Philo of Alexandria Sought to Combine Greek Thought with Sacred Scripture

Born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, at the time home to the largest Jewish community in the Roman empire, Philo Judaeus (ca. 20 BCE-50 CE) was the first person to write a book about Jewish theology. Apparently holding him in high regard, Alexandrian Jews chose him to be part of a delegation to Emperor Caligula in 37 CE after a pogrom in that city. Gregory Sterling analyzes the central ideas of his work and its legacy:

Philo shared the goal of Platonic philosophers who . . . defined the goal of philosophy as “likeness to God.” His school and works were therefore about shaping the soul of students through virtue with the goal of enabling their minds to see beyond the temporal to the eternal. This framework gave Philo an opportunity to show how Greek philosophy was embedded in the texts written by Moses. Unlike some earlier Jewish authors—like the 2nd-century BCE Jewish philosopher Aristobulus—who used the “theft of philosophy” argument to make the case that the Greeks had stolen their best ideas from Moses, Philo preferred to argue that both Hellenistic philosophers and Moses understood reality alike, especially in their understanding of God.

At the same time, Philo was unambiguously and unashamedly Jewish. He did not comment on Plato’s treatises, but on Moses’ scrolls. He chastised a group of Jews who argued that laws such as circumcision or Sabbath observance were only symbols and therefore not essential. . . . Philo understood that the laws were markers of communal identity, an identity that he did not take lightly even if he agreed that the rituals were symbols pointing to more profound realities.

There is good reason to believe that Josephus knew and used some of his works when he wrote his histories in Rome. However, after Josephus, Philo disappears from Judaism. The next Jewish author who clearly used Philo was the 16th-century Azariah de’ Rossi, . . . who valued Philo but considered him heretical.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Ancient Egypt, ancient Judaism, Jewish Thought, Judaism, Philo, Philosophy

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf