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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Philo Judaeus

(20BCE-40CE). Also called Philo of Alexandria, a Greek-speaking Jew who is considered as one of the most important Jewish philosophers of the ancient times. His writings synthesized revealed faith, philosophy and mysticism. He was also an advocate of the allegorical interpretation of the Jewish scriptures.

Philo’s family was a prominent one. His father was well-known in Palestine even before moving to Alexandria in Egypt. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Philo’s brother Alexander Lysimachus was reputed to have been one of the richest man in the Hellenistic world and was a friend of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Philo wrote homilies and essays on the Jewish scriptures, philosophy, religion, and society. His Allegories on the Laws (commentaries on Genesis) contains his most important ideas. He gives central importance to the allegorical interpretation of the scriptures. For example, in the first verses of Genesis where it is stated that God made heaven and earth, Philo wrote: “speaking symbolically, he [Moses] calls the mind heaven, since the natures which can only be comprehended by the intellect are in heaven. And sensation he calls earth, because it is sensation which has obtained a corporeal and somewhat earthy constitution” (The Allegories of the Sacred Laws, Book I). He proceeded to interpret the rest of Genesis and other accounts in the scriptures in this manner. Adam, for instance, is the formal mind while Eve is the senses. He considers that such inner meanings are meant for the purified souls or the initiated (On the Cherubim, S. 14). In the allegorical method and in the content of thought, Philo influenced the early Christian writers like Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Philo frowns upon the anthropomorphic views of God, as when the Old Testament speaks that “The Lord went down to see that city and that tower.” This, he wrote, must be taken in a figurative sense, since to regard the deity as needing to go down or to go anywhere would like giving it the limitations of animals which need to go from one place to another. This is “an impiety deserving of being banished beyond the sea and beyond the world” (On the Confusion of Tongues, 27).

The doctrine of the Logos forms an important part of Philo’s metaphysical views. Logos is the creative power of God, an intermediary between God and creation. But apart from the Logos, there are other intermediate powers. He expressed the theosophical idea of the Cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos, which is what Philo calls the “mediator” between the Absolute God and the manifested world. At other times, he alludes to the Logos as a second God or a manifested God, a delimited expression of an unknowable Absolute Deity. Anticipating biblical and other Christian writings are his statements that the Logos is “the man of God,” “the image of God,” “the second to God,” or “the first begotten son of God.”

Philo’s mystical writings speak of man’s mystical love of God and the love that God placed in human hearts that will ultimately make man God-like. He uses the term enthusiasmos (“having God within me”), a term used in the mystery schools, as he spoke of mystic “sober intoxication” which was to lead one out of the material into the eternal world. He regarded the body as a prison of the soul, as did Plato. His teachings on the flight of the soul, the dualism of body and soul, the yarning for a direct experience with God and the mysteries of the knowable manifested God influenced Gnosticism. Philo was also the source of considerable information about mystery schools of his time as well as their ideas, particularly rebirth.

Philo is highly regarded by theosophical writers, such as Helena P. Blavatsky, who wrote that “he was a great mystic and his words abound with metaphysics and noble ideas, while in esoteric knowledge he had no rival for several ages among the best writers” (Theosophical Glossary).

Geoffrey Hodson, in his published diary, Light of the Sanctuary, wrote that Philo Judaeus was the previous incarnation of the Adept Polidorus Isurenus of the Brotherhood of Luxor, the Egyptian branch of the brotherhood of Adepts.

R.Z.D.S.

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