Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dead, Yet Alive

I finished Joan Taylor's Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria: Philo's 'Therapeutae' Reconsidered.  In my latest reading, Taylor presents the Therapeutae as a Jewish group in the first century that celebrated the weekly Sabbath but also a festival every forty-nine days.  On that particular festival, they celebrated the Exodus and the liberation of their souls from their bodies, which enabled them to have an ecstatic experience of God.  On this festival, men and women were together, whereas Philo says that they were apart many other times.

When reading about people in the ancient world who sought liberation from the body and their desires, I have been puzzled.  Why (in their minds) would they have to work to attain this, when we're all heading towards death anyway, and at that time our souls will be liberated from our body?  It's sort of automatic, isn't it?  Short of suicide, how can people right now liberate their souls from their bodies and see God?  We know that these ancient thinkers did not commit suicide, but they pursued a path of asceticism and contemplation.

On page 339, Taylor quotes Philo's statement in De Vita Contemplativa 12-13 regarding the Therapeutae: "they are seized by a heavenly passion----just like the Bacchic revellers and Corybants----(and) are inspired until they see the object of desire.  Then through their longing for the deathless and blessed life, they consider their mortal life to have already ended".  It's as if they attained a state of such ecstasy----after asceticism and contemplation----that they feel that they have escaped their mortal body and have seen God, even if (technically-speaking) they are still flesh-and-blood mortals.

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