Philo of Alexandria

Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria (c. 20 BCE-c. 50 CE)

Philo Judaeus, also known as Philo of Alexandria, was a Jewish philosopher who lived from c. 20 BC to c. 50 AD. Philo wanted to prove that the Torah and Greek philosophy actually agreed with each other and he used allegory to do that. In 38 AD, Philo was one of many Egyptian Jews to meet with the Roman Emperor Caligula and he wrote a book about it.

Either Philo’s father or his father’s father was a Jew who became a Roman citizen based on a decision of the dictator Julius Caesar. Philo went to the Second Temple of Jerusalem at least once. Philo lived at the same time as Jesus did.

Embassy to Gaius


When Philo was living in Alexandria the Jews were treated badly by the Greeks. According to Philo’s book Against Flaccus, Egypt’s Roman ruler Aulis Avilius Flaccus persecuted the Jews because the Jews refused to worship Caligula as a god. Philo wrote his book Against Flaccus attacking him for doing that. Philo was one of many Jews who went to Rome to convince Caligula not to build a giant statue of himself as the god Jupiter and put it inside the Second Temple of Jerusalem because if Caligula did that the Jews would rebel against him. Philo wrote a book describing his mission to Caligula called Legatio ad Gaium (The Embassy to Gaius) because Gaius was Caligula’s real name.

Josephus’s Version


According to the Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu, in his book The Antiquities of the Jews, Philo was the brother of the Roman-appointed Jewish tax collector Alexander. In Josephus’s version, the Jews refused to worship Caligula even though he commanded them to and Philo believed the Jews were right and that to worship Caligula would be a sin against God. A Roman named Apion came to Alexandria to convince the Jews that they were traitors to the Emperor and that Caligula would punish them but Philo convinced them that “ they should be of good courage, since Gaius’s words indeed showed anger at them but in reality had already set God against himself”. According to Josephus, the Jews of Alexandria chose Philo to represent them to Caligula and Philo said yes because he wanted to end the violence of the Greeks against the Jews.

Philo’s Books


Quaestiones(Latin for the Inquiries) is a series of books by Philo explaining the Torah, verse by verse with the first four books being about Genesis and the last two about Exodus.

Allegorical Commentary- a book by Philo about hidden meaning in the Book of Genesis.

Exposition of the Law, a classification of all the general topics in the Torah written for both Jews and Gentiles.

On the Life of Moses, a biography of Moses meant to show Moses as a philosopher.

On the Jews, a defence of the religion of Judaism.

On the Contemplative Life, a book by Philo arguing that not only does Greek philosophy not disagree with Judaism it was created by Judaism.

Against Flaccus, a book by Philo attacking Flaccus for his persecution of Egyptian Jews.

The Embassy to Gaius, an eyewitness account of the mission to Caligula.

Every Good Man is Free, about moral philosophy.

On the Eternity of the World, about Metaphysics.

On Animals, about Animals

On Providence, about God.



Philo tries to prove that the teachings of Plato and of Moses actually work well together. He also thinks to be a good person, you have to control your emotions.

The Bible


Philo believed that all truth was in the Hebrew Bible and that everything in the Torah came from God. Philo believed that all philosophy comes from the Torah and even Greek philosophers got their ideas from there. Philo also said that every person in the Hebrew Bible actually represented a human quality. Adam represents mind, Eve represents the senses and Noah represents (“tranquility”) .

Philo believed that God does not have a body or emotions. Philo says that no one really knows anything for sure except that God exists. Based on Plato, Philo argued that everything that exists has always existed as an idea in the mind of God.



Because of his mission to Caligula people know that Philo was involved in politics but not what his political beliefs actually were. Philo did write that someone who told a tyrant what he really thought about him put not only his own life in danger but also the lives of his wife and children and that one should therefore not do that except if doing that were likely to work.



For years, Philo was an influence on Christians like Eusebius and Jerome but was ignored by Jewish scholars. Then in 1575, an Italian Rabbi named Azariah die Rossi wrote a book in which he criticized Philo for reading the Torah in Greek instead of Hebrew, for believing that God created the Universe from matter that had always existed instead of believing that He created the Universe out of nothing, for relying too much on allegory in his approach to the Hebrew Bible and for not consulting Jewish tradition. Rossi then tries to defend Philo and decides that he can’t be sure if Philo’s work is compatible with Judaism or not.