Archives for the month of: April, 2012


This essay will explore how far the Roman writers Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Petronius, and Juvenal thought the Jewish people were disturbing Roman society through proselytizing. These writers were an elite group in Rome. They were both patronised by the aristocracy but most were also high-born themselves[1]. Through exploring the backgrounds of these writers and the times in which they wrote I will assess why they may have thought as they did and the quality of their testimony.

Horace and Ovid lived in the triumviral and Augustan eras from 43 BCE. During this period poets assumed a different role to the one that had been traditional in Rome that of conferring lasting fame, to a role of ‘serving citizens of the state in a moral and educative fashion’[2]. This period also saw the rise of Herod the Great in Palestine, who managed to obtain the favour of both Caesar and Augustus. During this time Herod was made king and was able to amass enough money to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and numerous other extravagant public buildings[3]. This favoured status also saw the peoples of the Jewish Diaspora, Judea and Palestine receiving preferential treatment for their religion. They were able to observe the Sabbath, which disqualified them from having to be conscripted into military service, they had the right to assemble and the privilege of sending money to Jerusalem[4].

Horace refers to the number of Jews in the Roman world and their tendency to ‘compel’ others to be one of ‘their throng’[5]. Being a Roman poet writing a satirical account of contemporaneous Roman ‘frailties’, he implores his audience to make allowances for these on the threat of them being thronged by ‘a big band of poets’ who will compel the audience to Horace’s view, just as he states the Jews, being a throng, compel others to join them. The number of Jews in this Roman world is questionable. Although the modern Jewish historian Feldman uses the ancient historian Josephus to assume a huge increase in the number of Jews in the Roman Empire between 586BCE to 66CE, these numbers are disputed because their source is unreliable and subject to distortion[6].

Nevertheless, far more Jews lived outside of Palestine than in it. The Jewish Diaspora was dispersed around the coastal Mediterranean but their religion did not fit in with the general religious syncretism that happened with all the other religions because they were monotheistic and had quite different customs[7]. One of the main differentiations was the Jewish practice of non-work on the seventh day- the Sabbath. Ovid advises young men in his poem The Art of Love to search for love even on the ‘seventh day that the Syrian Jew holds sacred’[8]. This opinion was also held by the philosopher Seneca in On Superstition. For Seneca, the Sabbath was a superstition and encouraged indolence: ‘…by introducing one day of rest in every seven they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life’[9]. Did Seneca think that this was a motivating factor in people becoming Jews? He goes on to state: “…the customs of this accursed race have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world”[10].

While the Jewish Diaspora assimilated well into the different Mediterranean cultures where they settled, they would be subjected to persecutions when there was tension from particular issues[11]. The Jewish philosopher Philo the Alexandrian wrote of people being ‘afraid to engage in destroying any of our institutions…’ and that it was only under the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus that trouble came[12]. Josephus the Jewish historian relates that the reason Jews were expelled from Rome during the time of Tiberius was because of the unscrupulous behaviour of a Jewish man and his three accomplices. He tells that they had proselytized a high born Roman woman and misappropriated funds from her, which resulted in the Jewish community being expelled from Rome by Tiberius[13]. It could be imagined that the Jewish Diaspora had an interest in trying to convert members of the Roman aristocracy for the purposes of influence and also monetary contributions to the building of Jerusalem by Herod the Great, and that this may have led to Roman hostility.

This hostility continued to be seen in the writings of Petronius and Juvenal. The writer Petronius was a courtier of Nero and liked to pillory the aristocracy[14]. Petronius lambasts the Jews as having a ‘pig-god’ and speaks of their ability to emigrate without being afraid ‘at the fasts imposed by the Sabbath’[15]. This allusion to the benefits of Judaism, such as the ability to be absolved from military service, is interesting in connection with the Roman view of Jewish proselytizing. The writer Juvenal complains about the children of Jewish sympathisers becoming Jewish proselytes[16]. ‘They wont to flout the laws of Rome, they learn and practice and revere the Jewish law…conducting none but the circumcised to the desired fountain.’ Juvenal also alludes to the Sabbath as being given up to ‘idleness’[17]. So it could be said that these writers were trying to appeal to a patriotic sense of Roman authority.

Horace’s and Seneca’s writing support the historian Joesphus’s account that there was a large and influential population in the Jewish diaspora. The practice of the Sabbath was another contentious issue to which these writers allude. Seneca and Petronius both complain of the Sabbath as being special treatment for Jewish people and infer that this favouritism encourages people to convert to their ways. Although none of these writers directly state that there was proselytizing done by Jewish people, the inference is that there were many Jewish people in Rome and that, through the benefits conferred upon them, they encouraged people to join their ‘throng’.


  1. Braund S. M., Juvenal, Cambridge University Press, 1996 – Literary Collections, Retrieved from: on 8.12.2011
  2. Boardman J., Griffin J., Murray O., The Oxford History of the Classical World, 1991, Oxford University Press
  3. Goodman, Martin. “Jewish proselytizing in the first century” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians: In the Roman Empire , Lieu, Judith; North, John; Rajak, Tessa , 1992 , 53-78
  4. Harding, Mark. “Early Judaism and Christianity (extract)” in Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context: A Reader , Harding, Mark , 2003 , 279-282
  5. Horace, 65-8 BC, Conversations 1.4.143 = Stern, no. 127.
  6. Juvenal, AD 55 (?) – 127 (?), Satires 14.96-106 = Stern 301.
  7. Kemp J.,  “A Moral Purpose, A Literary Game: Horace, Satires 1.4”, in Classical World – Volume 104, Number 1, Fall, 2010, pp. 59-76
  8. Knobbs A., “Pagans Jews, and Christians: Athens and Jerusalem” in Lecture 1, HST250, 2011 Macquarie University
  9. Kraabel A. T., “The Roman Diaspora: six questionable assumptions”, in The Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol.33 1982, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, pp.445-465
  10. McGing, Brian. “Population and proselytism: How many Jews were there in the ancient world?” in Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities , Barlett, John R. , 2002 , 88-106
  11. Ovid, 43 BC – AD 17/18, The Art of Love 1.75-80 = Stern, no. 141.
  12. Petronius, mid-first c. AD (?), fragment no. 37 = Stern, no. 195.
  13. Petronius Arbiter, The Satyricon, trans. by W. C. Firebaugh, 2007, Retrieved from on 7.12.2011
  14. Seneca, ob. AD 64, Moral Letters 108.22 = Stern, no. 189.
  15. Seneca, ob. AD 64, On Superstition, cited by Augustine, early Vc, On the City
  • of God 6.11 = Stern, no. 186.

[1] Braund, 1996, p.15

[2] Boardman J., Griffin J., Murray O., The Oxford History of the Classical World, p. 594

[3] Harding, 2003, p.77

[4] Knobbs, 2011, Macquarie University

[5] Horace, Conversations, 1.4.143

[6] McGing, 2002

[7] Knobbs, 2011

[8] Ovid, 1.75-80

[9] Seneca, 6.11

[10] Seneca, 6.11

[11] Knobbs, 2011

[12] Harding, 2003, p. 279

[13] Harding, 2003, p. 281

[14] The Satyrican by Petronius Arbiter, trans. 2007

[15] Petronius, mid-first c. AD (?), fragment no. 37 = Stern, no. 195

[16] Harding, 2003

[17] Juvenal Satires 14.96-106


Nils Holtug argues for the Value of Existence View which makes ‘the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence’ (p.370). Derek Parfit and John Broome argue against this view by stating that it is incoherent. Parfit argues that causing someone to exist cannot be better for a person because the alternative would not have been worse. Broome argues that it can never be true that it is better for a person to exist than to not exist because if she had not existed there would not have been a ‘her’ to have been worse off.

The argument set out by Parfit and Broome is called the Metaphysical Argument and it relies upon two premises. The first premise makes the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist and entails that it is worse (or better) to not exist than to exist. The second premise is that it cannot be worse (or better) to not exist. The first claim, Holtug states, is based upon the logic of ‘betterness’ relation, and the second premise is based upon the metaphysical principle called The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. This means that an individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist.

This principle can be disputed. Broome’s argument relies upon the point that if a person does not exist then it is impossible for any properties to be attached to her. Holtug contends that the logic of betterness relation that the argument relies upon assumes that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. To explore the logical properties of the betterness relation, Holtug considers the following definition:

1)      y is worse for S than x, if and only of x is better for S than y.

If (1) states that existence if better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non existence is better (or worse) for her. The latter part seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist. According to this principle we cannot claim that existence is better for her than non-existence because this implies that non-existence is worse for her than existence. So Holtug reassesses the argument with the proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

Can the truth of P be established without ascribing to Jeremy positive properties in a possible world in which he does not exist? Holtug claims that P can be established by appeal to a preference that Jeremy has in an actual world in which he exists. Existence may be preferable for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value, whereas his non-existence had no value. Holtug insists that this is compatible with The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle; it is better to have a surplus of values than no value. The Metaphysical Argument is not preserved because the Value of Existence View does not rely upon someone existing for the possibility of them benefiting from existence.

  • Holtug, Nils. “On the value of coming into existence” Journal of Ethics , 5:4 , 2001 , 361-384

Commercial surrogacy is defended on five main principles. The first is its effective means of allowing childless couples to have children is considered to make it a significant good. Second, the rights for autonomous adults to procreate and form contracts are too fundamental to interfere with unless it causes a significant harm. Third the act of surrogacy is seen as altruistic and to be encouraged and finally, commercial surrogacy should be seen as no different to and consistent with already accepted practices in the reproduction and raising of children.

Anderson argues against these principles stating that commercial surrogacy makes women’s labor a commodity. By applying market norms to this labor it regards the woman’s body and her role as a mother as one of mere use. For Anderson, it is the worth and respect that should be given to a woman for her labor, with regard to gestation and childbirth, that is disregarded when commercial factors are applied. It does not regard the emotional impact of such labor and can be seen as a callous disregard of the impact that such intimate relationships as a mother and child has upon the woman and the child.  Anderson argues that the application of commercial norms requires a mother to repress her parental emotions and this is a degradation of human relationships.

The surrogacy industry follows the contracting-out-of-labour system that works in manufacturing industries. The attached problem to this method is that it must disregard the fundamental emotional requirement of parenthood, that of attachment to the child. The woman’s labor is alienated because of this factor and it is a factor that does not affect any other type of manufacturing process.  For Anderson, such a requirement to alienate oneself from one’s child is a demand that should be not be upheld as it turns a woman’s body into a major part of a commercial production process.

Anerson argues for commercial surrogacy by claiming that surrogacy is inspired by altruistic motives. He argues that if there is nothing wrong with altruistic surrogacy, there should be nothing wrong with commercial surrogacy as it applies to a woman’s labor. Anerson states that Anderson promotes a woman’s labor as noble labor and that the commercialisation of this labor is degrading. He then argues that many kinds of noble labor is done for commercial exchange and cannot see why a woman’s labor should be seen differently.

Anerson states that as long as there is no fraud or misrepresentation in a surrogacy contract a woman who wishes to render her surrogate services should be free to sign it, just as if she wishes to supply a babysitting service. Anerson also argues that although the surrogate contract might stipulate that the woman not form an attachment to the child and this can be an alienating form of labor, alienating labor is not impermissible. Citizens should be free, Anerson contends, to arrange their work lives the way they wish.

  • Anderson, Elizabeth S. “Is women’s labor a commodity?” Philosophy and Public Affairs , 19:1 , 1990 , 71 – 92
  • Arneson, Richard. “Commodification and commercial surrogacy” Philosophy and Public Affairs , 21:2 , 1992 , 132-164

Christine Overall argues that a reasonable view of abortion needs to entail both concern for the autonomy of a woman and the well-being of the embryo/fetus. The main objection to abortion has been until now that it results in the death of the embryo/fetus. However, with new reproductive technologies abortion can now consist of two quite distinct aspects. One is the premature emptying of the uterus and the other is causing the death of the embryo/fetus. These two aspects pertain to the rights argument of the abortion issue: the right of the pregnant mother to the control of her own body and the alleged rights of the embryo/fetus.

Overall contends that recent developments in reproductive technologies means that these causally linked events will no longer necessarily have to result in the death of the embryo/fetus. This has been brought about through in vitro fertilisation, where the embryo at an early stage of its development need not be dependent on the occupancy of a uterus. Also, the age of viability of a fetus has decreased so that, with the help of sophisticated support systems, a fetus may be able to survive outside of the uterus. In Overall’s view these new possibilities has opened up the ability to discuss the rights of both the mother and the embryo/fetus.

The conservative position on abortion claims that the embryo/fetus has the right to life. However, Overall states that this is not necessarily true and a better argument is that the pregnant woman or anyone else, such as a physician, has the right to kill an embryo/fetus. Overall quotes Mary Anne Warren who remarks that if abortion could be performed without endangering the embryo/fetus then the woman would never have the right to destroy it. Not having the right to life does not necessarily imply that one being can kill another. This seems to go against the liberal approach to abortion but the distinction is between the ability to expel the embryo/fetus from the uterus without harming it and causing the death of the embryo/fetus.

However, from the liberal view the embryo/fetus has no right to the occupancy of another’s body. A woman’s goal in obtaining an abortion is not necessarily to kill the embryo/fetus but just may be a desire not to be pregnant for whatever reason and abortion can be seen primarily as an emptying of the uterus. If there was a way to preserve the embryo/fetus’s life and respect the woman’s desire to not continue with a pregnancy, then Overall thinks that the evacuation of a uterus that causes no harm to the embryo/fetus or the mother would be the best possible result that could resolve the longstanding issues of abortion.

The implication for this, in Overall’s view, is the transfer of the moral quandaries involved with abortion to other moral dilemmas. These could be dilemmas such as the consideration of whether there will be a moral obligation to preserve all evacuated foetuses. Also, if embryos could be adopted through evacuation and implantation in a willing mother should all embryos become candidates for adoption?

  • Overall, Christine. “Abortion” in Ethics and Human Reproduction: A Feminist Analysis , Overall, Christine , 1987 , 68-87