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Re: orion-list Was Chaeremon STOIC Priest?
Dear George X. Brooks
I have posted the Jerome piece below. And from this piece, if
it is anything like the Porphyry piece, I get the distinct impression
that Chaeremon was talking about JEWISH priests! There is
everything about Jerome's text which sounds like the Essenes as
we have come to know them. And there is hardly anything about
the text which sounds like any Egyptian "paganism" I have ever
Certainly the passage you quoted shows striking affinities with Philo's *The
Contemplative Life* and its description of the Therapeutae (not Essenes). I
can understand why you are wondering whether Chaeremon was Jewish or writing
about a Jewish priestly order. There are very specific verbal parallels
between Chaeremon's treatise on the Egyptian priests and Philo's description
of the Therapeutae that are best explained by literary borrowing. The
question is which direction, on which, see below.
Could you spell out
1) What makes you think Chaeremon's testimony
is more believable than Philo regarding the Therapeutae?
First, Chaeremon did not write about the Therapeutae. I think your question
is, which is more believable, Chaeremon's description of Egyptian priests or
Philo's of the Therapeutae. First, Egypt was the home of asceticism.
Christian asceticism got its start there. But (other than Philo's essay on
the Therapeutae) Jewish asceticism is entirely unknown historically. (This
fact led scholars early in the century to suspect *The Contemplative Life* a
late forgery based on Christian monasticism. This view has been refuted,
however.) Second, Chaeremon displays no knowledge of Philo, the Therapeutae,
or Jewish asceticism. But the contemplative life contains allusions to
widespread Egyptian asceticism ("This kind [i.e. ascetics] ... abounds in
Egypt in each of the nomes" Cont. 21). Philo also has polemics against
Egyptian religion and its worship of animals (Cont. 89), which Chaeremon
wrote4 about extensively. Since Philo appears to have known Chaeremon and
not vice versa, this indicates the direction in which borrowing took place.
2) What is it about Porphyry's Chaeremon that sounds
even remotely Egyptian (there may be much!)? And,
Josephus lumps him in with Manetho and other Graeco Egyptian authors. He
wrote a book about hieroglyphics, another about the history of Egypt. He
wrote against the Jews with a very unflattering version of the Exodus (in
which the Jews were expelled for leprosy and other ailments). He wrote at
length very favorably about Egyptian worship of animals, etc. He possibly
appears in a list of GraecoEgyptians in an anti Jewish delegation to Claudius
in 41 CE. I have never heard the Egyptianness of Chaeremon questioned.
3) Is it you or Porphyry that says Chaeremon was a
Priest (Stoic or otherwise)? Jerome says he was
employed as a Stoic tutor, and as chief librarian...
with no hint that he himself was an ascetic to the
degree of the "Egyptian Priests".
Tsetses calls Chaeremon a "sacred scribe" who wrote about hieroglyphics
(which were used only by Egyptian priests at this late date... others wrote
in demotic). He was of course also a Stoic. In short, a Hellenized Egyptian
with a full Greek education.
I refer you for further information to Peter van der Horst's book *Chaeremon:
Egyptian Priest and Stoic Philosopher* (E.J. Brill, 1984).
For private reply, e-mail to RGmyrken@aol.com
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