Stoic philosopher; born about 6 B.C.; died 65 C.E.; teacher of Nero. Like other Latin authors of the period, Seneca mentions the Jews, although his opinions are known only from fragments. He devotes a long passage to an unfavorable criticism of Jewish ceremony, and especially of the Sabbath, on the ground that the Jews pass a seventh part of their lives in idleness, and he bitterly adds: "Yet the customs of this most base people have so prevailed that they are adopted in all the world, and the conquered have given their laws to the conquerors" ("victi victoribus leges dederunt," cited from Seneca's "De Superstitione" by Augustine, "De Civitate Dei," vi. 10). He says further: "They at least know the reasons for their ceremonies; but the mass of the rest of mankind know not why they do what they do" (ib.). He gibes at the ceremony of lighting the Sabbath lamp, since the gods did not need the illumination, and men would object to the smoke ("Epistolæ," xcv. 47); and he mentions ("Quæstiones Naturales," iv. 1) the distribution of grain which Josephus ("Contra Ap." ii. 5) declares was refused by Cleopatra to the Jews. It is noteworthy that some letters of Seneca were translated into Hebrew by Brieli.
Seneca shared the prejudices of Roman society against the Jews, although as a Stoic philosopher he should have been attracted by their self-restraint. His ethics correspond, to a certain extent, to the purer concepts of Judaism; and in this fact lies the explanation of the tradition that he was a Christian.
Bibliography:G. S. Kr.
- Reinach, Textes d'Auteurs Grees et Romains Relatifs au Judaïsme, i. 262-264, Paris, 1895;
- Joël, Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte, ii. 98-101, Breslau, 1883;
- Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 72;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 116, 117.
- On the correspondence of Seneca and Paul see Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, ii. 880, iii. 711, Hamburg, 1743;
- Harnack, Gesch. der Altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, i.