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Re: [GTh] Taylor and Davies on the Therapeutae

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  • fmmccoy
    ... From: Rick Hubbard To: Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2002 9:45 AM Subject: RE: [GTh] GTh and Counter Culture
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19, 2002
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Rick Hubbard" <rhubbard@...>
      To: <gthomas@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2002 9:45 AM
      Subject: RE: [GTh] GTh and Counter Culture

      > [Frank Wrote:]
      > As I have mentioned in past posts, there are some indications that some
      > the counter-cultural and/or unconventional aspects of GThomas thought
      > have their roots in Therapeutism.
      > Frank, if you ever hear of a company looking for a Philo Salesman, you
      > should apply. Your persistence and tenacity would make you a very wealthy
      > man <grin>.
      > More seriously, however, I am not persuaded (nor even intrigued) by your
      > suggestion that there is a "Therapeutism" present in Thomas.
      > Regrettably I don't have time to discuss some of the "finer points" of
      > proposition. Instead, I'd like to call your attention (and that of other
      > correspondents) to the article at this link:
      > http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2399/n1_v91/20512260/p1/article.jhtml
      > This is a copy of an article from the _Harvard Theological Review_ (Jan
      > 1998, 1-25). It was jointly written by Joan Taylor and Philip Davies
      > (although the on-line version does not properly credit Davies). The
      > version lacks the Greek text, so it is a bit difficult to follow.
      > Nevertheless, one can get a general sense of the authors' arguments.
      > Just to summarize, Taylor and Davies argue that there was no such thing as
      > "species Therapeutae." Therapeutae is nothing more than a generic word
      > describes those who lead a contemplative life. One example of these
      > therapeutae was a community of evidently elite and privileged navel-gazers
      > who congregated in Egypt. According to Taylor and Davies, it is incorrect
      > conclude that there was a clearly identifiable sect (like the Essenes)
      > called Therapeutae.
      > I doubt seriously if you will be especially receptive to the article, but
      > look forward to your rebuttal.

      Rick Hubbard:

      Sorry for the delay, but it has taken me quite a while to read this paper
      and to give it some reflective thought.

      Taylor and Davies thusly begin their paper (p. 4), "It has become quite
      common in scholarship to consider the community described by Philo in *vita
      contemplativa* as a specific Jewish group comprising contemplative Essenes
      or people somehow related to the Essenes."

      One would think, then, that their paper is designed to refute this common
      scholarly viewpoint.

      However, that's not exacty it's stated purpose. Shortly thereafter (p. 3),
      they state, "Overall, this study seeks to call into question the assumption
      that, in his *De vita contemplativa*, Philo is describing an Essene
      community in Egypt."

      Actually, to the best of my knowledge this is a minority position. What I
      believe to be the majority position (and what is, in any event, the position
      I take), is that Philo is describing a group in Egypt who are distinct from,
      but related to, the Essenes.

      Here is how Taylor and Davies begin their argument (p. 3), "At
      the very beginning of *De vita contemplativa*, Philo writes: 'Having
      discoursed on Essenes, who desired and practiced the active life in every
      way or-at least to put it more bearably-accomplishing it in *most* ways, I
      will now also what what is required about those who have embraced (a life
      of) contemplation, proceeding in accordance with the plan...' Given this,
      one might expect that Philo is going to write about 'those Essenes' who
      embraced contemplation rather than anyone else. However, what Philo has to
      say about people who contemplate (Nature) begins with generalities. He does
      not focus on the Essene sect. He says nothing about them throughout the
      essay. If Philo had intended to write about people of the Essene sect who
      were contemplative rather than active, we would surely have something
      further concerning the relationship between the two branches of the sect.
      Rather, despite his ambiguity at the start of his essay on the contemplative
      life, Philo himself does not directly equate the community of Theraputai in
      *De vita comtemplativa* with the sect of the Essenes (Essaioi), which he
      describes in two different places."

      This is the logical end to the paper. After all, this all but totally
      disproves the hypothesis that Philo, in this essay, describes an Essene
      community in Egypt--and the overtly stated purpose of this paper is to
      disprove this hypothesis!

      However, they are just warming up. Next, they state (p. 4), "The structure
      of the essay itself requires that a
      specific Jewish group is not introduced at the very outset. Philo defines a
      plan in which he discusses the virtues, and his title indicates that this
      tract is the fourth (and probably last) part of that plan. Since Philo's
      focus is on expounding virtue and not on expounding the characteristics of
      certain Jewish groups, the description of these groups is tailored to its
      service in the exposition of virtue. His first task in the piece therefore
      must be to estabish general agreement on what constitutes a virtuous
      contemplative life."

      Now they are attacking the idea that Philo describes a specific Jewish group
      in this essay.

      In a sense, this is a continuation of their argument that Philo does not
      describe an Egyptian Essene community in this essay--for an Egyptian Essene
      community would be an example of a specific Jewish group.

      However, in the main, it is a new argument aimed against the hypothesis that
      what Philo describes in his essay is a specific Jewish sect, the Therapeutae
      sect, centered in the Egyptian community he describes in this essay.

      So, ISTM, this paper is confusing to read in that it seems to have a number
      of purposes, only one of which is explicitly stated in its beginning.

      In any event, this new argument they make appears to be incorrect because it
      is based on an apparent misunderstanding of the position of Philo.

      Let us relook at how Taylor and Davies render Philo's introduction to Cont.
      (p. 4), "Having discoursed on Essenes, who desired and practiced the active
      life in every way or-at least to put it more bearably-accomplishing it in
      *most* ways, I will now also what what is required about those who have
      embraced (a life of) contemplation, proceeding in accordance with the
      plan..." (Note: I end their translation where they end it, i.e., with

      While they end Philo's quote before Philo describes the nature of the
      "plan", they confidently assert in their new argument that "Philo defines a
      plan in which he discusses the virtues, and his title indicates that this
      tract is the fourth (and probably last) part of that plan."

      This, ISTM, is incorrect.. The part of the sentence beginning with the word
      "plan" or "sequence" reads "plan to say what is needed about those who
      embraced the life of contemplation." So, whatever this plan regards, its
      next step is not a continuation of a generic discussion on the virtues but,
      rather, a discussion on those who embrace the contemplative

      Also, while (as they state) Cont. is sub-titled "The Fourth Part Concerning
      the Virtues", the third part (which apparently has been lost),
      judging by Philo's very first sentence in Cont ("I have discussed the
      Essenes,. who desired and practiced the active life in every way ..''),
      apparently focused on the sect of the Essenes as examples of those embrace
      the active life rather than on generic
      virtue. This being so, the natural expectation is that Cont. also is
      focused on a Jewish sect, i.e., the people Philo calls the Therapeutae,
      rather than on some plan regarding generic virtue..

      Further, this being so, the natural expecation is that the "plan" being
      followed by Philo in the last two of these four essays (i.e., the essays on
      the Essenes and on the Therapeutae) is not a plan regarding how to expound
      on the generic virtues but, rather, a plan regarding life-styles. the
      next-to last which is the active life style exemplified by the Essenes and
      the last one which is the contemplative life style exemplified by the

      Indeed, right in line with this natural expectation, Philo taught that there
      are the three life-styles of: (1) the pleasurable life, (2) the active life,
      and (3) the contemplative life.

      See, for example, Genesis (Book IV, 47), where he states, "There are
      three ways of life which are well known: the contemplative, the active, and
      the pleasurable. Great and excellent is the contemplative; slight and
      unbeautiful is the pleasurable; small and not small is the middle one, which
      touches on, and adheres to, both of them."

      This leads to a division of mankind into three groups of people: (1) the
      living--who follow Wisdom, (2) the dead--who follow folly, and (3) the
      people of progress--who are in-between these other two groups of people.
      So, In Som ii (234), Philo states, "While, on the other hand, the man who is
      on the path of progress is placed by him in the region between the living
      and the dead, meaning by the former those who have Wisdom for their
      life-mate, and by the latter those who rejoice in folly".

      So, what Philo is saying in his introduction to his essay on the
      Therapeutae is that the Essenes are the highest ranking of the those people
      who practice the active life--the life of people of progress: who have
      advanced beyond those whose life is based on pleasure and folly, but who
      fall short of those whose life is based on Wisdom. As for the Therapeutae,
      they belong to the highest class of humanity, i.e., those people who
      practice the contemplative life--the life of those who follow Wisdom.

      In accord with this, Philo, on several occasions, emphasises that the
      Therapeutae consistently follow Wisdom. So, in Cont., he states, they "seek
      Wisdom from their ancestral philosophy (28)", "For six days they seek Wisdom
      by themselves (30)", "Eager to have her (i.e., Wisdom) for their life-mate
      (68)", and, they are "presented to the Father and Maker of all by their
      faithful sponsor Virtue (i.e., Wisdom)" (90). In contrast, he nowhere in
      his two essays on the Essenes states that their life was one of always
      seeking Wisdom and of making her their life-mate.

      So, to summarize, in his essay on the Therapeutae, Philo begins with an
      introduction in which he strongly contrasts the Essenes, who embrace the
      active life-style (making them people of progress in-between the living who
      follow Wisdom and the dead who follow folly) with the Therapeutae (who
      embrace the contemplative life-style: making them the living ones who follow
      Wisdom). In line with this, he fails to describe the Essenes as consistently
      following Wisdom, but frequently states that the Therapeutae consistently
      follow Wisdom.

      What this means is that Taylor and Davies apparently are incorrect in
      asserting that the beginning of Philo's essay on the Therapeutae is so
      structured that it cannot regard a specific Jewish group.

      Rather, Cont does, indeed, regard a specific Jewish group, i.e., the

      That Taylor and Davies end their citation of Philo's introduction to Cont.
      in mid-sentence, apparently because the rest of the
      sentence is contrary to their thesis, is a telling point.

      In any event, in order to lend support their thesis that the Therapeutae
      described by Philo are not members of a specific Jewish sect, Taylor and
      Davies (p. 5) state, "In accordance with this primary objective, Philo
      establishes that those who embrace the contemplative life are found all over
      the world. He writes, 'now then the genos [I describe] is in many parts of
      the inhabited world, for it was necessary that perfect good be shared by the
      greeks and the barbarians. But in Egypt, in each of the 'nomes' as they are
      called, it is superabundant, and especially around
      Alexandria.' As in a large satellite picture, it is possible to veiw first
      the world, then Egypt, then Alexandria, and then one tiny particular
      location. This initial consideration of virtue found in the wider world
      corresponds very well with Philo;s comments in *Quod omnis probus liber sit*
      where he notes that people who are truly just and good are found in many
      parts of the world, both among the Greeks and the barbarians. Drawing on a
      widely-attested philosophical tradition of citing exemplary philosophers of
      other cultures, Philo identifies seven philosophers of ancient Greece, the
      Persian magi, and the gymnosophists (*sadhus* ?) of India as special

      Now, I grant that, by the word "genos", Philo likely does not have just the
      members of a specific Jewish sect in mind nor, even, just some of the people
      who believe in Judaism. Rather, more likely, it is a more generic term
      referring to the third type of humanity, i.e., those who embrace the
      contemplative life-style and, so, are followers of Wisdom.

      Still, this does not exclude the existence of a Jewish sect called the
      Therapeutae. Indeed, ISTM, that Philo locates the bulk of this genos in
      Alexandria and adjacent areas of Egypt indicates that, he thinks, most of
      those belonging to this genos are the members of a specific group centered
      in Alexandria.

      Also, in Cont (13 & 18) Philo states that the Therapeutae renounce wealth,
      family, and homeland. These are such specific actions that, ISTM, he is
      referring to enterance requirements into a sectarian group.

      Again, to bolster their position that Philo, in Cont., does not describe a
      distinct sect called the Therapeutae, they state, "Philo's use of the word
      Therapeutai then may owe much to common usage associated with Egyptian cult,
      as well as usage in currency at least from the time of Plato, which referred
      to those who were devoted to the service of the gods (or God) as
      Therapeutai. It seems legitimate, therefore, to find in Philo's use of the
      word Therapeutai a reference that would have been generally understood,
      rather than to suppose that there existed a distinctive Jewish sect called
      the Therapeutae, who may or may not have been related to the Essenes, and
      who could be identified readily by use of this term."

      This line of argument fails to take into account that, in Cont.(3-11), the
      adherents of Greek and Egyptian religions are specifically excluded from the
      category of Therapeutae by Philo. So, it fails to disprove, or even to bring
      into serious question, the standard interpretation that the Therapeutae
      described by Philo are the members of a distinctive Jewish sect.

      So, I find their argument that there was no sect of the Therapeutae
      unconvincing. Rather, ISTM, Philo does describe an actual Jewish sect
      which, like the Essene sect, had a central community and with small groups
      of members scattered about elsewhere.

      This is not to say that I find their paper without merit. Indeed, I think
      that they achieve a major break-through in their thesis that the "junior"
      members of the community near Alexandria did work during the daytime in
      order to keep the community afloat financially. It has always puzzled me as
      to how this community could financially survive and they give an answer I
      not only find plausible, but highly probable.

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 17
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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