THERAPEUTAE, an ancient sect of ascetics believed to have lived in the vicinity of Alexandria and near Lake Mareotis. They are mentioned in Philo's De Vita Contemplativa, and are characterized as being unusually severe in their discipline and mode of life. Abjuring money rather than matter, the Thera peutae lived a secluded life, each member keeping to his own dwelling rather than mingling together in common fellowship.
Chief among the institutions of this sect was a festival held every seven weeks and at the culmination of which, bands of women and men danced and sang throughout the night. On every Sabbath they gathered for worship jointly. Their entire lives were devoted strictly to meditation and prayer. They despised all forms of avarice.
As the result of Philo being the only authority regarding the life and existence of the Therapeutae, there are a number of controversial questions concerning the sect. Some authorities regard the Therapeutae as a Christian order due to the similarity between their asceticism and that of Christian monasticism, but the consensus of opinion among modern scholars is that they were a radical offshoot of pre-Christian Judaism. The supposition that
the Therapeutae were a branch of the Essenes is contested by Harnack. While these two ascetic sects resembled each other in many instances and especially in discipline, the Therapeutae regulations were more severe.
To the modern reader the importance of the Therapeutae, as of the Essenes, lies in the evidence they afford of the existence of the monastic system long before the Christian era. We have no clue to the origin of the Therapeutae, but it is plain that they were already ancient when Philo described them. Eusebius was so much struck by the likeness of the Therapeutae to the Christian monks of his own day as to claim that they were Christians con verted by the preaching of St. Mark. He goes so far as to say that "the writings of ancient men, who were the founders of the sect" referred to by Philo, may very well have been the Gospels and Epistles (which were not yet written). Eusebius having gone wrong on this point, others of the Fathers followed suit, so that Philo is reckoned by Jerome among the ecclesiastical writers of the Christians.