Who was Philo?
Philo who, also known as Philo of Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia, "Philon", and Philo the Jew, was a popular and prominent Hellenistic Jewish Biblical philosopher. He took philosophical allegory to blend and integrate Greek philosophy and Jewish traditions in a harmonious manner. His techniques included Jewish exegesis as well as Stoic philosophy. The writings of Philo did not received great response. "The sophists of literalness," as he addressed them, “opened their eyes superciliously”, when he described to them his exegesis. He was the leader of the Alexandria’s Jewish community. His works gave easily understandable view of Judaism in the Diaspora. The philosophies of Philo were greatly influenced by Plato, Aristotle, the Neo-Pythagoreans, the Cynics, and Stoicism. He was the one to accomplish first effort to synthesize revealed faith and philosophic reason. The influence of his work was almost nil until modern period started. Also, Philo had a great impact on the church fathers Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Gregory of Nyssa of the third and fourth centuries A.D. Scholars gave mixed response on his methodology.
Philo Childhood and Early Life
Philo was born in 20 BCin Alexandria, most likely with the name Julius Philo. He descended from an aristocratic family who resided in Alexandria for numerous years. The ancestors and family of Philo encountered the period of Ptolemaic dynasty rule and Seleucid Empire rule. The names of his parents are not known but he belonged to noble, respectable and rich family. His father or paternal grandfather was given Roman citizenship from Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, though the exact information is unknown. Philo had two siblings named, Alexander the Alabarch and Lysimachus. His family had good social ties and was linked to the Priesthood in Judea; Hasmonean Dynasty; Herodian Dynasty and Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome. He was a contemporary to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the lives of The Apostles of Jesus but he did not mention any in his works. Philo and his brothers were well educated. They studied in the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria and Roman culture, up to an extent in Ancient Egyptian culture and specifically in the traditions of Judaism, in the study of Jewish traditional literature and in Greek philosophy.
The information about Philo is mainly taken by the writings of the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus. In his work “Antiquities of the Jews,” Josephus says Philo was elected by the Jewish community of Alexandria as the main representative before the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula. He informed that Philo accepted to represent the Alexandrian Jews in regard to civil disorder that had built up between the Jews and the Greeks in Alexandria. He further said that Philo was brilliant and quite skillful in philosophy, and that he was also a brother to an official named, Alexander the alabarch. Believing Josephus, Philo and most of the members of the Jewish community denied considering and treating the emperor as a God. Also they opposed to establish statues to pay gratitude to the emperor and to construct altars and temples to the emperor. According to Josephus, Philo believed that God actively cherished this denial.
Embassy to Gaius
Philo declared in his “Embassy to Gaius” that he was a part of an embassy which was sent by the Alexandrian Jews to the Roman Emperor Caligula. He said that he had a petition with him which explained the sufferings of the Jews of Alexandria and which requested the emperor to protect their rights. Philo described their sufferings in detail, in a manner that Josephus ignored, to maintain that the Jews of Alexandria were merely the victims of attacks by Alexandrian Greeks in the civil strife. Philo also explained that he was considered by his mass as having unique prudence because of his age, knowledge and education. This statement of Philo suggests that he was an older man at that time period, around 40 AD. Philo took the plan of Caligula to build a statue of him in the Jerusalem temple to be a provocation, writing, "Are you making war upon us, because you anticipate that we will not endure such indignity, but that we will fight on behalf of our laws, and die in defence of our national customs? For you cannot possibly have been ignorant of what was likely to result from your attempt to introduce these innovations respecting our temple." In his whole work, he completely stood with the Jewish commitment to rebel against the emperor.
In “Flaccus”, he indirectly said about his own life in the city by explaining how the condition of Alexandrian Jews in Egypt got transformed post Gaius Caligula became the Rome’s emperor. Addressing most of the Jewish in Egypt, Philo explained that Alexandria “had two classes of inhabitants, our own nation and the people of the country, and that the whole of Egypt was inhabited in the same manner, and that Jews who inhabited Alexandria and the rest of the country from the Catabathmos on the side of Libya to the boundaries of Ethiopia were not less than a million of men.” Also considering the huge population of the Jews in Alexandria, he said, "There are five districts in the city, named after the first five letters of the written alphabet, of these two are called the quarters of the Jews, because the chief portion of the Jews lives in them." Philo stated that Flaccus, the Roman governor over Alexandria, allowed a group of people to construct statues of the emperor Caius Caligula in Jewish synagogues of Alexandria which was an unprecedented provocation. This act of the synagogues was possibly stopped by force as Philo commented that Flaccus “was destroying the synagogues, and not leaving even their name.” In an answer, Philo wrote that Flaccus then “issued a notice in which he called us all foreigners and aliens... allowing any one who was inclined to proceed to exterminate the Jews as prisoners of war.”
Philo further exclaimed in response, that the mobs “drove the Jews entirely out of four quarters, and crammed them all into a very small portion of one ... while the populace, overrunning their desolate houses, turned to plunder, and divided the booty among themselves as if they had obtained it in war.” He added their enemies, “slew them and thousands of others with all kinds of agony and tortures, and newly invented cruelties, for wherever they met with or caught sight of a Jew, they stoned him, or beat him with sticks”. Further, he exclaimed, “the most merciless of all their persecutors in some instances burnt whole families, husbands with their wives, and infant children with their parents, in the middle of the city, sparing neither age nor youth, nor the innocent helplessness of infants.” Philo also explains that some men were brutally treated and dragged rigorously until they died, while “those who did these things, mimicked the sufferers, like people employed in the representation of theatrical farces”. Other Jews were tortured to death. Eventually, Flaccus was expelled from the office as well as from the place; ultimately he was given a punishment of death.
Philo died in 50 AD. The cause of his death is unknown yet.