The Greek-Speaking World

One of the most important outcomes of the engagement between Judaism and Hellenistic culture was the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This process, which is known to have begun three centuries before Christ, led to the Greek translation widely known as the “Septuagint,” traditionally held to have been produced by seventy scholars (Latin: sep- tuaginta, “seventy”). This translation, completed in the first century before Christ, was widely used by early Christian writers, and can be seen in use at several points in the New Testament.

The impact of this process of Hellenization on Jewish thought is best seen from the writings of Philo, a Jewish writer based in Alexandria in the early years of the first century. Philo is generally regarded as having attempted to achieve a synthesis of Jewish religious and Greek philosophical thought, based primarily on use of allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament and an appeal to the Platonic notion of the logos, noted earlier. Philo’s doctrine of creation strongly resembles that set out by Plato in his dialogue Timaeus. However, it is important to note that Philo refused to accept Greek ideas which he held to be incompatible with Judaism – such as the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity and indestructibility of the world. Philo’s basic approach is that of the accommodation of Jewish ideas to Greek philosophy, not the rejection of distinctively Jewish ideas.

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Philo’s method of biblical interpretation is essentially allegorical, appealing to deeper meanings beneath the literal and historical senses of a passage. Philo considered allegorical ways of interpreting the book of Genesis to be a legitimate and appropriate way of bridging the gap between divine revelation (which primarily took the form of events) and Platonic philosophy (which primarily concerned abstract ideas). Rather than concentrating on the historical or literal sense of a passage, Philo argues that there is a deeper meaning concealed within the imagery of the text, which the skilled exegete can identify and explore.