Philo Goes to Philippi: the Moses Christology of Philippians 2.5-11. Society of Biblical Literature Southeastern Regional Meeting, Judaism unit. March 2021


Most readers of Philippians 2.5-11 have noticed one scriptural allusion or another in the passage. For example, the humble obedience of Jesus has been seen as a reversal of the proud self-exaltation of Adam, and it has been controversially suggested that the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 40-55 is in view. I argue here, however, that the scriptural allusion that predominates in the passage, and that has been almost entirely overlooked in the literature, is the figure of Moses, as construed by Second Temple Jewish writers. Several such authors – most explicitly and consistently, Philo – along with at least two NT writers and later Rabinnic tradition, held that Moses (i) was born in a place of honor and power, (ii) refused to hold on to this privilege, (iii) humbly forsook the palace of pharaoh for a position of lower status, identifying with his enslaved people, and (iv) was eventually exalted by God, which in some versions includes his being given cosmic lordship and even God’s own name. As far as Biblical allusions go, this is about as close as we might come to an exact match of the Christological profile of Philippians 2. If, as some have argued, Paul’s opponents in Philippi were Alexandrian followers of Philo, this pre-Pauline hymn may have been composed as a theological polemic against Philonian views of Moses, in that Jesus traverses not only the distance between royal privilege and slavery, but also that between the form of God and the form of a human being. In an interesting case of quadruple intertextuality (Exodus >> Philo >> Christian hymnist >> Paul), then, the apostle’s redeployment of the hymn adds another layer of contrast: unlike the Philonian Moses, Jesus functions as an example to the Philippian community (pace Käsemann), his divine humility constituting its moral code.

Service Performed By


  • March 2021

Service or Event Name

  • Society of Biblical Literature Southeastern Regional Meeting, Judaism unit