Philo’s Jewish Law

A full text of a PhD dissertation submitted in 2015:

Yedidya Etzion, Philo’s Jewish Law: Uncovering the Foundations of a Second-Temple System of Jewish Law

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in Near Eastern Studies.

The author presents his work thus:

Among Philo of Alexandria’s many writings, he dedicated quite-a-few treatises to the exposition of Jewish Law. The purpose of this dissertation is to identify what is distinctive in Philo’s approach towards Jewish law and to reveal the ideological, hermeneutical and practical considerations behind it. In addition, I have presented the study of Philo’s Jewish lawfrom a comparative point of view, introducing many Second-Temple –and especially rabbinic texts–in order to better understand the processes underlying the development of Jewish law in Late-Antiquity and Philo’s place in it. I analyze the relationship between Philo’s own different writings and genres such as law, narrative and allegory, as well.

The dissertation deals with five major halakhic subjects: the halakhic implications of both the Septuagint and Speech-Acts, Marital laws, The Sabbath, and the Temple Cult and Priesthood.

My examination of Philo’s law raises the following observations:

1.Philo reflects an internalization of Hellenistic concepts and values while implementing these concepts into distinctively Jewish practices. Occasionally, laws which were shaped by Greco-Roman concepts found their way into other halakhic corpora. This phenomenon attests to a process through which rabbinic traditions were influenced by Greek ideas through the agency of Jews like Philo.

2.At times, Philo shared certain halakhic traditions with other Palestinian corpora, while at others he reflected a totally independent approach. While in certain cases Philo’s independence can be accounted for by his essential, distinctive views in quite a few cases Philo represents an early stage in the development of halakha.

3.Philo’s formulation of Jewish law gives weight to ideological (predominantly Greek), exegetical and practical considerations. Among the exegetical considerations I identify several midrashic interpretations, some of which are similar to other Second-Temple and rabbinic traditions. This does not render Philo as “eclectic” but rather his approach is a typical example for the formulation of Jewish law in Late-Antiquity. Philo’s most distinctive feature with respect to Jewish law is his view of Jewish law as a cure against excessive desires (ἐπιθυμίας) through the exercise of self-control (ἐγκράτεια). While Philo lacks a conception of defined measures for the fulfillment of religious obligations, this is consistent with both the early stage Philo represents in the development of halakha and with the view of Jewish law as geared towards self-improvement, rather than appeasing or pleasing God.24. Philo indeed reflects certain sentiments, which could be characterized as “Diasporic”, but more than a representative of a Diasporic version of Judaism, Philo should be understood as a representative of Greek-Speaking Jews, a group which was part of the Social reality ofPalestine, as well. 5.Philo’s most distinctive feature with respect to Jewish law is his view of Jewish law as a cure against excessive desires (ἐπιθυμίας) through the exercise of self-control (ἐγκράτεια). While Philo lacks a conception of defined measures for the fulfillment of religious obligations, this is consistent with both the early stage Philo represents in the development of halakha and with the view of Jewish law as geared towards self-improvement, rather than appeasing or pleasing God.