world.” And their testimony is supported by the frequent gibes against Judaizing Romans in the Roman poets [Comp. Horace, Satires I. 4, 138; I. 9, 60.], and by the explicit statements of Strabo [Frag. preserved in Josephus, Ant. XIV. 7.], the famous geographer, and, more remarkable still, of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher-statesman. The bitter foe of the Jews, he confessed that this superstitious pest was infecting the whole world, and that the conquered people (Judaea had lately been made a Roman province) were taking their conquerors captive. [Comp. Reinach, op. cit., p. 262.] Philo, with his ardent hope, looked for the near coming of the time when the worship of the Jewish God would prevail over the world, and sought to show that the Jewish law, which is the expression of Jewish belief, and which differs from all others, not only in the extent of its sway, but in its unchangeableness, could be universalized to fit its new service. To this end he interpreted the Mosaic code, which “no war, tyrant, persecution, or visitation, human or Divine, can destroy: for it is eternal.” [De V. Mos. II. 3.] In the arrangement of the Torah, Philo finds a proof of its universality. It begins with the account of the creation, to teach us that the same Being that is the Creator and Father of the universe is also its Legislator, and, again, that he who follows the law will choose to live in harmony with nature, and will exhibit consistency of action with words and of words with action. Other philosophers, notably the Stoics, claimed to lay down a plan of life that followed the law of nature; but their practice notoriously fell below their unrealizable professions. In Judaism alone spirit and practice were at one, so that each inspired the other and secured human excellence. “Not theory but practice is the root of the matter” (hsemh ala rqe srdmh al), according to the rabbis [“Ethics of the Fathers” I. 17.]: and Philo, who, contemplative philosopher as he was, yet recognized the all-importance of conduct, writes in the same spirit [De Fuga 6.]: “We must first study and then act, for we learn, not for learning’s sake, but in order to action.”
Philo seeks to arrange the law under general moral heads, and he finds in the Decalogue the holy text upon which the rest of the code is but a commentary. He may be following a tradition common among all the Jews, for in the Midrash to Numbers (xiii) it is said that the six hundred and thirteen precepts are all contained in the Ten Commandments: Nhb twlwlk twum gyrts. We do not know, however, in what way the early rabbis carried out this idea, whereas we possess Philo’s arrangement; and some of its features are very suggestive. [De Decal. 12] To the first two commandments he attaches the ritual laws relating to priests and sacrifices, to the fourth the laws of all the festivals, to the seventh the criminal and civil law, to the tenth the dietary laws. The Decalogue he conceives as falling into two divisions, between which the fifth commandment is a link. For the first four commandments are ordinances that determine man’s relation to God, and the last five those which determine his relation to his fellows. Honor of the parents is the link between the Divine and the human virtues, even as parents themselves are a link between immortal God and mortal man. Corresponding to the two divisions of the Decalogue are the two generic virtues which the Mosaic legislation has set as its goal, piety, and humanity, or what the rabbis called charity (hqdu). “He who loves God, but does not show love towards his own kind, has but the half of virtue.” [De Decal. 23.] Thus in one and the same age Hillel, incited by a single scoffer, and Philo, moved by the taunts of a tribe of anti-Semites, looked for the most vital lesson of the Torah, and they found it alike in “the love of our neighbor.” That was Judaism on its practical side.
In order to show the humanitarian spirit of the Torah, Philo emphasizes its socialistic institutions, the law of the seventh year’s rest to the land (tns hjymvh), of the emancipation of the slaves, and of the Jubilee. These to him are not tribal laws, but the ideal institutions for the whole world, which shall one day be set up when the theocracy has been established over all mankind. And in an age when slavery was as accepted a condition as factory-labor is to-day, he ventured to assert the principle of the equality of man. “If,” saith the law, “one of thy brethren be sold to thee, let him serve thee for six years, and in the seventh year let him go free without payment.” And Philo thereon comments [De Septen. 9.]: “A second time Moses calls our fellow-creature brother, to impress upon the master that he has a tie with his servant, so that he may not neglect him as a stranger. Nay, but if he follows the direction of the law, he will feel sympathy with him, and will not be vexed when he is about to liberate him. For though we call our servants slaves, yet in verity they are only dependents who serve us in order to have the means of life.” This corresponds with the Talmud dictum, “Whoever buys Jewish slave buys a master for himself.” [Kiddushin 20a.] Commenting again upon the verse in Exodus xxi. 6, which says with seeming harshness that a servant who wishes to stay with his master after the year of emancipation has arrived, shall be nailed by the ear to a door, he explains that no man should consent of his own will to be a slave, for we should only be servants of God; and if a man deliberately rejects freedom for comfort, he should wear a mark of degradation. The so-called Christian principle of the dignity of human life and the equality of man, Philo shows to be the spirit of the Mosaic law, not limited within the confines of one nation, but valid for the world. Nor is it contained therein as a mere sentimental aspiration, but it is realized in the institutions of the Jewish polity.
Philo looked for the same broad principles in his treatment of the ceremonial law. The Sabbath day is the central observance, one might say, the lodestar of the Jewish life, round which the other ceremonies revolve. The Sabbath is the call to man’s higher nature, for it is the day on which we are bidden to devote ourselves to the Divine power within us and to seek to know God. “The six days in which the Creator made the universe are an example to us to work, but the seventh day, on which He rested, is an example to us to meditate. As on that day God is said to have looked upon His work, so we, too, should contemplate the universe thereon, and consider our highest welfare. Let us never neglect the example of the best life, the combination of action and thought, but keeping a clear vision of it before our minds, so far as our human nature will permit, let us liken ourselves to immortal God by word and deed.” [De Decal. 20.] High-flown this language may be, but what Philo wishes to mark is the spiritual value of the Sabbath. It is not merely a day of rest from workaday toil, but it is a day upon which we devote all our thoughts to God, and enter into closer communion with Him, hbdnw hbha thwnm, a repose of love and devotion. Heine said that on one day of the week the lowliest Jew became a prince, Philo that he became a philosopher. As in all of Philo’s interpretations of Jewish custom, there is something mystic in his conception of the Sabbath. For he regards all Divine service and all prayer as a mystic rite which leads the human soul unto God. In the special ordinances of the day he finds a spiritual motive. We may not touch fire, because fire is the seed and beginning of industry. [De Septen. 7.] The servant of the house may not work [De Septen. 6.], because on this day he shall have a taste of freedom and humanity, and he will work the more cheerfully during the remaining six days. Some rabbis later, when numbers of Gentiles had adopted this without the other institutions of Judaism, claimed the Sabbath as the special heritage of Israel; and in the book of Jubilees [Ch. 2. 31.] it is said that Israel alone has the right to observe the Sabbath. Not so Philo, who, desiring to give the day a value for all, regards it as God’s covenant with the whole of humanity. [Comp. De Migr. 23.]
The Sabbath idea is reflected in all the festivals, which have as their dominating idea man’s joyful gratitude to God. Influenced probably by a mystic fondness for certain numbers, Philo enumerates ten festivals, as follows [De Septen. 1. 2.]: (1) Each day in the year, if we use it aright—a truly Philonic conception; (2) The Sabbath; (3) The new moon—then in Alexandria, as in Palestine, a solemn day; (4) The Passover; (5) The bringing of the first barley (‘Omer); (6) The Feast of Unleavened Bread. These last three are separate aspects of one celebration, which is divided up so as to produce the holy decad. (7) Pentecost; (8) New Year; (9) Atonement (to the mystic the Feast of feasts); (10) Tabernacles. Following his design of revealing in Judaism a religion of universal validity, Philo points out in all these festivals a double meaning. On the one hand, they mark God’s providence to His chosen people, shown in some great event of their history—this is the special meaning for the Israelite—and, on the other, they indicate God’s goodness as revealed in the march of nature, and thus help to bind man to the universal process. So Passover is the festival of the spring and a memorial of the creation (hseml rkz tysarb) as well as the memorial of the great Exodus, and of our gratitude for the deliverance from the inhospitable land of Egypt. And those who look for a deeper moral meaning may find in it a symbol of the passing over from the life of the senses to the life with God. Similarly, Philo deals with the other festivals [De Septen. 18 ff.], and in their particular ceremonies he finds symbols which stamp eternal lessons of history and of morality upon our hearts. The unleavened bread is the mark of the simple life, the New Year Shofar of the Divine rule of peace, the Sukkot booth of the equality of all men, and, as he puts it elsewhere, of man’s duty in prosperity to remember the troubles of his past, so that he may worthily recognize God’s goodness. Much of this may appear trite to us; and the association of the festivals with the seasons of nature may to some appear a false development of historical Judaism; nevertheless Philo’s treatment of this part of the Torah is notable. It shows remarkable feeling for the ethical import of the law, and it establishes the harmony between the Greek and Hebrew conceptions of the Deity by combining the God of history with the God of nature in the same festival. The ideas were not unknown to Palestinian rabbis; Philo, by giving them a Greek dress, opened them to the world.
Equally remarkable and equally suggestive is Philo’s treatment of the dietary laws. We have seen that he placed them under the governing principle of the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” or, more broadly, “Thou shalt not have base desires.” The dietary laws are at once a symbol and a discipline of temperance and self-control. We know that the Greeks, as soon as they had a superficial knowledge of Jewish observance, jeered at the barbarous and stupid superstition of refusing to eat pork. Again we are told in the letter of the false Aristeas that when Ptolemy’s ambassadors went to Jerusalem, to summon learned men to translate the Torah into Greek, Eleazar, the high priest, instructed them in the deeper moral meaning of the dietary laws. Further, in the fourth book of the Maccabees—an Alexandrian sermon upon the Empire of Right Reason—we find an eloquent defense of these same laws as the precepts of reason which fortify our minds. Philo, then, is following a tradition, but he improves upon it. Accepting the Platonic psychology, which divided the soul into reason, temper (i. e., will), and desire, he shows how the aim of the Mosaic law about food is to control desire and will, so as to make them subservient to reason. By practicing self-restraint in the two commonest actions of life—eating and drinking—the Israelite acquires it in all things. The hard ascetic who would root out bodily desires errs against human nature, but the wise legislator controls them and curbs them by precepts, so that they are bent to the higher reason. Modern apologists for Judaism have been found who, trying to force science to support their tottering faith, allege that the dietary law is hygienic. Philo relies on no such treacherous reed. We may not eat, he says [De Concupisc. 1-3.], the flesh of the pig or shell-fish, not because they are unhealthy, but because they are the sweetest and most delightful of all food, and for that very reason they are marks of the sensual life. This and this alone is the true religious justification of the dietary law.
In this way, by showing how the letter represents the spirit, Philo fulfills the law; his religion is liberal in thought, conservative in practice. He sees clearly that to throw off the law and reject tradition involves in the end chaos and the overthrow of righteousness. And certain Christian—and other—theologians, if one may make bold to say so, fail to realize the spirit of Philo, when they speak of him as a man who approached the light, but was too tied down by the old traditions to receive the full illumination. Rather is it true that the Jewish aspiration of “freedom under the law,” or spirit through the letter, is absolutely fundamental in Philo, and loyalty to the Torah is a guiding principle in his religious outlook. He asserts it clearly and strikingly, not only in his ethical commentary on the law, but in his philosophical allegories. Both passages deserve quotation, since they mark the fundamental contrast between Philo and non-Jewish allegorists of the law. In the first Philo is commenting upon the command “Thou shalt not add to or take away from the law” (Deut. xix. 14). [Comp. De Just. II. 360.] He shows first how each of the virtues is marred by excess in either direction; virtue in fact, according to the Aristotelian formula, is “a mean.”
“And in the same way, if we add anything great or small to piety, the queen of virtues, or take anything away, we mar it and change its form. Addition will engender superstition, and diminution impiety, and true piety will disappear, which above all things we should pray for to enlighten our souls: for it is the cause of the greatest of goods, inducing in us a knowledge of our conduct towards God, which is a thing more royal and kingly than any public office or distinction. Further, Moses lays down another general command, ‘Do not remove the boundary stone of thy neighbor, which thy ancestors have set up.’ This, methinks, does not refer merely to inheritances and the boundary of land, but it is ordained with a view to the preservation of ancient customs. For customs are unwritten laws, the decrees of men of old, not carved indeed upon pillars and inscribed upon parchment, but engraved upon the souls of the generations who through the ages maintain the chosen community. Children should take over the paternal customs from their parents as part of their inheritance, for they were reared on them, and lived on them from their swaddling days, and they should not neglect them merely because the tradition is not written. The man who obeys the written laws is not, indeed, worthy of praise, for he may be constrained thereto by fear of punishment. But he who holds fast to the unwritten laws gives proof of a voluntary goodness and is worthy of our eulogy.”
Clearly he is arguing here for the observance of the oral law, which later was standardized in the Halakah.
In the other passage, which occurs in the philosophical book “On the Migration of Abraham,” [Ch. 16.] he sets forth the reason of the authority of the law with more argument, and controverts those who would allegorize away the ordinances.
“To whom, then, God has granted both to be and to seem good, he is truly happy and truly renowned. And we must have a great care for reputation, as a matter of great importance and of much value, for our social and bodily life. [By reputation Philo means reputation of being loyal Jews. He is addressing here an esoteric circle who, if they were lax, would bring philosophy into disrepute.] And almost all can secure it, who are well content not to disturb established customs, but diligently preserve the constitution of their nation. But there are some who, looking upon the written laws as symbols of intellectual things, lay great stress on these, but neglect the former. Such men I would blame for their shallowness of mind [ευχερεια]. For they ought to give good heed to both—to the accurate investigation of the unseen meaning, but also to the blameless observance of the visible letter. But now, as if they were living by themselves in a desert, and were souls without bodies, and knew nothing of city or village or house or intercourse with men, they despise all that seems valuable to the many, and search for bare and naked truth as it is in itself. Such people the sacred Scripture teaches to give good heed to a good reputation, and to abolish none of those customs which greater and more inspired men than we instituted in the past. For, because the seventh day teaches us symbolically concerning the power of the uncreated God, and the inactivity of the creature, we must not therefore abolish its ordinances, so as to light a fire, or till the ground, or bear a burden, or prosecute a lawsuit, or demand the restoration of a deposit, or exact the repayment of a loan, or do any other thing, which on week-days is allowed. Because the festivals are symbols of spiritual joy and of our gratitude to God, we must not therefore give up the fixed assemblies at the proper seasons of the year. Nor, because circumcision symbolizes the excision of all lusts and passions, and the destruction of the impious opinion according to which the mind imagines that it is itself capable of production, must we therefore abolish the law of fleshly circumcision. We should have to neglect the service of the temple, and a thousand other things, if we were to restrict ourselves only to the allegorical or symbolic sense. That sense resembles the soul, the other sense the body. Just as we must be careful of the body, as the house of the soul, so must we give heed to the letter of the written laws. For only when these are faithfully observed, will the inner meaning, of which they are the symbols, become more clearly realized, and, at the same time, the blame and accusation of the multitude will be avoided.” [I have taken this translation and that on the next page from Mr. Claude Montefiore’s Florilegium Philonis. Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. VII.]
Philo’s position is, then, that man on the one hand owes loyalty to his nation, and on the other is not only a creature of spirit, but has a body and bodily passions. He cannot, therefore, have a religion which is individual or merely spiritual, but he requires common forms and ceremonies that can bind him with the rest of the community, and train his body by good habit to obey his reason. We do not reach the spirit by denying but by obeying the letter. To the mere formal observance of the law and the unreasoning custom which blindly follows the practice of our fathers (συνηθεια) Philo is equally opposed, and he protests, with the earnestness of an Isaiah, against superstitious sacrifice and against the lip-service of the materialist. [Comp. De Ebr. 40, and De Spec. Leg. II. 414.]
“If a man practices ablutions and purifications, but defiles his mind while he cleanses his body; or if, through his wealth, he founds a temple at a large outlay and expense; or if he offers hecatombs and sacrifices oxen without number, or adorns the shrine with rich ornaments, or gives endless timber and cunningly wrought work, more precious than silver or gold—let him none the more be called religious (ευσεβης). For he has wandered far from the path of religion, mistaking ritual for holiness, and attempting to bribe the Incorruptible, and to flatter Him whom none can flatter. God welcomes genuine service, and that is the service of a soul that offers the bare and simple sacrifice of truth, but from false service, the mere display of material wealth, he turns away.”
Lot’s daughter, born of a pillar of stone, symbolizes this unthinking, hypertrophied religion; and custom, its mother, which always lags behind and has no seed of life, is the enemy of truth. The religious man pursueth righteousness righteously, the superstitious unrighteously.
Thus Philo holds the balance between a formless spirituality and an unspiritual formalism. The end of religious observance is the love of God, but the love of God requires more than feeling; it must impregnate life. Dubnow, in his summary of Jewish history, formulates an epigram, which, like most of its kind, becomes in its conciseness and pointed antithesis a half-truth. “At Jerusalem,” he says, “Judaism appeared as a system of practical ceremonies; at Alexandria as a complex of abstract symbols.” No doubt it is true that at Jerusalem the practical side of the law was most prominent, but the spiritual exaltation to which it should lead was appraised as the true end by the great rabbis. Witness Hillel, and indeed all the writers of the gnomic wisdom in the “Ethics of the Fathers.” At Alexandria, again, while the philosophical principle underlying the outward practice was especially emphasized, the practice itself was loyally observed, and its value perceived, by those who most thoroughly understood Judaism. Witness the writings of Philo, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the fourth book of the Maccabees. The antithesis between letter and spirit, faith and works, is in truth a false one; and wherever the significance of Judaism has been fully comprehended, the two aspects of the law have been inextricably intertwined. As Philo understood the Jewish mission, it was not merely to diffuse the Jewish God-idea, but quite as much to diffuse the Jewish attitude to God, the way of life. Abstract ideas, however lofty, can never be the bond of a religious community, nor can they be a safeguard for moral conduct. Sooner or later congregations must submit themselves to some law, be it a law of dogma, or be it a law of conduct. Antinomianism, the opposition to the law, to which Paul later gave powerful, even fanatical, expression, was a strong movement at Alexandria in Philo’s day. Preparatory to the spread of Christianity, numerous sects sprang up there which purported to follow a spiritual Judaism wherein the law was abrogated because, forsooth, its symbolism was understood! In the extreme allegorists, whom Philo attacks for their shallowness, one may discern the prototypes of the Cainites, Ophites, Melchizedecians, and the rest of the heretical parties that produced the religious chaos of the next centuries. From that welter of opinions there at last emerged dogmatic Christianity. The Christian reformers came to free man from the yoke of the law; but their successors imposed on the mind the fetters of dogma, and, in order to check the passions of the body, advocated renunciation and asceticism. So that not only Judaism as a system of belief, but Judaism as a system of life was lost in their handiwork. Spirituality lacking knowledge and allegorism in excess led to this result. In Philo they are controlled by affection for the Torah, and by a conviction of the need for national cohesion.
Philo is loyal to the Jewish tradition not only because he had a deep feeling for what a modern teacher has called the catholic conscience and the historical continuity of Judaism, but because his philosophy was based on a conviction that the Jewish religion was the truest guide to conduct and righteousness and to the love of God. To him, as to Plato and Aristotle, the law was the outward register of the moral ideal; the “word-and-deed symbols” of ceremonial and prayer were emblems indeed of moral principles, but at the same time they had an intrinsic value, in that they impressed these principles upon the mind, and brought belief and action into harmony. “Religion is law, not philosophy,” said Hobbes. With Philo, religion is law and philosophy. Thus the love of the Torah is of the essence of his religious thought. As he puts it in the exhortation to his fellow-ambassadors before Gaius [De Leg. II. 574.], “to die in defense of it is a kind of life.” In his philosophical Judaism he sought always for the universal and the spiritual, but so as always to increase the honor of the law, and not only of the law but of the customs of his ancestors, thinking with the Psalmist that “the Torah is a tree of life to those who keep fast hold of her, and those who support her are blessed.”