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Letters of Paul and Seneca

Homer D. Klong Investigates: The Paul-Seneca Correspondence

'L. Annaeus Seneca from Corduba, disciple of the Stoic Sotion and uncle of the poet Lucan, led a particularly sober life. I should not include him in the list of Saints, if Paul's letters to Seneca and Seneca's to Paul, which are read by many, did not give me just cause. Although he was Nero's tutor and very powerful in his day, he says in these that he would like to occupy that place among his own people that Paul occupied among the Christians. He was put to death by Nero two years before Peter and Paul received the crown of martyrdom.' --Jerome, de Viris Illustribus 12

'Seneca who lived at the same time as the Apostles and from whom there are a number of letters to the Apostle Paul justly says: 'Whosoever hates the wicked, hates all men.'--Augustine, Epistle 153.4 ad Macedonium

(These two quotes were found in Paul and Seneca by J.N. Sevenster, 1961)

There exists in many manuscripts a number of letters purporting to be correspondence between the Apostle Paul (whose writings comprise much of the New Testament) and the Philospher-Statesman Lucius Seneca (many of whose writings survive), who was tutor to Nero and a powerful figure in Rome in those times. These letters were acknowledged by churchmen Jerome and Augustine (see below), but no historical mention was made of them before the Age of Constantine in the 4th century. They were popularly read in the Middle Ages and generally considered genuine. Modern scholars consider them as forgeries, although it is difficult to find reasons for this, as not much has been written about the letters in English, or for the past century. Did Proto-Nazi German scholars (or scholars intimidated by the Proto-Nazis) close the door on this issue in the nineteenth century? Homer D. Klong considers the Paul-Seneca correspondence to be genuine, and will attempt to elucidate his views as this website develops.

***********************Jesus is Lord********************

I will here undertake an ongoing examination of the Paul-Seneca correspondence, beginning with J B Lightfoot's examination of it in his commentary on Paul's Letter to the Philippians, first published in 1864. Lightfoot's treatment is the only work I have found so far that deals with the subject.

If anybody out there can give me some leads to more recent literature on the subject, I will be very grateful.

Click here for a Short biography of Seneca

Click here for Some background on Seneca

Click here for Another translation of the Correspondence

The following is a treatise, over a century old, which is still the most in-depth examination (that I could find!) of the question of the authenticity of the correspondence, at least in English. You will notice that Lightfoot doesn't really tell us much of what the German scholars give for argument, as if we're expected to believe them without knowing what they said. Lightfoot's strongest argument seems to be 'it is obvious that these are fake!' Well, it's not obvious to me!

THE LETTERS OF PAUL AND SENECA by J. B. Lightfoot (1890).

The spurious correspondence between the Apostle and the philosopher to which reference is made in the preceding essay, consists of fourteen letters, the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, and 13th written in the name of Seneca, and the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 14th of St Paul. In the address of the 6th the name of Lucilius is added to that of Seneca, and in the same way in the address of the 7th Theophilus is named along with St Paul.

I have not thought it worth while to reprint these letters, as they may be read conveniently in the recent edition of Seneca's works by F. Haase....They have been printed lately also in Fleury's St Paul et Seneque (II p. 300 sq.) and in Aubertin's Seneque et St Paul (p. 409 sq.) and still more recently in an article by Kraus, entitled Der Briefwechsel Pauli mit Seneca, in the Theologische Quartalschrift XLIX p. 601 (1867).

The great popularity of this correspondence in the ages before the Reformation is shown by the large number of extant MSS. Fleury, making use of the common catalogues, has enumerated about sixty; and probably a careful search would largely increase the number. The majority, as is usual in such cases, belong to the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, but two at least are as early as the ninth. Haase used some fresh collations, from which however he complains that little was to be got...[here follows a short discussion of the manuscripts the various scholars used]...The text...remains in an unsatisfactory state, which the worthlessness of the letters themselves may well excuse.

This correspondence was probably forged in the fourth century, either to recommend Seneca to Christian readers or to recommend Christianity to students of Seneca. In favour of this view may be urged the fact that in several MSS these spurious letters precede the genuine works of Seneca. Nor does any other motive seem consistent with the letters themselves; for they have no doctrinal bearing at all, and no historical interest of sufficient importance to account for the forgery. They are made up chiefly of an interchange of compliments between the Apostle and the philosopher; and the only historical thread which can be said to run through them is the endeavour of Seneca to gain the ear of Nero for the writings of St Paul It is commonly said that St Jerome, who first mentions these letters, had no suspicion that they were spurious. This statement however is exaggerated, for he does not commit himself to any opinion at all about their genuineness. He merely says, that he 'should not have given a place to Seneca in a catalogue of saints, unless challenged to do so by those letters of Paul to Seneca and from Seneca to Paul which are read by very many persons' de Vir. Ill. 12 'nisi me ellae epistolae provocarent quae leguntur a plurimis'). When it is remembered how slight an excuse serves to bring other names into his list, such as Philo, Josephus, and Justus Tiberiensis, we cannot lay any stress on the vague language which he uses in this case. The more probable inference is that he did not deliberately accept them as genuine. Indeed, if he had so accepted them, his profound silence about them elsewhere would be wholly inexplicable. St Augustine, as generally happens in questions of historical criticism, repeats the language of Jerome and perhaps had not seen the letters (Epist. cliii. 14 'Seneca cujus quaedam ad Paulum apostolum leguntur epistolae'). Throughout the middle ages they are mentioned or quoted most frequently as genuine, but occasionally with an expression of doubt, until the revival of learning, when the light of criticism rapidly dispelled the illusion.

As they are now universally allowed to be spurious, it will be unnecessary to state at length the grounds of their condemnation. It is sufficient to say that the letters are inane an unworthy throughout; that the style of either correspondent is unlike his genuine writings; that the rlations between the two, as there represented, are highly improbable; and lastly, that the chronological notices (which however are absent in some important MSS) are wrong in almost every instance. Thus, independently of the unbroken silence of three centuries and a half about this correspondence, internal evidence alone is sufficient to condemn them hopelessly.

Yet the writer is not an ignorant man. He has read part of Seneca and is aware of the philosopher's relations with Lucilius; he is acquainted with the story of Castor and Pollux appearing to one Vatinius (or Vatienus); he can talk glibly of the gardens of Sallust; he is acquainted with the character of Caligula whom he properly calls Gaius Caesar; he is even aware of the Jewish sympathies of the empress Poppaea and makes her regard St Paul as a renegade; and lastly, he seems to have had before him some account of the Neronian fire and persecution which is no longer extant, for he speaks of 'Christians and Jews' being punished as the authors of the conflagration and mentions that 'a hundred and thirty-two houses and six unsulae were burnt in six days.'

Moreover I believe he attempts, though he succeeds ill in the attempt, to make a difference in the styles of Seneca and St Paul, the writing of the latter being more ponderous. Unfortunately he betrays himself by representing Seneca as referring more than once to St Paul's bad style; and in one letter the philosopher mentions sending the Apostle a book de Copia Verborum, obviously for the purpose of improving his Latin.

I mention these facts, because they bear upon a theory maintained by some modern critics, that these letters are not the same with those to which Jerome and Augustine refer; that they had before them a genuine correspondence between St Paul and Seneca, which has since perished; and that the extant epistles were forged later (say about the ninth century), being suggested by the notices in these fathers and invented in consequence to supply their place. The only specious arguments advanced in favour of this view, so far as I know, are these: (1) A man like Jerome could not possibly have believed the extant correspondence to be genuine, for the forgery is transparent; (2) The de Copia Verborum is a third title to a work otherwise known as de Formula Honestae Vitae or de Quatuor Virtulibus, written by Martinus Bragensis or Dumiensis (died circ. AD 580), but ascribed in many MSS to Seneca. Sufficient time therefore must have elapsed since this date to allow the false title and false ascription to take the place of the true and to be generally circulated and recognised.

To both these arguments a ready answer may be given: (1) There is no reason to suppose that Jerome did believe the correspondence to be genuine, as I have already shown. He would hardly have spoken so vaguely, if he had accepted them as genuine or even inclined to this belief. (2) A much better account can be given of the false title and ascription of Martin's treatise, if we suppose that they arose out of the allusion in the letters, than on the converse hypothesis that they were prior to and suggested this allusion.....[the rest of the material deals with this with problem and is not sufficiently germane to our subject--Klong].

Stay tuned for Klong's rebuttal of this overcritical treatise by Lightfoot!!

Dionysius the Areopagite--Pseudo or Not?

Some recent news from Rome regarding the Paul Seneca Letters (click and then scroll down about halfway)

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