Philo of Alexandria (Philo Judaeus, Philo the Jew and Yedidia) (c. 20 B.C. – A.D. 50) was a Jewish-Egyptian philosopher of the Hellenistic period, and one of the most important Jewish Philosophers of ancient times.
He tried to fuse and harmonize ancient Greek philosophy and Judaism, using a composite of Jewish exegesis or interpretation of authoritative texts and the art of allegory he had learned from Stoic philosophy. Given the similarity of the resulting combination to Christian teachings, some have argued that Philo is actually the “founder of Christianity” and that he strongly influenced the New Testament.
Philo was a Hellenized Jew born around 20 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt. In addition to his Jewish education, studying the laws and national traditions, he was obviously thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture, as can be seen from his superb knowledge of classical Greek literature. He had a deep reverence for Plato in particular, and clearly had a first-hand knowledge of the prevailing Stoical theories, some neo-Pythagorean works, and at least a passing acquaintance with Cynicism and the moral popular literature.
He appears to have come from a wealthy and prominent family, and to have been a leader in his community, which was at that time the largest Jewish community outside of Palestine. His brother, Alexander Lysimachus, was a very wealthy, prominent Roman government official responsible for collecting dues on all goods imported into Egypt from the East. Philo complained that his official functions even forced him to abandon his studies.
The very few biographical details we have are found in Philo’s own works and in those of the 1st Century Jewish historian, Josephus. The only event that can be determined chronologically was his participation and leadership in the deputation which the Alexandrian Jews sent to the Roman Emperor Caligula in the year 39 or 40 A.D. in order to ask for protection against attacks by the Alexandrian Greeks, to seek relief from anti-Jewish riots promoted by Flaccus, the Roman governor of Alexandria, and also to complain about the introduction of statues of the emperor into the synagogues.
Although this is the latest known fact in Philo’s life, he is assumed to have died around A.D. 50.
Philo’s works may be divided into expositions of Jewish Law, apologetical works and philosophical treatises. His expositions of Jewish Law include the “The Exposition of the Law” (a treatise covering the creation of the world, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the laws written by Moses and the laws on general virtues); the “Allegorical Commentary on Genesis” (a systematic application of the method of allegorical interpretation, and the chief source of information on Philo’s ideas) and “Questions and Solutions” (a series of questions on each verse of the Mosaic books of the Bible). The apologetical writings include the “Life of Moses” (a résumé of the Jewish Law intended for a larger public), “On Repentance” (a treatise written for the edification of the newly converted), the treatises “On Piety” and “On Humanity”, the “Apology for the Jews” (written to defend his coreligionists against calumnies), the “Contemplative Life” (written to cultivate the best fruits of the Mosaic worship), and the “Against Flaccus” and the “Embassy to Caius” (both intended to establish the truth about the pretended impiety of the Jews). His philosophical treatises include “On the Liberty of the Wise”, “On the Incorruptibility of the World”, “On Providence” and “On Animals”.