Philo of Alexandria (Greek Φίλων Philo, Philo of Alexandria or Philo Latinized Iudaeus; * to 15/10 BC; † after 40 AD ) was an influential Jewish philosopher and theologian. He is the most famous thinkers of Hellenistic Judaism.

  • 2.1 The allegorical exegesis
  • 2.2 Theology and Philosophy 2.2.1 God and the world
  • 2.2.2 redemption
  • 2.2.3 Ethics
  • 2.2.4 Philo and the women
  • 4.1 Exegetical writings
  • 4.2 Historical and apologetic works
  • 4.3 Philosophical writings
  • 4.4 Work Overview
  • 6.1 Summary and Overviews and surveys
  • 6.3 aids


Little is known about the life of Philo. 39/40 he took on the mission of the Alexandrian Jews in part to Emperor Caligula, which he expressed in his autobiographical writing Legatio ad Gaium. At this time he was in his own words already an elderly man. His life data are therefore estimated to be about 20-10 BC to 40-50 AD. Philo of Alexandria must have held a high position in the Jewish community, as well as his participation in the embassy shows. Flavius ​​Josephus, Philo would be " held in highest honor " by the Jewish community and was "not uneducated in philosophy " was.


Philo came from one of the noblest and richest Hellenistic Jewish families of his time. His brother Tiberius Julius Alexander, Alabarch (that is, Jewish community leaders ), responsible for the collection of taxes, maintained good relations with I. Agrippa and the Romans. Out of his wealth, he should have paid for the gold and silver door fittings of the Jerusalem temple. Meanwhile, son of the same, Philo's nephew, had apparently turned away from the Jewish religion in order to make a career in the Roman administration. As prefect of Egypt he made under Nero in AD 66 for the bloody suppression of the Jewish revolt in AD 70 and should have been involved on the Roman side in the conquest of Jerusalem.

Intermediary role between Judaism and Hellenism

Philo can be regarded as a salient example of the synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism in Diaspora Judaism of the first century: on the one hand, he was rooted in the Jewish tradition. His writings are the primary interpretation of the Torah, though steeped heavily philosophical. Philo knew a lot of Jewish life in the temple, to report in the synagogues and in the houses. He certainly had connections to Palestinian Judaism, but they are not to reconstruct the absence of direct evidence. Once Philo noticed in any case in passing that he had attended the service in the Jerusalem temple ( De Providentia II 107). The church father Jerome handed in Vir Ill 11 that Philo priestly origin to have been. If this is true, he will have maybe had contacts with the Sadducees. For his interpretations relate exclusively to the Torah, other Old Testament writings that Nebiim and Ketubim, he hardly took notice. It is interesting that Philo probably could barely Hebrew: Although he performs in his explanations often " Chaldean " etymologies, but these are usually not well-founded. For the relatively few true etymologies is to assume that Philo manuals and Etymologiensammlungen has used, which are detectable in Egypt since the second century.

On the other hand, Philo was also very influenced by the Greek culture. He has - his social status accordingly - through the Hellenistic education, as his discussion of the ' egkuklia paideia ' show. Greek he spoke correctly. His writings contain numerous quotations from and allusions to Greek literature. Maybe he was in contact with the Greek schools of philosophy in Alexandria. Apparently took Philo to a large extent part of the cultural and social life of Alexandria. Philo went to feasts ( Leg all III 155f. ), Regularly attended the theater and listened to concerts ( Ebr 177, Prob 141 ), the pankration looked (Prob 26) and horse racing ( Apol Jud Eusebius, Prep Ev VII 14:58 ). Elsewhere, however, Philo says that the city every three years held sports competitions Examples of competition and debauchery were. That is why a Jew should it avoid participation as possible, but if he 'll urged that he should not cancel ( Agr 110-121 ).


The allegorical exegesis

The allegorical method of Philo comes from the Greek Homer interpretation. Philo knows two font senses: first, a kind of literal and beside the allegorical meaning. He often uses both interpretations side by side, but preferred the philosophical, allegorical method.

The Pentateuch written by Moses ( in its Greek Septuagint version) provides Philon his contemporaries as the highest philosophy before. From Moses later all the leading Greek philosophers had learned. To explain the philosophy of Moses to Philo uses the allegorical interpretation that not only an intra- Jewish- edifying, but also an apologetic function fulfilled. With the allegorical interpretation Philo can prove that Moses wanted to tell not only banal acts of the patriarchs ( Somn I 39 ), but they should serve as role models for virtues in reality. Adam represents the thinking ( nous ), Eva for the perception ( aisthesis ). The Garden of Eden represents the abundance, the serpent of desire. Cain symbolizes selfishness, Abel piety. Jacob embodies the exercise, Esau stupidity. The figure of Abraham symbolizes the virtue of learning, the learning ability, etc.

The essential feature of Philo's allegorical exegesis, therefore, is to be found in the characters and events of Scripture a point of comparison (eg, the individual virtues ), which is more general than the individual stories and the purpose of the application based on the presence can be. "The ' General ' to recognize that in, especially ' reveals the Holy Scriptures, the systematic goal of Philo of Alexandria in his explanations of the Old Testament ."

However, Philo could also insist that the provisions of the Pentateuch were not only to interpret allegorically, but must actually be followed. Due to its responsibility in the Alexandrian Jewish community, this aspect was also important.

Theology and Philosophy

A systematic presentation of the philosophical ideas of Philo 's hard to create. He scatters the thoughts especially during his exegeses one, his philosophy is not all of a piece and contains some inconsistency. Philo was influenced by the middle Stoa and the middle Platonism, where he occasionally also shows influences by the Neupythagoräismus. Bonds to Aristotle only occur sporadically, usually he expressed criticisms to him. Again and again it is clear that Philo Greek philosophy with Jewish theology tried to reconcile.

God and the world

Philo represents the complete separation - not only the distinction - of purely spiritual world ( cosmos noetos ) and sensuously perceptible world ( cosmos aisthetos ). The dividing line is so strictly drawn from Philo that appear to him appearances of God in the biblical sense impossible. Since the same can be known only by like, a real knowledge of God is impossible for humans. The Jewish and Christian concept of self- revelation of God in Philo moves into the background. Based on this separation Philo searches for an answer to the question, how can nevertheless happen that mediates between God and the world. Philo's solution: While we can never being itself, ie perceive God, but his forces ( dynameis ). These forces are biblically theos and kyrios also by the name of God. Although the forces actually were without number, called Philo usually three or even six. His number three of the forces of God was taken up in the formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The triad consists in Philo mostly of God's goodness and authority, both of which are held together by God's logos. The Logos is the aspect of God, which is related to the created world; Sometimes however, it is treated as a separate hypostasis and sometimes even called deuteros theos (second God). The powers of God, with whom he acts in the world, Philo then identified with the angels of the Bible and with the daimones Greek philosophy.

In Philo's attempt at connecting Jewish theology with Greek philosophy, however, remain some ambiguities:

  • In the characterization of beings ( God Himself ) varies Philo between the philosophical concept of God to one ( the being ) and - his favorite - Biblical ho one ( the beings, from Exodus 3:14 LXX). ". Between the personal God of the Bible and the acting principle of the so-called philosophical monotheism there is a gap, so never really comes in Philo's view " Although actually did not make any statements about the beings according to Philo, Philo referred to him - the Bible - several times as well and the source of all good.
  • Even the doctrine of intermediaries ultimately remains unclear. On one hand, the logoi or dynameis as God's ideas ( Platonic ) or God presented potencies ( stoic ), in other places but again they appear as separate hypostases, especially when Philo identifies with angels ( Jewish). Also, the logo has a share of this ambivalence: it is the idea that when all the other ideas that force, which includes all the other forces; and on the other hand it is also very labor drawn by Philo as the Archangel, who passes on the revelations of God ( Leg all III 62; Conf 28; Somn I 41; Her 42, and others), or as the High Priest, who at the people God vouches ( 11 gig, migraine 18 Fug 20, Her 42 Vit Mos II 26). Whether the logo is an attribute of God, or a person who remains unsolved. "The Logos as mediator must be distinct from Both Both parties, and therefore yet be in some way like Both parties, and this contradiction is unresolved. "


In a similar manner to Plato, Philo estimates the earthly materiality low. The human body is also for him the prison of the soul ( desmôtêrion: Ebr 26; Leg all III 14, migraines 2), the body with which the soul carries around ( Leg all III 22 Gig 3, Agr 5), the grave from which they will awaken to new life ( Leg all I 33 ). This idea is connected with the biblical doctrine of sin. Sin is inherent in man, and also the best man is not free from sin ( Vit Mos II 29, Courage 6). The aim is therefore - all Greek thought - the liberation of the soul. However, the liberation of the soul does not happen as a reunion of the partial human logo with the general, as it teaches the Stoa, but Philo also tried in this point, a synthesis of Jewish tradition: the liberation of the soul does not lead him to reunificatio but for the vision of God. This liberation takes place as disembodiment, which the soul can enter into a purely spiritual realm in which their vision of God is possible. The name Israel is explained as " he who sees God " ( jisra - el). However, the statement that Philo was a mystic, is hardly tenable. While it is Philo point is to see God, but Philo knows no unio mystica, because of God for him, so to speak " the wholly other " is, with which the human soul can not be united. A reunificatio of the human logos with the general logo is not possible for Philo.


So how do you get by Philo to the vision of God? The right way to God is through the virtuous life, about the ethics. Jewish hand you can here think of the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, but also emphasizes Philo - according to the Stoic apathy - Ideal - the extinction of desire and passion as the ultimate goal ( all Leg III 11, 45). Like the Stoics, he demands freedom of feelings and a simple life. However, it can not create its own power to live virtuous man. God puts the virtues in a man's soul, and he who gives himself entirely to God, can attain perfection. This vision of God is possible by Philo actually also in earthly life.

Philo and the women

About Philos attitude to women in private life little is known, however, is to assume that he was more inclined to conservative patriarchal settings. In philosophical context is for Philo " the feminine " symbol of the earthly and corporeal, which need to be overcome. In the background the perception of women is a deep-seated blood taboo, which is probably derived from the Old Testament purity laws ( Lev 15.19-30 ). The desires that the way has to overcome on his way to the vision of God, are "female" for Philo, the way to salvation is therefore also a process of " masculinization ". The ideal woman is the Virgin, by which he means women before and after the menstrual period in Philo. The virgin who is not stained by the blood flow and also has no intercourse with a human man is, in Philos thinking the ideal of " masculinized " woman. In his interpretation of the Bible, he interprets the Patriarch women (eg Sarah, wife of Abraham) as a young women who received their descendants not through intercourse with their men, but from God alone. As virgins the Patriarch then women can be an allegory for the human soul. The soul that frees itself from all earthly- bodily desires, can be as a chaste virgin to bride of the divine Logos and received from him the virtues of the fruit of divine love. That it 's not just about symbolism here, Philo shows in his work on the ideal of the Jewish community " therapists " in which he argues ( De Vita Contemplativa 68) whose female members that they reject the pleasures of the body and no physical offspring aspire. For this, they are endowed by God with the wisdom logos, brings forth the virtues of the soul as immortal descendants.


Jewish hand Philo disappeared very soon from the cultural memory. This may be due to the fact that the rabbinical authorities who later became influential, hardly had interest in Hellenistic Judaism. Of course, but also with the abrupt demise of Hellenistic Judaism itself, that is, with its physical destruction in the devastating riots of Egyptian Jews in the years 115-117.

Christian side Philo, however, has had great impact - his writings have been handed down by the Christian Church. Clement of Alexandria takes in the Stromateis very extensive reference to him. Eusebius discusses the question of the therapist in Philo Vita Contemplativa and quotes from lost writings of Philo in the Praeparatio Evangelica. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine had to thank him a lot, especially the allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Philo's Logos concept could be evaluated for Christology, his triadic structure of the powers of God for the doctrine of the Trinity. Due to its popularity among early Christian writers Philo was almost to the church father honoris causa (D. T. Runia ). From some Greek Katenenhandschriften Philo was actually viewed as a bishop.

Martin Luther mentions Philo in his late treatise "On the Jews and i ( h ) ren lies" ( from 1543), especially in reference to the fact that in order to win " such a clamor from the born Christ " to Bethlehem at the time of Herod the Jews Appendix, was sounded.

In the Jewish Philo research is rezipiert larger scale only since the 19th century. The emancipated Judaism Philo served as proof that secular, classical education and loyalty to the faith of their fathers may be quite compatible.


Philo was a prolific author. Almost 50 writings by him have survived, some only in Latin or Armenian translation. At least 20 to 25 more are lost, as is evident from the list of Philo's writings in Eus, HE II 18:1-8, and can be seen from Philo's own cross-references.

Exegetical writings

  • Vit Mos: De vita Moysis (two books) (initial biographically oriented work about Moses as a legislator, priest and prophet )
  • Op De opificio mundi ( interpretation of Gen 1-3: cosmological foundation of the law )
  • Abr: De Abrahamo ( the patriarchs as corporeal unwritten law )
  • Jos De Iosepho ( Joseph as a model of a politician )
  • Dec: De decalogo ( general explanation of the Act)
  • Spec Leg: De specialibus legibus ( four books) (special explanation of the Law: Vol 1: circumcision, priests, sacrifice, Vol 2: Sabbath commandment parents; vol 3: adultery, murder, Vol 4: Desire [ 8 -10. bid ] )
  • Virt: De virtutibus ( virtues like courage, kindness and repentance )
  • Praem: De praemiis et poenis. De benedictionibus et exsecrationibus (virtue is rewarded, punished iniquity )

Allegorical commentary on Genesis (19 treatises that Gen 2-17 versweise comment )

  • Leg space: Legum allegoriae ( 3 books) (Book 1: Gen 2.1 to 17; Book 2: Gen 2.18 to 3.1 a; Book 3: Gen 3.8 b -19)
  • Cher: De Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; 4.1 )
  • Sacr: De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini (Gen 4:2-4 )
  • Det: Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat (Gen 4.8 to 15 )
  • Post: De posteritate Caini (Gen 4.16 to 25 )
  • Gig: De gigantibus (Gen 6:1-4 )
  • Imm: Quod Deus sit immutabilis (Gen 6.4 to 12 )
  • Agr: De agricultura (Gen 9.20 a)
  • Plant: De planta tio (Gen 9.20 b )
  • Ebr: De ebrietate (Gen 9:21 )
  • Sobr: De sobrietate (Gen 9:24-27 )
  • Conf: De confusione linguarum (Gen 11:1-9 )
  • Migraine: De migratione Abrahami (Gen 12:1-6 )
  • Heres: Quis rerum divinarum heres sit (Gen 15.2 to 18 )
  • Congr: De congressu eruditionis gratia (Gen 16.1-6 )
  • Fuga: De fuga et inventione (Gen 16.6 to 14 )
  • Courage: De mutatione nominum (Gen 17.1 to 22 )
  • De Deo ( armen. receive ) (Gen 18:2)
  • Somn: De somniis ( five books, two of them received ) ( Gen 28:12 ff dreams; 31,11 ff, 37, 40f. )
  • Quaest in Gen: Quaestiones et Solutiones in Genesim (individual problems of interpretation in the question-answer scheme)
  • Quaest Ex: Quaestiones et Solutiones in Exodum (ditto)

Historical and apologetic works

  • FLACC: In Flaccum ( persecution of the Jews in Alexandria under Flaccus )
  • Leg Gai: Legatio ad Gaium ( persecution of the Jews in Alexandria and embassy to Rome 39/40 AD)
  • Vit Cont: De vita contemplative (description of the Jewish community of therapists near Alexandria )
  • Apol Jud: Apologia pro Iudaeis / Hypothetica ( description of origin, customs and laws of the Jews )

Philosophical writings

  • Prob: Quod omnis liber sit probus ( Stoic debate on the freedom of man )
  • Aet: De Aeternitate mundi ( defense of the indestructibility of the cosmos )
  • Prov: De providentia (two books) ( stoic dialogue on precognition )
  • De animalibus (Armenian preserved; dialogue with Alexander whether animals have reason)

Work Overview

The alphabetical overview lists the Latin, German and English for title and abbreviations by common abbreviation directories.

Text editions and translations

  • Leopold Cohn and Paul Wendland, Siegfried Reiter ( ed.): Philonis Alexandrini opera quae super sunt. 7 volumes. Reimer, Berlin 1896-1930 ( unaltered reprint de Gruyter, Berlin from 1962 to 1963; . Still the standard edition of the Greek text ).
  • Leopold Cohn, Isaac Heinemann, Maximilian Adler, Willy Theiler (ed.): Philo of Alexandria. The works in German translation. 7 volumes. de Gruyter, Berlin, 1909-1938, 1964 ( Vol. 7). ( only German, almost complete edition of Philo's writings ).
  • Francis Henry Colson, George Herbert Whitaker (ed.): Philo. In Ten Volumes ( = Loeb Classical Library. 226, 227, 247, 261, 275, 289, 320, 341, 363, 379, ZDB - ID 412059-0 ). 10 volumes. Heinemann and others, London ua 1929-1962 (numerous reprints ); 2 Volumes Supplement. ( = Loeb Classical Library. 380, 401). Edited by Ralph Marcus. Heinemann and others, London ua 1953 ( Greek and English ).
  • Roger Arnaldez, Claude Mondésert, Jean Pouilloux (eds. ): Les oeuvres de Philon d' Alexandrie. 37 volumes. du Cerf, Paris, 1961 ff (Greek and French)

Latin and Armenian versions

  • Françoise Petit L' ancienne version latine of the Questions sur la Genčse de Philo of Alexandria ( = Texts and Studies on the History of Early Christian Literature Vol 113-114, ISSN 0082-3589. ). 2 volumes (Vol. 1: Edition critique Vol 2:. Commentaire. ). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1973.
  • James R. Royse: The Spurious Texts of Philo of Alexandria. A Study of Textual Transmission and Corruption with Indexes to the Major Collections of the Greek Fragments ( = work on the literature and history of Hellenistic Judaism. Vol. 22). Brill, Leiden et al, 1991, ISBN 90-04-09511- X.
  • Folker Siegert: The Armenian Philo - text components, editions, history of research. In: Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Vol 100, 1989, ISSN 0044-2925, pp. 353-369.
  • Folker Siegert: Philo of Alexandria. About the name of God " benevolent consuming fire " ( De Deo ). ( = Scientific studies of the New Testament. Vol. 46). Retranslation of the fragment from the Armenian, German translation and commentary. Mohr, Tübingen, 1988, ISBN 3-16-145234-8.
  • Abraham Terian: Philonis Alexandrini de Animalibus ( = Studies in Hellenistic Judaism Vol 1. ). The Armenian text. With an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Scholars Press, Chico CA 1981, ISBN 0-89130 472 - X ( At the same time: Basel, University dissertation, 1979).