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Torah from Alexandria III: Leviticus

Philo as a Biblical Commentator Volume III: Leviticus


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The third volume of Torah from Alexandria sets on display how Philo interpreted the role of the Temple, offerings, festivals, dietary practices, marital laws, and laws of purity. While Philo always remains firmly committed to the importance of the actual religious act, he consistently derives ethical lessons from these ritual practices, thus putting him alongside the great Jewish philosophers of history. Reading Philo alongside Rabbinic wisdom, Greek philosophy, Patristic writers, as well as Medieval and modern authors, breathes new life into the complexities of Leviticus and reinstates Philo’s importance as a biblical exegete.

The intellectual fecundity present in Philo’s era was remarkable. He lived at one of the most creative times, as two of the greatest traditions—Semitic and Greek—were continuing to winnow the useful insights of their counterpart’s teachings, while they refined their own modes of thought and religious expression. This process had commenced three centuries earlier, when Alexander the Great conquered the Promised Land, but the philosophical unrest endured long after the military conquest concluded. Philo lived at a time much like our own, with people struggling to find their place in a world challenged by rivaling philosophies. His deep spirituality and religious scholarship, coupled with his profound knowledge of a millennium of Greek literature, makes him a profoundly useful guide for the modern age.

Reclaiming Philo as an exegete of peshat puts him in company with the great luminaries of Jewish history—a position that Philo richly deserves. Philo remains as one of Jewish history’s most articulate spokespersons for ethical monotheism. Perhaps more importantly— and justly—Philo’s exegetical skills remain one of the most lasting contributions of the great Alexandrian Jewish community, whose legacy to Jewish history deserves honor and recognition.

Rabbi Michael L. Samuel has meticulously culled from all of Philo’s exegetical comments, and arranged them according to the biblical verses. He provides extensive parallels from rabbinic literature, Greek philosophy, and Christian theology, to present Philo’s writing in the context of his time, while also demonstrating Philo’s unique method of interpretation. Torah from Alexandria gives Philo a voice which he so richly deserves as one of the most profound Jewish exegetes and theologians.


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