PHILO

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PHILO ; a learned Jewish author, who flourished in the first century of the Christian era, in the reign of the emperor Caligula. He was born some years before Christ, in Alexandria, where he was educated, and distinguished himself by his proficiency in eloquence, philosophy, and a knowledge of the sacred writings. With the writings of Plato, whose philosophy was at that time in the highest repute in Alexandria, he made himself intimately acquainted, and he adopted his doctrines so completely, that it was said of him, Philo platonizes. From the time of the Ptolemies the Jews had borrowed the use of allegories from their Egyptian neighbors, and thus imbibed Platonic and Pythagorean doctrines, which they treated as the hidden and symbolical sense of their own law. Thus,without having the appearance of being indebted to the heathen philosophers, they could make an arbitrary use of their systems. These systems were likewise mixed with various Oriental theories, in particular respecting the nature of God. Philo zealously studied this philosophy, then so popular in Alexandria ; and either because he did not sufficiently understand the Jewish doctrines, or because he was not satisfied with the literal sense of the Mosaic law, he mingled Platonic dogmas with the holy scriptures, and ascribed them to Moses. Probably he followed the example of the Essenes and Therapeutee, of whom he always spoke with great esteem, though he did not adopt their mode of life. He considered God and matter as coeternal principles ; God as the primitive light, from whose rays all finite intelligences proceed. The understanding or wisdom of God {Xoyog), he called also the Son of God, his image, according to which God, by his creative power, produced the material world. He founds our knowledge of God upon intuition. On account of these doctrines, Bouterwek considers him as one of the first Alexandrian New Platonists. Philo perfected himself also in eloquence, and acquired a knowledge of public affairs, in which his fame was so great that he was sent by his countrymen, in the year 42, at the head of an embassy to Rome, to defend the Jews against the calumnious accusations of Apion and others. Caligula would not admit the embassy into his presence, and Philo was even in danger of losing his life. He composed, in consequence, a written justification of the Jews, evincing great learning and skill. The accounts are unworthy of belief, which state that Philo went afterwards to Rome under Claudius, that he became there the friend of the apostle Peter, and embraced the Christian faith, but renounced it again on account of some mortifications which he met with. Those writings of Philo, which have come down to us, are published in the last and most complete edition by Manzey (London, 1742, 2 vols., folio); after him, by Pfeiffer (Erlangen, 1785 and the following years, 5 vols.). They show that Philo was a man of great learning and industry, who was well acquainted with Greek phi losophy and literature, and are very useful for those who would learn the state of philosophy at that time in Alexandria.