Perhaps a #Vegan
Order of #Essenes
: Meet the Children of the Dawn: The #Therapeutae
– The First #Monastery
Mentioned in History, an Ancient Spiritual #Community
that Once Existed Near Alexandria, Egypt, by James Bean
“And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night; and this nocturnal festival is celebrated in the following manner: they all stand up together, and in the middle of the entertainment two choruses are formed at first, the one of men and the other of women… Therefore, being intoxicated all night till the morning with this beautiful intoxication, without feeling their heads heavy or closing their eyes for sleep, but being even more awake than when they came to the feast, as to their eyes and their whole bodies, and standing there till morning, when they saw the sun rising they raised their hands to heaven, imploring tranquility and truth, and acuteness of understanding. And after their prayers they each retired to their own separate abodes, with the intention of again practicing the usual philosophy to which they had been wont to devote themselves.” (“On The Contemplative Life”, by Philo of Alexandria)
Monachos (Monastic) is a Greek word that was first used to describe members of a spiritual community called “the Therapeutae,” (healers, and ones who attend to God), a contemplative mystical Jewish order that existed during the first century AD in Egypt. Philo of Alexandria, greatly influenced by Therapeutae teachings and mystical practice himself, writes about them in his work, “On the Contemplative Life.” The Therapeutae were a #monastic
community and have been compared with the Essenes, or perhaps even were an Egyptian branch of the Essene movement.
Like the Essenes, the Therapeutae were #vegetarians
: “….And the table, too, is kept clear of animal flesh, nothing which has blood, but there is placed upon it bread for food and salt for seasoning, to which also hysop is sometimes added…” (#Philo
Like the Essene community at #Quman
near the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the Therapeutae community was also located near a large body of water: Lake Mariout.
It’s my impression that the Christians didn’t invent the concept of becoming a monk or creating monastic communities, that they borrowed many ideas and customs from these earlier above-mentioned Jewish groups in Egypt and Palestine.
From the Britannica website, the entry for Therapeutae:
Therapeutae, Greek Therapeutai (“Healers,” or “Attendants”), singular Therapeutes, Jewish sect of ascetics closely resembling the Essenes, believed to have settled on the shores of Lake Mareotis in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1st century AD. The only original account of this community is given in De vita contemplativa (On the #Contemplative
Life), attributed to Philo of Alexandria. Their origin and fate are both unknown…. According to Philo, the members, both men and women, devoted their time to prayer and study. They prayed twice every day, at dawn and at evening, the interval between being spent entirely on spiritual exercise. They read the Holy Scriptures, from which they sought wisdom by treating them as allegorical, believing that the words of the literal text were symbols of something hidden. Attendance to bodily needs, such as food, was entirely relegated to the hours of darkness.
Members of the community lived near one another in separate and scattered houses. Each house contained a chamber, or sanctuary, consecrated to study and prayer. The Therapeutae had, in addition to the Old Testament, books composed by the founders of their sect on the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. Philo’s account refers to the composition of “new psalms” to God in a variety of metres and melodies. For six days a week, members lived apart, seeking wisdom in solitude. On the Sabbath they met in the common sanctuary, where they listened to a discourse by the member most skilled in their doctrines and then ate a common meal of coarse bread and a drink of spring water. The sect revered the number 7 and its square, but the most sacred of numbers was 50. Thus, on the eve of the 50th day they observed an all-night festival, with a discourse, hymn singing, and a meal, followed by a sacred vigil. (Britannica)
Philo of Alexandria
Philo Judaeus lived from 20 BCE to 50 CE in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the largest Jewish settlement outside of Palestine. Throughout his life, Philo remained loyal to Judaism becoming a prominent member of the Jewish community. Philo was also influenced by the Greek culture of his day. He was well educated, and came to be a great philosopher combining ideas from Aristotle, Pythagoras, Plato and the Stoics and synthesizing them with Judaism. http://www.thenazareneway.com/contemplative_life.htm
Below are selections about the Therapeutae sect from, “On The Contemplative Life” (De vita contemplativa), by the spiritual master Philo of Alexandria:
of Mareotic Lake, Outside Alexandria
Description of the Site
(23) For the houses built in the fields and the villages which surround it on all sides give it safety; and the admirable temperature of the air proceeds from the continual breezes which come from the lake which falls into the sea, and also from the sea itself in the neighbourhood, the breezes from the sea being light, and those which proceed from the lake which falls into the sea being heavy, the mixture of which produces a most healthy atmosphere.
(24) But the houses of these men thus congregated together are very plain, just giving shelter in respect of the two things most important to be provided against, the heat of the sun, and the cold from the open air; and they did not live near to one another as men do in cities, for immediate neighbourhood to others would be a troublesome and unpleasant thing to men who have conceived an admiration for, and have determined to devote themselves to, solitude; and, on the other hand, they did not live very far from one another on account of the fellowship which they desire to cultivate, and because of the desirableness of being able to assist one another if they should be attacked by robbers….
(25) And in every house there is a sacred shrine which is called the holy place, and the monastery in which they retire by themselves and perform all the mysteries of a holy life, bringing in nothing, neither meat, nor drink, nor anything else which is indispensable towards supplying the necessities of the body, but studying in that place the laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns, and psalms, and all kinds of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection.
(26) Therefore they always retain an imperishable #recollection
, so that not even in their dreams is any other object ever presented to their eyes except the beauty of the divine virtues and of the divine powers. Therefore many persons speak in their sleep, divulging and publishing the celebrated doctrines of the sacred philosophy.
(27) And they are accustomed to pray twice every day, at morning and at evening; when the sun is rising entreating God that the happiness of the coming day may be real happiness, so that their minds may be filled with heavenly light, and when the sun is setting they pray that their soul, being entirely lightened and relieved of the burden of the outward senses, and of the appropriate object of these outward senses, may be able to trace out truth existing in its own consistory and council chamber.
(28) And the interval between morning and evening is by them devoted wholly to meditation on and to practice of virtue, for they take up the sacred scriptures and philosophise concerning them, investigating the allegories of their national philosophy, since they look upon their literal expressions as symbols of some secret meaning of nature, intended to be conveyed in those figurative expressions.
(29) They have also writings of ancient men, who having been the founders of one sect or another have left behind them many memorials of the allegorical system of writing and explanation, whom they take as a kind of model, and imitate the general fashion of their sect; so that they do not occupy themselves solely in contemplation, but they likewise compose psalms and hymns to God in every kind of metre and melody imaginable, which they of necessity arrange in more dignified rhythm.
(30) Therefore, during six days, each of these individuals, retiring into solitude by himself, philosophises by himself in one of the places called monasteries, never going outside the threshold of the outer court, and indeed never even looking out. But on the seventh day they all come together as if to meet in a sacred assembly, and they sit down in order according to their ages with all becoming gravity, keeping their hands inside their garments, having their right hand between their chest and their dress, and the left hand down by their side, close to their flank;
(31) And then the eldest of them who has the most profound learning in their doctrines, comes forward and speaks with steadfast look and with steadfast voice, with great powers of reasoning, and great prudence, not making an exhibition of his oratorical powers like the rhetoricians of old, or the sophists of the present day, but investigating with great pains, and explaining with minute accuracy the precise meaning of the laws, which sits, not indeed at the tips of their ears, but penetrates through their hearing into the soul, and remains there lastingly; and all the rest listen in silence to the praises which he bestows upon the law, showing their assent only by nods of the head, or the eager look of the eyes.
(32) And this common holy place to which they all come together on the seventh day is a twofold circuit, being separated partly into the apartment of the men, and partly into a chamber for the women, for women also, in accordance with the usual fashion there, form a part of the audience, having the same feelings of admiration as the men, and having adopted the same sect with equal deliberation and decision….
(78) And these explanations of the sacred scriptures are delivered by mystic expressions in allegories, for the whole of the law appears to these men to resemble a living animal, and its express commandments seem to be the body, and the invisible meaning concealed under and lying beneath the plain words resembles the soul, in which the rational soul begins most excellently to contemplate what belongs to itself, as in a mirror, beholding in these very words the exceeding beauty of the sentiments, and unfolding and explaining the symbols, and bringing the secret meaning naked to the light to all who are able by the light of a slight intimation to perceive what is unseen by what is visible.
(79) When, therefore, the president appears to have spoken at sufficient length, and to have carried out his intentions adequately, so that his explanation has gone on felicitously and fluently through his own acuteness, and the hearing of the others has been profitable, applause arises from them all as of men rejoicing together at what they have seen and heard;
(80) and then some one rising up sings a hymn which has been made in honour of God, either such as he has composed himself, or some ancient one of some old poet, for they have left behind them many poems and songs in trimetre iambics, and in psalms of thanksgiving and in hymns, and songs at the time of libation, and at the altar, and in regular order, and in choruses, admirably measured out in various and well diversified strophes. And after him then others also arise in their ranks, in becoming order, while every one else listens in decent silence, except when it is proper for them to take up the burden of the song, and to join in at the end; for then they all, both men and women, join in the hymn.
(81) And when each individual has finished his psalm, then the young men bring in the table which was mentioned a little while ago, on which was placed that most holy food, the leavened bread, with a seasoning of salt, with which hyssop is mingled, out of reverence for the sacred table, which lies thus in the holy outer temple; for on this table are placed loaves and salt without seasoning, and the bread is unleavened, and the salt unmixed with anything else,
(82) for it was becoming that the simplest and purest things should be allotted to the most excellent portion of the priests, as a reward for their ministrations, and that the others should admire similar things, but should abstain from the loaves, in order that those who are the more excellent person may have the precedence.
Singing Until Sunrise
XI. (83) And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night; and this nocturnal festival is celebrated in the following manner: they all stand up together, and in the middle of the entertainment two choruses are formed at first, the one of men and the other of women, and for each chorus there is a leader and chief selected, who is the most honourable and most excellent of the band.
(84) Then they sing hymns which have been composed in honour of God in many metres and tunes, at one time all singing together, and at another moving their hands and dancing in corresponding harmony, and uttering in an inspired manner songs of thanksgiving, and at another time regular odes, and performing all necessary strophes and antistrophes.
(85) Then, when each chorus of the men and each chorus of the women has feasted separately by itself, like persons in the bacchanalian revels, drinking the pure wine of the love of God, they join together, and the two become one chorus, an imitation of that one which, in old time, was established by the Red Sea, on account of the wondrous works which were displayed there….
Now the chorus of male and female worshippers being formed, as far as possible on this model, makes a most humorous concert, and a truly musical symphony, the shrill voices of the women mingling with the deep-toned voices of the men. The ideas were beautiful, the expressions beautiful, and the chorus-singers were beautiful; and the end of ideas, and expressions, and chorus-singers, was piety;
(89) therefore, being intoxicated all night till the morning with this beautiful intoxication, without feeling their heads heavy or closing their eyes for sleep, but being even more awake than when they came to the feast, as to their eyes and their whole bodies, and standing there till morning, when they saw the sun rising they raised their hands to heaven, imploring tranquility and truth, and acuteness of understanding. And after their prayers they each retired to their own separate abodes, with the intention of again practicing the usual philosophy to which they had been wont to devote themselves.
(90) This then is what I have to say of those who are called Therapeutae, who have devoted themselves to the contemplation of nature, and who have lived in it and in the soul alone, being citizens of heaven and of the world, and very acceptable to the Father and Creator of the universe because of their virtue, which has procured them his love as their most appropriate reward, which far surpasses all the gifts of fortune, and conducts them to the very summit and perfection of happiness. ////////
I also could have added that they wore white like some Sikhs and Sufis: “…and being clothed in tunics of the most delicate texture, and of the purest white…” (Philo of Alexandria) In the case of most #Gnostic
groups, and the #Jewish
Essene sect, we only know them through their writings – their teachings, not much else. In the case of the Therapeutae no collections of their writings have ever been found, but through Philo of Alexandria we have a fairly detailed description of their daily life and weekly format of worship. For more, see Philo’s book, On the Contemplative Life: http://www.thenazareneway.com/contemplative_life.htm