Volume 17 (1979-80)


Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation


Co-chairs: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb


(17.1a, October 2, 1979)

John Gager, Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius


(17.1b, October 2, 1979)

Martha Himmelfarb, On Joseph and On Dreams


(17.2, November 14, 1979)

David Hay, Exegesis and Politics in On Dreams 1 and 2


(17.3, January 22, 1980)

Robert A. Kraft, Meryl Cohen, and Ben Wright, Traditions about Ancient Personages in Philo


(17.4a, March 11, 1980)

Daniel Bechtel, Education And Politics in On The Preliminary Studies


(17.4b, March 11, 1980)

David Ulansey, Alternate Philosophies in On The Confusion Of Tongues


(17.5a, May 6, 1980)

John White, Philo’s Moses


(17.5b, May 6, 1980)

David Efroymson, Josephus Against Apion





Topic for 1979-80; Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation

Co-chairpersons: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb

Meeting of October 2, 1979, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania


The initial session of the 1979-80 Seminar was convened by co-chairperson John Gager. Following customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard and discussed presentations by John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb of Princeton University.


Flaccus and The Embassy To Gaius, John Gager


Aulus Avillius Flaccus, a prominent Roman aristocrat, friend of Tiberius and his chief advisor Macro, was appointed Prefect of Egypt (the highest political position) in 32 C.E. According to Philo, he governed conscientiously and well for the first five of his six years in office. His final year as prefect culminated in his arrest, trial, exile and eventual execution. Philo blames the disaster on the prefect’s reaction to the death of Tiberius and the accession of Gaius Caligula as Emperor. Flaccus lost his grip on himself, changed advisors (now Dionysios, Lampo, and Isidorus), and set out on a series of anti-Jewish measures which were supposed to encourage the new emperor’s favor.


A pogrom followed, characterized later by Claudius as “the war against the Jews.” From March through September/October of 38, a series of events occurred which are the subject of Philo’s Flaccus. Flaccus began to rule against Jews in legal cases and to restrict their traditional rights. Herod Agrippa, a friend of Gaius, arrived in Alexandria to intercede for his fellow Jews, and was the subject of deliberate insults by certain Alexandrians. Some groups attempted to place images of Gaius in the synagogues of Alexandria. Meeting Jewish resistance, they burned and destroyed a number of synagogues. Flaccus issued an edict declaring the Jews to be “foreigners and aliens.” Jewish families were forced out of their shops and homes in all but one section of the city, and many of the evacuated properties were pillaged and burned. Some Jews who ventured outside of the new ghetto were arrested, tortured, and murdered. Flaccus arrested 38 members of the Jewish gerousia in Alexandria and subjected them to public beatings. Then, he ordered a search of Jewish homes for concealed weapons. On August 31, the whole business reached a climax with public tortures in the theaters. Finally, and quite suddenly, Flaccus was arrested in late September, probably as the result of Agrippa’s intervention with Gaius. Flaccus was shipped to Rome, brought before the emperor on charges brought by Lampo and Isidorus, his former advisors, was convicted, exiled, and later executed.


About a year later, two rival delegations from Alexandria departed for Rome with the goal of pleading their case before Gaius. (These are the events of The Embassy to Gaius, from the turn of 39-40 and including 41.) The delegations were concerned about the responsibility for riots in Alexandria and the civic status of Jews there. One delegation consisted of five Alexandrian Jews, led by Philo; the other, of Greek Alexandrians led by Isidorus and Apion (made famous by Josephus). After the initial interviews, the emperor devised his scheme to place a large statue of himself represented as Zeus in the Jerusalem temple (see Embassy 188; 265; 346; also Josephus War 2.185 ff. and Antiquities 18.261 ff.).


In January of 41, Gaius was murdered. Jews in Alexandria greeted the news with an armed attack against the Alexandrian Greeks, which was quickly subdued by Roman troops. The two delegations in Rome, soon to be joined by a second Jewish one, once again brought their cases before the emperor, now Claudius. Claudius immediately issued an edict confirming all of the traditional Jewish rights and privileges throughout the Empire. Several months later (November, 41), he wrote to the Alexandrians addressing the basic issues. He lay the blame for the riots implicitly on the Alexandrian Greeks, but refused to pursue the matter any further. On the question of Jewish freedom to observe their ancestral traditions, he restored the status quo ante. On the issue which probably underlay the whole debate, and which Philo passes over completely, namely the efforts by some Jews to acquire full Alexandrian citizenship, Claudius responded that they are “not to aim at more than they have previously had.... They enjoy what is their own, and in a city which is not their own they possess an abundance of all good things.” Also, “Nor are they to bring in or invite Jews coming from Syria or Egypt, or I shall be forced to conceive graver suspicions” (Fuks & Tcherikover, vol. 2, p. 43).


Clearly these events are central to any interpretation of Philo’s Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius. Goodenough argues that Flaccus is a lesson in theological politics directed at the prefect’s successors, and the Embassy a similar lesson directed at the emperor himself, with Philo using Macro and Herod Agrippa as spokespersons for his own views. However, we should not exclude an internal, Jewish audience as well (cf. V. Tcherikover, “Jewish Apocalyptic Literature Revisited,” Eos 48.3 [1956]: 169-193, esp. 180-181).


But, the real thrust of my arguments is that these events are central not just to these two writings, produced when Philo was already an old man, but for much of the rest of his writings as well. That is, a political and cultural understanding of Philo must precede and bolster other interpretations, The events of 37-41 are expressions of basic issues inherent in the ambiguous and loosely-defined status of Jews in Alexandria. This situation dates back at least to Augustus’ imposition of the poll-tax on all non-citizens in 24 B.C.E. From the very earliest days of the Roman presence in Alexandria, the Jewish community was caught between its support of and dependence upon Roman power and the violent Alexandrian nationalists who used the Jews as a target for venting their anti-Roman passion.


Within this framework, Philo illustrates the rule that exegesis is never carried out in a social vacuum. He is committed to allegorical exegesis as an essential and indispensable part of his political and cultural enterprise. This is to demonstrate to pagans and Jews alike that the Torah, together with the God who proclaims and sustains it on the one side, and the people who observe it on the other, is the sole source of divine truth and justice--the basis of a universal commonwealth. This understanding may put us in a position to appreciate the political and cultural importance of allegory for Philo with reference to two rather different movements or groups within first century Alexandrian Judaism.


One of these parties could be placed to the right of Philo, both politically and exegetically. Politically: 1) Note the anti-Roman tone of 3 Maccabees (dated by Tcherikover to the reign of Augustus); 2) Philo’s reference to the edict of Flaccus to search Jewish homes for Weapons; 3) Claudius’ warning to the Jews of Alexandria not to invite in outsiders from Egypt and Syria; 4) armed riots in 41 occasioned by the news of Gaius’ death; 5) further riots in 66 (War 2.487 ff.), resulting in the death of 50,000 Alexandrian Jews; and the possibility of some kind of alliance between those revolutionaries who fled Judea in 73 and those who created disturbances in Alexandria the same year (War 7.409 ff.). Exegetically: these “literalists” rejected allegory because it was associated with a broader cultural and political program which advocated reconciliation and union between Jews and pagans. They rejected any movement toward citizenship by the Jews, and regarded their residence in Egypt as a temporary exile. They could not affirm, as did Philo, both the universality and the particularity of the Jewish law.


On the opposite end of the political and exegetical spectrum, to Philo’s left, were included even members of Philo’s own family. Politically, these would be the Jews mentioned in Migr. Ab. 89 who abandoned the literal observance of the Law once they uncovered the true, spiritual meaning; also those cited in 3 Macc 2:30-31 and 7:l0-ll, who violated the Law in return for civic status; those mentioned by Claudius as seeking both a higher civic status and entrance to the games; and those who probably made up the second Embassy to Claudius, pressing for full citizenship rather than the status quo ante. Exegetically, these extreme allegorists rejected any particularist interpretation. The hidden, spiritual meaning was the only meaning, pointing the Jews beyond the particularity of the Mosaic Law to the universal culture of the Greco-Roman world.




Fuks, A. and V, Tcherikover (eds.). Corpus Papyrorum Judaicum. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, vol. 1, 1957; vol. 2., 1960.

Goodenough, E. R. An Introduction to Philo Judaeus. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1940. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1962.

_________. The Politics of Philo Judaeus. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press; London: H. Milford, Oxford Univ, Press, 1938.

Philo. Philonis Alexandrini In Flaccum, Ed. and trans. by Herbert Box. London & New York: Oxford Univ, Press, 1939; reprinted New York: Arno Press, 1979.

________. Legatio ad Gaium. Ed. and trans. by E. Mary Smallwood. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1961(1), 1970(2).

Smallwood, E. Mary, The Jews under Roman Rule: from Pompey to Diocletian. Leiden: E. J. Brill,1976.




Philo, Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius.

Letter/Edict of Claudius (Fuks & Tcherikover 2.36).

Josephus, Against Apion; Ant. 18.257 ff.; War 2.184 ff.

Acts of the Alexandrian/Pagan Martyrs (Fuks & Tcherikover 2.55).

Tacitus, History 5.9.

3 Maccabees


On Joseph and On Dreams, Martha Himmelfarb


Leo Strauss, in Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe: Free Press, 1952), explains how, even though classical and medieval thinkers were often not at liberty to express themselves openly, it is possible to determine their real views. His analysis of philosophers does not really apply to Philo’s exegetical method of writing, but his remarks on historians writing in times of censorship or persecution are quite apropos. Strauss shows that it is possible, within censorship, to defy the party line even while appearing to follow it. Philo has apparently succeeded in this. An example may be evident in the widely different views of Joseph which Philo presents in On Joseph and On Dreams. Only a difference in audience and social intent would seem to make any sense of the divergence.


On Joseph, is a straightforward recounting of the Biblical narrative, in order, with suitable exegetical digressions. In it, Joseph innocently tells his dreams to his brothers, who react with unreasonable jealousy and scheming. Joseph is seen as a type of self control, almost the perfect statesman. While Philo may hint that the political life is not the best of lives, he indicates that it is certainly useful. Joseph’s name is interpreted as “addition of a lord,” implying the addition of something good to natural politics. The coat of many colors reflects the manifold skills of the politician. Joseph was sold into slavery as a politician is a slave to his people, and Joseph performs this political role as well as anyone. That he was prey to savage beasts indicates that politicians are prey to ambition and vainglory, but Joseph escapes.


On Dreams is a whole other story. There, Joseph eventually repents, but others are at all points to be preferred to him. His name means “adding” to the unique good in a completely negative sense. That he is prey to the savage beasts of his passions indicates that he does not lead the rational life. His brothers are praised to resisting his dreams. Joseph is lumped together with Xerxes, the Germans, and “a recent governor of Egypt” as examples of arrogance and the exaltation of self over nature.


In The Politics of Philo Judaeus, E. R. Goodenough gives some insight into the possible reason for such contradictions. Philo uses Joseph as a symbol for the governor of Egypt, and in On Joseph even uses the current Greek titles for the office. On Joseph was written for an external audience of gentiles, and gives advice on how a Roman governor of Egypt should behave. For this reason, Joseph is seen positively.


On Dreams, however, was written as an allegory for the inner circle. It is an esoteric work expressing hatred for the Roman rulers, utilizing veiled language. See, for instance, 2.78-100, where the brothers bow down to Joseph just as it is sensible for a good subject to bow down to an evil ruler. However, their rejection of Joseph as king shows that, since the only real king is God, there is a limit beyond which resistance must follow. On Dreams 2.110-134 is directed at the Romans, showing that Joseph as king exalted himself over nature in the same way some others have done, including that recent governor of Egypt. D.W. Bousset, in Judisch-Christlicher Schulbetrieb in Alexandria und Rom (Gottingen: Vandenhouck & Ruprecht, 1915), pp. 110-127, takes an entirely-different approach to Philo’s divergent outlook. For Bousset, On Dreams 2-31-62 came from the same source as On Drunkenness, i.e. not from Philo himself; 2.78-92 is surely not by Philo because it is so profane and not spiritual enough; 2.117-122 is a classic example of the “school tradition” with Philo simply adding “the recent governor of Egypt” to an earlier list. It seems obvious that Bousset is a Wellhausian at heart, more interested in the component sources than in how the material is used. His arguments tend to be circular and arbitrary; e.g. he assumes what Philo is really like before he begins the inquiry, and then strikes out those sections in which Philo seems to be thinking politically because these parts do not fit his pattern. The political/social analysis of Goodenough and others raises alternate possibilities to Bousset. Both must be faced, but in this area they are not really compatible.




During the discussion following the presentation, it became obvious that it is difficult to answer a rather basic question about Philo’s writings which affects their political-social interpretation: that is, who read them? We tend to put the intellectual works of the Jews out of true proportion in terms of their importance to contemporaneous pagan intellectual history. We have little evidence of gentiles reading Philo, and certainly they did not quote from him until perhaps the Christian Greek apologists. A case can be made, however, for Philo being in a position to be read by gentiles. He was related to high politicians, and part of embassies to two Roman emperors. Certain treatises could have been intended to be sent to the particular people in the Roman government toward whom they were directed.


There was a suggestion that Dr. Gager’s thesis has been overstated. The Jewish attitude toward Romans was certainly not an unambiguous one, considering the multiple relationships involved between Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Jews, with various parties in each. Philo himself was a very complex person, not even using a single allegorical technique in any one given work. Perhaps politics is not the basic key to Philo. Nevertheless, although not a politician, he seems to have found himself in a political-cultural context in which the use of allegory was absolutely essential.


Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1979-80: Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation

Co-chairpersons: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb

Meeting of November 14, 1979, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania


The second session of the 1979-80 Seminar was convened by co-chairperson John Gager. Following customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard and discussed a presentation by David Hay of Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


Exegesis and Politics in On Dreams 1 and 2, David Hay


It is entirely fitting that we press questions about Philo’s social milieu, pursuing the historical interest in flesh-and-blood environment that Ervin Goodenough thought about repeatedly. Although Goodenough read Philo as a mystic, he also wrote to prove that Philo acted and wrote as a practical politician, and that he wrote about Biblical laws on the basis of actual Jewish court procedures in the Alexandria of his own time. However dubious were some of Goodenough’s answers, his questions were absolutely valid, including those about the real context of Philo’s writing.


It might help in treating the flesh-and-blood context of On Dreams 1 and 2 to begin by dealing with a series of questions: (1) is Philo a voice crying in a vacuum? So many scholars treat him as an interesting freak and little more. (2) Did Philo see any particular or essential connection between his political activities and his exegetical-philosophical-literary ones? (3) Can we detect in On Dreams 1 and 2 some evidence of Philo’s exegetical world; i.e., evidence of his relationship to other Jewish Biblical exegetes of his day or to a “school tradition” that may have existed over several generations? He certainly thought of himself as first and last an interpreter of scripture.


My observations will center around the following: (1) The political struggle between the Rome-appointed gentile rulers and the Jews in Alexandria, who are struggling to preserve their religious identity, their civil rights, and their very lives. Also involved in a study of the political-social background should be an examination of the sub-groups within the Jewish community itself. We try to determine how they responded to gentile political pressures, and examine the possibility that political views are shaped by exegetical techniques. (2) The political message Philo is attempting to convey in his utilization of the allegorical technique to explore Biblical dreams. (3) The code or code system that he uses to get his message across.


A good place to start is On Dreams 2.123-132. Here, Philo describes a serious confrontation between a Roman prefect of Alexandria and the Jewish community in that city. The prefect is unnamed, but seems to have been known personally to Philo. He is set in a class of persons including Xerxes and the German barbarians who tried to give orders to non-human nature, and were thus both godless and ridiculous (122). The prefect seems to have tried to compel certain Jews to work for him on the Sabbath and to do other things that would violate that day. These Jews resisted, and the other Jews of the community responded to the situation by expressing their indignation and grief to the prefect. The prefect then tried to convince the whole Jewish community to break the Law, urging that his power as prefect made him similar to an irresistible force of nature and a visible power of constraining destiny (129). Philo interprets these words as an impious claim to divinity (130-132), as well as an attempt to break down Jewish devotion to the entire Law of Moses.


This passage is the closest Philo comes in On Dreams 1 and 2 to a description of the political situation of Alexandrian Jews in his time. It suggests that the ultimate threat to the Jews was the effort on the part of the Roman officials to destroy Jewish allegiance to the Mosaic Law. The prefect seems to have taken offense at the peculiar customs of the Jews, and aimed at ending whatever distinguishes them from others in Alexandria. Philo attributes the prefect’s actions only to his own arrogance, without external provocation from the Jews. The prefect’s claim to be an irresistible natural force is ridiculed since it is the Jews, sitting quietly in the synagogues, who are irresistible because the God of nature is on their side.


In his picture of the Alexandrian Jewish community in this crisis, Philo gives us the impression that the Jews act in total unanimity in deploring the attempts by the prefect to make them violate the Mosaic Law. All of the Jews regard the Sabbath laws as deserving the utmost reverence and awe. They all hold their hands in a certain peaceful way in public (126). They all sit in their meeting houses reading and discussing scriptures (127). The whole passage suggests a monolithic Jewish community. The picture is one of passive resistance growing out of universal reverence for the Law of God, and peace in the midst of a storm which threatens to destroy the community.


Despite this impressive picture of Jewish unity, Philo says enough in these treatises (and elsewhere) to indicate that the Alexandrian Jews were divided into parties. Note, for instance, the different groups of Biblical exegetes he mentions. There are two basic types, the literalists and the allegorists, with a number of sub-groups. The following chart shows these groups and their relationships to each other. Note that relative size is not a factor in the chart. The broken lines indicate permeable barriers.


      |                                  |

Le-aA |                                  - Ae-aL

      |                Ae                |

      |                                  -

 _ _ _|_ _ ______________________________|________

     Le   |       |    Le-C      |

          |  Le-P -              -    Ae-C

                  |              |


Le = literalist exegetes plain and simple, probably the majority of Jews in Alexandria (1.39; 1.93; 1.172).


Le-aA = literalist exegetes who are hostile to allegorical interpretations presumably sophisticated and educated (2.301-302).


Le-P = literalist exegetes who are also pagan persecutors of Jews, such as Roman officials who know enough of the Law to be able to use it as a weapon; e.g. in commands against observance of the Sabbath.


Le-C = literalist exegetes who criticize Jewish scriptures; i.e. attack the literal meaning of the scriptures as being foolish or impractical. These can be either Jewish or pagan.


Ae-C = allegorical exegetes who criticize Jewish scriptures at the level of allegorical interpretation (1.165). These also are either Jewish or pagan.


Ae-aL = allegorical exegetes who reject/ignore the literal level of meanings. The only citation of this group seems to be in Mig. Ab. 83-89.


Ae = allegorical exegetes who generally or always accept as valid the literal level of interpretation (l.39; 1.120; 1.164 f.). Philo fits in here.


[For a more detailed study of Philo’s exegetical world, see Dr. Hay’s forthcoming article in Studia Philonica 6 (ed.).]


It would seem probable that we may infer from Philo’s political advice in On Dreams 1 and 2 that there also existed political divisions within the Alexandrian Jewish community. Note, for instance, the terminology of “narrow citizenship” as applied to the literalists--hardly a casual Metaphor (1.39). We have evidence that some Jews in Alexandria over a period of generations were pressing the question of citizenship. The term “narrow citizenship” could suggest that the literalists were instead more interested in their status as Jews, choosing to remain untainted by the cosmopolitan influences implied in full Roman citizenship. Such a concept would seem foreign to Philo, considering his Hellenistic education and his fundamental devotion to things Hellenistic.


The Jews of Alexandria seem also to have disagreed on how to deal with gentile rulers, evidenced at least by the sending of two embassies to the emperor on the same problem. Philo’s earnest advice about treating their rulers with caution rather than frankness would seem to imply that there were Jews of his time who favored blunt talk and, possibly, rebellion. On the other hand, Philo’s warnings about Joseph as a Jewish politician tempted to vanity is probably a none-too-veiled critique of some of his compatriots who, in his opinion, had gone too far in aligning themselves with the Roman political interests.


On Dreams offers a few telling allusions to economic stratification among the Jews in Alexandria. In 1.92-101, Philo discusses at length his rejection of a literal reading of a Biblical passage concerning a garment taken as security for a loan, since this is meaningless from the viewpoint of a wealthy person. Likewise, there are references to the existence of a servant class who have no freedom (2.21,30; 1.7-8). Yet, despite all this, Philo also displays what may strike us as an unusually utopian emphasis on simplistic and plain living, condemning ostentatiousness and vanity (2.64-66). We have little evidence to judge how well Philo himself led such a simple life, although reports of his wife’s actions and dress would seem to support his ideal (Goodenough, Introduction to Philo Judaeus, 7-8).


There would seem to be two specific messages that Philo wishes to communicate to his contemporaries. One concerns the nature of political leadership, and the other the responsibilities of Jewish subjects.


Politics, according to Philo, is possible but dangerous for Jews since it can lead to pride, vanity, and self-deception. One of the recurring themes of On Dreams 2 has to do with politician’s dreams, which tend to rise from a self-induced frenzy of the soul and are usually seen as riddles which need to be interpreted by others. Politicians are a class inclined to dreams and fantasies (2.138). The dreams may seem to be inspired, but if so, are actually of a relatively low order. As interpreters, the Jews, by their study of the Law of Moses, are most able to be politically astute. Philo is certainly pragmatic, and never declares himself categorically opposed to the Roman Empire. As a politician, he is aware of the dangers involved, but sees his political involvement as an essential part of his life. All politicians are not bad (as against Goodenough), but the profession is a dangerous one which can lead to self-deification.


The responsibilities of Jewish subjects seem to be stated in terms of their responses to pressures exerted by the prefect. Those directly commanded to break the Sabbath refused to do so, and probably suffered for it. The rest of the Jews expressed their indignation. The Jewish population kept their resistance non-violent. Most importantly, they studied their scriptures in their synagogues. It is hard to avoid the inference that the whole of On Dreams 1 and 2 is designed to show how scripture study can yield the insights that should govern Jewish political conduct. If the Jews will interpret scripture allegorically like Philo himself, they can discover the hidden political insights that are scattered throughout the treatise.


There seems to be, as Goodenough has demonstrated, a tendency to speak of politics in terms of a “code” difficult for the Romans to interpret, but available to perceptive Jewish readers. An important code-like device not explicitly identified before is the pattern of using the allegory of the soul as a means of suggesting political conclusions. This involves an allegory within an allegory: the comments about the soul are valid in themselves, but a discerning reader seeking political insights could find them, while a hostile reader could be persuaded that there is nothing political there. (The articles by Berton Mack in Studia Philonica give some guidelines for this sort of study.) A brief example can be found in 2.290 ff. This passage is ostensibly about Babel, condemning atheists and philosophical materialists. It fits quite well, however, in describing the fate of a prefect who sees himself as a god. The end of the passage (2.298 f.) goes back to dealing strictly with the soul, so as not to seem to threaten the Romans.


Philo wrote in a society abounding with Roman spies, and with the Roman government ever fearful of revolt. In such an atmosphere, he wrote with great circumspection. Readers of Philo, especially ones concerned to understand his social world, need to continually ask themselves how his circumspection might have affected his communication.




During the discussion following the presentation, it was questioned whether it might be reading too much to see the allegory of the soul motif as a “code” for an additional allegory of politics, rather than simply as an allegory of the soul with some incidental political language thrown in for effect. In answer, it was shown that the juxtapositions of “soul” and political material in On Dreams is much too involved to be accidental. All of the dreams cited are by politicians, and in 2.138 it is shown that all political schemes are dreams and fantasies. The “code” portions in 2.290 ff. seem related to earlier themes in the work where politicians (Joseph, etc.) are cited. There is simply too much there to conclude that the treatise is only about the soul.


Why, then, use a code in On Dreams, while speaking so openly in Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius? Philo appears to be blunt only in condemning the already disgraced, and is more subtle in other situations. Flaccus seems to have condemned himself by his own actions, so that Philo need not be afraid of informers. Even when writing to a Jewish audience, Philo avoids speaking of the reigning power, except subtly.


It should be noted that this presentation questions the Goodenoughian “orthodoxy” which posits that Philo hated his Roman masters. Goodenough repeatedly says that On Dreams is against the Romans, but can cite only two possible references, Philo’s warnings about politicians could apply to the Romans, of course, but equally to all politicians, including Jewish ones. Philo never denounces the empire as such, but seems to save his barbs for the Greek rulers of Alexandria. The Romans had been around for only one generation, while non-Jews had been governing Alexandria for centuries, Even in Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius, Philo does not condemn the Roman Empire, only the corrupt advisors of particular emperors. For Philo, government is necessary, and good government leads to salvation. Probably, the distant ruler-champion was to be preferred to the local ruler, a classic pattern within Judaism.


There was some discussion of the possibility of a relationship between the literalist interpreters and political revolutionaries. Philo is careful not to make the identifications although he does seem to imply that the concept of “narrow citizenship” could lead to hostile feelings toward pagan governments. Jewish revolutionaries were probably literalists, but all literalists were certainly not revolutionary. Philo does attempt to talk to this group, perhaps in the hope of bringing them around to an appreciation of his allegorical technique and his larger world view.


Respectfully submitted, ROBERT V. HOTCHKISS, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1979-80: Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation

Co-chairpersons: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb

Meeting of January 22, 1980, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania


The third session of the 1979-80 Seminar was convened by co-chairperson Martha Himmelfarb. Following customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar participated in a discussion led by Robert A. Kraft of the University of Pennsylvania and two of his students, Meryl Cohen and Benjamin Wright. Of particular interest are Philo’s Questions and Answers on Genesis and Questions and Answers on Exodus, material extant for the most part only in Armenian, published in the supplementary volumes of the Loeb Philo.


Traditions About Ancient Personages in Philo Robert A. Kraft, Meryl Cohen, and Benjamin Wright


One way of getting at the context in which Philo operates might be to investigate the way he uses names of ancient personages. He seems to have a vast amount of material available to him from some sort of tradition. For instance, Philo gives an etymology for every name he mentions, in spite of the fact that he is not particularly conversant with Hebrew. This would seem to indicate access to some sort of name tradition, which incidentally passed over into Christianity, and which shows a lot of careful work somewhere.


Apart from the etymologies, Philo seems to have a rather broad acquaintance with other interpreters. In the Questions, he often gives references which sound rather formalized, as though in an “educational” setting-. “some say...,” “others say...,” “philosophers say...,” etc. An example unusual in its completeness is the work on the tree of life in Q Gen 1.10 (on Gen 2.9). In other instances, however, he seems to deliberately avoid certain interpretations. Two random instances may be cited: In dealing with Reuben, he cites only the Biblical text with a few elaborations (some a bit puzzling), and avoids the extended emphasis noted in some pseudepigraphical texts. Tracing the name of Phinehas is frustrating and even less fruitful. Even though this personage would seem to provide ripe material for Philo’s allegorizing, he largely avoids the opportunity.


In terms of apocalyptic material, Philo is extremely reluctant to show any acquaintance with another tradition, or with any tradition at all. With the exception of two very vague possible references, Philo does not speak of a Messianic hope. He is certainly not ignorant of an apocalyptic emphasis, merely silent. Outside of the Pentateuch, he treats only Samuel and Hannah at any length. He mentions in passing, but avoids details on Gideon, Elijah, Saul, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Job. In dealing with Pentateuchal characters, he avoids even the obvious apocalyptic references. With Enoch, for instance, he indicates his ethical interest in the story, and while showing he is aware of the translation into heaven and the tradition of ecstatic trances and ascents, he does not dwell on them, elaborate on them, or even point out the errors he sees in those who dwell on these things. Philo deliberately avoids commenting on Jews who expect the end to come, although overtly he neither accepts or rejects their views. Philo has his own hierarchical scheme of famous figures, with Moses alone on the pedestal. Strangely, he seems to avoid the polemic we would expect against those who, in their apocalyptic fervor, elevate certain figures to a place which approaches that of Moses. It is hard to attribute these mysterious silences to ignorance. Could there have been some ideas or persons about which Philo was extremely apprehensive, and chose to hold his tongue? There is also a rather mysterious de-emphasis on Isaac. Philo may have skipped over him because he is treated more fully elsewhere in material we do not have. Goodenough, however, suggests that it was the Christians who suppressed the Isaac material because it came too close to the Christ stories (including a virgin birth).


Philo seems to draw on the non-Jewish Greek interpretative tradition as well. He shows acquaintance with allegorical commentaries on Homer and, in fact, appears to know them as well as the Jewish materials. He is, however, careful to give then a Platonized-Stoicized-ethical-mystical treatment in his work. The technique of citing numerous interpretations persisted into the Christian tradition and has its source in the Hellenistic patterns of Aristotle, Homer, Deodorus, and most mythographers. The etymologizing tradition can also be traced back to Homer.


All in all, Philo’s tradition seems to be wider than his background, unless he was extremely well read. He has an identifiable intellectualized approach to traditions, Jewish and otherwise. His use -of sources is obvious, whether from a library or, perhaps more in line with a school tradition, anthologies. Beyond this, little can be said.


The question of the authenticity of the Armenian Philo materials should probably be raised. Although there are at least some differences in emphasis between this material and that preserved in Greek, on the whole, the evidence seems to be that the Questions is authentic Philo. It is not so easy to determine when in his career he wrote it. Emil Schurer (Geschichte des judischen Volkes in Zeitalter Jesu Christi, 3d ed. [Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1898], vol 3, p. 501 and n. 41) sees it as a compilation of work done over a whole lifetime, but it does perhaps fit in better at the end of a lifetime of study. A better question to ask, perhaps, is not the purview of the answers, but the source of the questions themselves.


There is some possibility of discovering more about Philo’s social milieu from the Questions. In Q Gen 3.9 (on Gen l5.l2), Philo sounds as though he were a frustrated follower of the Therapeutae. He strains at the idea that it would be good to leave this world behind for a life of tranquility, but then seems utterly divided and chooses to stay in the world. He may be making an association between the physical observance of the Law and being in the world, but he still chooses not to leave his excellent political and economic situation, even though that meant betraying a true understanding of the meaning of the Law. It is really impossible to tell whether Philo’s nephew Tiberius Alexander, Roman staff general and Roman prefect of Egypt, used his uncle’s outlook to allegorize his way out of the observance of the Law.


However Philo looks at the Law, he, along with the Jewish community in Alexandria seems to have some firm identification of himself as Jewish. For Philo, however, being a good Jew my not be much different from being a good citizen in the Greek speaking Roman world. Note, for example, what he does with the story of Phinehas, using it to show a common sense of sinfulness for Jews and non-Jews. There is little emphasis on the violation of the Law. The theme is that of voluptuousness and carnality as opposed to reason and self-control, also a theme of Moses and On the Changing of Names.


Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1979-80: Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation

Co-chairpersons: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb

Meeting of March 11, 1980, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania


The fourth session of the 1979-80 Seminar was convened by co-chairperson John Gager. Following customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard presentations by Daniel R. Bechtel of Dickenson College and David Dulansey, a student of Dr. Gager at Princeton.


Education and Politics in On the Preliminary Studies, Daniel R. Bechtel


Philo’s understanding of the function of education must be placed into the context of the role of the school in the ancient classical world. Very helpful in this study is Henri Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (Trans. George Lamb), London: Sheed & Ward, 1956; Histoire de l’education dans 1’antiquite, Paris: Editions de Seuil, l948(1), 1950(2)). For most of the classical period, the aim of education was to produce warrior citizens with a general knowledge of gymnastics, music, and grammar. The Sophists were influential in adding such studies as the art of politics, dialectics, rhetoric, and general culture. In The Republic, books 3 and 7, Plato considers the matter of an ideal education. The basic trivium of grammar, music, and gymnastics would be complemented at the higher level for the soldier-scholar by the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and acoustics. All but the last are described by Plato as essential for the soldier in war as well as for the philosopher in the role of ruler of the republic. It should be rather clear that such a course of studies was intended for political purposes and that Plato was aware that the community expected education to produce soldiers first who may then become philosophers.


During the Hellenistic period, primary schools multiplied for the education of young boys and girls, including studies of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The compulsory military instruction in the times before the Romans emphasized physical training and took place in a gymnasium, but may not have been strictly military.


Against this background, Philo in On the Preliminary Studies is writing to instruct the Jewish community on the proper use of Hellenistic education. In paragraph 11, he lists the studies which are introductions to virtue: grammar, geometry, astronomy, rhetoric, music, and all the other branches of intellectual study. He later lists dialectic as well. It seems odd that mathematics is missing from the list, but this may not be significant.


Philo is apparently in favor of a system of education similar to that used in the Hellenistic schools of Alexandria. It would seem that he himself received such an education. This does not mean that he is advocating that Jews use the Hellenistic schools themselves. Both Egyptians and Jews were probably excluded from the gymnasia and the ephebeiia (see Harry Wolfson, Philo, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1947(1), 1968(2), 1.78-80). Jewish higher education was probably provided by the Jews themselves (Moses 2.216; The Special Laws 2.61-62). One of the reasons for separate and unequal education was no doubt religious. Many Jews, like the Romans, were scandalized by the activities in the gymnasia and the schools associated with them. Despite the general Jewish rejection of the Hellenistic schools, acculturated Jews such as Alexander and his son Tiberius Alexander may have attended them as the proper training ground for position and status in political and social life.


For Philo, a Hellenistic education is preparatory to a higher level of reflection and reception of wisdom as a gift. He allegorizes the story of Abraham with Hagar and Sarah to make this point. Hagar, representing school learning on the lower level of the senses, must eventually be replaced by Sarah, the greater wisdom from God. Secular education contributes to philosophy, the servant of wisdom. Wisdom, in this context, is the knowledge of things divine and human and their courses.


Philo carefully rejects the concept of a Jewish community withdrawn into a narrowly conceived social unit with its own educational system, completely separated from the Hellenistic tradition. He repeatedly claims that he did not make a “secret hoard” (apokruptw) (76) of his achievements with Hagar, but offered them to his lawful wife Sarah. This is most probably a condemnation of those who do withdraw from any public use of their education. He makes the same point with the allegory of Hagar “having in the womb” (129-130), asserting that the student may come to assume that he has everything in his mental womb, and not move on to the recognition that his brain child is but one of the children of the all-encompassing mistress, wisdom. Philo also uses the same picture to condemn puffed-up teachers, “a swollen vanity-ridden condition, robed in a vesture of inordinate pride” (127, 128).


On the other side, Philo condemns a certain group of wealthy Jews who were almost completely acculturated. Their sons apparently participated fully in the abhorrent type of education which took place in the gymnasia and the ephebeia; they served another political force, Rome, rather than God. These students, unrebuked by the higher wisdom (159), might even include his nephew, Tiberius Alexander.


Before the wider public, Philo makes very clear that the school curriculum he considers acceptable is not intended to train Jewish soldier-philosopher-citizens who might appear as threats to the rulers. His was to train a different kind of philosopher-citizen. He also makes no mention of the military worth of any of the disciplines he describes and does not mention mathematics or arithmetic, the first study for Plato’s soldier-philosopher. Philo does not want to appear as a dissident who would encourage the study of the general curricula for the purpose of gaining political power or becoming military leaders.


Nevertheless, Philo considers the educational process he has in mind as leading to some participation in the polis. He presents the paradigm of Moses, in whose mind was sown the seeds of legislative art and prophecy. He implies in his closing remarks that the palm of virtue is won by those who overcome the work of folly and vice through the work of justice and the power of the law. Philo recognizes the school as a political force, and seeks to shape an educational program which would make possible the reshaping of the world as the polis of God (assuming we accept Goodenough’s interpretation of Philo’s views on the kingdom of God).


In terms of Bousset’s argument that the inconsistencies in Philo’s treatises are evidence of his use of school traditions, the material in On the Preliminary Studies would appear to offer no support. Philo acknowledges the schooling process with its pompous teachers and narrowly focused students, but this does not argue for the conclusion that certain portions of his work are school traditions uncritically lifted from his academic experiences. His argument throughout the treatise is internally consistent, and consistent with his views in other works. Nor can such consistency be used as an argument for thorough use of school materials, since that hardly gives credit to Philo’s own remarkable intellect and Imagination.




During the discussion following this presentation, a number of its arguments appeared to bear substantiation: Contrary to the commonly accepted wisdom concerning Philo, it is probably true that he advised against withdrawal from the world which is opened up by philosophy and education. This treatise could be, in fact, a veiled argument against the exegetical literalists who would accept no acculturation. His other opponents, those who sought full citizenship by Jews and total acculturation, could be considered to be withdrawing only in an extremely metaphorical sense.


It fits the situation quite well that Philo is going out of his way to specify that Jewish scholar-philosophers would not be a threat to the political stability of the empire. The Jews were indeed a feared minority with special status. They were in Egypt from pre-Hellenistic times (5th century B.C.E.). In Hellenistic times, Jews even had a special territory with their own temple and a garrison of soldiers to guard it.


Wolfson is being somewhat simplistic to assume that Philo got his grammar education in the Jewish schools, and then read a lot at home to fill out his knowledge of philosophy. There is the possibility of a Jewish school of higher education patterned after the Greek models, perhaps attached to a synagogue or some other Jewish institution. A later Christian model would be that of the school of Origen, largely secular in nature, including both Christians and non-Christians.


Alternate Philosophies in On the Confusion of Tongues, David Ulansey


In On the Confusion of Tongues, Philo gives us several clues which may help us to gain a glimpse of his relationship to the pagan philosophers of Alexandria. The treatise is basically an interpretation of the story of the tower of Babel, in which Philo contrasts two methods of ascending to heaven. The first, that of the tower builders, is characterized by folly, insolent pride, and arrogance. The other, following the example of Moses, is characterized by the service of God.


In treating these two types of ascent, Philo may actually be contrasting two different types of philosophy. Note, for example, the description of the tower built by the arrogant:


Such are its pronouncements, either that the Deity does not exist, or that it exists but does not exert providence, or that the world had no beginning in which it was created, or that though created its course is under the sway of varying and random causation, sometimes leading it amiss, though sometimes no fault can be found (114).


This sounds strikingly like a catalogue of Stoic, Epicurean, and various other philosophical teachings. A nearly identical catalogue of philosophical beliefs, stated this time in a positive form, is found at the end of On the Creation (172). Goodenough has called this passage “the first creed of history,” in which are criticized the atheists, the Epicureans, the polytheists, the atomists, the Stoics, and other various schools (Introduction to Philo Judaeus, p. 37). “Every bit of this creed is familiar Platonic and Pythagorean doctrine (p. 38). Philo’s positive creed could just as well be said to represent the fundamental principles of Judaism in his eyes. However, since the philosophical schools he opposes do not appear to have been overtly anti-Jewish, Philo would seen to be taking sides with Platonism in its ongoing struggle with those other philosophical schools, and offering Judaism as a helpful ally in the battle. After all, it couldn’t hurt the Platonists to discover ancient texts in which their own doctrines were revealed as divine truth.


We know very little about Alexandrian Platonism at the time of Philo, and indeed Philo is himself the major source of that knowledge. That there may have been a new receptivity toward religiosity in Platonism at that time is evidenced by the fragments of the philosopher Eudorus, who lived in Alexandria about fifty years before Philo. He was strongly influenced by a newly revised Pythagoreanism, and offered to Platonic doctrine a new formulation of the goal of life: not “life according to nature,” but “assimilation to God.” (See John Dillon, The Middle Platonists. London: Duckworth, 1977, 114-135.) If the work of Eudorus inspired a greater religiosity in Platonism, it is not unlikely that the Alexandrian Platonists of Philo’s day would have been at least somewhat receptive to a suggestion that the Jewish religion might have something to offer them in their quest to become like God. It may very well be that Philo was more deeply involved with the Platonist philosophers of Alexandria than is usually considered, and that On the Confusion of Tongues is an attempt to present to his Philosophical colleagues a case for the adoption of Judaism as an ally in their struggle against opposing philosophical schools.




During the discussion following this presentation, there was a question of the validity of the term religious to describe the changes in Middle Platonism which began with Eudorus. Perhaps it would be more satisfactory to say that there developed an appreciation for received tradition as a source for knowledge, in contrast to the former pure skepticism.


There seems to be little external evidence that the Platonists of Philo’s day were receptive to his overtures, although the very fact that he seems to be trying to point to them would indicate some openness. Perhaps Philo is addressing non-Jews who have directed philosophical criticisms at the stories of Moses in the Pentateuch (a practice certainly maintained in later times; e.g. Celsius). Philo brings Judaism in positively, in an attempt to teach philosophers how to read the Torah. The Septuagint was attractive to philosophical Greeks in late Hellenistic-Roman times as a collection of ancient revealed documents in Greek, to be read allegorical1y. Philo could be offering such a reading of Moses as a support in Hellenistic philosophical issues.


Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1979-80: Philo of Alexandria in Relation to Ancient “School Tradition” Speculation

Co-chairpersons: John Gager and Martha Himmelfarb

Meeting of May 6, 1980, 7 p.m., Class of 1879 Hall, Princeton University


The final session of the 1979-80 Seminar was convened by co-chairperson John Gager. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard and discussed papers by John C. White and David P. Efroymson of LaSalle College.


Philo’s Moses, John C. White


A question which can be drawn from the very beginnings of Philo’s Moses has to do with knowledge: “What is a Jew to know?” The question relates to education, to the sort of knowledge that one might pick up from reading, especially reading from the sacred books (1.4), and to learning from “some of the elders of the nation” (1.4). Some of Philo’s thoughts on “knowing”:


It is possible to know the wrong things. The ideal education is that of Moses (1.20-24), which seems to be a reflection of Philo’s own. Through it, Moses “was incapable of accepting any falsehood,” unlike the airesiomaxoi (sectarians, 1.24). These latter may reflect Philo’s opinions of the “literalists,” who seemed determined to know the wrong things. Philo himself, however, could be very literal in his approach,, as in his description of God’s giving his name to Moses (1.17). Samuel Sandmel (The First Christian Century in Judaism and Christianity, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969, p. 43, n. 16) suggests that Philo’s scorn of the literalists reflects his reaction to their criticism of his writings.


It is not necessary to know Hebrew, and in fact Philo knows almost none at all. However, in 2.26-44, he indicates that the Greek version of the sacred writings is perfectly in accord with the “Chaldean,” because of the miracle of the 72 priests on the island of Pharos who each produced the same perfect Greek translation. This, however, does not prevent Philo from reflecting a curious set of variations from the language of the “received” LXX. These differences are not only in the language itself, but also in the details of the story of Moses. With the obvious exception of 1.75, where God’s words of identification are exactly as received in the LXX (Exod 3:17, egweimiown), Philo seems to go out of his way to avoid a concentration on words which would classify him with the “literalists.” He expands on the story in many places, and seems to have no qualms about rearranging the ten plagues for the sake of the plot.


Thus, a Jew may know things about Moses which are not found in the Pentateuch. Of course, this is not a viewpoint exclusive to Philo. The composer of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 likewise embellishes the story with some similar and some quite different additions.


Of the sorts of things one may know which Philo approves of, clearly allegorical interpretations from the past on Jewish matters are included. Bousset seems to find in On Abraham 99 evidence of Philo’s use of such allegorical interpretations from a “school tradition.” Here, the fusikoi andres (physical men) are seen as the Jewish allegorists of the past (Schulbetrieb, p. 8), for who else would be interpreting: the Abraham-Sarah story? However, as Bousset admits, the fusikoi andres do not always refer to earlier Jewish allegorists. In Moses 2.103, the term could refer to purely Greek natural philosophers. A less clear argument by Bousset (p. 13) would seem to indicate that Philo rejected the old “physical” interpretations which came from a school of Jewish exegetes whose world view was governed by orthodox Stoic thought.


Strangely, it is not at all clear that Philo knows any Jewish thought beyond the rather clear reference in On Abraham. Hans Lewy argues that only a few scraps of Palestinian Haggadic teaching had found their way into Philo’s knowledge of Jewish matters in this rather dogmatically free period in Judaism (H. Lewy A. Altman, I Heinemann (eds.), Three Jewish Philosophers. New York: Meridian/ Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1960, pp. 20-21). Sandmel suggests that “Philo is best viewed as representing a relatively self-contained Jewish Hellenism, not totally severed from Palestinian Judaism, but distinctively different from it” (Judaism and Christian Beginnings. New York: Oxford Univ. Press,1978, p. 301).


Of course, Philo’s antagonists, be they “literalists” or “superallegorists,” have shared some of the same knowledge and education as he. It is important that a young man have a gymnasion education. One reason is that it is the gateway to citizenship (A. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews [Trans. S. Applebaum], Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1959, p. 163, also n. 23 on p. 467). However, more importantly, the reason for such an education is that mind is the key, the way that man shares with God, the logos. Entrance to the logos was surely prepared for by the education that Philo and Moses shared in the gymnasion. Lewy (Three Jewish Philosophers, 20-21) and Sandmel (Philo of Alexandria, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979, p. 13) disagree as to whether the source of Philo’s special understanding was peculiar Alexandrian midrashim or his own genius.


Book 2 of Moses indicates that Moses knows the future, a somewhat curious business for him and for Philo. Sandmel sees this as one of the few occasions in which Philo betrays any concern for eschatology. Philo simply says that because the first things that Moses says would come true already have, we look confidently for the fulfillment of the rest of these prophecies.


The passage on prophecy is somewhat of an anti-climax compared to 1.158. There, Moses “entered...into the darkness where God was..... Thus he beheld what is hidden from the sight of mortal nature, and, in himself and his life displayed for all to see, he has set before us, like some well wrought picture, a piece of work beautiful and godlike, a model for those who are willing to copy it.” Moses here would appear to be unique, with his own special knowing, but there is at least the prospect of imitation. Those who are willing may follow his example.


Some questions (and answers) from this study:


1. For Philo, can men be like Moses? Probably. They can imitate his educational preparation, his avoidance of heresies, and his communion with God.


2. If that is so, is Torah really necessary for Philo? Probably. Sandmel says that for Philo, “The commandments, a set of means, not ends in themselves, are the vehicle for moving into communion with God” (Judaism and Christian Beginnings, p. 300).


3. Then, for Philo, was Moses necessary? As a specific individual with his specific history, probably not. But it had to be someone, for how else would there be Torah?


4. Apart from the mystic dispensation of the “cloud of knowing,” is there a real promised land for Philo? The Hellenized Jews tended to look down upon Palestine with its poverty and “barbaric practices,” but Philo at least advocates a (spiritual?) pilgrimage (On Rewards and Punishments, 163-172). His promised land, however, would probably have Greek cities with gymnasia.




During the discussion following this presentation several questions came up about Moses:


Why does Philo seem to go out of his way to avoid using proper names? He usually includes many names in his works, along with their etymologies. It would seem odd for him to assume that his readers would not relate to the names, since this would point to a largely pagan reading public. We have very little evidence of gentiles reading Jewish writers, but nevertheless Moses was a well known figure outside of Jewish circles. Again, the absence of names could be a literary device to direct attention to the great hero of the story, but this would be contrary to ancient classical practice. Likewise, it could be a literary device to avoid being seen as a literalist, wanting the reader to see the process and not the person.


Can the book be placed in a political context? Philo seems to be attempting to show the excellence of the gymnasion system to the Jews. That he uses the word itself (1.48) would seem to place the work before 41 C.E., since in that year the edict of Claudius made it clear that Jews were no longer to have access to the gymasia.


Philo totally avoids any reference to the story of Balaam’s ass. This is surely deliberate. The Jews had been associated with the worship of an ass or an ass’s head at least back through the second century B.C.E. Plutarch, the figure in classical literature with the widest and deepest knowledge of the Jews, gives one clear piece of misinformation. He repeatedly takes for granted that the Jews worshipped an ass because an ass led the people to water in the desert during the exodus.


Josephus, Against Apion, David P. Efroymson


In approaching this work, it might be good to ask ourselves several questions. What does Josephus know? What does he fight for and what are his arguments? Who are his enemies? What does he assume? What does he admit? For whom or to whom does he write? Not all of these questions can be answered here, but we can get a start on most.


In Against Apion, Josephus says a number of things: We Jews have been around for a long time, and we are not Egyptians. We do nothing stupid or criminal; and especially, we do nothing anti-Roman. We do and believe lots of “reasonable” things, and have been doing them for a very long time. We will fight rather than go against our laws, our God, and our identity.


The treatise does not outline easily, if at all. There is, nevertheless, a certain order and progression of thought to the work. Book 1 begins with an appeal to the antiquity of the Jewish people, explaining the seeming silence of Greek historians toward them and citing historical evidence (1-68). Cited are the Egyptian Manetho, the Phoenicians who mentioned Solomon in their histories, and various items of Chaldean evidence (69-160), as well as a number of Greek references to the Jews (161-218). Josephus then lists a number of Egyptian libels against the Jews (219-320), chief among them being a charge that the Jews were forced to leave Egypt because they had become afflicted with leprosy. Authors cited are Manetho, Chaeremon, and Lysimachus.


In Book 2, Josephus turns his attention to the specific accusations leveled by Apion against the Jews. Although Josephus may be writing from Rome, the situation seems to be entirely wrapped up in Alexandria. He is at least neutral about the Greek citizens of Alexandria, and if anything pro-Roman. The real enemy is Egyptian, particularly Egyptian newcomers to Alexandria...


Josephus takes up Apion’s accusations in three categories. The first has to the with the slanders concerning the departure of the Jews from Egypt (8-32). Apion charges that the Jews are really Egyptians, and thus of no consequence. Josephus replies that Apion himself is Egyptian by birth, and has “falsely claimed to be Alexandrian.” The second category of accusations to be answered has to do with the Jews then living in Alexandria (33-78). This is the most pro-Roman and anti-Egyptian portion of the work. Josephus charges the Egyptians with being the real promoters of sedition in Alexandria, in contrast to the law-abiding Jews. He even compares the dubious citizenship of the Egyptians with the real citizenship of the Jews, acquired first from Alexander, and then from the Romans. Josephus seems to be going out of his way to avoid offending any Roman readers, noting that Jewish law itself is not anti-Roman. The attitude here seems quite different from that shown in the Jewish Wars, where there was no way to get around the obvious culpability of the Jews. Here, Josephus is feisty and defensive.


The third category of accusations to be answered has to do with temple rites and the laws generally (79-144). Josephus finds it necessary to refute at length the stories that the Jews worship an ass’s head, that they sacrifice young men, and that they take an oath against the Greeks (79-124). He ridicules Apion’s charges that the Jews never had an empire (125-134), that they have not produced geniuses (135-136), and that their worship is strange and loathsome (137-144). In all of this, Josephus works hard to score points against the Egyptians, wondering what gives them the right to make such charges which fit them better than they do the Jews. The villains, besides Apion, are his sources: Posidonius, Apollonius Molon, Mnaseas, and Lysimachus.


The remainder of Against Apion (145-296) is a positive account of Judaism, its constitution and its details, including a presentation of Moses as the most ancient legislator, who not only gave his people precepts, but gave instruction for the practical exercise of them (145-174). Jews, following Moses, know their laws, are united both in their conceptions of God and in their practice of religion, and are not inventors (do not change) (175-187)


Josephus lists the precepts of Judaism (188-290): One God, one temple, positive and strict marriage laws, equitable treatment of aliens, hospitality to visitors, a belief in a future life as a prize for living in accord with the Law, etc. These are superior to the traditions of the Greeks and, certainly, of the Egyptians.


In answer to some of our questions: Against Apion appears to be written to Jews to reinforce their Judaism, rather than to gentiles to convince them that Apion is wrong and Josephus is right. Josephus obviously assumes that Romans will read it, and slants it in their directions. He writes as though all Judaism were uniform, leading us to wonder what he knows, if anything, about Alexandrian Judaism. He admits very little. There are no apologies. The work is feisty, on the offensive.


His assumptions: antiquity is a good thing, and the Jews have it; sexual discipline is a reasonable thing; it is not good to have lepers as ancestors.


His enemies are those who challenge Judaism’s right to exist, particularly the Egyptians of Alexandria. He knows about Philo and The Embassy to Gaius (Antiquities 118.259-260). He certainly knows about Apion, but gives no indication that he was ever in Alexandria. His knowledge of the city seems to be second hand. In that case, why did he specifically pick on Apion?




During the discussion following the presentation, a suggestion was made as to why Apion, specifically, was the target of this work. Tacitus, in Rome, published in Book 5 of his Histories what is probably the most scurrilous account of Jewish history and worship in Roman literature. His charges could almost form a table of contents for Against Apion.


The materials seems almost to require an Egyptian source, although there is no indication that Tacitus was ever in Egypt. A most likely Egyptian source would be Apion, who was associated with Rome and was even a teacher to Nero. Josephus must have seen the connection, and found it wiser to answer Tacitus by attacking the source rather than the historian.


There is at least a possibility that the work is not entirely that of Josephus. It has been suggested that Against Apion could be a reworking of two separate projects, one of which might not be original to Josephus. There is also the possibility that this work is not by Josephus at all. It is strong, bold, tough, unlike his other works. Perhaps it would be helpful to try to find other evidence of an anti-Egyptian bias in the Josephan corpus.


Horst Moehring, in Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman Cults (Ed, Jacob Neusner, Leiden: Brill, 1975, 3.124-158), seems to think that the work of Josephus is a piece of whole cloth, giving material which cannot be verified and is probably false. This accusation is a bit severe, since it would appear that Josephus is right in ways about Apion and is documentable on some of his charges.


Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary