ARISTOBULUS (’Αριστοβουλος)—a philosopher of Alexander who lived in the early second century BC.

Aristobulus lived and worked in the times of Ptolemy VI Philometor to whom he dedicated an extensive biblical commentary. Only fragments of it have survived in the works of Eusebius of Caesarea (Praeparatio evangelica) and Clement of Alexandria (these authors call Aristobulus a peripatetic, but wrongly because he also looked to the thought of Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics). Aristobulus was a forerunner of Philo of Alexandria in his employment of the allegorical interpretation of the Bible. He said that the anthropomorphism of the Bible should be interpreted in the same way the Stoics understood “ratio physica, as a sensory metaphor of what is spiritual and can be reached only by the intellect (“the hand of God” is “the power of God”). Like Philo later and some Christian apologists, Aristobulus defended the idea that Greek philosophy is completely in harmony with the contents of the Bible. He even argued that the Greeks (not only the philosophers but also the poets: Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod) drew inspiration and wisdom from the wisdom of the revealed books. They supposedly used a Greek translation of the Bible that allegedly predated the Septuagint. Aristobulus pointed to inauthentic or distorted citations from the works of the Greek philosophers and poets to show that their authors drew on the message of the Jewish holy books.

Of the extant fragments of Aristobulus’ writings we may reconstruct his most important positions on God, the world, and man. God exists for himself and remains as a being beyond and external to the world; he rules everything with his divine power and is omnipresent. God is invisible and can only be known by the mind (νους [nous]). The light created by God at the very beginning (the Book of Genesis) is a metaphor of wisdom that illuminates everything (some peripatetics also compared wisdom to a torch that scatters the darkness). Wisdom has a limited independence of existence. The influence of Pythagoreanism can be seen in the symbolism of numbers to which Aristobulus appeals. The order of the world is based on the number seven (seven days of the creation of the world). The word id ordered by θεια δυναμις [theia dynamis]—divine power. Evil does not come from God who is good by his essence, but from various powers (including negative powers) that occur around God.

N. Walter, Der Thoraausleger Aristoboulos zu seinen Fragmenten und zu pseudoepigraphischen Resten der jüdischen-hellenistischen Literatur, B 1964; L. Joachimowicz, Wstęp [Introduction], in: Filon Aleksandryski [Philo of Alexandria], Pisma [Writings], Wwa 1986, I 10–11.

Jacek Banaś

<--Go back