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.

Read more at Marginalia

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

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7