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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

So called from the extraordinary purity of their religious worship, were a Jewish sect, who, with a kind of religious frenzy, placed their whole felicity in the contemplation of the divine nature. Detaching themselves wholly from secular affairs, they transferred their property to their relations or friends, and withdrew into solitary places, where they devoted themselves to a holy life. The principal society of this kind was formed near Alexandria, where they lived, not far from each other, in separate cottages, each of which had its own sacred apartment, to which the inhabitants retired for the purposes of devotion. After their morning prayers, they spent the day in studying the law and the prophets, endeavouring, by the help of the commentaries of their ancestors, to discover some allegorical meaning in every part. Besides this, they entertained themselves with composing sacred hymns in various kinds of metre. Six days of the week were, in this manner, passed in solitude. On the seventh day they met, clothed in a decent habit, in a public assembly; where taking their places according to their age, they sat with the right hand between the breast and the chin, and the left at the side. Then some one of the elders, stepping forth into the middle of the assembly, discoursed with a grave countenance and a calm tone of voice, on the doctrines of the sect; the audience, in the mean time, remaining in perfect silence, and occasionally expressing their attention and approbation by a nod.

The chapel where they met was divided into two apartments, one for the men, and the other for the women. So strict a regard was paid to silence in these assemblies, that no one was permitted to whisper, nor even to breathe aloud; but when the discourse was finished, if the question which had been proposed for solution had been treated to the satisfaction of the audience, they expressed their approbation by a murmur of applause. Then the speaker, rising, sung a hymn of praise to God; in the last verse of which the whole assembly joined. On great festivals, the meeting was closed with a vigil, in which sacred music was performed, accompanied with solemn dancing; and these vigils were continued till morning, when the assembly, after a morning prayer, in which their faces were directed towards the rising sun, was broken up.

So abstemious were these ascetics, that they commonly ate nothing before the setting sun, and often fasted two or three days. They abstained from wine, and their ordinary food was bread and herbs. Much dispute has arisen among the learned concerning this sect. Some have imagined them to have been Judaizing Gentiles; but Philo supposes them to be Jews, by speaking of them as a branch of the sect of Essenes, and expressly classes them among the followers of Moses. Others have maintained, that the Therapeutae were an Alexandrian sect of Jewish converts to the Christian faith, who devoted themselves to a monastic life. But this is impossible; for Philo, who wrote before Christianity appeared in Egypt, speaks of this as an established sect. From comparing Philo's account of this sect with the state of philosophy in the country where it flourished, it seems likely that the Therapeutae were a body of Jewish fanatics, who suffered themselves to be drawn aside from the simplicity of their ancient religion by the example of the Egyptians and Pythagoreans. How long this sect continued is uncertain; but it is not improbable that, after the appearance of Christianity in Egypt, it soon became extinct.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

One particular phenomenon which resulted from the theosophico-ascetic spirit among the Alexandrian Jews, was the sect of the Therapeutae. Their headquarters were at no great distance from Alexandria, in a quiet pleasant spot on the shores of the Lake Moeris, where they lived, like the anchorites in later periods, shut up in separate cells, and employed themselves in nothing but prayer, and the contemplation of divine things. An allegorical interpretation of Scripture was the foundation of their speculations; and they had old theosophical writings which gave them this turn. They lived only on bread and water, and accustomed themselves to fasting. They only ate in the evening, and many fasted for several days together. They met together every Sabbath day, and every seven weeks they held a still more solemn assembly, because the number seven was peculiarly holy in their estimation. They then celebrated a simple love-feast, consisting of bread with salt and hyssop; theosophical discussions were held, and the hymns which they had from their old traditions were sung; and mystical dances, bearing reference to the wonderful works of God with the fathers of their people, were continued, amidst choral songs, to a late hour in the night. Many men of distinguished learning, have considered this sect as nothing but a scion of the Essenes, trained up under the peculiar influence of the Egyptian spirit.

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(n. pl.) A name given to certain ascetics said to have anciently dwelt in the neighborhood of Alexandria. They are described in a work attributed to Philo, the genuineness and credibility of which are now much discredited.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

Of the hymns of the Therapeutae. Philo expressly states that they were formed after the hymn of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15); and as to the allegorical interpretation, it was used among the Alexandrian Jews before the Christian era, and even before Philo. But as to what Gratz understands of the liturgy of the Therapeutae and of its Christian character, he has not fully entered upon this point, nor can anything of the kind be deduced from Philo's statement. Gratz refers to Eusebius, and to those after him who regarded the Therapeutae as Christians, but this proof is the least satisfactory. Eusebius regards the treatise Περὶ Βίου Θεωρητικοῦ as Philonian, and makes the Jewish philosopher a disciple of John Mark, who accompanied Paul on his first missionary tour, and afterwards labored at Alexandria. According to Eusebius, the Therapeutae existed as Christians in the 1st century. The opinion of Gr Ä tz that the Therapeutae were a Christian monastic sect of the 2nd or 3rd century of the Christian era has therefore no support in Eusebius. While, however, later Christian writers, with the exception of Photius (Myriobiblon sive Bibliotheca [Rothomagi, 1653], ed. Dav. Halschelius, p. 275), identify Therapeutae with monks, and while the writings falsely ascribed to Dionysius Areopagita use both expressions synonymously, Scaliger has called attention to the fact that the designation of Therapeutae for monks depends solely upon the interpretation of Eusebius (Scaliger, De Emeindatione Temporum, 6:252). With the exception of Gratz, no writer has regarded the Therapeut as as Christian heretical sect, and he himself is yet undecided in what series of heretical sects, which sprang up by the dozen within the Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, he should place them. According to Gr

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Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Therapeutae'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [5]

A Jewish ascetic sect in Egypt, who lived a life of celibacy and meditation in separate hermitages, and assembled for worship on Sabbath.