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Kass Evans, M.A., M.A., M.Ln.

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Alexander the Alabarch: Roman and Jew

Katherine G. Evans

Summary presented to the Philo of Alexandria Seminar of the Nov. 1995 annual meeting of Society of Biblical Literature. Full text of article published in SBL Seminar Papers, 1995, p. 576-594.

The present study represents a "back door" entry to Philonic studies in that it attempts to reconstruct the historical Philo based on what can be known about his brother Alexander the alabarch. I propose that Alexander was both a very prominent Roman citizen and a very prominent Jew with social ties that stretched from the Imperial family in Rome to the royal family and priesthood in Judea and that Philo to some extent shared this status.

Alexander is known to us directly only through 5 references in Josephus and indirectly through Philo's On Animals. Although Josephus' reliability is always at issue, I believe that here he was probably accurate because Josephus almost certainly had met a number of Alexander's relatives if not the alabarch himself and because the War and Antiquities were dedicated to the Emperors Vespasian and Titus who were close friends with Alexander's son Ti. Alexander.

In War 5.205 it is learned that Alexander had the nine gates of the Temple in Jerusalem overlaid with massive plates of silver and gold, a gift which one can assume would have placed him on very good terms with the Temple High Priest among others. This is but one of a number of indications of Alexander's great wealth. In around 35 C.E. Agrippa sailed to Alexandria and begged Alexander for a loan of 200,000 drachmas (Antiquities 18.159-160). Agrippa and Alexander were probably previously acquainted particularly since both men were friends of Claudius before he became Emperor. Josephus tells us that Alexander was "old friends" with Claudius which would suggest that they were roughly contemporary in age or born around 10 B.C.E. Since there is no evidence that Claudius ever journeyed to Egypt, Alexander probably spent time in Rome. It is plausible that he was educated there and grew up "in the circle of Claudius" as Josephus reports Agrippa did. Alexander also became an epitropos for the mother of Claudius, Antonia Drusus, which I suggest meant that Alexander became the procurator of Antonia's extensive land estates in Egypt. At some point Alexander was appointed "alabarch" which appears to have been a Roman magistry responsible for tax assessment.

Sometime between 37 and 41 C.E. the Emperor Gaius imprisoned Alexander in a fit of anger. The exact reason is unknown but may have been connected somehow with Philo's embassy to Gaius in 39/40. Upon becoming Emperor, Claudius released Alexander from prison and soon thereafter Alexander's son Marcus married Agrippa's daughter Berenice thus linking Alexander's family to the Jewish ruling class through marriage. Josephus also reported that Alexander surpassed all his fellow citizens in both ancestry and wealth (Antiquities 20.100). What Josephus considered to be "superior ancestry" may be elucidated by the beginning of his Life where he relates that for Jews a claim to nobility includes a connection to the priesthood and having royal blood by being descended from the Hasmoneans. If this characterization applies then we can deduce that Alexander was considered a nobleman in both Alexandria and Judea tracing his ancestry back to the Hasmoneans and the priesthood. Josephus also mentions Alexander's religious devotion and adherence to his ancestral practices.

There can be no question that Alexander was a Roman citizen. This is supported by the Roman names of his two sons, Marcus and Ti. Julius Alexander and the status of the latter. Ti. Alexander held the exalted status of inlustris eques or "knight of the first rank" which was second only to the Roman senatorial class. Besides being a procurator of Judea he attained the two pinnacles of an equestrian career, Prefect of Egypt and Praetorian Prefect. It would have been virtually impossible for Ti. Alexander to obtain such distinguished rank and titles if his father had not already been established as one of the Roman elite. In all likelihood Roman citizenship was granted to Alexander's father or grandfather by Julius Caesar.

Alexander's full Roman name would have been some unknown first name or praenomen followed by Julius Alexander. A variation of Alexander's name is found in some manuscripts of Antiquities 19.276. In the passage which mentions Alexander's imprisonment by Gaius some manuscripts call him Alexander Lysimachus or simply Lysimachus. This is likely a later confusion with a third brother named Lysimachus as clarified in Philo's On Animals.

Finally, I return now to the question at hand. What can knowledge of the status of Alexander reveal to us about Philo's relationship to Judaism? The answer to this question may depend partly upon the exact blood relationship of the brothers. Did they have the same two parents and if not did they share the parent through whom Alexander derived his "superior ancestry?" Josephus tells us that Philo was a man held in the highest honor which may indicate that they did. I have suggested above that Alexander was descended from priests and Jerome provides an independent witness that this was also true of Philo. Philo was also related to the ruling class of Judea through the marriage of his nephew Marcus if not before that. I have no doubt that when Philo made his pilgrimmage to Jerusalem as described in On Providence that he was welcomed as an honored guest for his brother's sake as well as for his own. It is also very likely that Philo was a Roman citizen since Alexander's parents would have only married Romans to keep the citizenship in the family. Interestingly the possession of Roman citizenship appears to have opened doors among both Jews and Romans for the family of Alexander the alabarch and may have done so as well for Philo.

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