Paul and Seneca on consolation: a comparative study
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date07/12/2023
Muir, Alexander W.
This thesis provides the first book-length comparative treatment of consolation in the writings of the apostle Paul and Seneca the Younger. It starts by offering a fresh conceptualisation of consolation in antiquity through a survey of ancient sources earlier than and contemporaneous with them. It is argued that consolation is best conceived in terms of tradition and mode, rather than genre. Following this overview, the comparative focus on the writings of Paul and Seneca is justified in dialogue with contributions to the field of New Testament studies that embrace or problematise comparison – particularly between New Testament authors and ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Seneca is shown to be the best candidate for comparison with Paul on consolation owing to the tradition linking them and the availability of primary source material. The central chapters comprise a thoroughgoing exegetical treatment of consolatory themes, firstly in Seneca’s writings, then Paul’s letters. In order to console, both figures construct a consolatory discourse with narrative features. In Seneca’s case, his consolations were composed during two distinct periods. Firstly, the Ad Marciam, Ad Helviam, and Ad Polybium were written earlier in his career as he was gaining influence in Rome, before and during his exile in Corsica. Secondly, the Natural Questions and Epistles were written some two decades later, after he had been expelled from Nero’s imperial court. These writings provide an array of consolatory material. I then attempt to construct a similar career for Paul by looking at three of his letters: 1 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, and Philippians. Over the course of these letters, Paul engages in consolation through various modes and develops different narratives depending on the situations facing him and his predominantly gentile addressees. Having taken account of both Paul and Seneca on their own terms, in the final chapter, I construct a comparative dialogue between the pair. I contend that there are sufficient features in both figures’ discourses that allow this to take place under the headings of the Stoic tripartite system: physics, logic, and ethics. From the comparison, a number of striking similarities and differences emerge because of the pair’s different contexts. In Paul’s case, his consolatory narrative derived from being en christo (in Christ/messiah) represents a distinctive contribution to the ancient consolation tradition that is consistent with his Jewish heritage, but also incorporates Graeco-Roman cultural and philosophical notions, which the comparison with Seneca enables us to see. By highlighting the importance of consolation as a practical undertaking for both Paul and Seneca, I offer contributions to scholarly discussions around comparison, rhetoric, the self, and emotions – particularly in the fields of New Testament studies and Classics.