Philo Judaeus: Philosophical Pilgrim

Philo worked to reconcile Hellenism and the Hebrew Scriptures.

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Philo believed in a transcendent God. His concept of the logos bridges the gap between man and God, making possible the close relationship of the Jewish people to God, as described in the Bible. The search for an understanding of God becomes the goal of Jewish piety. The Bible, allegorically understood, is an account of the soul's striving for God.

Accordingly, Philo ex­plains the Bible on two levels, the literal and the symbolic. When the literal was unacceptable to him, he used only the allegorical. This method allowed him to radically recast the biblical narra­tives in Hellenistic garb. Throughout his work Philo calls for the strict observance of Jewish law, which he sometimes interprets in a unique manner and sometimes in accord with views also evidenced in Palestinian sources of his day.

Also significant is his view of the soul. According to Philo, the soul has descended into the world of matter, and it is up to each individual, by stripping himself of earthly passions, to bring about the his soul's ascent to God. This process is helped by the striving for intellectual appreciation of God, but it is clear from Philo's descriptions that the final stage is that of a mystical experience of union with the Divine. Indeed, for him, prophecy is an act of ecstasy, in which man receives the effulgence of divine light.

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.