Jewish Women Philosophers of First-century Alexandria: Philo's "Therapeutae" Reconsidered

Jewish Women Philosophers of First-century Alexandria: Philo's "Therapeutae" Reconsidered

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By (author) Joan E. Taylor

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 434 pages
  • Dimensions: 146mm x 216mm x 30mm | 762g
  • Publication date: 29 January 2004
  • Publication City/Country: Oxford
  • ISBN 10: 0199259615
  • ISBN 13: 9780199259618
  • Illustrations note: halftones and maps

Product description

The first-century ascetic Jewish philosophers known as the 'Therapeutae', described in Philo's treatise De Vita Contemplativa, have often been considered in comparison with early Christians, the Essenes, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. This study, which includes a new translation of De Vita Contemplativa, focuses particularly on issues of historical method, rhetoric, women, and gender, and comes to new conclusions about the nature of the group and its relationship with the allegorical school of exegesis in Alexandria. Joan E. Taylor argues that the group represents the tip of an iceberg in terms of ascetic practices and allegorical exegesis, and that the women described point to the presence of other Jewish women philosophers in Alexandria in the first century CE. Members of the group were 'extreme allegorizers' in following a distinctive calendar, not maintaining usual Jewish praxis, and concentrating their focus on attaining a trance-like state in which a vision of God's light was experienced. Their special 'feast' was configured in terms of service at a Temple, in which both men and women were priestly attendants of God.

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Author information

Joan E. Taylor is Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of History at University College London and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand

Review quote

This is a vigorous presentation of fresh and challenging interpretations of the Therapeutae...written with verve, clarity and...touches of humor. [it is]...a sharply delineated and innovative understanding of Contemplativa and the community it describes. David Hay, Studia Philonica Annual In this book Taylor, well-known for her fine studies Christians and the Holy Places and The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism presents a thorough analysis of Philo's De Vita Comtemplativa with special attention for what he says about the Therapeutrides, the female members of the Jewish monastic group...The book is fluently written and I recommend it wholeheartedly to all classicists who have an interest in things Jewish. Pieter W. van der Horst, Gnomon This book is very well researched and original. The author brings a wealth of archaelogical, Hellenistic, Jewish, Palestinian and Christian sources to bear on Philo's treatise On the Contemplative Life...The lasting value of this book is twofold. It explores the status and activities of the Therapeutrides in more detail that earlier scholarship, thus reconstructing an important aspect of first-century Judaism. It also raises intriguing questions regarding the spreading of this phenomenon...Beyond these issues related to women, the book is important because it reads one text of Philo against the grain and attempts to reconstruct a type of Judaism that differed in some significant respects from his own. This contributes to our understanding of the diversity of Alexandrian Judaism. Maren Niehoff, Scripta Classica Israelica The present book is a superb study of the Therapeutae...In general, the book is both well structured and very well written. It is filled with interest and is highly recommended, especially for the second part. Adam Kamesar, The Classical Review Drawing on a splendid range of international scholarship, the author examines one text that witnesses to a small group...All in all, this outstanding book exemplifies how women may be made visible by a scrupulously careful scholar, employing the additional lens of gender by which to discern their reality. Ann Loades, Feminist Theory ...the main contribution of the book is exactly the way it brings together different perspectives and research in different fields in order to illuminate one particular text and a group it refers to...the book is another example of how entry through the gates of gender criticism may in fact lead to new and striking insights into unexpected places. Joruun Okland, Review of Biblical Literature Joan Taylor's study not only tackles a number of long-standing issues, such as the historicity of Philo's account and his relationship with the group, but also brings up new perspectives, such as the relationship between allegory and asceticism. She goes through these subjects thoroughly and systematically...this book is an enjoyable study, and it will be an important reference work on the subject for the coming years. It is innovative to place Philo's treatise in the social and cultural ambiance of first-century Alexandria. Taylor's analyses are well-argued, and her broad background in the history of Judaism outside Alexandria gives the work an extra dimension for readers interested in Judaism. The author gathered a vast amount of modern bibliography in the many ways and byways of her investigation. We congratulate her on this result. Annewies van den Hoek, The Journal of Religion It is relatively rare to find a scholar of ancient history take on the work of Philo. Taylor's work is bold in what it suggests, cautious in what it claims, and consistently stimulating in what it invites us to imagine as the social reality behind Philo's rhetoric. Sarah Pearce, Journal of Jewish Studies This book is very well researched and original ... The lasting value of this book is twofold. It explores the status and activities of the Therapeutrides in more detail than earlier scholarship, thus reconstructing an important aspect of first-century Judaism. It also raises intriguing questions regarding the spreading of this phenomenon, which thus far cannot be answered with certainty. Beyond these issues related to women, the book is important because it reads one text of Philo against the grain and attempts to reconstruct a type of Judaism that differed in some significant respects from his own. This contributes to our understanding of the diversity of Alexandrian Judaism and may perhaps invite others to recover yet more forms of Judaism between the lines of Philo. Scripta Classica Israelica

Table of contents

1. PHILO'S 'THERAPEUTAE' RECONSIDERED ; 1. On Method ; 2. Philo's De Vita Contemplativa in Historical Context ; 3. Identity: the Name 'Therapeutae' and the Essenes ; 4. Placements: The Geographical and Social Locations of the Mareotic Group ; 5. The Philosophia of Ioudaismos ; 6. Allegory and Asceticism ; 7. A Solar Calendar ; 2. WOMEN AND GENDER IN DE VITA CONTEMPLATIVA ; 8. Paradigms of 'Women' in Discourses on Philosophia ; 9. Women and Sex in De Vita Contemplativa ; 10. Gendered Space ; 11. Moses, Miriam, and Music ; Conclusion