In This Article 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: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • 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 by 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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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: 10.1163/9789004267329E-mail Citation »

    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.

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    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.

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

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521860901E-mail Citation »

    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.

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    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.

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    A very readable but slightly superficial general introduction.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    Sound general introduction by a New Testament scholar.

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

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511621482E-mail Citation »

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

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