Women Learning Philosophy and Philo’s Depiction of the Therapeutae

In my latest reading of Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria: Philo’s ‘Therapeutae’ Reconsidered, Joan Taylor discusses the Greco-Roman views on women studying philosophy, as well as how Philo’s depiction of the women in the Therapeutae takes into consideration Greco-Roman concerns.

Essentially, in the Greco-Roman world, there was concern that women studying philosophy was consistent with women being sexually loose or trying to be one of the guys.  At the same time, there was also a belief that women would do well to become a little more masculine through the study of philosophy, for that would elevate them above female silliness.  A widespread view was that women should learn philosophy at home, from their husbands, and that they should do so primarily to learn virtue.

According to Taylor, Philo depicts the women among the Therapeutae as matronly virgins.  In doing so, he implicitly addresses two Greco-Roman concerns, as he appeals to the Therapeutae to his Gentile audience to show that there are Jews who pursue the ideals of Greco-Roman philosophy (i.e., asceticism, contemplation, etc.).  First, by portraying the women as matronly figures, he is conveying the message that these women students are not sexually loose.  Second, by saying that they are virgins—-people who never had sex—-he is differentiating them from women who ditched their families and chose celibacy, which would have been scandalous for women in those days.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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