A Jewish philosopher.
Numerous; refer to available texts.
(Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum;
Early Jewish Writings (Peter Kirby; English only):
Biblical Antiquities (pseudo-Philo):
On the Creation.
Allegorical Interpretation, I.
Allegorical Interpretation, II.
Allegorical Interpretation, III.
On the Cherubim.
On the Birth of Abel.
Worse is Wont to Attack Better.
On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile.
On the Giants.
On the Unchangableness of God.
Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter.
On the Confusion of Tongues.
On the Migration of Abraham.
Heir of Divine Things.
On Flight and Finding.
On the Change of Names.
On the Life of Moses, I.
On the Life of Moses, II.
The Special Laws, I.
The Special Laws, II.
The Special Laws, III.
The Special Laws, IV.
On the Virtues.
On Rewards and Punishments.
Every Good Man is Free.
On the Contemplative Life.
On the Eternity of the World.
Hypothetica: Apology for the Jews.
On Providence: Fragment I.
On Providence: Fragment II.
On the Embassy to Gaius.
Questions and Answers on Genesis, I.
Questions and Answers on Genesis, II.
Questions and Answers on Genesis, III.
Appendix 1: Concerning the World.
Appendix 2: Fragments.
Resource Pages for Philo of Alexandria (Torrey Seland).
Philo in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
EJW (Peter Kirby).
Philo in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Philo of Alexandria (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Jewish background texts
Philo was a Jewish philosopher who flourished in Alexandria in
the middle of century I.
Jerome, On Famous Men 11:
Philo Iudaeus, natione Alexandrinus, de genere sacerdotum,
idcirco a nobis inter scriptores ecclesiasticos ponitur, quia librum de prima Marci
evangelistae apud Alexandriam scribens ecclesia, in nostrorum laude versatus est, non
solum eos ibi, sed in multis quoque provinciis esse memorans, et habitacula eorum dicens
monasteria. ex quo apparet talem primum Christo credentium fuisse ecclesiam, quales nunc
monachi esse nituntur1 et cupiunt, ut nihil cuiusquam proprium sit, nullus
inter eos dives, nullus pauper. patrimonia egentibus dividuntur2 , orationi
vacatur3, et psalmis, doctrinae quoque et continentiae, quales et Lucas
refert4, primum Hierosolymae fuisse credentes. aiunt hunc sub Caio Caligula
Romae periclitatum, quo legatus gentis suae missus fuerat. cum secunda vice venisset
ad Claudium, in eadem urbe locutum esse cum apostolo Petro, eiusque habuisse amicitias,
et ob hanc causam, etiam Marci, discipuli Petri, apud Alexandriam sectatores ornasse
laudibus suis. exstant huius praeclara et innumerabilia opera, in quinque libros Moysi,
de confusione linguarum liber unus, de natura et inventione liber unus, de his quae sensu
precamur et detestamur liber unus, de eruditione liber unus, de haerede divinarum rerum
liber unus, de divisione aequalium et contrariorum liber, de tribus virtutibus liber unus,
quare quorumdam in scripturis mutata sunt5 nomina liber unus, de pactis libri
duo, de vita sapientis liber unus, de gigantibus liber unus, quod somnia mittantur a
deo libri quinque, quaestionum et solutionum in exodo libri quinque, de tabernaculo
et decalogo libri quatuor, necnon de victimis et repromissionibus, sive maledictis,
de providentia, de Iudaeis, de conversatione vitae, de Alexandro, et quod propriam
rationem muta animalia habeant, et quod omnis insipiens servus sit, et de vita nostrorum
liber unus, de quo supra diximus, id est, de apostolicis viris, quem et inscripsit
ικετων, quod videlicet coelestia contemplentur,
et semper deum orent. et sub aliis indicibus, de agricultura duo, de ebrietate duo.
sunt et alia eius monumenta ingenii, quae in nostras manus non pervenerunt. de hoc
vulgo apud Graecos dicitur, η
πλατωνιζει, id est,
aut Plato Philonem sequitur, aut Platonem Philo; tanta est similitudo
sensuum et eloquii.
1 This is an emendation; the manuscripts have
2 Or dividunt.
3 Or vacant.
4 Refer to Acts 2.44; 4.32.
5 This is an emendation; the manuscripts have
Philo the Jew, an Alexandrian of the priestly class, is placed
by us among the ecclesiastical writers on the ground that, writing a book concerning
the first church of Mark the evangelist at Alexandria, he writes to our praise,
declaring not only that they were there, but also that they were in many provinces
and calling their habitations monasteries. From this it appears that the church of
those that believed in Christ at first was such as now the monks desire to imitate,
that is, such that nothing is the peculiar property of any one of them, none of them
rich, none poor; that patrimonies are divided among the needy; that they have leisure
for prayer and psalms, for doctrine also and ascetic practice; that they were in fact
as Luke declares believers first at Jerusalem. They say that under Caius Caligula
he ventured to Rome, whither he had been sent as legate of his nation, and that when
a second time he had come to Claudius he spoke in the same city with the apostle Peter
and enjoyed his friendship, and for this reason also adorned the adherents of Mark,
disciple of Peter at Alexandria, with his praises. There are distinguished and
innumerable works by this man: On the five books of Moses, one book concerning
the confusion of tongues, one book on nature and invention, one book on the things
which our senses desire and we detest, one book on learning, one book on the heir of
divine things, one book on the division of equals and contraries, one book on the
three virtues, one book on why in scripture the names of many persons are changed,
two books on covenants, one book on the life of a wise man, one book concerning giants,
five books that dreams are sent by God, five books of questions and answers on
Exodus, four books on the tabernacle and the
Decalogue, as well as books on victims and promises
or curses, on providence, on the Jews, on manner of life, on Alexander, and that dumb
beasts have right reason, and that every fool should be a slave, and on the lives of
the Christians, of which we spoke above, that is, lives of apostolic men, which also
he entitled on those who practice the divine life, because in truth they contemplate
divine things and ever pray to God; and, under other categories two on agriculture,
two on drunkenness. There are other monuments of his genius which have not come into
our hands. Concerning him there is a proverb among the Greeks: Either Plato philonized
or Philo platonized, that is, either Plato followed Philo, or Philo followed Plato, so
great is the similarity of ideas and language.
Peter Kirby (Early Jewish Writings).
Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on Philo:
James C. VanderKam writes: "Although many of Philo's writings have survived,
little is konwn about his life. We do not even know when he was born or when
he died. The few facts about his life come from occasional hints in his own
books and a small number of external references (e.g., Josephus mentions him).
His brother Alexander held the position of alabarch, apparently a high office
that involved supervising the collection of revenues, and was so wealthy that
King Agrippa I often borrowed money from him. A clear implication is that Philo
belonged to an extremely prominent family in the large Jewish community at Alexandria.
Philo's nephew Tiberius Julius Alexander, Alexander's son, abandoned his ancestral
religion, became the Roman procurator in Judea in 46-48 CE, and played an important
role for the Romans in their suppression of the Jewish revolt of 66-70 CEanother
indication of the status enjoyed by the people in Philo's family. Josephus considered
him prominent in every way and skilled in philosophy." (An Introduction
to Early Judaism, p. 138)
Emil Schürer writes: "Philo has nowhere given a systematic statement
of his system. He has at most developed single points, such as the doctrine
of the creation of the world with some degree of connection. As a rule he gives
the ideas he was worked out, in conjunction with the text of the Old Testament.
This is consistent with the formal principle of his whole theology, viz.
the assumption of the absolute authority of the Mosaic law. The Thorah of Moses
is to him, as to every Jew, the supreme, nay the sole and absolutely decisive
authority: a perfect revelation of Divine wisdom. Every word written in Holy
Scripture by Moses is a divine declaration. Hence no word in it is without definite
meaning. The Scriptures also of the other prophets in conjunction with those
of Moses contain Divine revelations. For all the prophets are God's interpreters,
who makes use of them as instruments for the revelation of the Divine will.
With this formal principle of the absolute authority of Holy Scripture and especially
of the Mosaic law, is connected the further assumption that all true wisdom
was actually contained just in this source of all knowledge. In other words,
Philo deduces formally from the Old Testament all those philosophical doctrines
which he had in fact appropriated from the Greek philosophers. Not in lato,
Pythagoras and Zeno, but above all in the writings of Moses, is to be found
the deepest and most perfect instruction concerning things divine and human.
In them was already comprised all that was good and true, which the Greek philosophers
subsequently taught. Thus Moses is the true teacher of mankind, and it is from
himas Philo, like Aristobulus, presupposesthat the Greek philosophers
derived their wisdom." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time
of Jesus, pp. 366-367)
Martin McNamara writes: "Even though he does treat of the literal meaning
of the texts in his 'Questions and Answers,' Philo's chief interest is in the
allegorical interpretation of the scriptures. The titles of his works show that
his thought centered around, or flowed from, the sacred text. However, he can
be studied both as a philosopher and exegete. Central to his teaching on God's
relationship to the world is his doctrine of the Logos. The term itself
occurs repeatedly in his works but is never defined. In Who is Heir of Things
Divine?, chapter 42 (§ 206) the Logos says of itself: 'I stand
between the Lord and you; I am neither uncreated like God nor created like you,
but midway between the two extremes, a hostage on both sides.' It is a matter
of debate whether Philo considered the Logos as a reality, as a distinct
identity having real existence, or as no more than an abstraction." (Intertestamental
Literature, pp. 232-233)
Raymond F. Surburg writes: "Philo represents a strange fusion. By nature
and upbringing he was a Jew; by residence in Alexandria a mystic; by higher
education a Greek humanist; by contact and social position an ally of the Roman
aristocracy. Philo attempted to achieve a twofold purpose by his writings: 1)
He endeavored to justify the jewish religion to the cultured people of Graeco-Roman
society. In view of the deterioration of pagan society and religion, he had
a splendid opportunity to portray the Jewish faith as fulfilling 'the desire
of all nations.' On the other hand, he tried to show and persuade his strict
coreligionists that Greek philosophy and learning were not actually hostile
and opposed to the tenets of the Hebrew religion but that each stood for practically
identical principles. Philo thus adopted an eclectic viewpoint, one in which
he blended Old Testament theological concepts with Greek philosophical principles.
Katz claims that 'Philo witnesses to a development in which philosophy turned
religious and religion philosophic.' While Philo spoke pihlosophically with
the intention of bringing home dogmatic and ethical truths, in so doing it involved
on his part a dilution of the religious substance of divine revelation. Likewise
his religious convictions were modified by philosophical inheritance."
(Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, pp. 155-156)