In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philo of Alexandria

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Journal
  • Conference Volumes
  • Life and Historical Background
  • Philo’s Education
  • Philo’s Writings
  • Editions and Translations
  • Commentaries, Indices, and Lexica
  • General Interpretations
  • Philo’s Bible
  • Methods of Biblical Interpretation
  • Exegetical Themes
  • Knowledge of Jewish Traditions
  • Philo and the Greek Philosophical Schools
  • Theology
  • Creation and Cosmology
  • Anthropology and Sexuality
  • Ethics
  • Philo and the New Testament
  • Philo and the Christian Tradition

Biblical Studies Philo of Alexandria
David T. Runia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 May 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0095


Philo of Alexandria, also known as Philo Judaeus or Philo the Jew, is the most significant representative of Hellenistic Judaism, the ancient movement of Jewish thought and literature written in the Greek language. He was born around 15 BCE and died sometime after 41 CE. All his life he was resident in the Hellenized metropolis of Alexandria, where he and his family played a prominent role in the Jewish community and in the political affairs of the city. Many of his writings are extant. They offer a unique access to a mode of thinking that is based on the Bible and Jewish traditions, but is deeply influenced by Hellenism and in particular the doctrines of Greek philosophy. His allegorical method of exegesis and his theology in turn exercised a strong influence on the thought of the early Church Fathers, who ensured the survival of his works.

General Overviews

Good general introductions to Philo’s life and thought are given in Williamson 1989 and Schenck 2005. Older introductions are Goodenough 1986 and Sandmel 1979. Borgen 1997 gives a more extended monographic treatment. Barclay 1996 presents Philo in his Hellenistic-Jewish context. Morris 1987 is sound on Philonic scholarship, but the best introduction at a more sophisticated level is provided by the team of scholars in Kamesar 2009. A synoptic portrait of Philo in his Alexandrian context is given in Hadas-Lebel 2014. Seland 2014 is the most recent handbook on Philo.

  • Barclay, John M. G. Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE–117 CE). Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996.

    Places Philo in his Hellenistic-Jewish context and uses theoretical sociological analysis to judge his relationship to dominant cultural strands. See pp. 158–180.

  • Borgen, Peder. Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 86. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004267329

    Monographic treatment that places most emphasis on the interpretation of scripture as key to Philo’s thought.

  • Goodenough, Erwin R. An Introduction to Philo Judaeus. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986.

    Introduction by most famous Philonic scholar of the first half of the 20th century. Too much emphasis is placed on Philo’s mysticism, however. The first edition was published in 1940.

  • Hadas-Lebel, Mireille. Philo of Alexandria: A Thinker in the Jewish Diaspora. Studies in Philo of Alexandria 7. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    A translation of the French monograph published in 2003, this monograph aims to explain Philo’s personality in the context of the first major synthesis of Hellenism and Judaism as developed against the background of the Jewish community in Alexandria.

  • Kamesar, Adam, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Philo. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521860901

    State-of-the-art volume, with the various aspects of Philo’s life and thought covered in contributions by leading Philonic scholars.

  • Morris, Jenny. “The Jewish Philosopher Philo.” In The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135). Edited by Emil Schürer, Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Martin Goodman, 809–889. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1987.

    Detailed treatment of Philo’s life, writings, and thought, with comprehensive references to Philonic scholarship.

  • Sandmel, Samuel. Philo of Alexandria: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

    A very readable but slightly superficial general introduction.

  • Schenck, Kenneth. A Brief Guide to Philo. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

    Sound general introduction by a New Testament scholar.

  • Seland, Torrey, ed. Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.

    This, the most recent handbook on Philo, presents an overview of his writings and thought by means of a collection of essays. The origins of the work lie in Scandinavian scholarship on Philo, but other scholars have also been invited to contribute.

  • Williamson, Ronald. Jews in the Hellenistic World: Philo. Cambridge Commentaries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200 BC to AD 200, 1.2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511621482

    Combines general introduction with an anthology of important texts. No references to secondary literature.

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