Rabbi Israel Drazin’s Book Review of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol III: Leviticus

 

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

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the first significant Jewish philosopher and expositor of the Bible  in his book “Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria.” As I pointed out in my review of his volume on Exodus, Rabbi Samuel has produced an authoritative book.

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.”

In this third volume of Rabbi Samuel’s five volumes on Philo, he has aided all people, Jews, and non-Jews, in their understanding of the Bible, by collecting the commentaries of Philo from Philo’s many sources and arranging them by subject matter in this volume according to the twenty-seven chapters in Leviticus. 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 a wealth of fascinating material, we read about Philo’s condemnation of pedophilia, the spiritual significance of circumcision, the role of ritual and its effect on ethics, the meaning of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac (the Akedah), why salt was offered as a sacrifice, did Aaron have personal excellence, can a sinful priest function in the temple, the symbolism of kosher foods, the symbolism of circumcision, Philo’s defense of the Holy of Holies that he made when he met the Roman Caesar Caligula, the role of the high priest, why fast on Yom Kippur, why not marry sisters, what does it mean to love a neighbor, the prohibition against castrating animals, the meaning of the various holidays and the Sabbath, never reject wisdom, the concept of the equality of all men, how does forgiveness work, what is ethics, Philo’s thoughts on prenatal life.

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