By October 19, 2016 Read More →

10 B.C.E. – 65 C.E. Seneca

Herodian Oil LampLighting Lamps on Sabbath and Proselytizing by Jews

Seneca’s references to Jews derive from works that he composed in the sixties of the first century C.E., that is, at the height of the Jewish proselytizing movement and the diffusion of Jewish customs throughout the Mediterranean world. What mattered to Seneca was the spread of the religion of the gens sceleterissima―the fact that the “victim victoribus leges dederunt”. Not only does he include the Jewish rites among the superstitions of civilis theologia in De Superstitione, but in his criticism of ceremonial worship in the Epistulae Morales (No. 188), he takes the Jewish custom of lighting lamps on Sabbath as his first example. The emphasis on Jewish customs in such contexts might be explained as an attempt to counter the claims of the Jews, who dwelt much on the excellence of Jewish abstract monotheism (see, e.g., Contra Apionem, II, 190 ff.), and as a reply to those circles of Roman society that were impressed by this aspect of the Jewish religion.

It should be remembered that the Roman government distinguished Christians from Jews only at the very end of Seneca’s life; it is even reasonable to suppose that the spread of the new and dangerous sect could only serve in the eyes of Seneca as an additional argument to incriminate Judaism.

The Sabbath, Proselytizing by Jews

De Superstitione, apud: Agustinus, De Civitate Dei, VI, 11

Along with other superstitions of the civil theology Seneca also censures the sacred institutions of the Jews, especially the Sabbath. He declares that their practice is inexpedient, because by introducing one day of rest in every seven they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life, and by failing to act in times of urgency they often suffer loss … But when speaking of the Jews he says: “Meanwhile the customs of this accursed race have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors.” He shows his surprise as he says this, not knowing what was being wrought by the providence of God. But he adds a statement that shows what he thought of their system and sacred institutions; “The Jews however, are aware of the origin and meaning of their rites. The greater part of the people go through a ritual not knowing why they do so.”

The Sabbath/ Lighting Lamps

Epistulae Morales, XCV, 47

Precepts are commonly given as to how the gods should be worshipped. But let us forbid lamps to be lighted on the Sabbath, since the gods do not need light, neither do men take pleasure in soot.

Source: Menahem, Stern. Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (p. 431-433) (Stern # 186, 188)

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