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Therapeutae

An ancient sect of ascetics and recluses thought to have resided in the vicinity of Alexandria and Lake Mareotis, Egypt, in the first century a.d. The only account concerning them is in De Vita Contemplativa, attributed to the Jewish philosopher Philo.* There they are described as devoted to the study of the OT, particularly the Law and the Prophets, in the utmost solitude. From sunrise to sunset, the times for prayer, the OT was studied. Some of this sect ate only every second day, and others ate only once a week. On the Sabbath they met in worship and heard their oldest scholars discourse on their tenets. Their entire lives were regulated in the most austere manner, intended to promote piety.

Since only this one source remains for their existence and practices, scholars have had to conjecture concerning many matters. Previously some assumed they were Christians, following the error of Eusebius. Jerome, similarly confused, reckoned Philo to be an ecclestiastical writer of the Christians. In more modern times they were thought to be a branch of the Essenes,* but this was challenged by the church historian Adolf Harnack. While these two monastic groups do resemble each other especially in their strict discipline, other than their both being second- or first- century b.c. radical groups coming into being in that time when many new groups emerged, there was probably no direct connection.