Alexandria (/ˈfaɪloʊ/; Ancient Greek: Φίλων,
translit. Phílōn; Hebrew: ידידיה הכהן,
translit. Yedidia (Jedediah) HaCohen; c. 20 BCE –
c. 50 CE), also called
Philo Judaeus, was a
philosopher who lived in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt.
Philo used philosophical allegory to harmonize Jewish scripture,
mainly the Torah, with Greek philosophy. His method followed the
practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy. His
allegorical exegesis was important for several Christian Church
Fathers, but he has barely any reception history within Rabbinic
Judaism. He believed that literal interpretations of the Hebrew Bible
would stifle humanity's perception of a
God too complex and marvelous
to be understood in literal human terms.
Some scholars hold that his concept of the
Logos as God's creative
principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars deny direct
influence but say that
Early Christianity borrow from a
The only event in Philo's life that can be decisively dated is his
participation in the embassy to
Rome in 40 CE. He represented the
Alexandrian Jews in a delegation to the Roman Emperor Gaius (Caligula)
following civil strife between the Alexandrian Jewish and Greek
communities. The story of this event, and a few other biographical
details, are found in Josephus and in Philo's own works, especially
in Legatio ad Gaium (Embassy to Gaius) of which only two of the
original five volumes survive.
1.1 Embassy to Gaius
3.1 View of scripture
3.2 View of God
5 Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew
6 Influence and interpretations
7 Texts and translations
8 See also
12 External links
Philo was probably born with the name Julius Philo. His ancestors and
family were contemporaries to the rule of the
Ptolemaic dynasty and
the rule of the Seleucid Empire. Although the names of his parents are
Philo came from a family which was noble, honourable and
wealthy. It was either his father or paternal grandfather who was
Roman citizenship from Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar.
Jerome wrote that
Philo came "de genere sacerdotum" (from a priestly
family). His ancestors and family had social ties and
connections to the priesthood in Judea, the
Hasmonean Dynasty, the
Herodian Dynasty and the
Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome.
Philo had two brothers,
Alexander the Alabarch and Lysimachus. Through
Philo had two nephews
Tiberius Julius Alexander
Tiberius Julius Alexander and Marcus
Julius Alexander. The latter was the first husband of the Herodian
Princess Berenice. Marcus died in 43 or 44.
Philo visited the Temple in Jerusalem at least once in his
Philo would have been a contemporary to
Jesus of Nazareth
and his Apostles.
Philo along with his brothers received a thorough
education. They were educated in the
Hellenistic culture of Alexandria
and Roman culture, to a degree in Ancient Egyptian culture and
particularly in the traditions of Judaism, in the study of Jewish
traditional literature and in Greek philosophy.
Philo's dates of birth and death are unknown but can be judged by
Philo's description of himself as "old" when he was part of the
delegation to Gaius
Caligula in 38 CE. Jewish history professor Daniel
R. Schwartz estimates his birth year as sometime between 20 and 10
BCE. Philo's reference to an event under the reign of Emperor Claudius
indicates that he died sometime after 41 CE.
Embassy to Gaius
See also: Alexandrian riots (38)
Woodcut from Die Schedelsche Weltchronik (Nuremberg Chronicle)
In Legatio ad Gaium (Embassy to Gaius),
Philo describes his diplomatic
mission to Caligula, one of the few events in his life which is known
specifically. He relates that he was carrying a petition describing
the sufferings of the Alexandrian Jews and asking the emperor to
secure their rights.
Philo gives a description of their sufferings,
more detailed than Josephus's, to characterize the Alexandrian Greeks
as the aggresors in the civil strife that had left many Jews and
Philo lived in an era of increasing ethnic tension in Alexandria,
exacerbated by the new strictures of imperial rule. Some expatriate
Alexandria condemned the Jews for a supposed alliance with
Rome, even as
Rome was seeking to suppress Jewish nationalism in
Judea. In Against Flaccus,
Philo describes the situation of the
Jews in Egypt, writing that they numbered not less than a million and
inhabited two of the five districts in Alexandria. He recounts the
abuses of the prefect Flaccus, who he says retaliated against the Jews
when they refused to worship
Caligula as a god. Daniel Schwartz
surmises that given this tense background it may have been politically
Philo to favor abstract monotheism instead of overt
Philo considers Caligula's plan to erect a statue of himself in the
Second Temple to be a provocation, asking, "Are you making war upon
us, because you anticipate that we will not endure such indignity, but
that we will fight on behalf of our laws, and die in defence of our
national customs? For you cannot possibly have been ignorant of what
was likely to result from your attempt to introduce these innovations
respecting our temple." In his entire presentation, he implicitly
supports the Jewish commitment to rebel against the emperor rather
than allow such sacrilege to take place.
Philo says he was regarded by his people as having unusual prudence,
due to his age, education, and knowledge. This indicates that he was
already an older man at this time (40 CE).
In Antiquities of the Jews,
Josephus tells of Philo's selection by the
Alexandrian Jewish community as their principal representative before
the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula. He says that
Philo agreed to
represent the Alexandrian Jews in regard to civil disorder that had
developed between the Jews and the Greeks.
Josephus also tells us that
Philo was skilled in philosophy, and that he was brother to the
alabarch Alexander . According to Josephus,
Philo and the larger
Jewish community refused to treat the emperor as a god, to erect
statues in honor of the emperor, and to build altars and temples to
Philo believed that
God actively supported
Josephus' complete comments about Philo:
There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish
inhabitants and the Greeks; and three ambassadors were chosen out of
each party that were at variance, who came to Gaius. Now one of these
ambassadors from the people of
Alexandria was Apion, (29) who uttered
many blasphemies against the Jews; and, among other things that he
said, he charged them with neglecting the honors that belonged to
Caesar; for that while all who were subject to the Roman empire built
altars and temples to Gaius, and in other regards universally received
him as they received the gods, these Jews alone thought it a
dishonorable thing for them to erect statues in honor of him, as well
as to swear by his name. Many of these severe things were said by
Apion, by which he hoped to provoke Gaius to anger at the Jews, as he
was likely to be. But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a
man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the Alabarch, (30)
and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to
make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him,
and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly
appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo
being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about
him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius's words indeed
showed anger at them, but in reality had already set
Main article: Philo's works
Philo's works have been preserved in Greek, while others have
survived through Armenian translations, and a smaller amount survives
in a Latin translation. Exact date of writing and original plan of
organization is not known for much of the text attributed to
Most of Philo's surviving work deals with the
Pentateuch (the first
five books of the Bible). Within this corpus are three categories:
Quaestiones ("Inquiries") – short verse-by-verse exposition: four
books on the
Book of Genesis
Book of Genesis and two on the Book of Exodus. All six
books are preserved through an Armenian translation, which was
published by Jean-Baptiste Aucher in 1826. Comparison with surviving
Greek and Latin fragments recommends the translation as literal and
accurate so far as it goes, but suggests that some of the original
content is missing. There are thought to be twelve original books, six
on Genesis and six on Exodus.
Allegoral Commentary – longer exegesis explaining esoteric meanings;
the surviving text deals only with the Book of Genesis, with the
notable omission of Genesis 1.
"Exposition of the Law" – more straightforward synthesis of topics
in the Pentateuch, probably written for gentiles as well as Jews.
Philo is also credited with writing:
Judaism including On the Life of Moses, On the Jews, and
On the Contemplative Life.
Historical works (describing current events in
Alexandria and the
Roman Empire), including Against Flaccus and Embassy to Gaius.
Philosophical works including Every Good Man Is Free, On the Eternity
of the World, On Animals, and On Providence, the latter two surviving
only through Armenian translation.
Philo represents the apex of Jewish-
Hellenistic syncretism. His work
attempts to combine
Moses into one philosophical system.
His ethics were strongly influenced by
Aristotelianism and Stoicism,
preferring a morality of virtues without passions, such as lust/desire
and anger, but with a "common human sympathy".
View of scripture
Philo bases his doctrines on the Hebrew Bible, which he considers as
the source and standard not only of religious truth but of all
truth.[a] Its pronouncements are the ἱερὸς λόγος,
θεῖος λόγος, and ὀρθὸς λόγος (holy word, godly
word, righteous word), uttered sometimes directly and sometimes
through the mouth of a prophet, and especially through Moses, whom
Philo considers the real medium of revelation. Although he
distinguishes between the words uttered by
God Himself, as the
Decalogue, and the edicts of Moses, as the special laws, he does
not carry out this distinction, since he believes in general that
everything in the
Torah is of divine origin, even the letters and
Philo regards the
Bible as the source not only of religious
revelation, but also of philosophic truth; for, according to him, the
Greek philosophers also have borrowed from the Bible: Heraclitus,
according to "Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit" § 43 [i. 503]; and
Zeno, according to "Quod Omnis Probus Liber", § 8 [ii. 454].
Philo's allegorical interpretation of scripture allows him to grapple
with morally disturbing events and impose a cohesive explanation of
otherwise contradictory and confusing stories. Specifically, Philo
interprets the characters of the
Bible as aspects of the human being,
and the stories of the
Bible as episodes from universal human
experience. For example,
Adam represents the mind and
Eve the senses.
Noah represents tranquility, a stage of "relative" (incomplete but
View of God
Main article: Philo's view of God
Philo affirms a transcendent
God without physical features
or emotional qualities resembling those of human beings. In Philo, God
exists beyond time and space and does not make special interventions
into the world because He already encompasses the entire cosmos.
Philo's notion is even more abstract than that of the Monad of
Pythagoras or the Good of Plato. Only God’s existence is certain, no
appropriate predicates can be conceived. Following Plato, Philo
equates matter to nothingness and sees its effect in fallacy, discord,
damage, and decay of things. This view enables
Philo to combine
the Jewish belief in creation with the Greek conviction about the
formation of all things from the permanent matter.
Philo wrote that
God created and governed the world through mediators.
Logos is the chief among them, the next to God, demiurge of the world.
Logos is immaterial, an adequate image of God, his shadow, his
firstborn son. Being the mind of the Eternal,
imperishable. He is neither uncreated as
God is, nor created as
men are, but occupies a middle position. He has no autonomous power,
only an entrusted one.
Philo probably was the first philosopher who identified Plato’s
Ideas with Creator’s thoughts. These thoughts make the contents of
Logos; they were the seals for making sensual things during world
Logos resembles a book with creature paradigms.
Architect’s design before the construction of a city serves to Philo
as another simile of Logos. Since creation,
Logos binds things
together. As the receptacle and holder of ideas,
Logos is distinct
from the material world. At the same time,
Logos pervades the world,
Logos has the function of an advocate on behalf of humanity and also
that of a God’s envoy to the world. He puts human minds in
order. The right reason is an infallible law, the source of any
other laws. The angel closing Balaam’s way (Numbers XXII, 31) is
Philo as manifestation of Logos, which acts as man’s
Philo frequently engages in Pythagorean-inspired numerology,
explaining at length the importance of religious numbers such as six,
seven, and ten.
Commentators can infer from his mission to
involved in politics. However, the nature of his political beliefs,
and especially his viewpoint on the Roman Empire, is a matter of
Philo did suggest in his writings that a prudent man should withhold
his true opinion about tyrants:
caution is the proper protection against one's suffering sudden
calamity, since it seems to me that caution is for an individual what
its wall is for a city. So then are those people not out of their
wits, completely mad, who are rash enough to display inopportune
frankness, and dare at times to speak and act in defiance of kings and
tyrants? They do not seem to perceive that they are not only like
animals putting their necks under the yoke, but that they are
betraying their whole bodies and souls, as well as their wives and
children and that especially kindred crowd and community of companions
and relations. [...] Now when occasion offers it is a good thing to
oppose our enemies and to destroy their power of attack, but lacking
such opportunity it is safe to keep quiet, while if one wishes to get
any benefit from them it is advantageous to propitiate them.[not
in citation given]
Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew
Philo was more fluent in Greek than in Hebrew and read the Jewish
Scriptures chiefly from the Septuagint, a
Koine Greek translation of
Hebraic texts later compiled as the
Hebrew Bible and the
Septuagint translates the phrase מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה
Malakh YHWH, lit. "Messenger of Yahweh") as ἄγγελος
Κυρίου (ángelos Kyríou, lit. "angel of the Lord"). Philo
identified the angel of the Lord (in the singular) with the
Peter Schäfer argues that Philo's
Logos was derived
from his understanding of the "postbiblical Wisdom literature, in
particular the Wisdom of Solomon". The
Wisdom of Solomon
Wisdom of Solomon is a
Jewish work composed in Alexandria, Egypt, around the 1st century CE,
with the aim of bolstering the faith of the Jewish community in a
hostile Greek world. It is one of the seven Sapiential or wisdom books
included within the Septuagint.
The extent of Philo's knowledge of Hebrew is debated. His numerous
etymologies of Hebrew names—which are along the lines of the
etymologic midrash to Genesis and of the earlier rabbinism, though not
modern Hebrew philology—suggest some familiarity.
for some names three or four etymologies, sometimes including the
correct Hebrew root (e.g., יָרַד, yarád, lit. "(to)
descend") as the origin of the name Jordan). However, his works do not
display much understanding of Hebrew grammar, and they tend to follow
the translation of the
Septuagint more closely than the Hebrew
Influence and interpretations
For a long time,
Philo was read and explained mostly by Christian
Azariah dei Rossi's Me'or Enayim: Imre Binah (1575), one of the first
Jewish commentaries on Philo, describes four "serious defects" of
Philo: reading the
Torah in Greek, not Hebrew; belief in primordial
matter rather than creatio ex nihilo; unbelief in the Lord as
evidenced by excessively allegorical interpretation of scripture; and
neglect of the Jewish oral tradition. Dei Rossi later gives a possible
Philo and writes that he can neither absolve or convict
Texts and translations
The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. Translated by Charles
Duke Yonge. 1854–1855.
Cohn, Leopold & Paul Wendland, Philonis Alexandrini Opera quæ
supersunt (The Surviving Works of
Philo of Alexandria) [Greek and
Latin]. Berlin: George Reimer.
Volumes 1–3 (1896, 1897, 1898)
Voumes 4–6 (1902, 1906, 1915)
Volume 7 (1926; indexed by Hans Leisegang)
"Index of Philosophical Writings" (PDF). Documenta Catholica Omnia (in
Greek). [Online Greek text of Volumes 1-7 above. Under "Graecum
- Greco - Greek" section]
Philo with an English Translation. 1–10. Translated by F.H. Colson.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1929–62.
Terian, Abraham, ed. (1981). Philonis Alexandrini de animalibus: The
Armenian Text with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary.
Chico, CA: Scholars Press. ISBN 9780891304722.
Land of Onias
Allegorical interpretations of Plato
^ The extent of his canon cannot be exactly determined. He does not
quote the Books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations,
Ecclesiastes, or Esther.
^ Keener, Craig S (2003). The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 1.
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson. pp. 343–347.
^ Antiquities xviii.8, § 1; comp. ib. xix.5, § 1; xx.5, § 2
Richard Carrier (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus; Sheffield
Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 ; p. 304
^ Jerome, De Viris Illustribus (e-text), Caput XI (English
^ a b c d Daniel R. Schwartz, "Philo, His Family, and His Times", in
^ On Providence 2.64.
^ In addition to the familiar texts that form the Hebrew Bible, the
Mishnah (or rather the oral Jewish law, since the
Mishnah was first
redacted and written down in 220AD) and a range of non-canonical
^ Flaccus, Chapters 6–9 (43, 53–56, 62, 66, 68, 71–72), Yonge's
^ a b Embassy to Gaius, Chapter 28-31, Yonge's translation (online)
^ Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 8. 1.
^ Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.8, § 1, Whiston's translation
^ a b c James R. Royse, with
Adam Kamesar, "The Works of Philo", in
Kamesar, ed. (2009).
^ Moore, Edward (June 28, 2005). "
Middle Platonism –
Alexandria". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
ISSN 2161-0002. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
^ The Works of Philo. Translated by C.D. Yonke. Foreword by David M.
Scholer Yonge. 1993. ISBN 9780943575933.
^ "De Agricultura Noë," § 12 [i. 308]; "De Somniis," i. 681, ii. 25
^ "De Specialibus Legibus", §§ 2 et seq. [ii. 300 et seq.]; "De
Præmiis et Pœnis", § 1 [ii. 408]
^ "De Mutatione Nominum", § 8 [i. 587]
^ Crawford Howell Toy; Carl Siegfried; Jacob Zallel Lauterbach
Philo Judaeus: His Methods of Exegesis". In Singer,
Isidore; et al. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls
^ Sandmel (1979), p. 24–25; 84–85.
^ On the Unchangeableness of God, XIII, 62 Archived 2010-02-01 at the
^ Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXII, 160 Archived 2010-02-01 at
the Wayback Machine.
^ On the Confusion of Tongues, XIV, 61-63 Archived 2010-02-01 at the
^ On the Confusion of Tongues, XI, 41 Archived 2010-02-01 at the
^ On Flight and Finding, XX, 111 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback
^ On the Creation, XLIV, 129 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback
^ Allegorical Interpretation, I, VIII, 19 Archived 2010-02-01 at the
^ On the Creation, VI, 24 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback Machine.
^ On Flight and Finding, XX, 112 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback
^ On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile, V, 14; On Dreams, XXXVII,
2.245 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Who is the Heir of Divine Things? XLII, 205-206 Archived 2010-02-01
at the Wayback Machine.
^ On the Creation, LI, 145-146 Archived 2010-02-01 at the Wayback
^ Every Good Man is Free, VII, 46-47]
^ On the Unchageableness of God, XXXVII, 181-182 Archived 2010-02-01
at the Wayback Machine.
^ Sandmel (1979), p. 22–23. [Sandmel notes that Philo's use of
numbers differs entirely from gematria using Hebrew letters.]
^ David T. Runia, "The Idea and the Reality of the City in the Thought
Philo of Alexandria"; Journal of the History of Ideas 61(3), July
^ Goodenough (1983), pp. 1–3.
^ De somniis ii, 81–91; quoted in Goodenough (1938), pp. 5–6.
^ a b Daniel R. Schwartz, "Philo, His Family, and His Times", in
Kamesar (2009), p. 18. "At a very early stage, the use of Hebrew seems
to have declined and the language of the Jews of
Alexandria came to be
Greek exclusively. The translation of the
Torah (and in time the other
books) allowed Greek to be a vehicle for Jewish culture. Indeed, there
developed a very rich Jewish literature in Greek already in the second
century BCE. By the time of the era of Philo, it is hardly surprising
that he was a highly accomplished Greek stylist, and probably knew
little to no Hebrew."
^ Hugh Pope,
Catholic Encyclopedia 1907 "Angels"
^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum,
2003, p. 460.
^ J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed., HarperOne, 1978,
^ Schäfer, Peter (24 January 2011). The Origins of Jewish Mysticism.
Princeton University Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-691-14215-7. It
is more than likely that
Philo knew the postbiblical Wisdom
literature, in particular the Wisdom of Solomon. and was influenced by
it. The obvious identification of
Logos and Wisdom in the Wisdom of
Solomon is a case in point. Wisdom (Greek sophia) plays a prominent
Philo as well and is yet another power among the divine powers
that acts as an agent of creation. Whereas the Logos, as we have seen,
is responsible for the intelligible world, Wisdom would seem to be
responsible for the world perceived by the senses.
Philo Judaeus: His Knowledge of Hebrew". Jewish Encyclopedia.
^ Anthony Hanson, "Philo's Etymologies"; Journal of Theological
Studies 18, 1967; pp. 128–139.
^ Naomi G. Cohen, "
Philo Judaeus and the True
Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 41(3), Fall 2008.
Borgen, Peder (1997).
Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time.
Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004103887.
Goodenough, Erwin R. (1938). The Politics of
Philo Judaeus: Practice
and Theory. With a General Bibliography of
Philo by Howard L. Goodhart
and Erwin R. Goodenough. Yale University Press.
Hillar, Marian (2012). From
Logos to Trinity: The Evolution of
Religious Beliefs from
Pythagoras to Tertullian. New York: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 9781107013308.
Kamesar, Adam, ed. (2009). The Cambridge Companion to Philo. Cambridge
University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-86090-1
Runia, David T. (1986).
Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato.
Philosophia antiqua, 44. Brill, Leiden.
Runia, D. T. (1990).
Exegesis and Philosophy: Studies on
Alexandria. Variorum. ISBN 9780860782872.
Runia, D. T. (1993).
Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 9789023227137.
Runia, D. T. (2001). On the Creation of the Cosmos according to Moses.
Number 1 in
Alexandria Commentary Series. Brill, Leiden.
Sandmel, Samuel. (1979).
Philo of Alexandria: An Introduction. Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-502514-8.
Sly, Dorothy I. (1996). Philo's Alexandria. New York: Routledge.
Lévy, Carlos (February 6, 2018). "
Philo of Alexandria". Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Hillar, Marian (April 21, 2005). "
Alexandria (c. 20
B.C.E.—40 C.E.)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Find more aboutPhiloat's sister projects
Media from Wikimedia Commons
Quotations from Wikiquote
Texts from Wikisource
Philo Judaeus of Alexandria: Jews in the Greek World by Dr.
"Preface to the Original Edition of Yonge's Translation".
* Crawford Howell Toy; Carl Siegfried; Jacob Zallel Lauterbach
Philo Judæus". In Singer, Isidore; et al. Jewish
Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
Bréhier, Emile (1911). "
Philo Judæus". The Catholic Encyclopedia.
12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Philo Judaeus (Jewish philosopher)". Encyclopædia Britannica.
"Studia Philonica Annual". Society of Biblical Literature.
Bradshaw, Rob. "
Philo of Alexandria". EarlyChurch.org.uk.
Seland, Torrey. "
Philo Resource Page 3.1". torreys.org.
Seland, Torrey. "Philonica et Neotestamentica".
Philo of Alexandria". earlyjewishwritings.com.
Open source XML versions of
Philo's works have been made available by
the Open Greek and Latin Project at the University of Leipzig. English
translations of Philo's writings are also available here.
Alexandria at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Philo at Internet Archive
Menedemus of Pyrrha
Eudoxus of Cnidus
Philip of Opus
Crates of Athens
Philo of Larissa
Philo of Alexandria
Maximus of Tyre
Numenius of Apamea
Origen the Pagan
Disciples of Plotinus
Maximus of Ephesus
Eusebius of Myndus
Plutarch of Athens
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