Narrative of Zosimos, and the History of the Rechabites

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billd89
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Narrative of Zosimos, and the History of the Rechabites

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The inclusion of the 'History of the Rechabites' in the 'Narrative of Zosimos' is probably a 2nd or 3rd C. AD conglomeration, fabricated in part to explain the Therapeutae as the (presumed) 'First Christians.' Whether the First Christians came out of these groups is a separate question. The 'Blessed Island' sounds the Strip at Lake Mareotis, reached by water on two sides.

The underlying material might have been created c.150-175 AD, and it is difficult to know how much of the oldest mythos/data was actually Therapeut. It is also possible that the 'cult of Jeremiah' -- separate from the Therapeutae -- produced the oldest parts. Where inconsistencies defy a strictly Jewish interpretation, it's entirely possible these 'Jews' were Sethians.

I started with Chris H. Knights, '“The Story of Zosimus” or “The History of the Rechabites”?' in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period, Vol. 24, No. 2 (DECEMBER 1993), pp. 235-245. Link. And Jim Davila provides a contrary commentary in a 2003 essay "Is the Story of Zosimus Really a Jewish Composition?" here.

Brian McNeil, "Narration of Zosimus" in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period Vol. 9, No. 1 (1978), pp.68-82. Link.

{p.77} Who, then, were the Rechabites? There is another ascetic group within the Judaism of the first century C.E. who would fit the picture better, namely the Therapeutae. According to Philo, De Vita Contemplativa, this group by Lake Mareotis near Alexandria practised severe dietary and sexual asceticism, many of the female members of the community remaining virgins; they wore simple clothing, and gave up all their possessions; they did no work, spending all their time in meditation; they prayed twice a day, at dawn and at sunset. They had writings of their own, indicating how the scriptures should be interpreted, and composed hymns and psalms. There are a number of facts which would undeniably tell against identifying the Rechabites of the Narration of Zosimus with the Therapeutae of Philo [...]

Is an identification of the Rechabites with the Therapeutae possible? To answer this question, we must first evaluate our sources of information.

If we take four movements within the Judaeo-Christian spectrum of the period c. 50 B.C.E. to c.150 C.E., Essenism, the Therapeutae, 'orthodox' Christianity and gnostic Christianity, our sources of in­ formation are of different types. Until about thirty years ago, for information about Essenes and gnostics we relied on external in­ formation from Philo, Josephus and Pliny on the one hand and the 'orthodox' Christian heresiologists on the other; with the dis­coveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi we now have internal information about these movements and can control the external information, and can correct its incompleteness and distortion so that from both internal and external sources we can synthesise a more accurate picture. For 'orthodox' Christianity (i.e., those tendencies and emphases within the Christian spectrum which emerged from the debates of the second century as the catholic synthesis) we have an extreme paucity of external information and rely virtually entirely on internal sources (even writings intended for external reading, such as the Epistle to Diognetus, do not give us an outsider's picture of early Christianity). And for the Therapeutae our only certain source is Philo's D.V.C. Marc PHILONENKO has suggested that the Testament of Job {c.25 BC} is a Therapeutic work 10): but even if Test. Job can be dated sufficiently early, it is highly doubtful whether it contains anything distinctive enough of any known theological outlook within Judaism to permit us to assign it to a particular group, far less to assign it to such an idiosyncratic group as the Therapeutae. Accordingly, our sole source of informa­tion about the Therapeutae is external.

The first result of this is that our information will be partial : it has been observed frequently that with only the testimony of Philo, Josephus and Pliny the Elder to go on, we should know {p.79} nothing about the prominence of eschatology and messianic doc­ trine among the Essenes ; similarly, we should know very little in detail about the doctrines of Christianity if our only source was Ep. X 96 of Pliny the Younger. Second, and more importantly for the question of the Narration of Zosimus, Philo's account is not straightforwardly factual. Its intention is both apologetic, to defend the contemplative life itself, and polemic, to attack the vices of pagan society and especially its luxury. He does not pretend to offer a full account of the beliefs of the Therapeutae. This twofold intention has naturally guided his selection and presentation of information, so that the Therapeutae are presented as heroes of superhuman endurance who spend whole nights in vigils and eat a simple meal of bread and salt once a day 'on croit rêver en lisant' 11). Philo is extremely vague in details about the practical day-to-day life of the Therapeutae, and tells of incredible austerities, but this does not mean that the Therapeutae are the product of his own imagination. One must demythologise the D.V.C., just as one must de-mythologise the Narration, and one arrives at a group near Alexandria who practised severe asceticism and devoted much of their time to meditation and developed their own liturgical practices. However, can one de-mythologise away into non-existence such a fundamental disagreement as that over the calendar? One may be able to reconcile the different accounts of worship, or the statements about whether or not they live in houses, but the Nar­ ration is so definite in its rejection of a calendar that it is hard to see how this may be reconciled with the clear evidence that the Therapeutae possess one.

The clue to the answer to this problem is given in D.V.C. 29 12):
ἔστι δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ συγγράμματα παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν, οἳ τῆς αἱρέσεως ἀρχηγέται γενόμενοι πολλὰ μνημεῖα τῆς ἐν τοῖς ἀλληγορουμένοις ἰδέας ἀπέλιπον, οἷς καθάπερ τισὶν ἀρχετύποις χρώμενοι μιμοῦνται τῆς προαιρέσεως τὸν τρόπον

{“They also have treatises of ancient men, founders of their sect, who left behind many records of the allegorical interpretation of the Idea, which – according to a certain archetype – they use to imitate the course of action/purpose in such a way.”

{p.80} The aim of the Therapeutae in their meditation was to interpret the scriptures in their true allegorical significance, guided by writ­ings which their founders had left them. I would suggest that the Narration of Zosimus was one such writing: it is a meditation on Jer. 35 written to show how that account of the Rechabites is directly relevant to the life of the Therapeutic community. Tradi­tional paradise motifs are drawn on (we need not ascribe these directly to Hellenistic or Iranian sources, but rather to these sources as refracted through Jewish apocalyptic: cf. such passages as 1 Enoch 60, 8.23) and a portrait of an idealised society reaching extreme old age in a flower-strewn plain free of wild beasts (cf. Is. 65, 17-25; Jub. 23) is built up. The partly polemical purpose of the Narration, which was discussed above, is seen also in its author's choice of the Rechabites as its protagonists, for the point of Jer. 35 is to issue a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The Rechabites have kept the commandments of their father Jonadab ben Rechab and so they will survive the destruction of Jerusalem, but the men of Judah who have persistently disobeyed the word of the Lord will perish. So in the Narration, the people of Jerusalem reject the Rechabites and throw them out, but it is through their prayers that the destruction of the city was averted, and it is their great joy to hear of the works of the just (Narr. 11; cf. Lk. 15, 7.10, Test. Abraham A 11, B 8, for a similar theme). It seems likely that the author of the Narration intends to reproach the Jews who had made life impossible for his own community and driven them out. The men whom they had foolishly expelled are in fact sinless and live cared for by angels, praying for their brethren; they will not see any harm that may come upon Jerusalem now, for God has taken them out of the world and preserves them from the assaults of the tempter.

The polemic, however, is not the most important aspect of the Narration. It sets out, in a pictorial form, a way of life for a com­ munity. It disregards practical details: the community does not engage in any kind of work, and we have no idea how they might be financed; and, as noted above, if we interpret the text literally we have a community which accepts no new recruits and will die out through failure to reproduce itself. The Narration, then, is not a Rule like that of St Benedict, but rather a statement of the guiding principles of the community: sexual continence, dietary asceticism, and continuous intercessory prayer. As such, and because of this {p.81} lack of concrete details, it could be valued by two communities who shared these ideals, the Therapeutae and the Christian monastic group which made the present Greek redaction and added the coda. It was valued for its statement of ideals, and the few details of community regulations, such as the absence of a calendar, could be changed and were changed by both groups which preserved the Narration, the Therapeutae who did have their own calendar and the monks who interpolated Narr. 12. A comparable departure from original community structures, while preserving documents which spoke of those structures, would be the disappearance in the second century of prophets as regular ministers in the Christian congregations (they are mentioned in the New Testament, e.g., Acts 13, 1, 1 Cor. 12, 28; detailed regulations for dealing with them are given in Didache 11-13; but by the middle of the second century their charism has been swallowed up in that of the local bishop cf. Mart. Polycarp 16, 2).

This solution to the problem of the Narration of Zosimus does not remove all the obscurities; it may be said that to attempt to invoke the Therapeutae of Philo to illuminate the Narration is a hopeless task. But if it be accepted that the Narration is a statement of the ideals of a Jewish community, then the group whose ideals it fits with the minimum of difficulty is the Therapeutae. Its lack of messianism or final eschatology disqualifies it as an Essene work; and to the objection that it makes no mention of the Law although we are told that the principal occupation of the Therapeutae was meditation on the Law, one may reply that the Narration makes no mention of the Law simply because it is a homiletic midrash on Jer. 35 whose purpose is to demonstrate how to interpret the scriptures its reference to the scriptures was obvious to its readers. If my suggestion is correct, it may help us to date the origins of the Therapeutic movement to the period of Hillel and Shammai, in view of the author's use and extension of their concession to asceticism (Narr. 10).

Ilya Repin's "Job and his Friends" (1869).
Ilya Repin's "Job and his Friends" (1869).
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DCHindley
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Re: Narrative of Zosimos, and the History of the Rechabites

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I have to agree that it is speculative to assert that the Narrative of Zosimus' description of the "Rechabites" can be traced to the Therapeutae of Egypt.

On the Contemplative Life has a complicated history.

Hard to say whether it was known by this name even in the time of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who do not refer to Therapeutae at all.

Eusebius calls the name of this book "On the Contemplative Life or Suppliants," (Περι Βιου Θεωρητικου Η Ικετων). "3 In the work to which he gave the title, On a Contemplative Life or on Suppliants, after affirming in the first place that he will add to those things which he is about to relate nothing contrary to truth or of his own invention, he says that these men were called Therapeutae and the women that were with them Therapeutrides. He then adds the reasons for such a name, explaining it from the fact that they applied remedies and healed the souls of those who came to them, by relieving them like physicians, of evil passions, or from the fact that they served and worshipped the Deity in purity and sincerity. 4 Whether Philo himself gave them this name, employing an epithet well suited to their mode of life, or whether the first of them really called themselves so in the beginning, since the name of Christians was not yet everywhere known, we need not discuss here."

Epiphanius calls the name of Philo's book [On] Jesseans: "But at that time all Christians alike ... also came to be called “Jessaeans” [Ἰεσσαίους] for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch," ... "If you enjoy study and have read the passage about them in Philo’s historical writings, in his book entitled Jessaeans, you can find that ... Philo described none other than Christians."

If I might shamelessly plug something I had previously posted, I think I have got down to Philo's original observation, and illustrated what I think are the strata:

The text in English translation is color coded so what I think is Philo's original sketch (probably recorded in a personal notebook or official diary) is red, and comments that also seem to be Philo's at point he edited his notebook sketch for publication are blue, and comments by a quite different editor who was much more worldly, in black. My guess is the worldly fellow was Tiberius Alexander (Philo's uncle?) who republished his sketches posthumously.

viewtopic.php?p=126705#p126705

DCH

PS: I agree that the translation of Philo's On the Contemplative Life in the Loeb volume is very hard to match to the Greek text on the facing page, at least for me. This is not the Pauline corpus, where we all know the vocabulary and technical terms, but a different kind of Greek. I just wish I still had my old BibleWorks 8 and the 4Gb of books and source texts I had put together over 30 some years. Can't bring myself to try to recover them, if at all possible, for the dread of experiencing frustrating disappointments.

Notes:
*Philo, Volume IX (Loeb363, tr by F H Colson, 1941, Unicode including the Greek), 0-674-99400-0 (https://ryanfb.github.io/loebolus-data/L363.pdf)
*Eusebius Church History Book 2.17.3-24, ca 313 CE. In its present form, the work was brought to a conclusion before the death of Crispus (July 326), and, since book 10 is dedicated to Paulinus, Archbishop of Tyre, who died before 325, at the end of 323 or in 324, (tr, McGiffert, NPNF series 2 vol 1). Date info was ripped from random web sites.
*Epiphanius i]Panarion[/i] Sect #29, ca. 378 CE (Panarion 1-46 tr by Frank Williams).
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Re: Narrative of Zosimos, and the History of the Rechabites

Post by billd89 »

DCHindley wrote: Sat Jul 16, 2022 6:02 pmI have to agree that it is speculative to assert that the Narrative of Zosimus description of the "Rechabites" can be traced to the Therapeutae of Egypt.
A few points that I suppose, subject to change:
1) The Rechabites as a group of Sober Jews* (before 350 BC) existed.
2) 'Therapeutae' existed; were called and called themselves something else.
3) 'Rechabites' and 'Therapeutae' MAY be of the same lineage, but...
4) In this particular work, the Rechabite/Therapeutae conflation, even if essentially correct, was later: c.200-350 AD.
5) Despite the remote possibility that multiple (different) 'Sober Jewish Sects' (co)existed -- think of 'distinctions' between AA, NA, CA, CMA, DA & related/similar groups now -- it is unlikely there were competing 'Sober Jewish' groups in Alexandria 300 BC - 25 AD. So, by Occam's Razor: these entities (however muddled) are basically same-same.
6) Furthermore, there are references to later Sober Gnostic groups also -- again, I suppose there's a lineage, even if whoever complied this text wasn't a member.
7) Circumstances on the ground were undoubtedly complicated; our understanding is fragmentary (i.e. the record is very poor) so all conclusions are largely conjectural.


*Proto-Jews, an Israelitish society, a Judaic sect, etc.
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