Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies


Stephen Westerholm




This thesis looks at two seminal Jewish thinkers of the 1st century C.E., Philo of Alexandria and the Apostle Paul, and compares their distinct views of the Mosaic law with Graeco-Roman discussions of law. Specifically, it asks how Graeco-Roman discussions of "higher" law--the law of nature (nomos physeos), the unwritten law (agraphos nomos), and the living law (nomos empsychos)--influenced, or might have influenced, Philo and Paul in their attempts to understand the Mosaic law in an Hellenistic environment. Each of these forms of Graeco-Roman law implied a depreciation of the written, or civil, law. Did Philo, who adopted each of these forms of law, imply such a depreciation of the Mosaic law? Did he intend, as a number of scholars have argued, to claim that the Mosaic law was a second best choice for the truly wise person? This thesis sets Philo squarely in the context of these Graeco-Roman discussions, in order that not only his dependence but also his uniqueness may be seen in his adoption of these ideal forms of law. The case of Paul is somewhat different. Paul did claim that the law of Moses was abolished for the Christian. His radical response to the Torah has no precedent in Jewish thought, yet for the most part his view of the law seems not to be dependent upon Hellenistic thought. Was he nevertheless influenced by these Graeco-Roman discussions in his extreme reaction to the continuing validity of the law of Moses for the Christian? Was he influenced, particularly, by the law of nature, which claimed that the sage was not bound by the written law, or by the living law, which replaced the written law with the king, the living law? This thesis compares Paul's thought on the law to these Graeco-Roman discussions of the "higher" law. The thesis begins with an overview of the concepts of "higher law," and then moves to a study of law in Philo and in Paul. It finishes with a comparison of Philo and Paul and their responses to the Mosaic law. It contends that in their views of the Mosaic law Philo remains true, even in the face of Hellenism, while Paul rejects the law, because of his experience of Jesus Christ and the present eschatological reality in which he lived.

McMaster University Library

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