WISDOM: Josephus and Philo

This is the first installment in a four-part series on early Jewish writings

Flavius Josephus, the historian, was born in Palestine about 38 A.D. He was of a priestly lineage and at the age of 16, he studied the Jewish sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Essenes, eventually becoming a Pharisee. He had taken a journey to Rome in about 64 A.D., at 26 years old, and knew firsthand of Rome’s power and might. He ultimately joined the revolt with the Jews against Rome about 66 A.D. and became commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee. After Rome defeated his army and Josephus had, sadly, become one of the few survivors of the Jewish massacre, he was arrested by the Roman General, Vespasian, and then set free again in 69 A.D.

During these events, Josephus had come to know Vespasian and predicted correctly that he would eventually become emperor of Rome. Vespasian did, in fact, become the first of the Flavian family of emperors. This resulted in Josephus receiving his full identifying name, Flavius Josephus. Josephus received Roman citizenship and at that time began writing a lengthy account of early Jewish history.

Josephus is probably considered as the father of early Jewish history, but he was an eminent philosopher, as well. These writings include his life’s major work, “The Antiquities of the Jews.” This monumental piece was written in 20 volumes and appeared in 94 A.D., covering Jewish history from Adam to the emergence of early Christianity. If you read his writings, do not skip over lightly the words of Josephus when he records the historical events surrounding “Jesus, a wise man,” which occur in book 18 of “The Antiquities Of The Jews.”

Philo of Alexandria, theologian and philosopher, was born about 20 B.C., a descendant of the tribe of Levi. He was a contemporary of Josephus, who speaks of him as one of the most eminent of his Jewish countryman of that day. Philo wrote primarily during the reigns of the Roman emperors Caligula and Claudius, from about 20 to 55 A.D. He had been educated not only in the Jewish tradition, but also in Greek studies, especially philosophy. His primary residence was Alexandria, which, next to Athens, was at that time the second-most prominent city for theological and philosophical thought. Alexandria had become a center for learned Jews who, at that time, made up half of the population of the city. The library at Alexandria was becoming world renowned.

In his theological persuasion, Philo appears to have been a Pharisee. He, was perhaps, one of the first to attempt to reconcile the doctrines of the academic Greek philosophers with the revelation of God, as contained in the Hebrew scriptures. Philo did for the early Jewish community in the first few centuries what many of the early Christian fathers were attempting to do for their religion, which was to come to terms with a Hellenized world.

The influence of Philo’s writings extended well beyond the Jewish community and influenced many Christian philosophers and theologians, as well (Origen, for one). His works depict an allegorical interpretation of the scriptures. In his writings on the Logos, which appear to be independent of the Logos writings in the first chapter of the Christian Gospel of John, describing Jesus as, “The Word of God,” and the fullness of wisdom; Philo speaks to the radiation of the Logos from the One God, and then relates God to man.

This appears to have had considerable influence on most of the later Jewish writings on the personification of wisdom. It also had tremendous bearing on all of the Jewish and Christian gnosticism that would follow after Philo, all the way down to the Kaballah. Whatever can be said of him, one thing is certain; the Jewish theologian/philosopher Philo’s writings definitely portray a strong and lively Jewish faith in a loving, wise, and omnipotent God.

From the time of Philo, who is considered the first Jewish philosophical theologian, Jewish thought would develop up to the middle ages along the lines of both talmudism (the rabbi’s commentaries on moral and religious law) and mysticism (gnosticism and underground Kabbalism). It would not be until the translations from Greek into Arabic, in the medieval Muslim world of Mohammedan Spain, that Greek philosophy would be made generally available to Jewish (or Christian) thinkers and theologians once again.

Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com, or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net. Read Michael Hickey’s poems online at marconews.com/news/islander.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features