Re: [GTh] Taylor and Davies on the Therapeutae
----- Original Message -----
From: "Rick Hubbard" <rhubbard@...>
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:
> 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
1809 N. English Apt. 17
Maplewood, MN USA 55109