While reading through John R. (Jack) Levison’s The Spirit in First-Century Judaism I came across a quote from Seneca the Younger where in Letter 41 of his so-called “moral letters” he says the following:
“1. You are doing an excellent thing, one which will be wholesome for you, if, as you write me, you are persisting in your effort to attain sound understanding; it is foolish to pray for this when you can acquire it from yourself. We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven, or to beg the keeper of a temple to let us approach his idol’s ear, as if in this way our prayers were more likely to be heard. God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. 2. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise? He it is that gives noble and upright counsel. In each good man
A god doth dwell, but what god know we not. ”
The language is intriguing. Seneca says that “god is near you” and that “a holy spirit indwells within us.” Then he shares a quote from Vergil, “A god doth dwell, but what god know we not.”  Seneca died in 65 CE, so it is altogether possible that he heard early Christians speaking of a holy spirit, but it is also possible that language about a holy spirit was more anthropological in most circles than theological.
At Qumran the Damascus Document describes those who has defiled the sanctuary at those who “have corrupted their holy spirit” (CD 5.11) and how the people of the covenant must “separate from all kinds of ritual impurity…not befouling each his holy spirit” (CD 7:3-4).  Now, there are at various points use of “spirit” language that seems to be about God in a way that detaches God from the human spirit shared by all—e.g., 2:12 speaks of God anointing the seers “by holy spirit”—but it is not uncommon for holy spirit to be the spirit of a moral or righteous person.
Similar language is found in 1QS where the Children of Light are differentiated from the Children of Darkness by “the spirit pervading God’s true society” which is “his holy spirit” (3:6-7). This spirit is from God, but possessed by the people of the covenant. Those who are outside of the covenant are not spirit-less, but they have been given (by God as well) an evil Spirit:
“He created humankind to rule over the world, appointing for them two spirits in which to walk until the time ordained fro his visitation. These are the spirits of truth and falsehood.” (3.17-18) 
The author describes the good spirit in similar language to Paul’s “fruit of the spirit” saying that this good spirit makes one to be full of “humility, patience, abundant compassion…” and much, much more (4:2-7). In 4.21 the people of the covenant are cleansed from their wicked deeds “by a holy spirit”. It is quite possible that the language used in these works has been influenced by Greek and Roman concepts of spirit, or vice versa, or some more complicated mixture.
 Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (and Biography) [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 872-878). Doma Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
 Aeneid, viii. 352
 trans. by M.O. Wise, M.G. Abegg Jr., and E.M. Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation [Logos Edition]
This has been discussed for over a century and a half. You get the same language that the N.T. uses about God in Stoic writers such as Epictetus too. For example note A. A. Long’s comments:
““so much [of Epictetus’ teaching] reads like, and has sometimes been read as, a direct echo of the New Testament. He characterizes God as “the caring father of human beings” (i.3.1; cf. 3.24.3), and he even treats adoption by the Roman emperor as conferring less status than his students enjoy as “sons of Zeus ” (1.3.2). He asks rhetorically, expecting an affirmative answer, whether God cares for individual persons (1.12.6). He tells his students to call on God to help them over difficulties (2.18..29) and to regard slaves as their siblings because they too are children of god (1.13.4). he is insistent that God and the nature of goodness or helpfulness coincide (2.8.1). In all things he and his students are to look to God as their benevolent creator and friend, to do God’s will, to be thankful to God, and to please him (1.9.4; 4..4.21; 4.12.11). od has given a portion of himself to each person, whose status is correspondingly exalted (1.3; 2.8.11)…Epictetus speaks of the world’s divine author with the commitment and even the fervour of such figures as St Paul or St Augustine.” Epictetus: A Stoic Guide to Life, 2002 p.144”
However given that when they talk about the closeness of God or the presence of the spirit that they are really using it as a cipher for our rationality and not any transcendent deity, such similarities are surely largely only superficial. This has been talked about by Adolf Bonhoffer and Douglas Sharp, who both wrote against the impulse of paralleling such language over a hundred years ago. Although I know that Levinson has consulted scholarship on Stoicism so I expect that he will avoid any such oversimplifications. I have the book and look forward to reading it.
If you are still looking for an area of interest for your PhD program I suggest that you look very closely at the relationship between Stoicism and Christianity. Stoicism provided the dominant cosmology of the first generation of Christians. Paul’s use of their vocabulary (and how that vocabulary drifted in meaning within a few generations with the introduction of Neoplatonism) explains quite a bit about how to understand pneumas. For instance, in Stoicism pneumas is the physical, invisible stuff that holds all matter together and that gives a life force of varying quality to all living things. God’s pneumas would be a perfectly powerful and of maximum quality. Paul draws on how the average person of the day would have understood pneumas when he says that Christians will be raised with a body of pneumas (1st Cor. 15). Theologians has rightly deduced that resurrection will be physical (not dualistically paranormal via Neoplatonism), but if pneumas is both physical and invisible in Stoicism, is it possible that the resurrected body will be invisible? If you have any further interest in the topic you might want to read “The Corinthian Body” by Dale Martin and “Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul” by Troels Engberg-Pedersen.
Thanks. Interesting comments by Seneca. Have you read and/or studied the “Letters of Paul and Seneca” (or similar title)? I don’t recall their presumed dates, but I think 2nd or 3rd century. Early on identified as spurious, but they may give insights into the importance of Seneca to early Christians and in the religious milieu of the 1st century, perhaps.
@Erlend: Thank you for your insightful comment! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on Levison’s book once you’ve found time to read it. It seems to me that he presents Israelite and Jewish Pneumatology as being akin to what you describe of Stoic Pneumatology, at least at various points. For example, while Christians seem to refer to the holy Spirit more or less as the person of the Christian God the literature from Qumran, exegesis from personalities like Philo and Josephus, and other references tend to present spirit, even holy spirit, as something imparted by deity to all humans, a little piece of deity, that makes humans into humans. Admittedly, I think there is more transcendence in Hebrew and Jewish literature than Stoic, but enough anthropology, if you will, for me to see a connection between Jewish and Stoic Pneumatologies.
@Doug: Thank you for the recommendation as well as the articles to which you’ve pointed me. I do need to learn much more about Stoicism. My understanding is woefully elementary. Levison speaks about Stoicism’s role in the broader culture of the first century in much the same way you do.
@Howard: I haven’t read that yet. There does seem to be a handful of studies on Paul and the Stoics, so while I’m more concentrated on the Pneumatology of the Gospels right now, I think that may be a path I’ll need to venture in the future.
Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.
The old covenant perspective of the Holy Spirit was closer to the idea that the spirit possessed a people [Num 11:29][Isa 42:5; 63:11]. The Holy Spirit was not seen to be a personal attribute, but the relationship between the Spirit and a nation was an attribute of a covenant.
The New Covenant idea was similar but slightly modified [Acts 1:5][2 Tim 1:14] in that it allowed for inclusion and exclusion based upon personal conduct. For example [Eph 4:30] suggests sinfulness grieves the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew this implies that an unclean vessel cannot abide a clean spirit. So the idea of Holy Spirit between Old and New covenant text, although similar, appears to have changed slightly as a consequence of Christianity emphasis on Holy living. The impact this would have had on Israelite believers would have been to clarify that being in covenant was not conditionally guaranteed (as in the case of Esau/Jacob).
Patristic exegesis of the Greek texts, influenced by Greek philosophical notions of democracy have taken this understanding further though making the Holy Spirit more a personal attribute of a person (meaning a person is filled or isn’t, they have it, or they don’t). Although there are valid biblical reasons that seem to suggest this furtherance [Acts 20:23][1 Thess 4:8], however the democratic personalization of this Holy Spirit is not entirely justified (but seemingly more an artefact of Greek exegesis) since the Holy Spirit is God, and not some mere attribute of man.
For example, although we can grieve the Holy Spirit personally [Eph 4:30], we see that it’s role is to seal the elect, the kingdom of priests for the day of redemption; this is a corporate, not a personal act since the personal element of this verse is related to our relationship to the Holy Spirit’s corporate covenantal function.
What interests me about this whole business though is Seneca’s view. Google ‘Epistle to Seneca the Younger’. Now this ‘epistle’ is seen by most to be a pious fraud, but it is built upon an older legend that Seneca the Younger and St. Paul were familiar with each other’s writings. Jerome seems to have believed this. If so, that makes this Seneca quote very curious given its relatively proximity to Paul (even if a polemic against Paul’s position) with respect to how the Holy Spirit should be understood.
I meant to add about the Dead Sea Scrolls views, they are valuable in some sense because they (more or less) show pre-Christian theology (if not actual New Covenant theology) devoid of Hellenistic philosophical influence (which I would argue is a great thing)
Reblogged this on Sunday School on Steroids-The Seminary Experience.
I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that men with the religious sensibilities of Seneca received a boost from the day of Pentecost – Remember Acts 10! The spirit moved without the aid of baptism. The church maybe doesn’t own rights to God’s spirit.
John, I would agree with your statement ‘The church maybe doesn’t own rights to God’s spirit‘.
If anything, its the other-way around: God’s Spirit is God and God’s spirit owns rights to the ekklesia.
John, Andrew and others, I am convinced it is one expression of an early personal or community stage of spiritual development to claim exclusive connection to the spirit of God.
Thanks for adding on.
One principle I hold against all counterpoints in Scripture is that the Spirit poured out at Pentecost was poured out on the whole world. Of course it cannot save those who do not ‘ask, seek, knock..’
Brian, I love this statement by Seneca, although I haven’t studied its criticism I would be fine if it were shown to be earlier than Augustine.
And one reason I love it is that he seems to be reporting an experience more like my own and not mixed up with tongues, rolling eyes, or bodies on the floor.
This indwelling spark in everyman explains how anyone – by graciously accepting life ‘for better or for worse’ in partnership with the gift of the Father and Son -may aspire to a life eternal, which is inconceivable by water or blood or flesh.
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