Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae and their Context/Timeline

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
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Re: Betz [1986] based on Preisendanz [1928/31] and ...?

Post by billd89 »

There's no need to imagine wild stuff that isn't true, flights of fancy to the lands of This, That and T'Other. Scholem truly and simply meant 'Jewish magicians of the PGM' : he was explicitly calling out Festugière's bias against the sources (i.e. "Jews"). Based on the letter to M. Smith, we cannot and should not legitimately read anything more into it, really. On this level, imaginary extrapolations are not only digressive, they're misinformative.

The history of the publication of the PGM (in the form that most of us know) began conceptually in a seminar of Albrecht Dieterich at Heidelberg, way back in 1905. (Many PGM fragments were held at that university; Karl Preisendanz picked up the work of other Dieterich students killed in WW1 and ultimately moved there AFTER the first two volumes were published [1928/31], in 1935.) Logically, early 20th C. German scholarship on the PGM informs Scholem's opinion, although his own Jewish background and interest in pre-Christian Jewish Gnosticism added emphasis in the 1930s. His studies in Germany (1915-23) fit the period, if not the subject so exactly. Yet, is it really so surprising his later work might gravitate to this source-material? In my mind, the only question is when that happened.

For example, in a review of Scholem's work {Vigiliae Christianae 15(2) [1961], 118}, Gilles Quispel connected these dots:
even if this Gnostic dualism were presupposed, can there be any doubt that the speculations on the Name, contained in this writing, ultimately go back to the apocalyptic and esoteric lore of the Jews for whom the Gnosis of the Name was of paramount importance? Scholem himself quotes a Jewish mystical text, according to which the whole world is sustained by the letters of the Name. The same, however, is found in a magical papyrus (Preisendanz, PGM 1, p.38), which was no doubt influenced by the above mentioned Jewish conception...

Since Gershom Scholem (here, in 1958) regularly visited Ascona (Eranos), he was personally acquainted w/ Gilles Quispel & Jung from 1947 on.

By the mid-1950s, Scholem knew. See Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah [1962, 1987], p.23:
At the same time, there are direct contacts between these texts of Merkabah Gnosticism and the syncretistic world of the magical papyri. We possess Hebrew Merkabah texts that read as if they belonged to the literature of magical papyri.28 The boundaries, at least regarding Judaism, were not as well defined as those drawn by many recent authors writing on Gnosticism who were bent on differentiating between Christian Gnosticism and the syncretistic magic under discussion.

28. I published one of these texts in Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition [1960], appendix C, 101-117, on the basis of two manuscripts.

Note a buried comment, in Jewish Gnosticism [1960] on p.8:
...why have not these {Merkabah} texts attracted closer attention at the hands of scholars? The reason is simply that most scholars, from the very beginning of nineteenth century Jewish studies, have continually underrated the antiquity of these texts [...]. The striking similarities between the literary physiognomy of some of these texts and some of the so-called magical papyri escaped {scholars}, as did their close relation to other sources from this period. The one notable exception to this unhappy state of things was provided by Moses Gaster {1893/1928}, whose fine intuition and wide knowledge in these fields was, however, warped by a considerable weakness of philological method and precision. This lack has prevented his ideas from being discussed seriously.

Scholem may have been more circumspect in his publications, but near the end of his life and in personal correspondence (1980), he was quite candid that Jewish magicians wrote (some) of the PGM (="Papyri"). Yet there are other scholars drawn towards the same conclusion, whether or not a popular opinion. Affiliated University of Chicago since 1963, Hans Dieter Betz only follows what I suppose to be 'the German scholarship' on this point: some PGM material originated with Jewish magicians.

Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri In Translation [1986], p.xlv:
...not everything was lost.7 At the end of antiquity, some philosophers and theologians, astrologers and alchemists collected magical books and spells that were still available. Literary writers included some of the material in their works, if only to make fun of it. It is known that philosophers of the Neo-Pythagorean and Neo-Platonic schools, as well as Gnostic and Hermetic groups, used magical books and hence must have possessed copies. But most of their material vanished and what we have left are their quotations.

Questions similar to those appropriate to the study of Greek religion must be raised in view of the material (divine names as well as entire passages) that comes from some form of Judaism. Jewish magic was famous in antiquity47 and more sources have come to light in recent years; but the origin and nature of the sections representing Jewish magic in the Greek Magical Papyri is far from clear. Did this material actually originate with Jewish magicians? How did it get into the hands of the magicians who wrote the Greek Magical Papyri? What kind of transformation took place in the material itself? If the texts in question come from Judaism, what type of Judaism do they represent?

The historian of religion will be especially interested in the kind of syncretism represented in the Greek magical papyri.48 This syncretism is more than a mixture of diverse elements from Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, and Jewish religion, with a few sprinkles of Christianity.

47. On Jewish magic and related bibliography, see L. Blau, Das altjudische Zauberwesen (Strassburg: Trubner, 1898, 2 1914); J. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk-Religion (New York: Behrman, 1939); G. G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2 1965); J. Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia , vols. 4 and 5 (Leiden: Brill, 1969, 1970); I. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1980).

48. See for surveys A. A. Barb, “Mystery, Myth, and Magic,” in The Legacy of Egypt, ed. J. R. Harris (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2 1971) 138—69; M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der Griechischen Religion, 2 vols. (Munchen: Beck, 3 1967, 2 1961) II, 520— 43 and passim; K. Preisendanz, “Zur synkretistischen Magic im romischen Agypten,” Mitteilungen aus der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek (Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer), Neue Serie, V. Folge, ed. H. Gerstinger (Wien:1956), 111-25.

Hermetic literature based in Jewish texts is arguably Jewish. It is logical to surmise -- as I do -- that Judeo-Hermetic authors likewise had some affinity with Philo's literary 'Therapeutae'. I've tracked this thesis back across a number of modern scholars: Ménard, Reitzenstein, Cerfaux, etc. to show how some Weimar-era students of the German Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (especially, our Edelsteins) developed these syncretistic implications to the N-th degree, to produce a modern 'Neo-Alexandrian' kabbalah.

"If the texts in question come from Judaism, what type of Judaism do they represent?" Excellent Question!
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Re: Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae and their Context/Timeline

Post by DCHindley »

Your academic gung-fu is very good,

Let me digest what you have there.

It is nice to see at least one other member here who takes the time to slice and dice sources, including modern ones.

You seem to like the tertiary works (like textbooks and academic publications) while I tend to favor the source texts (with limitations as I do not read languages like Hebrew or Syriac, and my Greek or Latin skills are rudimentary at best).

That's cool.

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Re: Revisiting Philo's Therapeutae, and Scholem

Post by billd89 »

Furthermore -- given what he has said above, connecting the "old Jewish Magicians of the Papyri" -- isn't Scholem suggesting an older Judeo-Hellenistic tradition, of 'Jewish circles having extremely close contact with' Hermeticism? (In another post, I have already addressed the fact that a number of scholars cite Reitzenstein vaguely, on this very point.) Obviously, it's a dicey topic. Where Rabbi Aha taught in Tiberias c.325 AD, is he addressing an 'Hermeticized' Jewish community there? Or is he exploiting older (Judeo-)Hermetic works, if this knowledge is revealed? Scholem appears, without committing himself outright, to be tacitly alluding to the purported 'Reitzenstein thesis'. (Otherwise, why cite him?)

G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, merkabah mysticism, and Talmudic tradition [1960], pp.65-6:
The eighth heaven to which R. Aha refers is the place where the most hidden mysteries are to be found, and, consequently, speculation about it is forbidden. Ben Sira’s admonishment, ‘Have no dealings with hidden mysteries [3:22],”’ is quoted in the Talmud specifically in this connection. In character, then, this heaven is strictly parallel to that of the Hellenistic highest heaven, the Ogdoas. ... The question, therefore, that the talmudic statement poses for us is whether the thought expressed by the Babylonian rabbi was his own, or whether it represented, as so often happened in such matters, even older Jewish tradition. Did it, perhaps, reflect Hellenistic teaching? Since R. Aha’s statement does, in fact, constitute a parallel to ideas expressed in a famous passage of the Hermetic writings,4 and since such teaching would certainly not have entered Jewish thought in Babylonia first, it would not be unreasonable to look for the origin of his ideas in western Jewish circles having extremely close contact with Hellenistic thought.

4 Poimandres (Corpus Hermeticum, 1.26); cf. R. Reitzenstein, Poimandres (1904), pp.53-54.

Absolutely nothing suggests the Hermetica originates anywhere but Egypt. Therefore, geographically, all Jewish traces appearing in the Hermetica must logically have an 'Egyptian' (i.e. Alexandrian) origin before the pogroms of 38 & 115 AD -- not later, as something Palestinian, nor Aramaean.

Likewise, Philo of Byblos (c.125 AD) has his fictious 'Sanchuniathon' receive ancient Thoth books from a Jewish priest: that says more about the true Authorship of the Hermetica than most scholars feel comfortable discussing. And that too is part and parcel of our Edelsteins 1938 synthetic détournement as well: their own cryptic (meta-)justification. The occult implications are telling the rest of the story, here.
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