Rabbi Israel Drazin’s Book Review of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol. II: Exodus

***** Israel DrazinTop Contributor: Children’s Books
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE
5.0 out of 5 starsVery significant and informative book
August 26, 2018

Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE). Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher. This is the second [now third] book in his series.

Philo was the first Jewish philosopher who contributed something novel to Jewish-Greek philosophy. His philosophy incorporated the somewhat mystical views of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (about 428 to about 348 BCE). About forty books that he wrote still exist. They do not offer a systematic philosophy; they are, in essence, a collection of sermons.

“Philo was convinced that the Bible should be understood on two levels. The first level contains its literal or plain meaning; words mean what they say. The second, his contribution, is an underlying or allegorical layer, which requires that the alert more intelligent reader venture beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the text. Philo used allegory to interpret virtually everything in Scripture, including names, dates, numbers, and events.”

Rabbi Samuel has made a huge necessary contribution to the thinking and understanding of all people, Jews, and non-Jews, concerning the Bible, by collecting the commentaries of Philo from Philo’s many sources and arranging them in this volume according to the forty chapters in Exodus. Rabbi Samuel tells us what Philo states and compares Philo’s views with what others say: other ancient and modern philosophers, ancient Greeks, the Talmuds, Midrashim, Zohar, and many others.

Among much else, Rabbi Samuel discusses Philo’s views on telling the truth, how Philo, the rabbis, and Christians treated the issue that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the different order of the Ten Commandments in the Greek translation the Septuagint, Philo’s thinking about the Ten Commandments and how it differs with the thinking of many people today, his view of the prohibition of not cooking meat and milk together, his remarkable views on sacrifices, and such subjects as “You shalt not let a witch live” (Exod. 22:18), where the Septuagint interprets the Hebrew machasheifa, “witch,” as “pharmakous,” from which the common English word “pharmacist” comes. Philo explained that the pharmacon was really a drug dealer in Late Antiquity. Rabbi Samuel reveals that Greco-Roman society had a drug culture–much like we have today – and Philo regarded drug-dealers as a serious threat to any civilized society.

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