The Therapeutae
of Antiquity

Collation of Sources and Summaries

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia


Ancient History of the Embodied Soul - The Ministry of the Ascetics - Essenes, Therapeutae and Asclepius

Chronology Essenes (Palestine) Therapeutae
(Egypt, Greece)
The Healer
Source Comments
999 BCE ASCETICISM Encyclopedia Britannica: The Zulus and other primitive races distrust a medicine man who is not an ascetic and lean with fasting. In the Semitic East it is an old belief that a successful fast in the wilderness of forty days and nights gives power over the Djinns. The Indian yogi fasts till he sees face to face all the gods of his Pantheon; the Indian magician fasts twelve days before producing rain or working any cure.
700 BCE Homer Iliad: mentions Asclepius as a skillful physician, not a miracle worker.
528 BCE YES YES Asclepius Mythological beginnings: son of Apollo
528 BCE Gautama Buddha Enlightenment at the age of 35 years
515 BCE Buddhist Influence: Therapeutae were sent by Buddha. Were the ancient Pythagoreans influenced by Indian ideas – vegetarianism, communal property, 'transmigration of souls.' and the principles of Ayurvedic medicine (Pythagoras' four humours).
510 BCE NO YES YES Pythagoras (580 - c.490 BCE) Michael Grant, in his well-respected 'The Rise of the Greeks' makes note that the cult of Thoth/Hermes and its equivalent 'Imhotep/Asklepios' was the main intellectual belief during the time of Pythagoras.
450 BCE YES YES Pindar Lyric poet mentions Asclepius performing healings, miracles and raising people from the dead.
420 BCE Life of Sophocles YES Sophocles served as a priest to Asclepius
370 BCE Hippocratic Oath YES Hippocrates "I swear by Apollo, the healer ...
323 BCE Alexander (336-323 BC) carried Greek civilization to the east. But the flow of culture was two way – for example, the Greeks adopted the Indian war elephant and a great deal of speculative Indian thinking. Greek philosophers, like Anaxarchus and Pyrrho, had been in the train of Alexander and had mixed with the Indian gymnosophists or 'naked philosophers.' After their conquest of the Indus valley the Greeks never again returned to the simple pantheon of their Olympian gods – and founded their first school of Skepticism
250 BCE Buddhist Influence: Therapeutae were sent by Asoka on an embassy to Pharaoh Ptolemy II (The word 'Therapeutae' is itself of Buddhist origin, being a Hellenization of the Pali 'Thera-putta' (literally 'son of the elder' or 'son of the monk'). Ashoka, in his Second Edict refers to philanthropic works (such as medical help for humans and animals, digging wells, planting trees etc.) taken up by his missionaries in the lands ruled by Theos II of Syria (260 to 240 B. C) and his neighbors , including Egypt.
0015 BCE Source Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa governor of Syria, friend of Herod the Great (Pliny's source)
020 CE NO YES YES Strabo Strabo tells us that the Asclepius temples at Cos and Epidaurus were always filled with patients, and along their walls the tablets were suspended, upon which were recorded the history and treatment of the individual cases of disease. One of these tablets has been found on the island in the Tiber, near Rome, at the site of an ancient temple - inscribed in Greek: "Lucius was attacked by the pleurisy, and everyone despaired of his life; the god ordered that the warm ashes of the altar be mingled with wine, and applied to his side. He was saved, and gave thanks to the god before the people."
020 CE NO YES YES Chaeremon the Stoic Contemporary of Strabo; system not extinct - source for Porphyry
030 CE Philo is often taken as the sole authority for the Therapeutae. When he wrote, the origins of the Therapeutae were already lost in the past, and he was even unsure about the etymology of their name, which he explained as meaning either physicians of souls or servants of God. Philo was employing the familiar polarity in Hellenic philosophy between the active and the contemplative life, exemplifying the active life by the Essenes, another severely ascetic sect, and the contemplative life by the desert-dwelling Therapeutae. According to Philo, the Therapeutae were widely distributed in the Ancient world, among the Greeks and beyond in the non-Greek world of the "Barbarians", with one of ther major gathering point being in Alexandria, in the area of the Lake Mareotis
030 CE On Ascetics On Ascetics YES Philo Judaeus Essenes in Palestine; Therapeutae in Egypt (and everywhere). The Therapeutae admitted women, the Essenes did not. The Therepeutae practiced annointment with oil in the usual Oriental manner, whereas oil was regarded as a defilement by the Essenes.
054 CE Roman COINS: Coins minted from the time of Nero in 54 CE through to Licinius in 324 CE depict Asclepius or Salus -- include a total of forty-six emperors (listed below). It is notable that the tradition ceases with the rise to supremacy of the emperor Constantine.
070 CE? P.Oxy.413: an incomplete manuscript of a Greek mime ( a skit). The scene of action of the skit is India and there are a number of Indian characters who speak dialogue in an Indian language. Dr. E. Hultzsch (1857-1927), a noted German Indologist, identified some words of the dialogue as an archaic form of Kannada, one of the four major languages of South India.
075 CE Natural History 5.73 Natural History 29.1.3 YES Pliny the Elder Asclepius raised Tyndareus from the dead (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 29.1.3),
090 CE Josephus states flatly that the Essene lifestyle and the Pythagorean lifestyle were the same. (Antiquities 15.10.4).
090 CE Antiquities (15.10.4) "Pythagoreans" Josephus
095 CE Fragments AEGAE Apollonius of Tyana Pythagorean Sage and Ascetic, adept, cited by Philostratus (Biographer), Eusebius regards as an authority on abstinence from sacrifice
100 CE via Biographer? Dio Chrysostom See Synesius of Cyrene
2nd CE Medical YES Pedanius Dioscorides wrote an encyclopedia of medicine
2nd CE Medical YES Aulus Cornelius Celsus Greek physician, a disciple of Hippocrates
2nd CE Medical YES Rufus of Ephesus Greek anatomist renowned for his investigations of the heart and eye
2nd CE Medical YES Soranus of Ephesus Greek physician, who recorded information concerning obstetrics and gynecology, apparently based on human dissection; distinguished among diseases by their symptoms and course.
150 CE Description of Greece 126 refs Pausanias Greek traveller and geographer of the 2nd century CE., who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical literature and modern archaeology.
160 CE Sacred Tales 39.5 YES Aelius Aristides "We Asclepius therapeutae "
165 CE Medical Works YES Galen of Pergamon Student of Hippocrates, physician to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, therapetae of Ascepius.
170 CE? P.Oxy. 1381: Dates from later second century CE. Contains extended prologue and first few lines of an aretology of Imouthes - Asclepius. The author of P.Oxy 1381 is gravely ill. Asclepius appears in a dream --- "someone whose height was more than human, clothed in shining raiment and carrying in his left hand a book, who after merely regarding me two or three times from head to foot disappeared." The illness disappeared immediately; but in turn Ascepius demanded, "though the priest who serves him in the ceremonies", the fulfilment of the patient's long-standing undertaking to write a book about Asclepius.
300 CE De Abstinentia 4.6 De Abstinentia 4.6 Porphyry of Tyre curious resemblances to Philo's description of the Therapeutae, even down to such details as their posture and gait and the eating of hyssop with their bread
310 CE Life of Pythagoras Iamblicus "tells us how he saw at Heliopolis large buildings belonging to the priests, which had once been tenanted by men skilled in philosophy and astronomy, who had been consulted by Plato and Eudoxus, but that the Therapeutae (same word used by Philo) had then fallen into decay ."
317 CE Pachomius - writes about his spiritual master Palamon, with whom he stayed for many years, an anchorite ascetic, whom he reports says: I have a hard ascesis. In summer I fast daily and in winter I eat every other day. By the grace of God *** I eat nothing but bread and salt. I am not in the habit of using oil and wine. I keep vigil as I was taught, always spending half the night and often the whole night in prayer and reciting the words of God. (NB: *** This was not the "christian god")
324 CE See below H.E. 2.16-17 DESTRUCTION Eusebius
323 CE H.E. 4.22.6 DESTRUCTION via Eusebius Hegesippus
322 CE ??? DESTRUCTION via Eusebius Hippolytus of Rome
326 CE Coinage Serpent? Constantine's Coinage Bronze coin of Constantine minted at Constantinople (326-330 CE), depicting a labarum impaling a serpent.
348 CE Nag Hammadi Codices DESTRUCTION Pachomius the Editor? See SUMMARY
362 CE Against the Galilaeans YES Emperor Julian Asclepius: the Greatest Gift of the Helenes
400 CE Synesius of Cyrene Chrysostom’s biographer
890 CE Bibliotheca 104 Bibliotheca 104 Photius
1852 CE Bruno Bauer (1809-1882); Critique of the Gospels and History of Their Origin, noted that in Alexandria, Philo (born c. 10 B.C.) took up Heraclitus' [c. 540 - c. 480 B.C.E.] old idea of the Logos and made it the incorporeal first-born of God, the high priest who stands before God on behalf of the world. He is a personal and enduring mediator between God and man, the bread of life given to man's soul. He is God's cupbearer, who offers himself as refreshing wine--not to the rulers of this word, who are due to be overthrown, but to the lowly wise man, guiding him to a higher word not attainable by flesh and blood. Philo sees the Logos as related to the "word" with which God, in the Jewish scriptures, ordered things on earth, and he interprets these divine ordinances in a highly spiritualized way, as did the Therapeutae, whom he mentions as being numerous in Egypt. They looked for hidden meanings in the scriptures by way of allegorical analysis.
1897 CE Vivekananda While travelling from England to India in January 1897, on board the ship Prinz-Regent Luitpold, the venerable sage Vivekananda told Nivedita about his dream of an old bearded man named Therapeutae, (Theraputra - son [putra] of an old monk [thera]) who had asked: "Do ye come to effect our restoration? I am one of the ancient order of Therapeutae The truths preached by us have been given out by Christians as taught by Jesus; but for the matter of that, there was no personality by the name of Jesus ever born". - Extracted from Vivekananda's autobiography. Cited by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and Narasingha Prosad Sil
2000 CE Gerald D. Hart - Asclepius, the God of Medicine. Review Notes and data
2007 CE Esoteric Healing - John Nash: Healing was practiced in the temples of Asclepius. The cult of Asclepius, a conspicuous feature of Greek religion, dated at least from the fourth century BCE. Asclepius, the son of Apollo and a mortal woman, was taught a variety of healing arts, including surgery. Based on Egyptian antecedents, healing temples, called asclepieion (asklepieion), are reported to have treated large numbers of pilgrims. The Roman physician Galen (131–201), whose work would dominate western medicine for 1,000 years, is reported to have spent four years at a temple of Asclepius in Asia Minor. Sleep temples provided treatments for a variety of physical and psychological ailments. Dream analysis played a major role, in which priests took the place of today’s Freudian and Jungian psychologists. Other therapies included fasting, meditation, hypnosis, chanting, and visits to the baths or gymnasium. Attendants at the temples were known as therapeutae (Greek: qerapeuw, “to serve, or heal”) or therapeutrides, their female counterparts. The same terms, therapeutae and therapeutrides, were applied to members of certain Jewish monastic communities that flourished at the beginning of the Common Era. These communities functioned much like communities of Essenes,4 but a major focus of their work was healing. Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (c.10 BCE–50 CE) described a community of Jewish therapeutae on the shore of Lake Mareotis, Egypt, in the first century CE. He was clearly impressed with the work of its members: [They] have embraced the contemplation of nature and its constituent parts, and have lived in the soul alone, citizens of Heaven and the universe, truly commended to the Father and Creator of all by virtue, which has secured for them God’s friendship.5 Philo spoke enthusiastically about the practitioners’ success, noting that their services were more effective than were available from physicians in the cities: “for the latter’s [care] cures only the body, while [the care of the therapeutae] treats also souls mastered by grievous and virtually incurable diseases.”


Asclepia: Temples of Asclepius