Female Jewish Mystics in Late Antiquity: Real Women or Literary Construction?

The Egyptian Jewish philosopher Philo reports on the Therapeutics, a first-century C.E. Jewish monastic group with both male and female members, who engaged in allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures and ecstatic ritual celebrations. The Testament of Job, a retelling in Greek of the book of Job, describes Job’s three daughters as hymning God in the languages of the angels, and Joseph and Aseneth, an expansion in Greek of the biblical story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, describes how Aseneth’s prayers invoke the angelic captain of the heavenly host. Why could these works depict the contact between women and angels in a positive fashion? What factors made it possible for the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth to portray a mystical ideal for women as well as for men? Do these works offer any evidence that real women engaged in mystical contemplation, or do they simply explore the exegetical possibilities through literary depictions? Does Philo’s account of the Therapeutics provide any guidance towards the social setting of composition of the Testament of Job or Joseph and Aseneth, or hint towards the type of woman likely to be involved in mystical contemplation?