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The Correspondence Between Paul and Seneca

The apostle Paul was without doubt one of the most important figures of early Christianity. Some scholars have gone so far as to label him the “second founder” of Christianity, by which they mean that his theological emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation from sin marked a distinct modification of Jesus’ simple message of the need of repentance and forgiveness. In any event, Paul’s importance in the New Testament is quite clear: thirteen of its twenty-seven books claim to be written by him, another was included in the canon because early Christians thought he wrote it (the anonymous book of Hebrews), and another is largely written about him (the book of Acts). Despite his importance to the early Christian movement, Paul was not well known or influential on his world at large. It is a striking fact that he is never mentioned in any of the writings of his Jewish and Roman contem­ poraries. In order make up for this perceived deficit, sometime in the fourth Christian century an unknown author forged a series of fourteen letters between the apostle and the most famous philosopher of his day, Seneca. Seneca, an important statesman as well as author, had been the tutor of the young Nero; when Nero later became emperor of Rome, he appointed Seneca as a political advisor. The pseudonymous correspondence between Seneca and Paul presup­ poses that historical context, as Seneca praises Paul’s brilliance and indicates that he has shown Paul’s letters to the emperor, who was himself impressed with his god-given ideas. Apart from a show of mutual admiration, there is little of substance in the correspondence, with the exception of letter eleven, which mentions the fire in Rome allegedly started by Nero but blamed on the Christians. The pseudonymous letters serve, then, principally to elevate the importance of Paul in the eyes of the world, as his theological insights are celebrated by a world-renowned philosopher of his day and the emperor of Rome himself. Translation by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 549–53; used with permission.


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