Aristobulus of Paneas (c. 160 B.C.E.) was among the earliest Hellenistic Jewish philosophers who attempted to reconcile the Hebrew Scriptures with Greek thought. The exact dates of his life are unclear; scholars have dated his work to the third century B.C.E., or the middle or latter part of the second century B.C.E.
Five existing fragments of the work of Aristobulus, Commentaries on the Writings of Moses, are preserved in the works of Clement of Alexandria, Anatolius, and Eusebius. Written in the form of a dialogue addressed to the king Ptolemy, it was apparently intended to demonstrate that, if correctly understood, the Mosaic law contained all the concepts subsequently taught by the ancient Greek philosophers. Aristobulus used an allegorical approach to the scriptures in an attempt to illustrate the agreement of Pythagorean, Platonic, and Stoic thought with Jewish ideas. Aristobulus’ assertion that Moses was the father of Greek philosophy and culture was embraced by later Jewish Hellenists, especially Philo. His work was an early example of the use of Greek philosophical concepts to develop logical explanations for Jewish theological assertions.
Aristobulus of Paneas lived in the third or second century B.C.E. The dates of his life are uncertain. Anatolius of Laodicea (270) placed him in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (third century B.C.E.); Gercke in the time of Philometor II Lathyrus (latter part of second century B.C.E.); while more reliable testimony indicates that he was a contemporary of Ptolemy Philometor (middle of second century B.C.E.). He is the author of a book the exact title of which is not certain, although there is sufficient evidence to prove that it was an exposition of the Law.
Aristobulus was among the earliest of the Jewish Alexandrian philosophers who attempted to reconcile and identify Greek philosophical conceptions with the Jewish religion. Aristobulus used an allegorical approach to the scriptures in an attempt to illustrate the agreement of Pythagorean, Platonic, and Stoic thought with Jewish ideas, especially those characteristic of Proverbs, Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Solomon, Pseudo-Phocylides, and 4 Maccabees.
His only extant work, Commentaries on the Writings of Moses, was apparently addressed to Ptolemy, a non-Jew, and was intended to demonstrate that the Mosaic law had provided the foundation for the development of Greek philosophy. Aristobulus de-emphasized the anthropomorphism of the Old Testament, but his thought remained Jewish and theistic. He did not accept Stoic pantheism, nor anticipate the concept of Logos later developed by Philo Judaeus.
Five existing fragments of the work of Aristobulus are preserved in the works of Clement of Alexandria, Anatolius, and Eusebius. The earliest biblical reference to Aristobulus is in a prescript to a letter from Palestinean Jews to Egyptian Jews in 2 Macc 1.10. In that passage he is said to be of the family of anointed priests and teacher of Ptolemy the king, apparently Ptolemy Philometer VI (181-145 B.C.E.) from the context of the letter.
Fragments of his work, called Commentaries on the Writings of Moses, are quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 1, 15; 5:14) and Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica 8, 9; 13, 12; Historia Ecclesiastica 7:32). The surviving fragments contain expositions of sections of the Books of Genesis and Exodus. The two fair-sized fragments preserved by Eusebius ("Præp. Ev." viii. 10, xiii. 12) contain all the passages from Aristobulus quoted by Clement. Clement’s statement that Aristobulus intended to show "that the peripatetic philosophy was dependent upon the law of Moses and the other prophets" (Stromata. 14. 97), is not entirely correct, since Aristobulus also used Platonic and Pythagorean concepts.
The account of Anatolius, bishop of Laodicea, represents a second independent tradition. Anatolius identifies Aristobulus as the eminent Jewish author of Commentaries on the Law of Moses which were dedicated to a king Ptolemy, but Anatolius dates Aristobulus earlier than the philosophers Philo and Josephus, and identifies him as the translator of the LXX rather than as a philosopher or a priest. Since the translation of LXX took place under the auspices of Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Anatolius implies that Commentaries was addressed to them rather than to Ptolemy Philometer. The fragment preserved by Anatolius discusses the Hebrew calendar and establishes that the Passover always falls immediately after the vernal equinox (Eusebius, "Historia Ecclesiastica," vii. 32, 17).
Aristobulus’ work was written in the form of a dialogue addressed to the king Ptolemy, and was apparently intended to demonstrate that, if correctly understood, the Mosaic law contained all the concepts subsequently taught by the ancient Greek philosophers. Aristobulus asserted that portions of the Pentateuch had been translated into Greek before it was translated entirely in the days of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and that these portions had influenced the Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato and formed the basis of their philosophical teachings.
In Commentaries, Aristobulus cited supposed verses of Orpheus, Hesiod, Homer, and Linus, which strongly resemble the Mosaic writings. These passages were obvious Jewish forgeries, and some scholars have attempted to discredit Artistobulus by claiming that he authored them. However, it is more likely that Aristobulus derived these verses in good faith from an older Jewish work.
Aristobulus’ assertion, that Moses was the father of Greek philosophy and culture was embraced by later Jewish Hellenists, especially Philo Judaeus. His work was an early example of the use of Greek philosophical concepts to develop logical explanations for Jewish theological assertions.
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