At the western mouth of the Nile Alexander the Great founded a great Greek city, a citadel of high culture under his successors the Ptolemies until their last representative Cleopatra succumbed to Rome. With its double harbour, this rich mercantile centre was second city of the empire, and the Jewish quarter contained a million Jews. Here the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures was produced, and early in the first century ad Philo wrote his allegorical commentary and other writings in defence of Jewish monotheism and belief in providence. Alexandrian Jews suffered unpleasantnesses from the empire, but most of Philo's voluminous works survive copied by Christian scribes. The Jews of Alexandria were anxious not to be thought too liberal because many of them were well educated in Greek literature and interpreted Moses philosophically. This did not dispense them from literal observance of the Torah. Philo was hostile to Jews who so asserted freedom. Their synagogue at Jerusalem did not admire the less conservative views of Stephen (Acts 6: 9). The apostle Paul found a mission to Gentiles parallel to his own in the work of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew familiar with his Bible. At Corinth one group looked more to Apollos than to Peter or Paul.
Second-century Christianity at Alexandria was not all by later standards orthodox. There were teachers such as Basilides who would soon seem to be deviant from the Irenaean rule of truth. The spirit of the Christians was to be open to speculations reaching out beyond simple faith. They wanted to explore a higher knowledge (gnosis), and this word came to be associated with a certain scorn towards naïve orthodoxy. Clement candidly described some writings by Basilides and Valentinus as pretentious nonsense (Strom. 2. 37. 1). He did not think naïve orthodoxy possible either.
Towards the end of the second century Titus Flavius Clemens settled at Alexandria after travels to sit at the feet of Christian teachers in various places. A well read and thoughtful person, he was strongly influenced by the contemporary (Middle) Platonism which provided his bridge towards Christianity, as had happened with Justin. At Alexandria he encountered a Christian named Pantaenus who had once taught Stoicism. Clement found him excellent, and called him a 'Sicilian bee' (the island was famous for honey). Together they shared a programme of instruction in Christian faith