Podcast episode

Episode 58: Justin Rogers on Philo in Early Christianity

In an interview packed with information, Justin Rogers explains the many ways in which the work of Philo of Alexandria influenced the development of Christianity. Philo became for many early Christian intellectuals a kind of honorary doctor of the Church. We look at how this happened.

Why did Philo appeal to these Christians thinkers? What use did they make of his thought? How did Philo’s Jewishness affect the impact he had on emerging Christianity? How important was Philo’s exoteric approach to the biblical texts for later Christian readers and thinkers? In answering these questions, a whole slew of interesting stuff comes up, including:

  • Theories about how the Philonic corpus may have been transmitted (who had these books, who was reading Philo in late antiquity?),
  • Clement of Alexandria’s characterisation of Philo as a ‘Pythagorean’ and what might lie behind it,
  • The fundamental role played by Philo’s thought in the work of the esoteric church father Origen,
  • The role Philo’s work may (or may not) have played in the battles between ‘orthodoxy’ and the Arian ‘heresy’ in the fourth century,
  • The use (or possibly plagiarism) made of Philo by the Latin father Ambrose of Rome in the fourth century,
  • Philo’s role in the work of the Cappadocian fathers, which we can contrast with
  • Philo’s eventual refashioning into a heretic by other late antique fathers, who, in their attempts to guarantee the orthodoxy of earlier Christian writers, are concerned to purge Philo from the rolls of legitimate authorities,
  • Philo’s ‘domestication’ in medieval Christian texts like the Catenæ, where he has become ‘Philo the Bishop’,
  • Eusebius’ transformation of the Therapeutæ from Philo’s On the Contemplative Life into early Christian monks,
  • And Philo’s importance for later Christian ‘multi-level’ scriptural interpretation.

Works Discussed in this Episode:

  • Clement’s naming of Philo: Stromateis 1.31.1; 1.72.4; 1.151.2; 2.100.3.
  • Origen’s 3 levels of allegorical meaning: Philocalia 1.30; De Principiis 4.6.4 (cf. Philo, De vita contemplativa 78).
  • Wolfson, H. A., 1947. Philo. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Recommended Reading:

  • Chadwick, H. (1967). ‘Philo and the Beginnings of Christian Thought’. In: Armstrong, A. A. (Ed.), The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.
  • Kamesar, A. (2009). ‘Biblical Interpretation in Philo’. In: Kamesar, A. (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Philo, Cambridge University Press.
  • Rogers, J. M., 2017a. Didymus the Blind and the Alexandrian Christian Reception of Philo. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA.
  • Rogers, J. M. (2017b). ‘Origen in the Likeness of Philo: Eusebius of Caesarea’s Portrait of the Model Scholar’, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 12 : 1-13.
  • Runia, D., 1993. Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey. Van Gorcum/Fortress Press, Assen/Minneapolis, MN.
  • Runia, D., 1995. Philo and the Church Fathers: A Collection of Papers. Brill, Leiden



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