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Re: [John_Lit] Re: Was John Written for the Therapeutae?

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  • Bill Bullin
    Dear Frank, Let me first take the oppoutunity to say that I ve not forgotten an off list reply I owe you. No reflection on its challenge; it is in the
    Message 1 of 2 , May 2, 2004
      Dear Frank,

      Let me first take the oppoutunity to say that I've not forgotten an off list
      reply I owe you.
      No reflection on its challenge; it is in the pipeline. Thanks though for
      this response and for your exceedingly 'data rich' reply.
      In the preface to his *Pagans and Christians* (1986), Robin Lane Fox states
      "Historians of the ancient world face two constant problems, a scarcity of
      evidence and the relation of its particular pieces to wider
      generalizations." However cliched, the jigsaw puzzle seems to be a
      remarkably good image of what a substantial part of the historical process
      is about. I was trying to put the Johannine parts together with the
      Therapeuta parts and you make the very fair point that some bits don't fit;
      in particular the flesh, wine and food bits. Not only that, you point to
      other bits that are entirely relevant and you point usefully to the Second
      Gospel. Nevertheless I would leave the Therapeuta bits and the Johannine
      bits in the same environs on the puzzle board.

      > In Jewish Sects at the Time of Jesus (translated by James H. Farley,
      > Fortress Press), Marcel Simon (p.142) states, "The total disappearance of
      > the Alexandrian type of Judaism came shortly after the church entered the
      > picture. There is a certain causal relationship between these two facts."

      I've only read articles by Marcel Simon and not of this subject; they have
      been excellent.
      Simon's two sentence statement is tantalisingly brief, does he say much more
      than you cite? The causal relationship stated in the second sentence is not
      entirely apparent and all forms of Judaism appear to have met a similar
      bitter fate at the same time. It would be valuable to know a little more
      about the Therapeuta. Their name is highly suggestive. I have often wondered
      and perhaps you know, if any archaeological work has ever been undertaken to
      try to locate the physical base of the Alexandrian Therapeuta, south of what
      was the city of Alexandria?

      > Also, there is evidence that early Christian monasticism in Egypt had
      > Therapeutic roots.
      > For example, Philo (Cont. 25) states that each Therapeutae spent the day
      > a special room called a monasterion. This is the first known occurrence
      > this Greek word, which means that it was likely coined by the Therapeutae.
      > This suggests a link between Therapeutism and monasticism--perhaps the
      > linkage being the application of this apparently Therapeutic word to the
      > cells of early Egyptian Christian monks.

      This seems to be a data based linkage that carries more weight than Simon's
      statement alone but it does push back the connection to before the revolt of
      115-117: "The revolt led to the obliteration of the Jes from the face of
      Egypt; various traces of this catastrophy can be perceived in our sources.
      The emptiness of the Jewish quarters in Egyptian cities and towns is
      reflected in the documents that have come down to us", Modrzejewski, The
      Jews of Egypt, (1995), 207 and ff.

      > Also, in The Desert Fathers (The University of Michigan Press), Helen
      > Waddell has excerpts from early Egyptian Christian monastic texts. Some
      > these texts have evidence of Therapeutic influences on Egyptian Christian
      > monasticism.
      > This is illustrated in several excerpts from one of these texts, The
      > of the Fathers. In the first (p. 72), the abbot Hyperichius says, "It is
      > better to eat flesh and to drink wine than to eat the flesh of the
      > by backbiting them."
      > What this indicates is that some of the Egyptian Christian monks had been
      > abstaining from flesh and wine and this reflects Therapeutic practice.
      > Philo (Cont. 74) states, "The table too is kept pure from the flesh of
      > animals; the food laid on it is loaves of bread with salt as a seasoning,
      > sometimes also flavoured with hyssop as a relish for the daintier
      > Abstinence from wine is enjoined by right reason as for the priest when
      > sacrificing, so to these for their lifetime."
      > As for the Therapeutic practice of eating bread seasoned with salt,
      > this second excerpt (p. 91), "The abbot John used to say to his disciples,
      > 'The Fathers did eat only bread and salt and were made strong in the work
      > God,...".
      > A third excerpt (p. 139) reads, "And the old man said, 'Fast until
      > and meditate always without ceasing on somewhat from the Gospel or the
      > Scriptures; ...'". Similarly, the Therapeutae fasted until evening and
      > spent the day studying scriptures. So, Philo (Cont., 34) states, "None of
      > them would put food or drink to his lips until sunset...", and states
      > (Ibid., 28), "The interval between early morning and evening is spent
      > entirely in spiritual exercise. The read the Holy Scriptures and seek
      > wisdom from their ancestral philosophy by taking it as an allegory."
      > A fourth excerpt reads (p. 124), "And the old man answered, 'If that
      > who carries his fast for six days were to hang himself up by the nostrils,
      > he could not equal the other, who does service to the sick.'" This shows
      > that some Egyptian Christian monks were trying to demonstrate their
      > zeal by fasting for six days. This betrays a Therapeutic influence. So,
      > Philo (Cont. 35) states, "Others so luxuriate and delight in the banquet
      > truths which Wisdom richly and lavishly supplies that they hold out for
      > twice that time and only after six days do they bring themselves to taste
      > such sustenance as is absolutely necessary."
      > To me, all this is evidence that Egyptian Christian monasticism
      > evolved out of Therapeutism, meaning that it was probably founded by
      > converted Therapeutae.
      > So, Bill, I do think that there was a successful effort to convert many of
      > the Therapeutae to Christianity.

      Yes, I think this is an entirely reasonable interpretation of the data
      marshalled above; we are not walking on water but the ice may not take much
      weight.Of course there is a socio-cultural-religious gap and time interval
      between the Therapeuta as described by Philo, postulated Therapeuta
      Christian believers between say 50 CE and 110 CE, and the Egyptian Christian
      monks. Jewish-Christian-Gnostics also have a place in the picture.
      > However, I do not think that the Gospel of John had anything to do with
      > postulated successful effort.This is because it does not cater to the
      ascetic habits of the Therapeutae,
      > such as their zealous fasting and their total abstention from wine and
      > animal flesh. Indeed, the story of the wedding feast at Cana would have
      > really turned them off. I think it more likely that it was the Gospel of
      Mark that had something to
      > do with this postulated successful effort to convert some of the

      Much depends on the theological basis for fasting and celebrating; was it
      rooted in Genesis or in Messianic preperation or something else? Therapeuta
      who accepted the Messiah may have been more open to the concept of
      celebration, at least for a time but groups often revert to former patterns
      after the first flush of change. The Marcan points below are well made but I
      have always taken Mk 2:20 to refer to the brief interval between the
      crucifixion and the first Easter. Thereafter the New testament is pretty
      joyful; Mark of course leaves us seized with terror and amazement; shocked
      to the core and silenced, dumfounded. How authentic.
      > For example, while Mark admits that Jesus didn't fast, he also makes it
      > clear that this was due to special circumstances and that, Jesus expected,
      > his followers would fast after his departure (2:18-22).
      > Again, the only occasion when Mark has Jesus drink wine is at the Last
      > Supper. Further, Mark emphasises, Jesus then said he would drink no more
      > wine until he could do so in the Kingdom of God. This is, in effect, a
      > portrayal of Jesus vowing, at the Last Supper, to abstain from wine for
      > rest of his mortal life. That is to say, this is, in effect, a portrayal
      > Jesus taking the Therapeutic vow to abstain from wine for the rest of
      > mortal life.
      Hmmm. I wonder how much can be founded on the mortal days following the last
      supper but I take the point that the statement could be perceived as an
      endorcement of vegetarianism; perhaps the inevitable consequence of a simple
      communal lifestyle.

      > Also, Mark never portrays Jesus as eating animal flesh. This is even the
      > case in the Last Supper, where he only speaks of bread and what is in a
      > (i.e., a relish) being eaten. However, since it was a Passover meal, it
      > presumably would have included lamb or goat flesh.

      > So, I strongly suspect, it was Mark and his gospel which led to the
      > postulated conversion of many Therapeutae to Christianity--with he
      > deliberately "slanting" his portrayal of Jesus to make it appear that
      > approved of the Therapeutic practices of fasting, of abstaining from
      > meat, and of taking life-long vows to abstain from wine.

      Hmm. I have to explain, "I am the vine, you are the branches too"!!!!
      > In this regard, it is noteworthy that Eusebius (The History of the Early
      > Church, Book 2, 16) declares that Philo's essay on the Therapeutae regards
      > Christians converted by Mark. He has it wrong--the Therapeutae, as
      > described by Philo, are pre-Christian.

      Yes, apparently Eusebius gets it very badly wrong; Philo is very clearly
      not talking about Christians, much as they appear to be coins balanced on a
      knife edge. But Eusebious wasn't stupid. Philo was as clear to him as to
      us.This makes me wonder if he knew a little more than he says and is drawing
      on more than Philo, referring to a period shortly after Philo when
      Therapeuta were Christians and that he is merely collapsing history.

      > Still, I would argue, Eusebius is correct in seeing a connection between
      > Mark and the Therapeutae. However, the connection is somewhat different
      > than he envisoned. Rather, Mark converted many in this Jewish group to
      > Christianity and they, in turn, played an important role in the
      > of the ascetic movement in early Egyptian Christiaty--and with them,
      > perhaps, even having been the initial impetus in the development of
      > Christian monasticism.

      Here of course you are referring to 'Mark' and not to 'John Mark' or to
      both; at least I presume you are.

      Incidentally and this is not strictly Johannine so I'll be absolutely brief,
      William Frend in *The Archaeology of Early Christianity* (1996), 125-6
      refers to the views of Paul Monceaux in the following terms:

      "If the skeleton of the Christian period in North African Church history had
      been provided by Leclercq, the flesh was added by Paul Monceaux. Monceaux
      had already written the first volume [of seven] of his Histoire litteraire
      de l'Afrique chretienne (Paris 1901-1923) in 1901 with a account of the
      possible Jewish origins of the North African Church and a study of

      I had the unusual priveledge of discussing this statement with Prof. Frend
      and he thought Monceaux remains entirely relevant. My immediate interest was
      a Latin palindrome word square found in a North African Church built at the
      time Constantine was buildiing St Peter's (post-Donatist), that is very
      similar to the Sator~Rotas Pompeii Squares reading 'Sancta Ecclesia',
      according to a pattern found in Jewish amulets. Jews would hardly be copying
      Christians so my deduction is Christians were copying Jewish cabbalistic
      squares in both North Africa and in Rome, the Roman Jewish Christian example
      emerging in Pompeii. In all events an early Jewish-Christian mission in
      North Africa is to be reckoned with. It is said of history that it is
      written in the footnotes. I should dearly like to read Monceaux's footnotes!

      Thanks once again, Frank.

      Bill Bullin (Private Student, East Sussex).
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