Philo of Alexandria  (20 BC-50)

Philo of Alexandria is an interesting character. He is claimed by modern Gnostics, Philosophers and to some extent Christians.  In truth he probably should not be listed among the Gnostic teachers but he is here because I first learned of him when looking at Gnostisism.  He was a Hellenized Jew (a Jew educated and immersed in Greek culture) who produced what is thought by some to be the first to attempt to combine Hebrew mystical thought with Greek philosophical thought.  According to some he developed a speculative and philosophical justification for Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy. According to others he departed from his Jewish roots to produce an unhappy hybrid that was more philosophical than faithful.  His writings were not preserved in Jewish circles.  They were preserved by the Church. 

The Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c 263 – 339) labeled the monastic ascetic group of Therapeutae and Therapeutrides, described in Philo's The Contemplative Life, as Christians.  (Modern scholars say that it is highly unlikely that they were Christians.) Eusebius also says that Philo met Peter in Rome. Jerome (345-420) even lists him as a church Father.

In his melding of Hebrew and Greek thought he taught:

  • The teachings of Moses, were "the summit of philosophy."
  • He considered Moses the teacher of Pythagoras (b. ca 570 B.C.) and of all Greek philosophers and lawgivers (Hesiod, Heraclitus, Lycurgus, to mention a few).
  • Greek philosophy was a natural development of the revelatory teachings of Moses.

There is apparently a longer tradition in some of this as before Philio some Jewish scholars attempted the same. Artapanus in the second century B.C. identified Moses with Musaeus and with Orpheus. According to Aristobulus of Paneas (first half of the second century B.C.), Homer and Hesiod drew from the books of Moses which were translated into Greek long before the Septuagint.

Philosophers today say that Philo produced a synthesis of Jewish and Greek traditions developing concepts for future Hellenistic interpretation of messianic Hebrew thought, especially by Clement of Alexandria, Christian Apologists like Athenagoras, Theophilus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and by Origen. Modern scholars think that he may have influenced Paul, his contemporary, and perhaps the authors of the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. If this is true, he laid the foundations for the development of the rational approach to Christianity that is common today.

The Gnostics point to Philio's teaching as foundational and the fact that he seems to have been accepted by the early church as something of a legitimizing connection of Gnostisism to orthodox Christianity.   

Christians of today acknowledge that the teachings of Philio were extant during the New Testament time without necessarily accepting that his influence was foundational (Kelly 1978).  If Philio were reacting to the intellectual climate around him and trying to find common ground that is substantially different than allowing his thinking to be influenced.  Similarly we see the apostle Paul using examples from Greek philosophy when that is the appropriate frame of reference for his audience.

Christianity has a wider appeal than just a single culture, people or time. Communicating the Gospel across cultures has necessitated the borrowing of certain vocabulary and ideas.  That is the relationship that the orthodox claim with Greek Philosophy generally and Philio in particular.

(  4/10/08)


Hesiod, (8th century BC)

Hesiod lived about the same time or shortly after Homer. Hesiod worked as a shepherd in the mountains, as a youth, and then, as a small peasant on a hard land when his father died. While tending his flock on Mt. Helicon, the Muses appeared to Hesiod in a mist. This mystical experience impelled Hesiod to write epic poetry.  He is credited by Herodotus as having given the Greeks their gods.  He is also said to be the originator didactic (instructive and moralizing) poetry. 

His poetry codified the chronology and genealogy of the Greek myths. Works and Days and the Theogony are the only two complete works we have of Hesiod, other than the first few lines of a poem called the Shield of Heracles.  (Some say that Shield of Heracles is a fragment of the Iliad.)

In Works and Days Hesiod divided time into five ages:--the Golden age, ruled by Cronos, when people lived extremely long lives 'without sorrow of heart'; the Silver age, ruled by Zeus; the Bronze age, an epoch of war; the Heroic age, the time of the Trojan war; and lastly the Iron age, the corrupt present. This is similar to Hindu and Buddhist concepts of the Kali Yuga. (The cycle of Yugas underlies the Dharmic understanding of time as cyclical.) The idea of a Golden Age has likewise had a profound impact on western thought. Works and Days also discusses pagan ethics, extols hard work, and lists lucky and unlucky days of the month for various activities.

The Theogony presents the descent of the gods, and, along with the works of Homer, is one of the key source documents for Greek mythology; it is the Genesis of Greek mythology. It gives the clearest presentation of the Greek pagan creation myth, starting with the creatrix goddesses Chaos and Earth, from whom descended all the gods and men; it mentions hundreds of individual gods, goddesses, demi-gods, elementals and heroes. 3/4/12 3/4/12


Heraclitus, (active around 500 BC)

Heraclitus propounded a distinctive theory which he expressed in oracular language. He is best known for his doctrines that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. The exact interpretation of these doctrines is controversial, as is the inference often drawn from this theory that in the world as Heraclitus conceives it contradictory propositions must be true.

Heraclitus famous saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice."  I used to illustrate his notion of flux (because the river is flowing a man never steps in the same water.)  He believed in the unity of opposites, stating that "the path up and down are one and the same", all existing entities being characterized by pairs of contrary properties. His cryptic utterance that "all entities come to be in accordance with this Logos" (literally, "word", "reason", or "account") has been the subject of numerous interpretations. 3/4/12 3/4/12


Lycurgus (c.820–730 BC?) was the legendary lawgiver, founder or reformer of Sparta.  Many are unsure whether his is actually an historical person. (He is said to be a descendant of Hercules.)  His reforms were directed towards the three Spartan virtues: equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity. 3/4/12 3/4/12


Artapanus was a Helenized or perhaps Helenizing Jew who lived in Alexandria in the second century B.C. He wrote a history of the Jews.  His writings only survive as quotations in other works notably the church-fathers Eusebius ("Præparatio Evangelica," ix. 18, 23) and Clement of Alexandria ("Stromata," i. 23, 154).  Many believe that Josephus made use of Artapanus' work in construction his History of the Jews.  The Jewish Encyclopedia is not too flattering in its assessment of Artapanus, but this excerpt illustrates the point made by Philio:

Artapanus evidently belonged to that narrowminded circle of Hellenizing Jews that were unable to grasp what was truly great in Judaism, and, therefore, in their mistaken apologetic zeal—for even in those early days Judaism had its opponents among the Hellenes—set about glorifying Judaism to the outer world by inventing all manner of fables concerning the Jews. As an illustration of this method, the following account of Moses will serve. According to Artapanus (Eusebius, Præparatio Evangelica ix. 27), Moses is he whom the Greeks called Musæus; he was, however, not (as in the Greek legend) the pupil, but the teacher, of Orpheus. Wherefore Moses is not only the inventor of many useful appliances and arts, such as navigation, architecture, military strategy, and of philosophy, but is also—this is peculiar to Artapanus—the real founder of the Greek-Egyptian worship. By the Egyptians, whose political system he organized, Moses was called Hermes ("because he expounded the writings of the priests").

Among other embellishments he has Abraham teaching Astrology to Pharaoh further  that Egyptian culture, including idolatry and polytheism, was shaped by Abraham, Joseph and Moses. 3/10/12 3/10/12


Musaeus is perhaps more legend than historical.  He was a philosopher, historian, prophet, seer, priest, poet, and musician.  He is said to have been the founder of priestly poetry in Attica.  He is mentioned by Plato as a prophet and in the Apology Socrates says, "What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again."  Indicating that he is considered foundational. 3/10/12 3/10/12


Orpheus was the son of Calliope and either Oeagrus or Apollo. He was the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth.  His songs could charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. Once when Orpheus was playing his splendid music in the forest, the oak trees pulled up their roots. They followed him down the mountainside and planted themselves by the seashore where Orpheus ended his song. He was one of the Argonauts, and when the Argo had to pass the island of the Sirens, it was Orpheus' music which prevented the crew from being lured to destruction. 3/10/12 3/10/12



Aristobulus of Paneas (ca 160 bc) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of the Peripatetic (followers of Aristotle) school, though he also used Platonic and Pythagorean concepts. Like Philo, he attempted to fuse ideas in the Hebrew Scriptures with those in Greek thought. 

He was among the earliest of the Jewish Alexandrian philosophers whose aim was to reconcile and identify Greek philosophical conceptions with the Jewish religion. Only a few fragments of his work, apparently entitled Commentaries on the Writings of Moses, are quoted by the Church Fathers; Clement and Eusebius; and other theological writers, but they suffice to show what it was about.

Aristobulus was among many philosophers of his day who argued that the essentials of Greek philosophy and metaphysics were derived from Jewish sources. Philosopher Numenius of Apamea echoes this position in his well known statement "What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?" (1.150.4) Aristobulus maintained, 150 years earlier than Philo, that not only the oldest Grecian poets, Homer, Hesod, Orpheus, etc., but also the most celebrated Greek thinkers, especially Plato, had acquired most of their wisdom from Jewish sages and ancient Hebrew texts (Gfrorer i. p. 308, also ii. 111-118) (Eusebius citing Aristobulus and Numenius Ev ix. 6, xi. 10). 3/10/12 3/10/12