Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae and their Context/Timeline

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
User avatar
billd89
Posts: 684
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:27 pm
Location: New England, USA

Re: Locating Philo's Therapeutae

Post by billd89 »

This is an excellent description of the precise locale where I think the "Therapeutae" had their writers' colony, amid a dilapidated chain of fortresses built by their Chaldaean ancestors. Here was a quasi-independent kingdom which rebelled against Pharaoh, once supported by Persian power, then opposing it in alliance with Greek mercenaries. Was the Mareotic kingdom a Semitic satrapy c.450-330 BC?

Maciej Paprocki, Roads in the Deserts of Roman Egypt: Analysis, Atlas, Commentary [2019], pp.201-5:
6.1.1 6.1.1. Alexandria–Abu Sir–Sallum road (Marmarica coastal main road) (Maps 11 and 13)
Travelled by parties coming from Egypt to Libya and vice versa, the Marmarica coastal road constituted Egypt’s main corridor to Cyrenaica. The trail originated in the vicinity of modern Alexandria and ran westwards by the coast. [...] [In the 1930s] Oliver and De Cosson ... surmised the track they uncovered [was perhaps] an old Ramesside trail that linked the Delta to a New Kingdom fort at Zawiyet Umm al-Rakham {Apis: on Mediterranean coast, 18 km west of Paraetonium} . ... The first region the Marmarica road traversed as it went west from Alexandria was the Maryut strip, a land wedged between the Mediterranean and the Mareotic Lake. The area remained relatively unprotected throughout much of the Dynastic period, ... [but the] coast attracted a larger degree of Egyptian interest in the Early New Kingdom period, when Ramesses II’s fortress was built at the westernmost point of Egypt, Apis (modern Zawiyet Umm al-Rakham), to guard the area against Libyan nomads invading from the west.14 It remains an open issue whether the Maryut region and adjacent lands held an entire chain of Ramesside military installations ... More enthusiastic scholars argued these finds marked the sites of former Ramesside forts ... Admittedly, the Maryut strip was of prime strategic importance for the Western Delta, and archaeological finds indicate a military presence in the area throughout much of the Antiquity, but whether it was guarded at that time remains uncertain.

The capital of the region was Marea (modern Hawariyya), an ancient settlement on the southern shore of Lake Mareotis that profited from canals linking the lake to the Nile.17 Herodotus records that Marea served as a guard post on the Libya-Egypt border during the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty.18 The region’s heyday started in the Persian period, when Marea won independence from Egypt and became a capital of the Libyco-Egyptian kingdom comprised of the lands between the Canopic Nile branch and Cyrenaica. The key player in the local trade and politics, the Mareotic monarch Inaros II first ruled with Persian approval, but he eventually revolted against his overlords. [...] {After 450 BC} the prosperous Mareotic kingdom was ultimately divided, with the Maryut strip reverting to Egypt and the Marmarica coast granted to Libyan rulers. Marea flourished well into the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, eventually becoming an important regional trade hub, thanks to its favourable location.19

The Marmarica coastal road originated in Alexandria and ran southwest along the Maryut strip, running by a series of Christian monasteries at Pempton, Enaton, and Oktokaidekaton, situated respectively at the fifth, ninth, and eighteenth mile of the road24. In its run, the road traversed the rocky Taenia (ταινία [tainia], Greek for ‘strip’, modern Abu Sir) ridge, from which the region took its name,25 these limestone hills separating the Mediterranean Sea from Lake Mareotis. The ridge abounds in ancient ruins and quarries, the majority of them still unexcavated.26 On its way, the road went by a Pharaonic/Ptolemaic/Roman site at Kôm el Nugûs, securely identified with ancient Plinthine*. Recent excavations in the vicinity of the site uncovered large amounts of Archaic and Classical Greek imports at the site and demonstrated constant occupation of the site throughout much of the Late and the Graeco-Roman periods.27 The first major settlement on the road was Taposiris Magna (Abu Sir), a major coastal site recently excavated by several French archaeological missions. Occupied in the Graeco-Roman period (3rd century BCE–7th century CE), the city was situated on the southern slope of Taenia ridge facing Lake Mareotis; an important port at the navigable limit of the western portion of the lake, Taposiris accepted and sent on the goods that were shipped to Libya through the Canopic Nile branch and Lake Mareotis.28 Remains of an extensive ancient irrigation system indicate the area was a regional breadbasket and winemaking centre, with ancient authors extolling the taste and quality of Taeniotic and Mareotic wines.29 Today, the site is famous for its miniature replica of the Pharos lighthouse Ptolemy II Philadelphus built there.30

* Independently, I've identified this exact location to be (on today's maps) near the gas station at Al Jamiah. There is no evidence of the (presumed) fortress complex on the limestone hill which has now been heavily mined but remains the high point of the narrow strip.
Last edited by billd89 on Sat Jun 11, 2022 6:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 3065
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae and their Context/Timeline

Post by DCHindley »

Back in that file I posted a while ago which attempts to slice and dice Philo's De vita contemplativa, ca. mid 30s CE, to weed out the digressions and side comments of Philo's editor(s).
I came up with Philo's basic account which was posted at:
https://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/sh ... 410&page=2

I'll be nice and not post it all here (about 6 pages), but a PDF scan of the file is attached for anyone to look at and judge for themselves.

Is it just me or do these folks seem a bit "new agey"? Dream channeling (Edgar Cayce), singing of responsive hymns while segregated by sex (Shakers), mystic community practices (Masons - anyone who has ate at a cafeteria run by a local Masonic hall knows what I mean). But then there is a bit of "beat-nikiness" about them (living in shacks at the lakeshore, drinking only spring water and eating plain bread, reading poetry and thoughtfully discussing deep philosophical matters).
Philo's unadorned account of the Therapeutae.pdf
(112.05 KiB) Downloaded 24 times
User avatar
billd89
Posts: 684
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:27 pm
Location: New England, USA

Re: Locating Philo's Therapeutae

Post by billd89 »

Recalling Ptolemy IV. Philopator forced some Egyptian Jews to worship Dionysius (god of wine) - in unknown and complex political circumstances (c.215 BC) - the abstinence of Philo's Therapeutae (c.150 BC? -38 AD?) appears extremely important. The sobriety of this Jewish sect is - I would argue, after Lewy [1929], p.31 - perhaps its defining characteristic. The presence of wineries (and famous alcohol trade) in this immediate locale cannot be inconsequential. What was it that Hellicanus said, c.450 BC? ‘Hellanicus says that the vine was first discovered in Plinthine, a town of Egypt’ - Athenaeus, c.225 AD. That is quite a claim: this was 'the Sonoma Valley' for oenophiles of the Fifth Century BC. And yet ... here was a sober writers' colony, teetotaling Jews. Relic Rechabites? How odd. (Or: what a curious model for an alcoholics' recovery cult, really!)

Smith et al.[1890]:
Passing on, in the last place, to Egypt, where, according to Hellanicus, the vine was first discovered, the Mareoticum, from near Alexandria, demands our attention. It is highly extolled by Athenaeus, being white, sweet, fragrant, light (λεπτός), circulating quickly through the frame, and not flying to the head; but superior even to this was the Taenioticum, so named from a long narrow sandy ridge (ταινία) near the western extremity of the Delta; it was aromatic, slightly astringent, and of an oily consistency, which disappeared when it was mixed with water... (Athen. I p33f; Strab. XVII p799; Hor. Carm. I.37.10; Virg. Georg. II.; Lucan, X.161; Plin. H. N. XIV.9).

LINK:
Mareotis was the richest part of the immediate hinterland of Alexandria and critical to its food supply. Staple grains from all over Egypt came to Alexandria by boat through the lake, unloading at the Mareotic harbor of the city. The region itself grew the more perishable crops of vegetables, fruit, and nuts, including olives, figs, dates, and almonds. The lake also provided abundant fish, and animals for meat were raised in the region.

The largest crop, however, was grapes, mostly made into the famous white wine of Mareotis, refered to in ancient authors and documents and credited with good keeping qualities. The wine was exported all over the Mediterranean. More than two dozen wine-production sites have been discovered in the region, sometimes linked to important villas. In recent years, nearly 30 pottery factories have also been found by survey, mainly along the south shore of the lake, and there were large mounds of potsherds in the same area. The production of containers for the wine was thus also a local industry. Sometimes wine factories and pottery kilns are found associated with each other. There is also evidence for the quarrying of limestone from the ridges that run parallel to the coast and for the production of glass.

There is no evidence for ancient irrigation canals in the area; water for agriculture and viticulture must have come from a combination of sources: perhaps a somewhat higher level of rainfall than in modern times (in the 20th cent., it was 40-260 mm per year), storage systems to capture and retain this irregular rainfall, and water-lifting from the lake via mechanical devices. There were also wells; the groundwater toward the east end was fresher because of its proximity to Nile canals. The area in this way supported a much larger population and higher level of production than in modern times.

Mareotis was also a zone of recreation for the Alexandrian elite, as it was in more recent times. In late antiquity it acquired another important economic base with the growth of the sanctuary of St. Menas (Abu Mina) as a pilgrimage site.

I accept that the Therapeutae were Jewish theosophers: some focused on writing spiritual propaganda, others studied psycho-spiritual healing. The colony was housed in the barracks of their Chaldaean ancestors, in an area settled by families of (Judeo-)Semitic mercenaries become tax-collectors, vintners exporting the finest wine, wealthy Alexandrian merchants at a key access point to the metropolis and their associates. In this bucolic setting, the Aletheian Anthropos (A. A.) could pray and meditate (diligently practice a form of recovery), tutor children of wealthy city-folk at this ancient version of Martha's Vineyard, write sermons for the leading publishing house (i.e. papyri content, for synagogues of the Diaspora) and so on.

The Jewish commune near Plinthine was quite extraordinary, extremely productive. Was (Proto-)'Christianity' born there? I'm not so sure.
Last edited by billd89 on Sat Jun 11, 2022 8:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 3065
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae and their Context/Timeline

Post by DCHindley »

billd89,

Was once reading a geological survey of the Nile delta region, especially as it pertains to the Mareotis lake of early Roman time. I thought I had taken notes, but I am not locating them.

It looked like there was an artificial harbor to the Mediterranean, but the lake water was fresh, fed by means of one of the branches of the Nile, and was surrounded by docks and storehouses.

There were topographical charts galore of what the lakeshore, and excavated buildings, wharves, etc., would have looked like around the turn of the Common Era.

My take of the region was as a large harbor complex that may have supported a bohemian style community in the flatlands between the lake and the sea. There were likely roads all over to take goods unloaded from the ships to the markets of Alexandria and other nearby communities, or be transferred to river boats to take upriver to the south. There would be pack animals with their tenders and human porters left and right. It was like most busy port communities are today, only without any means of automated transport whatsoever. Day labor probably abounded, and they may have done OK financially by the standards of the day. Same for the warehouse/dock and riverboat operators.
User avatar
billd89
Posts: 684
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:27 pm
Location: New England, USA

Re: Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae (Map)

Post by billd89 »

See Taposiris Magna - then trace east 5 kms, where jetties extend deep into the lake: that was the customs' checkpoint for boat traffic.

On the Strip, that is where 'Plinthine' was. It is the highest elevation of the Strip, and one day's march to Alexandria: a lighthouse (still there!) communicated by signals to Alexandria. At the narrow point, plus an elevation, that was the best location for a string of small 'forts' (Chaldaean guardhouses) across the Strip, to inspect and tax all caravans.

Image

In Antiquity, this was also where the celebrated Taenioticum wine was produced. ταινία = strip; also streamer, associated w/ Apollo-Dionysius, sometimes of laurel. I also note that cattle were sacred in the Isic cult, to Hathor-Meri; Philo mentions giving the cattle rest in DVC 36. Trivial details?
User avatar
billd89
Posts: 684
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:27 pm
Location: New England, USA

Re: Locating Philo's Therapeutae

Post by billd89 »

Climate change over 2000 years has turned this area into what I would call "desert":
Image

There are numerous and fairly recent archeological surveys to study, such as this 2008 paper. I have not yet read the French 2019 report; here is a Harvard Summary:

The role of terminal assumed by Taposiris in Roman times meant that, in order to understand the logic of the transformations observed there, exploration was extended further east and has resulted in topographical surveys and soundings: the exceptional concentration of sites and harbour basins (Plinthine, Rahim, Qoseir, Gamal) east of Taposiris is striking. The interpretation of old maps and geomorphological data proved that they were bordered by the same canal.

Philo's DVC 23: Security is guaranteed by the surrounding villas and villages, and the salubrity of the air by the continuous breezes from lake and sea. Rahim, Qoseir, Gamal are all harbors/landings; that means these are probably all 'Jewish' (prominently Judeo-Macedonian) trading ports for high value exports.
User avatar
billd89
Posts: 684
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:27 pm
Location: New England, USA

Re: Philo's Therapeutae 'On The Strip'

Post by billd89 »

DCHindley wrote: Fri Jun 10, 2022 1:26 pmIs it just me or do these folks seem a bit "new agey"? Dream channeling (Edgar Cayce), singing of responsive hymns while segregated by sex (Shakers), mystic community practices (Masons - anyone who has ate at a cafeteria run by a local Masonic hall knows what I mean). But then there is a bit of "beat-nikiness" about them (living in shacks at the lakeshore, drinking only spring water and eating plain bread, reading poetry and thoughtfully discussing deep philosophical matters).
Of course, the ever-present danger is Projection: especially 'reading into' a lifestyle/bios without a solid grasp of the culture. I too imagined 'hippie communes' - in part because Philo Judaeus tells us (some of) these folks - Jews, but never declared such - were effectively 'dropping out' of Alexandrian commercial society to esoterically read, write and pray all day long. 'Writing the Great Alexandrian Novel,' as our own conventions might assume.

However, I now think archaeological evidence (above) contradicts the easy boho/slacker notion. Consider: luxe imports from abroad, large villas producing first-rate wine, artistic potters producing votive figurines for sailors, perfume manufactories, an enormous necropolis - elite merchants tombs (the whole funerary industry reeks of excess wealth) - to say nothing of the colony's papyrus and book production (more luxe goods) which perhaps dominated Hellenistic & Imperial mkts of their day. To me, all this suggests hyper-industrious and exceedingly successful 'Judaic' communities working together, synergistically: commercants and artisans, merchant marine traders and customs agents, writers & publishers ... among many other professions, shipping/trading/taxing great quantities of export quality goods at and from THIS one key location.

I may be wrong, this is merely my working hypothesis. Perhaps I'm only imagining/rationalizing how (Judeo-)Gnosticism and (Judeo-)Christianity first spread 'out of (Judeo-) Egypt' - from this specific (Jewish) area, I mean - along distinct trade-routes and through petty bourgeois merchants of the Diaspora especially. So too Eusebius believed these Therapeutae were the "First Christians" - he may be wrong in certain particulars, but perhaps he wa abit closer to the truth generally? TapOSIRIS was a major center for Osiris Worship, and Jesus-as-Osiris probably wasn't coming directly from Memphis either, folks. 'The Strip' is obviously my central candidate, for theoretical consideration: that - in a long-settled and very prosperous "sympathetic" neighborhood - several generations of busy Jewish creatives (an intellectual network) generated innovative, sectarian ideas which eventually flourished throughout the Roman Empire 0-75 AD. Such Jews were not exclusively from Alexandria proper (even if those affluents were well-represented); some migrated to Plinthine from Egypt or abroad. Philo calls this their homeland; I envision it functioned more like a cosmopolitan headquarters and progressive Jewish college for the Diaspora, at least for a time. That is my own projection, based on the Edelsteins' work.

The name 'Plinthine' is surely derived from plinthos, squared stone: limestone was easily quarried here, for the ancient Chaldaean boundary forts here. A plinth supported a pillar, it was a kind of finished (luxe) foundation stone. At some point, I suppose there were also Jewish builders here - I wonder if archaeological evidence (of dimensions, stone-cutting methods, etc.) might possibly reveal any Semitic characteristics?
Post Reply