How Stoicism Influenced Christianity.

St Pauls statue in front of St Peters Basilics, Vatican. Sculpted by Adamo Tadolini.

How Stoicism Influenced Christianity


By Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.Oxford University

Before Christianity, there was Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy whose tenets—such as monotheism and belief a rational plan for the Universe—anticipated Christian theology in many ways.

St. Paul statue in front of St. Peters Basilica (Vatican) (Image: Photographed by AngMoKio/Public domain)

Philo of Alexandria was born in 20 B.C., or thereabouts, and died in A.D. 50—so his period covers the life of Jesus Christ. Philo is an interesting figure, a Jew with a Greek name, part of the world of “Hellenized” Judaism.

Sketch of Philo of Alexandria by André Thevet (1502-1509): from 'The real experiences and lives of illustrious Greek, Latin and Paean men' (1584)
Philo of Alexandria was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher  (Image: By André Thévet/Public domain)

He has studied philosophy, studied Aristotle and Plato, and, of course, is a faithful student of the Old Testament. We find in his writings an attempt to integrate systematically the thought of the major Greek philosophers and the scriptural truths of the Old Testament.

To be a Hellenized Jew at the time of the life of Jesus Christ is, among other considerations, to be a scholar—someone who has perhaps gone to Athens, but who has, in any case, regarded the ideas taught in Athens as the apex of philosophical wisdom.

Hellenistic Jews—Diaspora Jews who had adopted the language and culture of the hellenistic world. Contrasted with the Hebraic Jews who remained in Judea and spoke Hebrew.

Even in Philo’s time, Athens remains the brightest spot on every scholar’s map. Once there, the visiting scholar sees not merely the statues and classical architecture. One also breathes the vapors and hears the resonances of that illustrious but now long bygone time.

This is a transcript from the video series The Great Ideas of PhilosophyWatch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

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