Philo of Alexandria: On the Life of Abraham

Introduction, Translation, and Commentary


On the Life of Abraham displays Philo’s philosophical, exegetical, and literary genius at its best. Philo begins by introducing the biblical figures Enos, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as unwritten laws. Then, interweaving literal, ethical, and allegorical interpretations, Philo presents the life and achievements of Abraham, founder of the Jewish nation, in the form of a Greco-Roman bios, or biography. Ellen Birnbaum and John Dillon explain why and how this work is important within the context of Philo’s own oeuvre, early Jewish and Christian exegesis, and ancient philosophy. They also offer a new English translation and detailed analyses, in which they elucidate the meaning of Philo’s thought, including his perplexing notion that Israel’s ancestors were laws in themselves.

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Ellen Birnbaum, Ph.D. (1992, Columbia University), is author of The Place of Judaism in Philo’s Thought: Israel, Jews, and Proselytes (Scholars Press, 1996) and several other studies of Philo and the ancient Alexandrian Jewish community.
John Dillon is Regius Professor of Greek (Emeritus) at Trinity College Dublin. His chief publications are in the area of the Platonic tradition, but he has also published extensively on Philo, and in the field of Patristics.
General Introduction to the Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series
Gregory E. Sterling

 1 The Place of the Treatise in Philo’s Works
 2 The Place of the Treatise in Philo’s Life
 3 Genre, Aims, and Audience
 4 Structure, Content, and Exegetical Approaches
 5 Use and Interpretation of the Bible
 6 Major Themes
 7 Intellectual and Cultural Influences
 8 Previous Scholarship
 9 Shared and Distinctive Features and Their Implications
 10 Nachleben
 11 The Text of the Treatise
 12 Some Notes on the Method Used in the Translation and Commentary

Translation: Philo of Alexandria, De Abrahamo

Part One: Introduction, §§ 1–59

Part Two: The Life of Abraham, §§ 60–276

Notes to the Text and Translation


Title of the Work

Part One: Introduction, §§ 1–59
 A Prologue, §§ 1–6
 B The First Triad, §§ 7–47
 C The Second Triad

Part Two: The Life of Abraham
 A The Piety of Abraham
 B The Humanity of Abraham, §§ 208–261
 C Conclusion, §§ 262–276

Students and scholars of Philo, biblical literature, ancient Judaism, classics, ancient philosophy, and early Christianity.
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