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The Symposium of Philo’s Therapeutae

February 2010
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Maren Niehoff has published a new study of Philo’s Therapeutae:

Maren Niehoff,
‘The Symposium of Philo’s Therapeutae: Displaying Jewish Identity in an Increasingly Roman World,’
in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 50 (2010) 95–117
.

The study is for the time being available here

Niehoff introduces her study thus:
“PHILO’S ENCOMIUM of the Therapeutae, a group of Jewish philosophers living near Alexandria, contains a remarkably
long passage on their symposia. This passage clearly extends beyond the framework of a factual report and contains
extensive comments by Philo himself, who distinguishes the proper form of a symposium from its deteriorated counterparts.
1 In this context Philo takes a new look at the subject of wine and conversation, offering views which significantly differ
from his earlier discussions. I shall argue that the description of the Therapeutic symposia, composed towards the end of
Philo’s career, is used to locate Jewish identity in a distinctly Roman context. The treatise is an important and highly selfconscious contribution to the discourse of contemporary intellectuals, who negotiated the memory of their Greek past with
the exigencies of their present-day identity.”

An interesting aspect is that she dates Philo’s work on the Therapeutae to be rather late in his career, probably even at the time of his participation in the Jewish delegation to Rome (38-40/41 CE; see. p. 98).

Furthermore, she posits that Philo has a different attitude to the Greek Symphosia here than in his earlier writings; she argues that Philo earlier adopted a far more positive and distinctly Greek attitude towards the subject of wine and meals (p. 104-105). “Philo writes on the subject of wine and conversation with a sense of belonging to a larger community of philosophers. No dichotomy is yet visible between Jews and Greeks.” A new approach to the subject of wine and meals is visible in a series of Philo’s work known as the Exposition of the Law (p.106). Then concerning the Terepeutae, Philo continues this line of thought, adding many details of the Other symposia and invoking “Greek” excesses. Hence:

“these new aspects together with stringent Stoic ethics remarkably resonate with contemporary Roman notions.
Philo thus went particularly far in inscribing Jewish identity into a prominent Roman discourse, using the symposium to
suggest that the paradigmatic Jewish philosophers are located on the same side of a substantial dichotomy as Roman intellectuals like Seneca.”

I am not yet quite convinced of this suggested development in Philo’s descriptions, and am also a little surprised that she does not draw upon the studies concerning symposia )and associations) to be found in the volume of J. S. Kloppenborg and S.G. Wilson (eds.), Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World (Routledge; London, 1995). There might be some additionaøl viewpoints there.


1 Comment

  1. […] Jewish Identity in an Increasingly Roman World,’ pp.95-116. (See my comments on her study here.) Philip F. Venticinque, ‘Family Affairs: Guild Regulations and Family Relationsships in […]

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