Reincarnation in Philo of Alexandria

G4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Internal Authors/Editors

Publication Details

List of Authors: Sami Yli-Karjanmaa
Publisher: Åbo Akademi University
Place: Turku
Publication year: 2013
Number of pages: 273
ISBN: 978-952-12-2884-1


This study examines Philo of Alexandria’s position on the doctrine of reincarnation. The usual view among theologians since the 17th century was that he endorsed the tenet. Since the 19th century, the issue has divided those scholars who have taken a stance on the matter into two groups whose answers to the question are mutually exclusive. What connects these groups, however, is that their views have not been based on research dedicated specifically to this issue. This work fills the gap.

Philo’s references to the post-mortem fate of imperfect souls are very rare, which
necessitates taking into account all available indirect evidence, i.e., his anthropological, ethical and soteriological views more broadly. These views are in this study found to be such that – in spite of the occasional expression where an anti-reincarnational interpretation seems possible – they are well able to accommodate the doctrine of reincarnation. Philo’s dualistic view on the human being, his wholly immaterial understanding of salvation as well as his reliance on Plato’s views and the use of the latter’s reincarnational texts all testify to this.

Four passages are examined as direct evidence: Somn. 1.137–139, Cher. 114, QE 2.40 and fragment 7.3 in the collection of Harris. For each of them the conclusion is that Philo speaks of reincarnation, and does so with approval. Thus, the results of the examination of both the indirect and direct evidence coincide and lead to the conclusion that Philo embraced reincarnation.

In the final part of the study, this conclusion is applied to a significantly larger number of Philonic texts in order to make observations about the ways in which Philo writes about reincarnation. Veiled references to the tenet are found to form an organic part of an extensive network of interrelated terms, concepts, notions and images which he uses to characterize the journey of the soul back to incorporeal, eternal existence with God through its own toil and God’s grace.


Philo of Alexandria, Plato, reincarnation

Last updated on 2020-04-06 at 06:02