Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (a.k.a. Philo Judaeus, ca. 15 BCE–50 CE) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher. His extensive corpus is an important source of early Jewish biblical interpretations. SBLHS §8.3.6 includes guidelines for citing the works of Philo. This post updates those guidelines.

1. Name

Scholars frequently refer to this writer simply as “Philo.” In most cases, this is permissible. But if a given work also discusses Philo the Epic Poet (a.k.a., Philo Epicus, ca. second–first century BCE), who was also a Hellenistic Jewish writer, or Philo of Byblos (ca. first–second century CE), author of Phoenician History and other works, scholars should be careful to distinguish them in discussion, the abbreviations list, primary citations, and indexes.

2. Abbreviations

SBLHS §8.3.6 provides two sets of abbreviations for the works of Philo, one based on Latin titles and one based on English titles. Offering two sets of abbreviations can be confusing, especially in multiauthor essay collections, as authors wonder which of the two they are to use in a given context. To promote clarity and to bring SBLHS’s preferred style for Philo into conformity with the treatment of other ancient works (see §8.3.14), we are revising the guidelines to promote a single set of abbreviations based on the Latin titles. English titles are provided in the chart below only for reference.

Abr. De Abrahamo On the Life of Abraham
Aet. De aeternitate mundi On the Eternity of the World
Agr. De agricultura On Agriculture
Anim. De animalibus Whether Animals Have Reason (= Alexander)
Cher. De cherubim On the Cherubim
Conf. De confusione linguarum On the Confusion of Tongues
Congr. De congressu eruditionis gratia On the Preliminary Studies
Contempl. De vita contemplativa On the Contemplative Life
Decal. De decalogo On the Decalogue
Deo De Deo On God
Det. Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat That the Worse Attacks the Better
Deus Quod Deus sit immutabilis That God Is Unchangeable
Ebr. De ebrietate On Drunkenness
Exsecr. De exsecrationibus On Curses (= Rewards


Flacc. In Flaccum Against Flaccus
Fug. De fuga et inventione On Flight and Finding
Gig. De gigantibus On Giants
Her. Quis rerum divinarum heres sit Who Is the Heir?
Hypoth. Hypothetica Hypothetica
Ios. De Iosepho On the Life of Joseph
Leg. 1, 2, 3 Legum allegoriae I, II, III Allegorical Interpretation 1, 2, 3
Legat. Legatio ad Gaium On the Embassy to Gaius
Migr. De migratione Abrahami On the Migration of Abraham
Mos. 1, 2 De vita Mosis I, II On the Life of Moses 1, 2
Mut. De mutatione nominum On the Change of Names
Opif. De opificio mundi On the Creation of the World
Plant. De plantatione On Planting
Post. De posteritate Caini On the Posterity of Cain
Praem. De praemiis et poenis On Rewards and Punishments
Prob. Quod omnis probus liber sit That Every Good Person Is Free
Prov. 1, 2 De providentia I, II On Providence 1, 2
QE 1, 2 Quaestiones et solutiones in Exodum I, II Questions and Answers on Exodus 1, 2
QG 1, 2, 3, 4 Quaestiones et solutiones in Genesin I, II, III, IV Questions and Answers on Genesis 1, 2, 3, 4
Sacr. De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini On the Sacrifices of Cain and Sacrifices
Sobr. De sobrietate On Sobriety
Somn. 1, 2 De somniis I, II On Dreams 1, 2
Spec. 1, 2, 3, 4 De specialibus legibus I, II, III, IV On the Special Laws 1, 2, 3, 4
Virt. De virtutibus On the Virtues

As with our changes to rabbinic abbreviations and Josephus abbreviations (see our posts here and here), by stating that we are instituting a single set of abbreviations for the titles of these works, we are not implying that the alternate way is incorrect. We mean only that, for the purposes of SBL style, the Latin-based set is strongly preferred.

3. Primary Citations

As with other ancient authors, citations from Philo typically require only the primary reference. Although some older works include chapter numbers (printed in the text of the LCL editions) along with section numbers (printed in the margins of LCL), SBL Press prefers the use of the section numbers alone, preceded by the book number when appropriate. Thus:

(Philo, Cher. 50)

(Philo, QG 1.6)

If the translation is being quoted, it is appropriate to cite the translator in brackets following the citation.

As Philo states, “when God consorts with the soul, He makes what before was a woman into a virgin again” (Cher. 50 [Colson]).

One should then include the complete bibliographic information for the source in the bibliography.

Philo. On the Cherubim; The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain; The Worse Attacks the Better; On the Posterity and Exile of Cain; On the Giants. Translated by F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker. LCL. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929.

4. Philo’s Commentary “Series”

Scholars sometimes divide Philo’s exegetical works into three groups or commentary series: the Quaestiones, the Allegorical Commentary, and the Exposition of the Law (or some variation of these titles). Since these are not the titles of actual works, they should be set in roman type, not italics, in order to prevent confusion with the names of Philo’s individual works. This is particularly important for distinguishing Philo’s two-volume Legum allegoriae (Allegorical Interpretation) from the larger collection of which it is a part, the Allegorical Commentary. For further discussion of this arrangement of Philo’s works, see James R. Royse and Adam Kamesar, “The Works of Philo,” in The Cambridge Companion to Philo, ed. Adam Kamesar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 32–64.

3 thoughts on “Philo of Alexandria

  1. How should one cite volumes from the Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series? I see several different approaches out there (all of the examples that follow come from SBL Press):

    (1) David T. Runia and Albert C. Geljons, Philo On Cultivation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary , PACS 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

    (2) Albert C. Geljon and David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria: On Cultivation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary , PACS 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

    (3) Walter T. Wilson, Philo of Alexandria On Virtues: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary , PACS 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

    (4) Walter Wilson, Philo of Alexandria: On Virtues: Introduction, Translation and Commentary , PACS 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

    For sources see:

    (1) Gregory E. Sterling, “A Soaring Mind: The Career of David T. Runia,” SPhiloA 28 (2016): 3–13, here 12 n. 22.

    (2) Sami Yli-Karjanmaa, Reincarnation in Philo of Alexandria , SPhiloM (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015), 1 n. 3.

    (3) David T. Runia, “Philo’s De plantatione : Introduction,” SPhiloA 29 (2017): 111–14, here 112 n. 6.

    (4) Sami Yli-Karjanmaa, Reincarnation in Philo of Alexandria , SPhiloM (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015), 1 n. 3.

    It seems that people have particular trouble agreeing on how to render Philo’s name (Alexandria or no Alexandria), whether to italicize the treatise title, and what punctuation should bridge Philo’s name, the treatise title, and the volume subtitle.


    • Thank you for your question. When an ancient author’s name appears as part of the official title of a modern work, scholars should follow the spelling provided by the publisher on the cover or title page of the volume. So, the examples you provide should be cited as follows:

      Albert C. Geljon and David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria: “On Cultivation”; Introduction, Translation and Commentary, PACS 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

      Walter T. Wilson, Philo of Alexandria: “On Virtues”; Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, PACS 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

      Note that titles within italicized titles should be set off by quotation marks and italicized to match the rest of the bibliographic entry (see CMS 14.94;


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