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PHILO JUDAEUS-(c13 B.C.- c50 A.D.). Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria. Colored  rendition of an original line engraving of 1584.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA, is a little sampler of the works of Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher of Alexandria; often called the ‘Jewish Plato’. Selected texts are from the Charles Duke Yonge English translation from the original Greek Manuscripts. London, H. G. Bohn, 1854-1890, now in the public domain. Enjoy these appetizers, more to come soon !


Philo as represented in a medieval manuscript. From the Lithuanian website ‘vartiklis’.

 Preface to the original edition

The author of the following Treatises was, as the title by which he is generally known imports, of Jewish extraction, and a descendant of the sacerdotal tribe of Levi. He is spoken of by Josephus as one of the most eminent of his contemporary countrymen, and as the principal of the embassy which was sent to Caligula to solicit him to recall the command which he had issued for the erection of his statue in the temple at Jerusalem. The embassy was unsuccessful, though the death of the emperor saved the sacred edifice from the meditated profanation; but we see that Philo suffered no diminution of his credit from its unsuccessful result, since, at a subsequent period, his nephew, Tiberius Alexander, married Berenice, the daughter of King Agrippa.

The date of his birth and that of his death are alike uncertain; he speaks of himself as an old man when the embassy to Rome took place; and the treatise in which he gives an account of it was apparently written in the reign of Claudius, who succeeded Caligula A.D. 41, and reigned nearly fourteen years. His chief residence was at Alexandria, which at that period was, next to Athens, the most celebrated seat of philosophy in the world, and which had long been a favourite abode of the learned Jews. On one occasion he mentions having visited Jerusalem; and this is all we know of his personal history.

In his religious opinions he appears to have been a Pharisee, to the principles of which sect some portion of his fondness for allegorical interpretation may perhaps be owing. It was, however, rather to his philosophical labours that his celebrity among his contemporaries and his notoriety at the present day are mainly owing. He was so devoted a follower of the great founder of the Academic school, that it appears to have been a saying among the ancients that, “either Plato Philonises, or Philo Platonises.” And there are many doctrines asserted in the following treatises which can be clearly traced to the principles and even to the extant works of the son of Ariston; and it is in consequence of this tendency that he is spoken of as the first of the Neo-Platonists, that is to say, of that school which attempted to reconcile the doctrines of the Greek, and more especially of the Academic, philosophy with the revelations contained in the sacred scriptures, while, at the same time, he transferred into the Platonic system many of the opinions which he borrowed from the East.

According to the manner of the Eclectics, however, he mingled with his Platonism many doctrines derived from other schools, and those of Pythagoras in particular, to such an extent, that Clemens, of Alexandria, calls him a Pythagorean not recollecting that Aristotle tells us, that the Academy harmonized in very many points with the philosophy of Cortona. In many points, again, especially in the supremacy which he assigns to virtue, he betrays an inclination to the principles of the Stoics. The attempt to reconcile the heathen philosophy with the Bible was not altogether new. As early as the time of Ptolemy Lagus, many Jews had been settled in Alexandria; and, at the period when Philo flourished, they are supposed to have formed half the population of that city-the splendid library of which opened to the learned men of their nation those stores of Greek wisdom and eloquence with which they were previously unacquainted; and as they could not fail to be struck with the truth of many of the principles which they found laid down in those works, it was not unnatural that, being also formerly convinced of the divine origin of their own scriptures, they should endeavour to reconcile two systems, both of which appeared in so great a degree to rest on the same foundation. The truth of their own books they knew to proceed from divine revelation; that of the Greek philosophers they looked upon as an efflux more or less remote from that revelation, and the pride of human intellect led them to endeavour to display their superior penetration by discerning a hidden sense in their own scriptures, which should contain the germ of the Greek philosophy.

Of all the writers of this school the most eminent was Philo, and his works are highly interesting as showing us the manner in which the Sophists of his age and national sought to appropriate the Greek philosophy by an allegorical interpretation of the works of Moses, which they thus represented as containing all the principles which the Greeks subsequently expanded into the precise doctrines of their several sects. Accordingly, he represents Jehovah as a single uncompounded Being; unchangeable, eternal, incomprehensible, the knowledge of whom is to be looked upon as the ultimate object of all human efforts. He teaches that visible phenomena are to lead men over to the invisible world, and that the contemplation of the world so wonderfully and beautifully made proves a wise and intelligent Cause and creator of it. Having adopted, however, the Epicurean doctrine, that nothing can be produced out of nothing, he also assumed the existence of a mass of lifeless matter, passive and primeval, destitute of quality and form, but containing within itself the four primary elements; and of this mass, he looked upon the Spirit of God as the divider and fashioner into distinct shape.

Matter again he conceived as something subordinate to, and at the same time resisting, the divine arrangement, and in this latter character as the source of all imperfection and evil. Moreover, not having arrived at any just notion of the Deity as the immediate cause of the existence of the world, he assumed the existence of an intermediate cause which he called the Logos; and he also imagined an invisible world, appreciable only by the intellect, as the pattern of the visible world in which we live; carrying out his theory so as to give an outline of that doctrine of emanations, which at a later period was elaborated and fully developed by the Gnostics.

The treatises contained in the present volume refer to the books of Moses. At the beginning of the first, that on the Creation of the World, he intimates that his object is to show how the law and the world accord with one another, and how the man who lives according to the law is as such a citizen of the world. For Moses, as he remarks in his treatise on the life of that prophet, demonstrates in his history that the same Being is the Father and Creator of the universe, and the true lawgiver of the world; and accordingly, that whoever follows his laws is adapting himself to the course of nature and living in harmony with the general laws of the universe; while again, the man who transgresses those laws is punished by the operations of nature, such as floods, fire from heaven, and such means.

In his treatise on the Laws, he divides them into what he looks upon as unwritten laws, that is to say, the living patterns of a blameless life which the scripture sets before us in Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc., and particular laws in the narrower technical common acceptation of the word.

In the other treatises, he deduces an allegorical meaning from the plain historical account of Moses, which serves him as the foundation for his philosophical system.

In all these works he exhibits profound and varied learning, showing himself deeply versed in Greek literature of every age and description, and of considerable skill in the sciences of music, geometry, and astronomy. His style is clear, and even though he may at times be open to the charge of an over-refined subtilty, it is impossible to deny him the praise of acuteness and ingenuity, set off to their best advantage by neatness of language and felicity of expression.

For the Christian reader these treatises have a peculiar interest from the ample materials which many of them furnish for the illustration of St. Paul’s Epistles; materials so copious and so valuable that an eminent divine of the present day has pronounced an opinion (referring probably more especially to the treatises on the Sacrifices of Abel and of Cain-on the Different Incidents in the Life of Noah-on Abraham-on the Life of Moses-on the Ten Commandments-and on Providence) that all the other ancient commentators on the Scriptures put together have not left works of greater value for that most important object. It is even asserted by Eusebius that he formed an acquaintance with St. Peter while at Rome but that statement is generally looked upon as wanting confirmation. From his treatise against Flaccus, and in that which refers to his embassy to Rome, we likewise derive information with respect to the condition of the Jews in the time of our Saviour, and to the manner in which they were treated by the Roman governors, which supplies much incidental corroboration of some of the historic allusions contained in different parts of the New Testament.

Charles Duke Yonge.



1.’A Treatise on the Principle that the Worse is Accustomed to be Always Plotting Against the


XIII. (41) In this manner, then, it is useful to oppose those who are ostentatious about doctrines. For if we have been well exercised in various species of discourses, we shall no longer stumble through inexperience and want of acquaintance with the manoeuvres of sophists. But rising up and making a firm and resolute stand against them, we shall with ease escape from their artificial entanglements. But they, when their tricks have once been found out, will appear to be exhibiting the conduct of sparrers rather than of regular combatants. For they too, in their own opinion, get great credit by their style of beating the air; but when they come to a real contest they meet with no moderate disgrace.

(42) And if any one is adorned as to his soul with all imaginable virtues, and yet has paid no attention to the art of speaking and arguing, if he only preserves silence he will obtain safety, a prize won without danger. But if he comes forth like Abel into a contest with sophists, he will be thrown down before he has obtained a firm footing.

(43) For, as in medical science, some practitioners who know how to cure almost every complaint, and disease, and infirmity, can nevertheless give no true or even probable account of any one of them; and on the other hand, others are very clever, as far as giving an account of the diseases goes, and in explaining their symptoms and causes, and the modes of cure, and are the most excellent interpreters possible of the principles of which their art is made up, but are utterly useless in the matter of attending the bodies of the sick, to the cure of which they are not able to contribute even the slightest assistance. In the same way, those who have devoted themselves to practical wisdom have often neglected to pay attention to their language; and those who have learnt their professions thoroughly as far as words go, have yet treasured up no good instruction in their soul.

(44) It is therefore nothing extraordinary, that these men being in the habit of indulging an unbridled tongue, should be full of self-sufficiency and boldness, displaying all the folly which they have from the first beginning cherished. But it is better to trust to those who, like skillful physicians, have a knowledge of the means of healing the diseases and evil affections of the soul, until God provides an excellent interpreter, and displays to and pours upon him the fountains of his eloquence.


2.’On the Creation’.

XXXV. (103) And besides what has been already said, the growth of men from infancy to old age, when measured by the number seven, displays in a most evident manner its perfecting power; for in the first period of seven years, the putting forth of the teeth takes place. And at the end of the second period of the same length, he arrives at the age of puberty: at the end of the third period, the growth of the beard takes place. The fourth period sees him arrive at the fullness of his manly strength. The fifth seven years is the season for marriage. In the sixth period he arrives at the maturity of his understanding. The seventh period is that of the most rapid improvement and growth of both his intellectual and reasoning powers. The eighth is the sum of the perfection of both. In the ninth, his passions assume a mildness and gentleness, from being to a great degree tamed. In the tenth, the desirable end of life comes upon him, while his limbs and organic senses are still unimpaired: for excessive old age is apt to weaken and enfeeble them all. (104) And Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, described these different ages in the following elegiac verses:

In seven years from th’ earliest breath,

The child puts forth his hedge of teeth;

When strengthened by a similar span,

He first displays some signs of man.

As in a third, his limbs increase,

A beard buds o’er his changing face.

When he has passed a fourth such time,

His strength and vigour’s in its prime.

When five times seven years o’er his head

Have passed, the man should think to wed;

At forty two, the wisdom’s clear

To shun vile deed of folly or fear:

While seven times seven years to sense

Add ready wit and eloquence.

And seven years further skill admit

To raise them to their perfect height.

When nine such periods have passed,

His powers, though milder grown, still last;

When God has granted ten times seven,

The aged man prepares for heaven.

XXXVI. (105) Solon therefore thus computes the life of man by the aforesaid ten periods of seven years. But Hippocrates the physician says that there are Seven{7}{it is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the description of the seven ages of man in Shakespeare. As You Like It, Act II. sc. 7.} ages of man, infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, manhood, middle age, old age; and that these too, are measured by periods of seven, though not in the same order. And he speaks thus; “In the nature of man there are seven seasons, which men call ages; infancy, childhood, boyhood, and the rest. He is an infant till he reaches his seventh year, the age of the shedding of his teeth. He is a child till he arrives at the age of puberty, which takes place in fourteen years. He is a boy till his beard begins to grow, and that time is the end of a third period of seven years. He is a youth till the completion of the growth of his whole body, which coincides with the fourth seven years. Then he is a man till he reaches his forty-ninth year, or seven times seven periods. He is a middle aged man till he is fifty-six, or eight times seven years old; and after that he is an old man.


3.’A Treatise on the Meeting for the Sake of Seeking Instruction’.

(79) and, indeed, in the same manner as the encyclical branches of education contribute to the proper comprehension of philosophy, so also does philosophy aid in the acquisition of wisdom; for philosophy is an attentive study of wisdom, and wisdom is the knowledge of all divine and human things, and of the respective causes of them. Therefore, just as encyclical accomplishments are the handmaidens of philosophy, so also is philosophy the handmaiden of wisdom; (80) but philosophy teaches temperance with regard to the belly, and temperance with regard to the parts below the belly, and also temperance and restraint of the tongue. Now these qualities are said to be worthy of praise for their own sakes, but they would appear more respectable still if they were cultivated for the sake of doing honour to and giving pleasure to God.


4.’A Treatise on the Doctrine that Dreams Are Sent from God’.


I. (1.1) The treatise before this one has contained our opinions on those visions sent from heaven which are classed under the first species; in reference to which subject we delivered our opinion that the Deity sent the appearances which are beheld by man in dreams in accordance with the suggestions of his own nature. But in this treatise we will, to the best of our power, describe those dreams which come under the second species. (1.2) Now the second species is that in which our mind, being moved simultaneously with the mind of the universe, has appeared to be hurried away by itself and to be under the influence of divine impulses, so as to be rendered capable of comprehending beforehand, and knowing by anticipation some of the events of the future. Now the first dream which is akin to the species which I have been describing, is that which appeared on the ladder which reached up to heaven, and which was of this kind. (1.3) “And Jacob dreamed, and behold a ladder was firmly planted on the earth, the head of which reached up to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold there was a ladder firmly planted on the earth, and the Lord was standing steadily upon it; and he said, I am the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: be not afraid. The earth on which thou art sleeping I will give unto thee and unto thy seed, and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and it shall be multiplied as the sand on the seashore, and shall spread to the south, and to the north, and to the east; and in thee shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed, and in thy seed also. And, behold, I am with thee, keeping thee in all thy ways, by whichever thou goest, and I will bring thee again into this land; because I will not leave thee until I have done everything which I have said unto Thee.”{1}{genesis 28:12.} (1.4) But the previous considerations of the circumstances of this vision require that we should examine them with accuracy, and then perhaps we shall be able to comprehend what is indicated by the vision. What, then, are the previous circumstances? The scripture tells us, “And Jacob went up from the well of the oath, and came to Charran, and went into a place and lay down there until the sun arose. And he took one of the stones of the place and placed it at his head, and went to sleep in that place.” And immediately afterwards came the dream. (1.5) Therefore it is well at the outset to raise a question on these three points:–One, What was the well of the oath, {2}{#ge 26:33.} and why was it called by this name? Secondly, What is Charran, and why, after Jacob had departed from the well beforementioned, did he immediately go to Charran? Thirdly, What was the place, and why, when he was in it, did the sun at once set, and did he go to sleep?


XLIII. (1.249) Very admirably therefore does the practiser of virtue, having learnt by continued study that creation is a thing in its own nature moveable, but that the uncreated God is unchangeable and immoveable, erect a pillar to God, and anoint it after he has erected it; for God says, “Thou hast anointed my Pillar.”{62}{#ge 31:13.} (1.250) But do not fancy that that stone was anointed with oil, but understand rather that that opinion, that God is the only being who stands firmly, was thoroughly hardened by exercise, and established in the soul by the science of wrestling, not that science by which bodies are made fat, but that by which the mind acquires strength and irresistible vigour; (1.251) for the man who is eager in the pursuit of good studies and virtuous objects is fond of labours, and fond of exercises; so that very naturally, having worked out the science of training which is the sister of the art of medicine, he anoints and brings to perfection all the reasonings of virtue and piety, and dedicates them, as a most beautiful and lasting offering to God. (1.252) For this reason, after mentioning the dedication of the pillar, God adds that, “Thou vowedst a vow to me.” Now a vow also is, to speak properly, a dedication, since he who makes a vow is said to offer up, as a gift to God, not only his own possessions, but himself likewise, who is the owner of them; (1.253) for says the scripture, “the man is holy who nourishes the locks of the hair of his head; who has vowed a vow.” But if he is holy he is undoubtedly an offering to God, no longer meddling with anything unholy or profane; (1.254) and there is an evidence in favour of my argument, in the conduct of the prophetess, and mother of a prophet, Hannah, whose name being translated, signifies grace; for she says that she gives her son, “Samuel, as a gift to the Holy One,”{63}{#1Sa 1:28.} not dedicating him more as a human being, than as a disposition full of inspiration, and possessed by a divinely sent impulse; and the name Samuel being interpreted means, “appointed to God.” (1.255) Why then, O my soul, do you any longer waste yourself in vain speculations and labours? and why do you not go as a pupil to the practiser of virtue, taking up arms against the passions, and against vain opinion, to learn from him the way to wrestle with them? For as soon as you have learnt this art, you will become the leader of a flock, not of one which is destitute of marks, and of reason, and of docility, but of one which is well approved, and rational, and beautiful, (1.256) of which, if you become the leader, you will pity the miserable race of mankind, and will not cease to reverence the Deity; and you will never be weary of blessing God, and moreover you will engrave hymns suited to your sacred subject upon pillars, that you may not only speak fluently, but may also sing musically the virtues of the living God; for by these means you will be able to return to your father’s house, being delivered from a long a profitless wandering in and foreign land.


5.From the ‘Fragments’. 

Page 359. A. He who has learnt how to submit to be ruled, immediately learns how to rule others; for even if a man were invested with the supreme power over all the earth and all the sea, he would not be a true ruler unless he had also learnt and been previously taught to submit to the rule of others.

About holy men.

Page 372. E. The happy nature is that which rejoices on every occasion, and which is not discontented with anything whatever which exists in the world, but is pleased with whatever happens, as being good, and beautiful, and expedient.

About leisure and quiet.

Page 376. A. The wise man endeavours to secure quiet and leisure, and periods of rest from work, that he may devote himself peacefully to the meditations on divine matters.

About justice and virtue.

Page 438. D. If any one embraces all the virtues with earnestness and sobriety, he is a king, even though he may be in a private station.

About physicians and medical science.

A good physician would not be inclined to apply every kind of salutary medicine at once and on the same day to a patient, as he would know that by such a course he would be doing him more harm than good, but he would measure out the proper opportunities, and then give saving medicines in a seasonable manner; and he would apply different remedies at different times, and so he would bring about the patient’s restoration to health by gentle degrees.

(18) And in like manner, it would become philosophers who profess to be versed in the healing science as applicable to the soul, which is by nature the dominant part of the man, to despise all the things which erroneous opinion raises up as objects of pride, and to penetrate within, and to lay their hands upon the intellect itself, to see whether through passion its pulses are of an uneven rapidity and moving in an irregular and unnatural manner, and to touch the tongue, and see whether it is rough and devoted to evil-speaking, whether it is prostituted to evil purposes and unmanageable; also to touch the belly, and see whether it is swollen with the insatiable characteristics of desire, and, in short, of any other passions, and diseases, and infirmities, and to examine every one of those feelings, if they appear to be in a state of confusion, so that they may not be ignorant of what is proper to be applied to the soul with a reference to its cure.

About wisdom.

Page 693. E. Every wise man is a friend of God.

Page 754. E. The wise man is a sojourner and a settler, having come as an emigrant from a life of confusion and disorder to one suitable to peaceful and happy men.

About the good and virtuous teacher

A teacher of a good and virtuous disposition, even if he sees his pupils at first stiff-necked by nature, does not despair of producing in them a change for the better; but, like a good physician, he does not apply a remedy at once at the first moment of the disease attacking the patient, but he gives nature time that it may recede a little, so that he may first make ready the path to safety, and then apply healthful and salutary remedies. And in the same manner does the virtuous man apply the arguments and doctrines of philosophy.

If, when a pupil is first introduced to you, and first comes to learn of you, you hasten to eradicate all his ignorance at once, and attempt to introduce every kind of knowledge in a lump, you will produce the contrary effect to that which you desire, for it will not be likely that such an eradication, having taken place all in a moment, will continue effectual, nor that the pupil will be able at once to contain such an abundant influx and overflow of instruction; but being exceedingly perplexed and troubled, he will resist both these operations, that of eradicating one thing and that of introducing another; but the system of taking away his ignorance with gentleness and moderation, and of, in the same manner, gently instilling wisdom into the mind, will be the causes of admitted advantage.

About virtue and piety

Every soul which piety fertilises with its own mysteries is necessarily awake for all holy services, and eager for the contemplation of those things which are worth being seen, for this is the feeling of the soul at the great festival, and this is the true season of joy.

The virtues alone know how to regulate the affairs of men.

The contemplation of virtue is exceedingly beautiful, and actions according to it, and the exercise of it, are desirable above all things.

The virtuous man is a lover of his race, and he is merciful and inclined to pardon, and never bears ill will towards any man whatever, but thinks it right to surpass in doing good rather than in injuring.

What is beautiful is then beautiful, when a man has no need of the assistance of another, but when he contains in himself all the signs of excellence as his own.

The mind of a wise man is the house of God, and he is called, in an especial manner, the God of all mankind, as the prophet says when speaking of the mind of a wise man, he calls it “that in which God Walks,”{13}{#le 26:12.} as in a palace.

To be continued…
‘Complete works of Philo of Alexandria’-Printed by Jeremiah Schrey and Heinrich Meyer. ‘Philonos Judaei Syngrammata‘, Omnia quae extant opera. Frankfurt, 1691.


About Philo of Alexandria:🌿Source for Yonge’s English translation: 🌿Philo in his original Greek:Συγγραφέας:Φίλων_ο_Αλεξανδρεύς

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