Philo was a very educated member of Jewish elite living in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1st century CE. His writings are very philosophical in language and manner of explaining ideas. Yet the content of his works is often focused on God and a peculiar Hellenistic Jewish way of understanding his works and teachings. His writings stand in very close proximity to the apostolic works found in the New Testament.

VII. (32) But Moses, having now reached the very highest point of human good fortune, and being looked upon as the grandson of this mighty king, and being almost considered in the expectations of all men as the future inheritor of his grandfather’s kingdom, and being always addressed as the young prince, still felt a desire for and admiration of the education of his kinsmen and ancestors, considering all the things which were thought good among those who had adopted him as spurious, even though they might, in consequence of the present state of affairs, have a brilliant appearance; and those things which were thought good by his natural parents, even though they might be for a short time somewhat obscure, at all events akin to himself and genuine good things.

(33) Accordingly, like an uncorrupt judge both of his real parents and of those who had adopted him, he cherished towards the one a good will and an ardent affection, and he displayed gratitude towards the others in requital of the kindness which he had received at their hands, and he would have displayed the same throughout his whole life if he had not beheld a great and novel iniquity wrought in the country by the king; (34) for, as I have said before, the Jews were strangers in Egypt, the founders of their race having migrated from Babylon and the upper satrapies in the time of the famine, by reason of their want of food, and come and settled in Egypt, and having in a manner taken refuge like suppliants in the country as in a sacred asylum, fleeing for protection to the good faith of the king and the compassion of the inhabitants; (35) for strangers, in my opinion, should be looked upon as refugees, and as the suppliants of those who receive them in their country; and, besides, being suppliants, these men were likewise sojourners in the land, and friends desiring to be admitted to equal honors with the citizens, and neighbors differing but little in their character from original natives.

(36) The men, therefore, who had left their homes and come into Egypt, as if they were to dwell in that land as in a second country in perfect security, the king of the country reduced to slavery, and, as if he had taken them prisoners by the laws of war, or had bought them from masters in whose house they had been bred, he oppressed them and treated them as slaves, though they were not only free men, but also strangers, and suppliants, and sojourners, having no respect for nor any awe of God, who presides over the rights of free men, and of strangers, and of suppliants, and of hospitality, and who beholds all such actions as his. (37) Then he laid commands on them beyond their power to fulfill, imposing on them labor after labor; and, when they fainted from weakness, the sword came upon them. He appointed overseers over their works, the most pitiless and inhuman of men, who pardoned and made allowance for no one, and whom they from the circumstances and from their behavior called persecutors of work. (Philo of Alexandria, Life of Moses 1. 31-37)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I did not quite understand (34) …the Jews were strangers in Egypt, the founders of their race having migrated from Babylon and the upper satrapies in the time of the famine, by reason of their want of food, and come and settled in Egypt,…
    “The founders (actually one of them, Avraham) of their race” did migrate from Babylon, but not because of the famine, right? Or Philo just made a shortcut and wrapped the whole story about Avraham, Izhak, and Yaakov into one phrase? Please, help. Thank you!

    • Philo is referring to the days of Jacob. In my best guess, he mentions Babylon because they were the major overlords over those lands (Canaan) at the time. Canaanites had some tiny kingdoms, which were subservient o to the larger ones. Chaldeans, Babylon, that entire region becomes to be seen as Babylon by later generations (to which Philo writes). We cannot assume great familiarity with regional history from Philo’s readers, so he may simplify things for them on purpose. To him, the facts are not the main focus, but the story of Israel coming to Egypt for help and becoming enslaved instead. That is the point he is after.

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Anna Gromova
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