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Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE), known also as Philo of Alexandria (gr. Φίλων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς), Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia and Philo the Jew, was an Hellenistic Jewish philosopher born in Alexandria.

Philo used allegory to fuse and harmonize Greek philosophy and Judaism. His method followed the practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy. His work was not widely accepted. "The sophists of literalness," as he calls them[1], "opened their eyes superciliously" when he explained to them the marvels of his exegesis. Philo's works were enthusiastically received by the Early Christians, some of whom saw in him a cryptic Christian. His concept of the Logos as God's creative principle apparently influenced early Christology. To him Logos was God's "blueprint for the world", a governing plan.

The few biographical details concerning Philo are found in his own works, especially in Legatio ad Gaium ("embassy to Gaius"), and in Josephus.[2] The only event in his life that can be determined chronologically is his participation in the embassy which the Alexandrian Jews sent to the emperor Caligula at Rome as the result of civil strife between the Alexandrian Jewish and Hellenized communities. This occurred in the year 40 CE.

Ancestry, family and early life

Philo was probably born with the name Julius Philo. Philo came from an aristocratic family who lived in Alexandria for generations. 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 unknown, Philo came from a family who were noble, honourable and wealthy. It was either his father or paternal grandfather who was granted Roman citizenship from Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar. Philo had two brothers Alexander the Alabarch and Lysimachus.

His ancestors and family had social ties and connections to the Priesthood in Judea; Hasmonean Dynasty; Herodian Dynasty and Julio-Claudian dynasty in Rome. Philo was a contemporary to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the lives of The Apostles of Jesus. Philo along with his brothers received a thorough education. They were educated in the Egyptian, Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures, particularly in the traditions of Judaism, the study of the Old Testament and in Greek Philosophy.


The writings of Philo show resemblances to Plato, Aristotle, as well as from Attic orators and historians, and poetic phrases and allusions to the poets. Philo's works offer an anthology of Greek phraseology of the most different periods.

Philo bases his doctrines on the Hebrew Bible, which he considers as the source and standard not only of religious truth but in general of all truth. Its pronouncements are for him divine pronouncements. They are the words of the ἱερὸς λόγος, ϑεῖος λόγος, ὀρϑὸς λόγος[6] (holy word, godly word, upright word) uttered sometimes directly and sometimes through the mouth of a prophet, especially through Moses, whom Philo considers the real medium of revelation, while the other writers of the Old Testament appear as friends or pupils of Moses.

Although he distinguishes between the words uttered by God, as the Decalogue, and the edicts of Moses, as the special laws[7], 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 accents[8].

The Hebrew Bible had not been canonized at the time of Philo, and the extent of his knowledge of Biblical books cannot be exactly determined. Philo does not quote Ezekiel, Daniel, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Esther. 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]; Zeno, according to Quod Omnis Probus Liber, § 8 [ii.454].

Stoic influence

Greek allegory had preceded Philo in this field. As the Stoic allegorists sought in Homer the basis for their philosophic teachings, so the Jewish allegorists, and especially Philo, went to the Old Testament. Following the methods of Stoic allegory, they interpreted the Bible philosophically (on Philo's Predecessors in the domain of the allegoristic Midrash among the Palestinian and Alexandrian Jews, see Siegfried, l.c. pp. 16–37).


  1. De Somniis, i.16-17
  2. Antiquities xviii.8, § 1; comp. ib. xix.5, § 1; xx.5, § 2
  3. Josephus, Antiquities viii. 8. 1.
  4. On Providence 2.64.
  5. Bruno Bauer (author of Christianity Exposed: A Recollection of the 18th Century and a Contribution to the Crisis of the 19th, publ. 1843) was a key proponent of this argument.
  6. De Agricultura Noë,"§ 12 [i.308]; De Somniis, i.681, ii.25.
  7. De Specialibus Legibus, §§ 2 et seq. [ii.300 et seq.]; De Præmiis et Pœnis, § 1 [ii.408].
  8. De Mutatione Nominum, § 8 [i.587].
  9. "De Abrahamo," § 36 [ii.29 et seq.]
  10. "Quæstiones in Genesin," ii.21.
  11. "De Cherubim," § 14 [i.47]; "De Somniis," i.33 [i.649].
  12. "Canons of Allegory," "De Victimas Offerentibus," § 5 [ii.255]); "Laws of Allegory," "De Abrahamo," § 15 [ii.11]
  13. "De Somniis," ii.2 [i.660].
  14. "De Vita Contemplativa," § 8 [ii.481].
  15. "De Migratione Abrahami." § 4 [i.439].
  16. De Allegoriis Legum iii. 45 [i.513].
  17. De Abrahamo § 44 [ii.137].
  18. De Allegoriis Legum, i.53 [i.73].

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