• Home
  • /
  • Philo Of Alexandria

Philo Of Alexandria

Born 20 BC
Died 50 AD

Philo (also known as Philo Judaeus), was a Hellenistic Jew, known primarily for writing a large number of commentaries on the Pentateuch. His writings are the most important witnesses to the religious culture of Hellenistic Judaism. Besides scriptural commentaries, he wrote a series of thematic treatises on philosophical and apologetic themes. One of the most famous, "On the Contemplative Life", describes the Therapeutae, a group of Jewish ascetics living near Alexandria; another provides an invaluable account of Palestinian Essenes.

Philo may have belonged to an elite group, small in number within the Jewish community of Alexandria. Nevertheless, his place is clearly within the community in such a way that he took part in debates and conflicts among different Jewish streams and understood himself to represent traditions and interpretations of the synagogues.

His loyalty to the Jewish institutions, the laws of Moses, the role of Israel as the priesthood of the world, and his harshness against renegades, shows that he was fundamentally a Jew. When Philo draws on Greek philosophy and various notions from pagan religions, his intention was not to compromise Jewish convictions. In fact, he was such an extreme Jew that he referred all ideas and phenomena of value, including those outside Judaism, to Moses as their original and authentic formulation. Whatever good there was, had its source in Scripture and thus belonged to the Jewish nation and its heritage. In this way, Philo’s extreme form of particularism risked ending up in a universalism where Jewish distinctiveness was in danger of being lost.

Philo remained almost unknown in broader Jewish tradition until the 16th century. It was the Christian Church which preserved and adopted his works and concepts. Byzantine anthologies even cite excerpts of Philo under the heading “Philo the Bishop.” Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ambrose were influenced by Philo in their allegorical exegesis and their use of such concepts as wisdom, Logos, and faith.

In modern historical research, Philo is studied as a source for Greek philosophy, as a representative of Second Temple Judaism and as a forerunner of early Christian thought.

Both John (the author of the Gospel) and Philo understood the logos as having been involved in the activity of creation, and as functioning in an intercessory role toward humanity.

Insert Audio

Want To Get Updates?

Enter your email to receive the latest posts in your inbox!