Philo (20 BC – 50 AD), known also as Philo of Alexandria and as Philo Judeaus, was a Hellenized Jewish philosopher born in Alexandria, Egypt. The few biographical details concerning him are found in his own works, especially in Legatio ad Gaium, ("embassy to Gaius") and in Flavius Josephus (Antiquities xviii.8, § 1; comp. ib. xix.5, § 1; xx.5, § 2).
- 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.
- Embassy to Gaius, Chapter 28-31, Yonge's translation.
- A Judge must bear in mind that when he tries a case he is himself on trial.
- Special Laws, 1st century.
- It would be a sign of great simplicity to think that the world was created in six days, or indeed at all in time; [...] Time is a thing posterior to the world. Therefore it would be correctly said that the world was not created in time, but that time had its existence in consequence of the world. For it is the motion of the heaven that has displayed the nature of time.
- Allegories of the Sacred Laws (Legum allegoriae), Book I, §2; tr. C. D. Yonge, The works of Philo Judaeus (1854), Vol. 1, pp. 52–53.
On the Special Laws
translated by F. Colson (1939)
- Moses … denied to the members of the sacred commonwealth unrestricted liberty to use and partake of the other kinds of food. All the animals of land, sea or air whose flesh is the finest and fattest, thus titillating and exciting the malignant foe pleasure, he sternly forbade them to eat, knowing that they set a trap for the most slavish of the senses, the taste, and produce gluttony, an evil very dangerous both to soul and body.
- The holy Moses … discarded passion in general and detesting it, as most vile in itself and in its effects, denounced especially desire as a battery of destruction to the soul, which must be done away with or brought into obedience to the governance of reason, and then all things will be permeated through and through with peace and good order, those perfect forms of the good which bring the full perfection of happy living.
- Moses … takes one form of desire, that one whose field of activity is the belly, and admonishes and disciplines it as the first step, holding that the other forms will cease to run riot as before and will be restrained by having learnt that their senior and as it were the leader of their company is obedient to the laws of temperance.
- The road that leads to pleasure is downhill and very easy, with the result that one does not walk but is dragged along; the other which leads to self-control is uphill, toilsome no doubt but profitable exceedingly. The one carries us away, forced lower and lower as it drives us down its steep incline, till it flings us off on to the level ground at its foot; the other leads heavenwards the immortal who have not fainted on the way and have had the strength to endure the roughness of the hard ascent.
- The natural gravitation of the body pulls down with it those of little mind, strangling and overwhelming them with the multitude of the fleshly elements. Blessed are they to whom it is given to resist with superior strength the weight that would pull them down, taught by the guiding lines of right instruction to leap upward from earth and earth-bound things into the ether and the revolving heavens.
- There is no sweeter delight than that the soul should be charged through and through with justice, exercising itself in her eternal principles and doctrines and leaving no vacant place into which injustice can make its way.
- If one adds anything small or great to the queen of virtues, piety, or on the other hand takes something from it, in either case he will change and transform its nature. Addition will beget superstition and subtraction will beget impiety.
- 99- 101.
On the Virtues
translated by F. Colson (1939)
- But some, making no account of the wealth of nature, pursue the wealth of vain opinions. They choose to lean on one who lacks rather than one who has the gift of sight, and with this defective guidance to their steps must of necessity fall.
- We must mention the higher, nobler wealth, which does not belong to all, but to truly noble and divinely gifted men. This wealth is bestowed by wisdom through the doctrines and principles of ethic, logic and physic, and from these spring the virtues, which rid the soul of its proneness to extravagance, and engender the love of contentment and frugality, which will assimilate it to God. For God has no wants, He needs nothing, being in Himself all-sufficient to Himself, while the fool has many wants, ever thirsting for what is not there, longing to gratify his greedy and insatiable desire, which he fans into a blaze like a fire and brings both great and small within its reach. But the man of worth has few wants, standing midway between mortality and immortality.
- The health of the soul is to have its faculties, reason, high spirit and desire happily tempered, with the reason in command and reining in the other two, like restive horses. The special name of this health is temperance, that is σωφροσύνη or “thought-preserving,” for it creates a preservation of one of our powers, namely that of wise-thinking.
- If they are unwilling to give, they should at least lend with all readiness and alacrity, not with the prospect of receiving anything back except the principal. … In place of the interest which they determine not to accept they receive a further bonus of the fairest and most precious things that human life has to give, mercy neighborliness, charity, magnanimity, a good report and good fame. And what acquisition can rival these? Nay, even the great king will appear as the poorest of men if compared with a single virtue. For his wealth is soulless, buried deep in store-houses and recesses of the earth, but the wealth of virtue lies in the sovereign part of the soul, and the purest part of existence.
- Can we then hold the poverty-in-wealth of the money-grubbing usurers to be of any account? They may seem to be kings with purses full of gold, but they never even in their dreams have had a glimpse of the wealth that has eyes to see.
Every Good Man is Free
- As translated by F. Colson (Loeb Classical Library: 1941)
- Pythagoras teaches among other excellent doctrines this also, “walk not on the highways.” This does not mean that we should climb steep hills—the school was not prescribing foot-weariness—but it indicates by this figure that in our words and deeds we should not follow popular and beaten tracks.
- They in their desire for health commit themselves to physicians, but these people show no willingness to cast off the soul-sickness of their untrained grossness by resorting to wise men....
- Wisdom … never closes her school of thought but always opens her doors to those who thirst for the sweet water of discourse, and pouring on them an unstinted stream of undiluted doctrine, persuades them to be drunken with the drunkenness which is soberness itself.
- Bodies have men as their masters, souls their vices and passions.
- God and no mortal is my Sovereign.
- He who has God alone for his leader, he alone is free.
- If one looks with a penetrating eye into the facts, he will clearly perceive that no two things are so closely akin as independence of action and freedom, because the bad man has a multitude of encumbrances, such as love of money or reputation and pleasure, while the good man has none at all. He stands defiant and triumphant.
- The good man … has learnt to set at naught the injunctions laid upon him by those most lawless rulers of the soul, inspired as he is by his ardent yearning for the freedom whose peculiar heritage it is that it obeys no orders and works no will but its own.
- Homer often calls kings “shepherds of the people,” but nature more accurately applies the title to the good, since kings are more often in the position of the sheep than of the shepherd. They are led by strong drink and good looks and by baked meats and savory dishes and the dainties produced by cooks and confectioners, to say nothing of their craving for silver and gold and grander ambitions.
- But you say, “by obedience to another he loses his liberty.” How then is it that children suffer the orders of their father and mother, and pupils the injunctions of their instructors?
- The legislator of the Jews in a bolder spirit went to a further extreme and in the practice of his “naked” philosophy, as they call it, ventured to speak of him who was possessed by love of the divine.
- Those in whom anger or desire or any other passion, or again any insidious vice holds sway, are entirely enslaved, while all whose life is regulated by law are free. And right reason is an infallible law engraved not by this mortal or that and, therefore, perishable as he, nor on parchment slabs, and, therefore, soulless as they, but by immortal nature on the immortal mind, never to perish.
- One may well wonder at the short-sightedness of those who ignore the characteristics which so clearly distinguish different things and declare that the laws of Solon and Lycurgus are all-sufficient to secure the greatest of republics, Athens and Sparta, because their sovereign authority is loyally accepted by those who enjoy that citizenship, yet deny that right reason, which is the fountain head of all other law, can impart freedom to the wise, who obey all that it prescribes or forbids.
- We have a very clear evidence of freedom in the equality recognized by all the good in addressing each other.
- Nothing will a man rue more than refusal to listen to the wise.
- The majority, who through the blindness of their reason do not discern the damages which the soul has sustained, only feel the pain of external injuries, because the faculty of judgment, which alone can enable them to apprehend the damage to the mind, is taken from them.
- Nor is it a matter for wonder that the good do not appear herded in great thongs. First because specimens of great goodness are rare, secondly, because they avoid the great crowd of the more thoughtless and keep themselves at leisure for the contemplation of what nature has to show.
- What need is there of long journeying on the land or voyaging on the seas to seek and search for virtue, whose roots have been set by their Maker ever so near us, as the wise legislator of the Jews also says, “in thy mouth, in thy heart and in thy hand,” thereby indicating in a figure, words, thoughts and actions? All these, indeed, need the cultivator’s skill. Those who prefer idleness to labor, not only prevent the growths but also wither and destroy the roots. But those who consider inaction mischievous and are willing to labor, do as the husbandman does with fine young shoots. By constant care they rear the virtues into stems rising up to heaven, saplings ever blooming and immortal, bearing and never ceasing to bear the fruits of happiness, or as some hold, not so much bearing as being in themselves that happiness. These Moses often calls by the compound name of wholefruits. In the case of growths which spring from the earth, neither are the trees the fruit nor the fruit the trees, but in the soul’s plantation the saplings of wisdom, of justice, of temperance, have their whole being transformed completely into fruits.
- And yet these things for which we should strive eagerly, things so closely akin to ourselves, so truly our own, we treat with great slackness and constant indifference and thus destroy the germs of excellence, while those things in which deficiency were a merit we desire with an insatiable yearning.
- A far greater glory is it to the wise to die for freedom, the love of which stands in very truth implanted in the soul like nothing else, not as a casual adjunct but an essential part of its unity, and cannot be amputated without the whole system being destroyed as a result.
- Nature … has born and reared all men alike, and created them genuine brothers, not in mere name, but in very reality, though this kinship has been put to confusion by the triumph of malignant covetousness, which has wrought estrangement instead of affinity and enmity instead of friendship.
- Noble souls, whose brightness the greed of fortune cannot dim, have a kingly something, which urges them to contend on equal footing with persons of the most massive dignity and pits freedom of speech against arrogance.
- This too is a truth well known to everyone who has taken even a slight hold of culture, that freedom is an honorable thing, and slavery a disgraceful thing, and that honorable things are associated with good men and disgraceful things with bad men. Hence, it clearly follows that no person of true worth is a slave, though threatened by a host of claimants who produce contracts to prove their ownership.
- As parents in private life teach wisdom to their children, so do [poets] in public life to their cities.
- Diogenes the cynic, seeing one of the so-called freedmen pluming himself, while many heartily congratulated him, marveled at the absence of reason and discernment. “A man might as well,” he said, “proclaim that one of his servants became a grammarian, a geometrician, or musician, when he has no idea whatever of the art.” For as the proclamation cannot make them men of knowledge, so neither can it make them free.
Quotes about Philo
- There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish inhabitants and the Greeks; and three ambassadors were chosen out of each party that were at variance, who came to Gaius. Now one of these ambassadors from the people of Alexandria was Apion, (29) who uttered many blasphemies against the Jews; and, among other things that he said, he charged them with neglecting the honors that belonged to Caesar; for that while all who were subject to the Roman empire built altars and temples to Gaius, and in other regards universally received him as they received the gods, these Jews alone thought it a dishonorable thing for them to erect statues in honor of him, as well as to swear by his name. Many of these severe things were said by Apion, by which he hoped to provoke Gaius to anger at the Jews, as he was likely to be. But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, (30) and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius's words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself.
- Flavius Josephus (Jewish historian), Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.8, § 1, Whiston's translation. This is Josephus' complete account of Philo.
- Philo of Alexandria introduced in the first century what has been described as the 'Hellenizing of the Old Testament,' or the allegorical method of exegesis. By this, as Erdmann observes, the Bible narrative was found to contain a deeper, and particularly an allegorical interpretation, in addition to its literal interpretation; this was not conscious disingenuousness but a natural mode of amalgamating the Greek philosophic with the Hebraic doctrines.
- Many of the Christian writers grew up in communities where the teaching of the Stoics was all-pervasive in cultured circles. Through this philosophy they became familiar with the concept that "reason pervades all things like a fiery essence, and that the soul of man is a spark from this universal reason." Philo, chief exponent of the Alexandrian school of Judaism, who lived during the period 30 B.C.-50 A.D., was another channel through which Greek ideas flowed into the early [Christian] church. Philo attempted to combine Hebrew religion and Greek philosophy. He gave great impetus to the tendency to allegorize the Old Testament and to derive from it highly speculative ideas which became universal among Christian theologians. Philo's interpretation of the Greek term "Logos" profoundly affected Christian thought.
- So all pervasive indeed was this moral philosophy of the Stoics that it was read by the Jews of Alexandria into Moses under the veil of allegory and was declared to be the inner meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures.
- St. George William Joseph Stock, A Guide to Stoicism (1908), p. 5.
- The Works of Philo Judaeus, tr. Charles Duke Yonge, London, H. G. Bohn, 1854-1890. (Public Domain online text)