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.
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.
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.
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