The Epistola Anne ad Senecam in its Literary and Historical Context

  • Aron Sterk

Student thesis: Phd


The early 9th century Carolingian manuscript of the Epistola Anne ad Senecam was discovered by B. Bischoff in the Archiepiscopal library of Cologne and published by him 1984. It is a short, incomplete Latin text of some ninety lines that Bischoff identified as a late antique Jewish missionsschrift addressed to certain unidentified fratres. There is little agreement in the current literature on the identity of the author or the addressee(s), nor on the date of its composition, and it has been proposed that the text is in fact Christian. The titulus has been taken as a later interpolation with no relation to the work. There have been two subsequent editions (Jacobi and Hilhorst) and a German translation (Wischmeyer) all dependent on Bischoff's editio princeps. No extended study of the text has been published. The present study reexamines the text and presents a corrected edition of the Latin from the original manuscript together with an English translation. An analysis of the latinity and rhetoric of the text shows it to be have been written by a highly literate author aimed at a pagan, aristocratic audience similar to the group seen in the works of Macrobius. The fratres are not the prime addressee of the text but represent a Iamblichan neoplatonic group addressed in an apostrophe within the text. The use of a mixed cursus in the clausulae indicates a late 4th-5th century date. The work is shown to allude to Genesis and sapiential texts, particularly Wisdom but does not quote directly from them. There are indications that the author is using Biblical texts that are substantially different from the Vulgate Latin and possibly dependent on the Hebrew. The Epistola also appears to show a familiarity with a number of works of Seneca; Naturales Quaestiones, De Beneficiis and De Supersitione. An intertextual link between the text and Augustine's De Civitate Dei and the De Reditu Suo of Rutilius Namatianus suggest a composition of the text in the second decade of the fifth century, c. 415. This would allow the author to be identified with the Annas didascalus Iudaeorum mentioned in the Theodosian code as active on behalf of the Jewish community at the imperial court in Ravenna, and a plausible context is reconstructed for such a scenario.Placed in the historical context of late paganism, the text is interpreted as constituting a protreptic exhorting its audience to avoid the obscurities of neoplatonism and the inanities of the cult of Liber Pater and to follow a philosophical faith consonant with that of the author. It can thus be seen as an attempt to establish a Jewish-Pagan dialogue in the face of the continuing Christianisation of the empire at a time when this process was still not seen as irreversible.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlexander Samely (Supervisor) & Philip Alexander (Supervisor)


  • Neoplatonism
  • Judaism
  • Pseudepigrapha
  • Seneca
  • Late Antiquity
  • Judeo-Latin

Cite this