Philo of Alexandria’s treatise De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini offers a rich example of his theology and soteriology. The majestic God of De sacrificiis is transcendent, omnipresent, and absolutely unique. Anthropomorphic and anthropopathic conceptions of God also are memorably discussed and dismissed. Standing in tension with these ontological characteristics are relational attributes of God, which often are expressed in redemptive acts. Thus, the merciful God of De sacrificiis ‘transcends his transcendence’, and compassionately reaches out to humans in need. A full array of soteriological themes populate the pages of the treatise, including the war against the passions, the allegory of the soul, transformative revelatory experiences, salvific worship, contemplative ascent, and the vision of God. Furthermore, the agential acts and roles played by God and humans are complexly intertwined, demonstrating a sophisticated, experientially informed soteriology. Though these important Philonic themes typically are interpreted thematically and systemically, thus ‘ironing out’ any idiosyncrasies, this essay closely attends to the particular thought of this treatise. As a consequence, unique elements and emphases emerge, which in addition to distinctive depictions of divine compassion and soteriological agency, include a Stoic emphasis on reason, the relative absence of mediatorial figures, and a rare portrayal of an unequivocal visio Dei.

The Book of Exodus in Philo

Sean A. Adams, ‘The Book of Exodus in Philo of Alexandria,’ in: Beate Kowalski and Susan Docherty, eds., Let my People go: The Reception of Exodus Motifs in Jewish and Christian Literature. Themes in Biblical Narrative, Vol 30. Leiden: Brill, 2021, pp. 177-192.

Intro: “The book of Exodus and its interpretation are prominent in Philo’s corpus. So frequently did Philo cite or allude to this book that few scholars have attempted to discuss this topic as a whole. A full discussion of Philo’s engagement with Exodus is not possible in the limits of this study. In this chapter, I begin with a general discussion of the reception of the Exodus narratives in Philo’s writings. From this broad overview, I divide my study into two parts. The first focuses on specific instances where Exodus material is employed by Philo across multiple treatises and the second examines how specific Exodus passages are interpreted by Philo in the Allegorical Commentary. The chapter concludes with a reflection on how Exodus was used by Philo as part of his wider practice of interpreting the works of Moses.”

The book is to be published in October 2021; Hardback and E-Book (pdf).

Philo on LegAll 3,169-178

New article on Philo recently published:

Beatrice Wyss, ‘Die Brotrede Philons aus Alexandreia in Legum Allegoriae 3,169-178,’ Early Christianity vol 12.2, 2021, pp. 200-227.

Summary: “In Leg.3.169–178, Philo of Alexandria gives a dense and concise sketch of his theory of the logos. In this essay, first I show the scriptural basis of Philo’s interpretation of manna as God’s word or logos (Leg.3.173–174). Second, I offer a running commentary of Leg.3.169–178, discussing different aspects of Philo’s theory of the logos hinted at in this passage. In the Jewish scriptures, Philo found God’s word as active in the process of creation and identical with God’s law and as a chastising force, each aspects he includes in his theory of the logos. Furthermore, he adds the pagan concept of Hermes as Zeus’s word, Zeus’s son, and Zeus’s messenger (e. g., Cornutus 16). Sapiential literature is important here, because Philo uses and reworks crucial concepts of God’s wisdom in his theory of the logos (as already shown by Burton Mack). Third, I demonstrate the liturgical setting of Philo’s exegesis, namely Passover (Leg. 1.165) and Yom Kippur (3.174). Fourth, I situate Philo’s exegesis in Leg.3.169–178 in a wider context within his exegesis of Exodus, arguing that Israel’s exodus out of Egypt is to be understood as an encounter with God’s logos in different dimensions. The essay concludes with a few remarks about John 6:22–58. I propose that Philo’s exegesis in Leg.3.169–178 provides hermeneutical assistance toward amore accurate understanding of this New Testament passage.”

Some recent articles on Philo

Bednarek, T. (2021). “Philo of Alexandria, De Cherubim (1-39)”. Vox Patrum, 79, 505-522. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31743/vp.9683

Niehoff, M. R. (2021). “A Roman Portrait of Abraham in Paul’s and Philo’s Later Exegesis”. Novum Testamentum, 63(4), 452-476. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/15685365-12341713

Yli-Karjanmaa, S. (2021). “Hiding One’s Tolerance: Cyril of Alexandria’s Use of Philo”. Lehtipuu, O., Labahn, M. (eds.), Tolerance, Intolerance, and Recognition in Early Christianity and Early Judaism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 169-194. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9789048535125-009

Yli-Karjanmaa, S. (2021). “Returning from the Diaspora of the Soul: Eschatology in Philo of Alexandria”. Marlow, H., Pollman, K. & van Noorden, H. (eds.), Eschatology in Antiquity: Forms and Functions (Rewriting Antiquity). Londres: Routledge. ISBN 9781138208315

Vibe,  Klaus, ‘Freedom from Necessity in Philo of Alexandria’s Ethical Thought’, JGRChJ 17 (2021), pp. 9-37

Wasserman, E. (2021). “Philosophical cosmology and religious polemic: The “worship of creation” in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and the Wisdom of Solomon”. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 31(1), 6–28. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/09518207211041308

Philo and Josephus on the Fidelity of Judeans

Eyl, J. (2021). “Philo and Josephus on the Fidelity of Judeans”. Journal of Ancient Judaism, 1, 1-28.

Abstract: “The first century sees a substantial rise in the frequency with which Greek speaking authors discuss pistis(here, understood as fidelity, trust, confidence, proof). The authors who use pistis the most include Philo, Paul, and Josephus. This suggests that while many people are thinking about fidelity, ethnic Judeans are thinking about it disproportionately. This essay focuses on two such authors, Philo and Josephus. I argue that both Judeans claim fidelity to be a foundational national-ethnic characteristic, from the patriarchs to their own day. Furthermore, the article argues that this image of enduring Judean fidelity can be better understood within the context of living under the colonizing power of Rome – a principate that is equally preoccupied with fidelity (fides).”

Private Associations and Jewish Communities

In a recent web ‘edition’ of Review of Biblical Literature (http://www.bookreviews.org) John S. Kloppenborg has a review of a book published in 2019 on ancient associations:

Benedikt Eckhardt, ed.
Private Associations and Jewish Communities in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities
Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 191
Leiden: Brill, 2019. Pp. vi + 227. Cloth. $126.00

This volume also contains an article on Philo which especially caught my interest: Kimberley Czajkowski’s “Jewish Associations in Alexandria?” (pp. 76–96), as I myself had an article  published on Philo and the associations as far back as in 1995 (T. Seland, ‘Philo and the clubs and associations of Alexandria,’ in John S. Kloppenborg & Stephen G. Wilson, ed., Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World. London/New York: Routledge, 110-145). As far as I have been able to observe, not much have been written on Philo and the associations in recent years; hence another study is welcome. Alas, however, I have not been able to see this new article/volume as my access to libraries are somewhat restricted by location. But Kloppenborg evaluates Czajkowskis’s contribution thus:

Kimberley Czajkowski’s “Jewish Associations in Alexandria?” (76–96) makes several critical points for understanding Philo’s polemic against synodoi and thiasoi in Flaccus. Politeuma were, in the first place, fiscal rather than strictly ethnic associations. Hence, the Judean politeumata in Alexandria and elsewhere (and the Phygian and Lycian politeumata) were not co-terminus with the entire Judean (or Phrygian, Lycian) populations of Egyptian cities. With the Roman reduction of Egypt to a province, the politeumata, originally military settlements, lost their public and military features and became essentially private associations. If some Judeans in Alexandria were constituted as a politeuma, as the Letter of Aristeas (§310) claims, these would have similarly been reduced to the status of private associations. It is in this context that Czajkowski discusses Philo’s polemic against thiasoi and synodoi, arguing that Philo was exercised to assert that Judean synodoi were not associations that merely used the pretext of religion to have drunken orgies. They genuinely assembled religionis causa and hence constituted collegia licita that should not
fall under Flaccus’s ban on associations.

It should be mentioned that this volume also contains another article that might touch upon Philo: “Les communautés juives de la Diaspora dans le droit commun des associations du monde gréco-romain” (97–114).

Hopefully, I will be able to get my hands on that article/volume in not a too distant future.


Studia Philonica 2019

The Studia Philonica Annual 2019 is out! The Studia Philonica Annual is a scholarly journal devoted to the study of Hellenistic Judaism, particularly the writings and thought of the Hellenistic-Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria. This volume includes articles on allegory, Platonic interpretations of the law, rhetoric, and Philo’s thoughts on reincarnation. The present volume is, as almost always, edited by David T. Runia and Gregory E. Sterling. Price: $59.00. A lot of interesting articles; everyone who wants to keep up with what is going on in Philo research will need to check out the Studia Philonica at least once a year! 🙂 

Abraham Terian, Philo about the Contemplative Life: Conybeare Revisited p. 1
Mikolaj Domaradzki, The Value and Variety of Allegory: A Glance at
Philo’s De Gigantibus, p. 13
Gábor Buzási, Pilpul and Eros: Philo’s Platonic Interpretation of the Law
Concerning the Garment Taken in Pledge (De Somniis 1.92–114) p. 29
Ekaterina Matusova, Genesis 1–2 in De Opificio Mundi and Its Exegetical Content . P. 57
Beatrice Wyss, Philo of Alexandria: Interpreter or Teacher? p. 95
David T. Runia, Is Philo Committed to the Doctrine of Reincarnation? p.107
Thomas R. Blanton IV, The Expressive Prepuce: Philo’s Defense of Judaic Circumcision in Greek and Roman Contexts .p. 127
Alexander E. Stewart, The Rhetorical Use of Divine Threat in Philo of Alexandria p. 163
Everett Ferguson, Philo and the Fathers on Music p. 185
Ze’ev Strauss, Solomon Judah Rapoport’s Maskilic Revival of Philo of Alexandria: Rabbi Yedidya Ha-Alexandri as a Pioneer of Jewish Philosophy p. 201

I addition, there are – as always- a Bibliography Section and a Bookreviews Section.

Philo of Alexandria on the Twelve Olympian Gods

A new article is published in a Journal of which I have not, alas, access to, but here is some info about it: Geert Roskam, ‘Philo of Alexandria on the Twelve Olympian Gods,’ Classical World, 112,3 (2019) pp. 169-192. Publishers Abstract: “The importance of pagan philosophy and literature for Philo’s thinking has long been acknowledged. What is less studied, however, is his attitude towards the individual gods of the Greek pantheon, and this is the topic of the present article. After a brief discussion of Philo’s critical stance towards Greek polytheism in general, a first survey of relevant material is provided that already allows for a few provisional conclusions. This is followed by a more detailed analysis of the argumentative strategies which Philo uses while dealing with the Olympian gods. This analysis shows that Philo adopted a quite sophisticated and strategic position towards the Olympians: while there can be little doubt about his negative view, he as a rule avoids straightforward criticism of particular gods and prefers to either ignore them or cleverly reorient them towards his own Scriptural perspective.”  

Philo and Josephus on Sarah

Two Finnish(?) scholars have recently published an article on how Philo and Josephus deal with the figure of Sarah:

Hanna Tervanotko & Elisa Uusimäki, “Sarah the Princess: Tracing the Hellenistic Afterlife of a Pentateuchal Female Figure,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 32/2 (2018): 271–290.

The Abstract runs like this:

This article analyses Philo of Alexandria’s and Josephus Flavius’s interpretations of Sarah from the viewpoint of social and political power attached to her. Both ascribe the figure royal attributes (i.e., she is depicted as a princess or queen) and other features that promote her as a virtuous model and an individual of public standing. A variety of emphases, philological and philosophical interpretations alike, jointly serve to construct Sarah’s exemplarity. The aim of this article is to demonstrate that different dimensions of biblical female figures may be revealed when their role as spouses and mothers is not taken as the starting point of analyses in studies concerning the reception history of biblical women.