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Post Info TOPIC: Witness to Jesus? – 1 Philo of Alexandria


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Witness to Jesus? – 1 Philo of Alexandria
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Witness to Jesus? – 1  Philo of Alexandria

From a distance of 2000 years Jesus Christ appears in glorious technicolor, a veritable rainbow of the power and the glory. Every child "knows" his story, every individual "recognizes" his slender frame, his flowing chestnut hair, his kindly blue eyes. But up close and personal our superhero evaporates into the ether, a phantom that leaves no trace upon the paper, no imprint in the historical record. Not only does no one notice Jesus during his supposed lifetime; Jesus notices nothing of the wider world into which he makes his spectral appearance.

As for Christianity's audacious claim that its hero introduced something new into ethics and morality, that assertion is wholly fallacious. Long before any mythical Nazarene had epithets of wisdom put into his mouth, other – real, yet mortal – philosophers taught a morality of brotherly love and human compassion. Christianity merely sequestered and then ignored those ideals.

 

The "witnesses" who saw and heard nothing

As it happens, we have an excellent witness to events in Judaea and the Jewish diaspora in the first half of the first century AD: Philo of Alexandria (c25 BC-47 AD).

Philo was an old man when he led an embassy from the Jews to the court of Emperor Gaius Caligula. The year was 39-40 AD. Philo clearly, then, lived at precisely the time that "Jesus of Nazareth" supposedly entered the world to a chorus of angels, enthralled the multitudes by performing miracles, and got himself crucified.

Philo was also in the right place to give testimony of a messianic contender. A Jewish aristocrat and leader of the large Jewish community of Alexandria, we know that Philo spent time in Jerusalem (On Providence) where he had intimate connections with the royal house of Judaea. His brother, Alexander the "alabarch" (chief tax official), was one of the richest men in the east, in charge of collecting levies on imports into Roman Egypt. Alexander's great wealth financed the silver and gold sheathing which adorned the doors of the Temple (Josephus, War 5.205). Alexander also loaned a fortune to Herod Agrippa I (Antiquities 18).

One of Alexander's sons, and Philo's nephews, Marcus, was married to Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, 39-40. After the exile of Herod Antipas – villain of the Jesus saga – he ruled as King of the Jews, 41-44 AD. Another nephew was the "apostate" Julius Alexander Tiberius, Prefect of Egypt and also Procurator of Judaea itself (46-48 AD).

Much as Josephus would, a half century later, Philo wrote extensive apologetics on the Jewish religion and commentaries oncontemporary politics. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words are extant. Philo offers commentary on all the major characters of the Pentateuch and, as we might expect, mentions Moses more than a thousand times.

Yet Philo says not a word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. In all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to his alleged contemporary "Jesus Christ", the godman who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising demons, raising the dead and causing earthquake and darkness at his death.

With Philo's close connection to the house of Herod, one might reasonably expect that the miraculous escape from a royal prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40), or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads of troops (Acts 12.2,7) might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing of Agrippa "vexing certain of the church" or killing "James brother of John" with the sword (Acts 12.1,2).

Strange, but only if we believe Jesus and his merry men existed and that they established the church. If we recognize that the Christian fable was still at an early stage of development when Philo was pondering the relationship of god and man, there is nothing strange here at all.

What is very significant, however, is that Philo's theological speculations helped the Christians fabricate their own notions of a godman.

 

Where did they get their ideas from?

mocking.jpg

Mocking Jesus – or Agrippa?

The mocking of a real Jewish king

The death of the Herod the Great's son, Philip, in 34 AD, left the tetrarchy of Panias and Batanaea without a local king. In 39, Caligula sent Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, into exile. Caligula now turned to Herod the Great's grandson, Herod Agrippa, for a client king and Agrippa was made ruler of all the Jewish lands apart from Judaea.

On the voyage home from Rome, this new King of the Jews, stopped over in Alexandria where his presence in the city provoked anti-Jewish riots. Agrippa became the target of ridicule and lampoon.

Philo described the course of events in his work named for the anti-Jewish governor of Egypt, Flaccus. His work was familiar to the early Christians when decades after his death they composed the gospels. One passage of Flaccus contains a curious pre-figuring of several famous verses found in the Gospels.

But then the Lord moves in curious ways.

 

The Works of Philo Judaeus – Flaccus, VI.

(36) There was a certain madman named Carabbas ... this man spent all this days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths;

(37) and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which they found lying by the way side and gave to him;

(38) and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority,and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state.

(39) Then from the multitude of those who were standing around there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris!; and this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign;

Matthew

27:26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.


27:28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.


27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

 

Philo: author of Christianity?

"Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made."

– Philo, "The Special Laws", I (81)


Philo was an eclectic philosopher who borrowed freely from the Platonists, Stoics and Cynics. Yet he remained tenaciously loyal to his Jewish faith, and regarded Mosaic scripture as a source not only of religious revelation, but also of the philosophic truths propounded by the Greeks.

According to Philo, the Greek philosophers had "borrowed from Moses" and had received their insights from the God of the Jews. To substantiate this dubious claim Philo found subtle and obscure nuances in the biblical sagas. Simply put, the wisdom of the Greeks was to be found entire within the books of Moses – all that one had to discern was the "hidden meaning" of words that, to the uninitiated, patently had no bearing on Greek philosophy. Philo was thus able to preserve the arrogant superiority of the Jews who in reality had been subsumed into the Greek world.

How did a transcendent God communicate with the world? Here, a term from the Stoics proved most useful. According to Philo, "Logos" – Greek for "word" or "reason"– equated to divine reason. The Logos or Word emanated from the ineffable God and communicated with his creations. Thus it was the Logos that spoke to Moses from the burning bush, and it was the Logos that infused the righteous High Priest. When one experienced religious ecstasy it was because the Logos had entered one's own soul.

Philo defined the curious nature of God's intermediary thus:

"And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator.

And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race.

And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, 'And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You; neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities ... For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.' "

 Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things? 42.205-6.

 

The "Word" made "Flesh"

When the works of Philo were studied by early Christian theorists (the Alexandrian school of Clement, Origen, etc.) not just the construct of the Logos but the "allegorical method" proved a godsend: the Old Testament presaged not merely Greek wisdom but the Christian godman himself! Thus the scripture of the Jews could be scoured for subtle clues supposedly prophesying a saviour in human form.

Again, Philo pointed the way:

"And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God's image, and he who sees Israel."

– Philo, "On the Confusion of Tongues," (146)


Philo was himself undoubtedly influenced by ancient notions of Hermes Trismegistos ('thrice greatest' Hermes), a Hellenized version of the Egyptian god Thoth – a god of wisdom and a guide to the afterlife.

Philo knew nothing of Jesus but when, a century after Philo's death, the Christians were historicizing their godman from preconceived notions of what the Saviour should be, they borrowed freely from Philo's work. Thus the Christian apologist Justin Martyr multiplexed "divine reason" into the myriad forms that populate the landscape of Christian theology:

"I shall give you another testimony, my friends," said I, "from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning, a certain rational power from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos."

–  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXI – ("Wisdom is begotten of the father, as fire from fire.")


About the same time that Justin was finessing "God's Wisdom" into human form, the author of John's Gospel combined the opening phrase of Genesis with the speculations of Philo's logos to produce the famous opening verse of his gospel.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." – John, 1.1.

 

Bringing Philo on Message

In the 4th century so impressed was Church propagandist Eusebius by Philo's descriptions of the Therapeutae  (Hellenized Jewish Buddhists of Alexandria) that the church historian decided the Therapeutae were in fact early Christian monks. As for Philo himself, Eusebius cheerfully disregarded chronology and credibility and had the grand old Jewish philosopher reading the (as yet, unwritten) gospels and epistles – and conversing with Peter in Rome!

"It seems likely [Philo] wrote this after listening to their expositions of the Holy Scriptures, and it is very probable that what he calls short works by their early writers were the gospels, the apostolic writings, and in all probability passages interpreting the old prophets, such as one contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews and several others of Paul's epistles.

It is also recorded that under Claudius, Philo came to Rome to have conversations with Peter, then preaching to the people there ... It is plain enough that he not only knew but welcomed with whole-hearted approval the apostolic men of his day, who it seems were of Hebrew stock and therefore, in the Jewish manner, still retained most of their ancient customs."

– EusebiusThe History of the Church, p50,52.


Philo played a major role in the Hellenization of Hebrew scripture, unwittingly preparing the ground for an upstart heresy to supplant and marginalize the ancestral religion he set out to defend.

The fate of Philo's co-religionist Josephus was to become a bogus witness to Christ – but Philo himself was rendered a closet Christian!

 


World events that Jesus never noticed

Whilst we should not expect a rural rabbi to comment on day-to-day politics, it is a telling silence that the man that nobody notices himself doesn't notice any of the major events of his age.

But then, JC never actually trod the earth and JC never heard the news from Rome.


• Salvation

Early in the 1st century the Romans suffered their most humiliating defeat. Germania, like Judaea, had been annexed by the empire in 6 AD and it, too, was being taxed and organised as a province. But in 9 AD, an alliance of German tribes ambushed and annihilated three legions in the Teutoburg Forest. The disaster permanently curtailed Roman designs in northern Europe.

The ill-fated commander in Germany had been none other than Publius Quinctilius Varus – the former governor of Syria. A few years earlier, Varus had crushed revolts in Judaea and Samaria and crucified 2000 rebels.

teutoburg.jpg

9 AD - Rome's catastrophe in Germany.

Not worth a comment from JC on 'resisting evil' or the 'folly of earthly ambition'?

 

• A Man made God

In 14 AD, Emperor Augustus, master of the civilized world for nearly half a century, died. Eulogies from Tiberius and Drusus were followed by a pyre on Campus Martius and deification.

"An ex-praetor actually swore that he had seen Augustus's spirit soaring up to heaven through the flames."
– Suetonius.


Even in life, images of Augustus had been erected in temples throughout the empire:

"Augustus seemed to have superceded the worship of the gods when he wanted to have himself venerated in temples, with god-like images, by priests and ministers." – Tacitus (Annals, 1)


The imperial cult, which began with Julius Caesar, gained much greater impetus following the deification of Augustus. Here was an officially sponsored challenge to Jesus' own cult and surely merited a word of censure?

divus-Augustus.jpg

14 AD. PrincepsAugustusImperatorPater Patriae – and finally God. This cameo of "divus Augustus" depicts a crown with rays of the sun god, just like the nimbus of Jesus.

Would not a "real" god Jesus have had something to say about the "imitation" god Augustus?

 

• Good and Evil

18-19 AD. The popular Roman prince Germanicus, a grandson of Augustus and restorer of the Rhine frontier, was sent east by Tiberius as imperium maius (imperial magistrate). He died suddenly in Antioch amid speculation that the governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had poisoned him on orders from the emperor. Tiberius compelled Piso to commit suicide but became increasingly paranoid as his unpopularity grew.

germanicus.jpg

Germanicus – a noble Roman

Plenty of stuff here, surely, for wise words about nobility and baseness. From Jesus – nothing.

 

• The Wickedness of Men

22-31 AD. Emperor Tiberius – honoured by Herod Antipas with the new capital city of Tiberias – withdrew to debaucheryon the island of Capri.

The emperor's isolation allowed the guard commander and consul Aelius Sejanus to establish himself as virtual regent in Rome, terrifying the city with spies, treason trials and executions.

Even the emperor's son Drusus was murdered, with Sejanus planning to marry his widow and thus link himself to the imperial family. Eventually alarmed, Tiberius had Sejanus arrested and killed, and returned to Rome.

capri-tiberius.jpg

Tiberius's playboy mansion, Capri.

Not a word about the evil designs of men from the "perfect" Jesus?

 

 

Witness to Jesus? – 2  Seneca and the Stoics

 

Sources:
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (Harvard, 1984)
Charles Yonge, The Works of Philo Judaeus (Bohn, 1890)
G. Speake (Ed.), Dictionary of Ancient History (Penguin, 1995)
Tony Lane, Christian Thought (Lion, 1996)
W. Whiston, The Works of Flavius Josephus (Kregel1999)
M. Lyttelon, The Romans (Orbis, 1984)
J. Boardman, et al, Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford, 1986)

 



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