I just finished reading C.D. Yonge’s translation of The Works of Philo. I have been interested in Philo for some time and have even taken a course on Philo in the religious studies department at McMaster University.
For those who do not know much about Philo, he was an Alexandrian Jew who lived from 25 BC to 50 AD. He was a philosopher who interpreted the Hebrew Bible in an allegorical manner through the lens of Platonic philosophy. Most of his works are allegorical commentaries, although he does give us an account of his embassy to Emperor Gaius (Caligula).
I believe that reading Philo is important for the following reasons:
- Philo provides a glimpse of a kind of Judaism not found in the works of the rabbis or the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- He lived at the same time as Jesus and gives us some idea of the culture of the time, even though Philo was not active in Galilee or Judea.
- There are some similarities between Philo and the New Testament book of Hebrews. This has suggested to some that the author of Hebrews was also from Alexandria (possibly Apollos).
- Some readers have been uncomfortable with the liberties that the Apostle Paul takes in interpreting the Hebrew Bible. Philo’s interpretation is far more radical and makes Paul look very conservative in comparison.
- For those interested in ancient philosophy, Philo offers a glimpse of how some people were using Plato during the first century.
- Philo was an inspiration for some early Christians in blending philosophy with Christianity. It was Christians and not Jews who passed on and copied Philo.
Philo is not always easy to read but he is a tremendous resource for those interested in ancient religion and philosophy.