Philo of Alexandria Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


The only firmly dated event known in Philo (FI-loh) of Alexandria’s life is his participation in a delegation sent by Alexandrian Jews to the emperor Caligula in 39-40 c.e. He seems to have been prominent in the Alexandrian Jewish community, but that is all that can be said about him. He wrote commentaries on selected passages or topics in the Jewish scriptures and essays on standard philosophical topics such as the “eternity of the world.” He read the Scriptures allegorically, enabling him to find connections between Jewish thought and Greek philosophy. In his eclectic system, God governs the world through his providence but is completely transcendent and communicates with creation only through intermediary beings, such as the Logos (“word”). It was this Logos, not God, who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The goal of philosophy and theology, for Philo, was mystical union with God.


Little read in his own lifetime, Philo’s work strongly influenced later Christian writers from Alexandria, especially Clement of Alexandria and Origen. They transmitted his ideas to other Greek and Latin theologians.

Further Reading:

Colson, F. H., and G. H. Whitaker. Philo. 12 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966-1981. These volumes provide the original Greek with English translation on facing pages. They supply ample introductory sections, copious...

(The entire section is 422 words.)