Tag Archives: Jerusalem Temple

Jew of the Week: Philo of Alexandria

The First Jewish Philosopher and Torah Commentator

A 16th-century illustration of Philo Judaeus

Yedidya “Philo Judaeus” HaKohen (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE) was born to a wealthy Jewish family of kohanim in Alexandria, Egypt, which was then part of the Roman Empire and had one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. His father had earned Roman citizenship from Julius Caesar, and his nephew was a Roman prefect and military commander. Philo received an extensive education in Judaism, as well as the wisdom of Rome, Greece, and Egypt. He became a well-known philosopher and scholar, and a leader of Alexandria’s Jewish community. Around 37 CE, he led a diplomatic mission to the emperor Caligula to seek the end of the oppression of Jews in Alexandria and to reaffirm Jewish civil rights. He also convinced Caligula not to put a statue of himself in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, for that would surely instigate a war, and explained why the Jews could not accept him as a deity or worship him in any way. Philo is most famous for his written works, producing what may very well be the first commentary on the Torah. He also wrote several texts to explain Judaism to the non-Jewish world, and a number of detailed works about the Roman Empire—now a gold mine for historians. He was also the first to synthesize Greek wisdom with Jewish wisdom (and in this regard, predated the great Maimonides by more than a millennium), and demonstrated how many fundamentals of Greek philosophy had already been laid out in the Torah long before. Philo advocated for a democratic government with the Torah serving as the constitution. Because of his numerous easy-to-understand Greek explanations for the Torah, Philo’s works ironically became more popular among Christians, and mostly forgotten in Jewish tradition. Nonetheless, he was a noted defender of Judaism at a difficult time of persecution, an important scholar and advocate on behalf of the Jewish people, and an inspiring philosopher and political figure. Interestingly, he is the first to mention the custom of staying up all night on Shavuot to learn Torah and recite holy hymns, in his description of a group of Jews associated with the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Shavuot Begins Saturday Night! Chag Sameach!

Video: Six Days of Miracles

The Mystery and Mysticism of the Essenes

Video: Why NBA Legend Amar’e Stoudemire Learns Torah

Words of the Week

The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the Five Books of Moses and the Bible as a whole.
– Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize-winning discoverer of the Big Bang

Jew of the Week: Eilat Mazar

Israel’s Indiana Jones

Eilat Mazar (1956-2021) was born in Israel to a family of archaeologists, and grew up playing and learning on excavation sites. Her grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, was the State of Israel’s first official archaeologist, and was the president of the Hebrew University. Eilat studied archaeology at the same university, and began her field work in 1981. She made a big splash right away by discovering the Royal Quarter of the ancient City of David in Jerusalem, including what is thought to be the royal palace of King David himself. She went on to uncover some of the biggest finds of the last century, including parts of the walls built by King Solomon, the seal of King Hezekiah, and the seal of the Prophet Isaiah. Mazar was driven by her belief that the Tanakh records actual historical events (whereas many of her secular colleagues often viewed the Tanakh as mythology). She would say that “I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other.” Over the decades, her work played a major role in helping to prove the authenticity of the Bible. Mazar discovered countless treasures from the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and was a vocal activist trying to stop Palestinian and Jordanian authorities from destroying Jewish artifacts on the Temple Mount. (The worst case of this was in November 2000, when some 6000 tons of precious earth from the Temple Mount was illegally excavated by the Waqf and dumped in a landfill.) In 2013, Mazar discovered a large cache of treasure from the 7th century that contained a gold coin depicting a menorah, shofar, and Torah. She taught at the Hebrew University and published three books on archaeology, along with dozens of journal articles. She also paved the way for more female archaeologists to enter the field. Despite suffering from an illness, Mazar continued working and digging. Sadly, she passed away earlier this week. Israel Prize winner David Be’eri said that she “will forever be remembered as a pioneer standing shoulder to shoulder with the greatest scholars of Jerusalem throughout the ages.”

Archaeological Proof for the Torah and Exodus

Words of the Week

I fully understand that any minority would prefer to be a majority, it is quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would also prefer Palestine to be the Arab State No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 – that I quite understand; but when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Some of Eilat Mazar’s biggest finds (clockwise from top left): gold medallion with menorah, shofar, and Torah scroll from the 7th century CE; seal of King Hezekiah, 7th century BCE; King Solomon’s walls, 10th century BCE; seal of the Prophet Isaiah, 7th century BCE.