Poppaea Sabina, Jewish Sympathies, and the Fire of Rome

Karl E. Baughman


The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, mentioned Nero’s wife, Poppaea Sabina, in two stories in which she supported the integrity and sacredness of the Jewish Temple, and was also involved with the release of imprisoned Jewish priests. She is described as “theosebês” (“a worshipper of God”). Josephus’ use of theosebês has sparked debate over the last few centuries and has led to a variety of interpretations about Poppaea’s connection to Judaism. This paper argues that by examining the actions of Poppaea through the lens of “eclectic religiosity,” much can be learned about her motivations in helping the Jewish people, as well as her possible involvement in protecting the Jewish population in Rome from persecution following the Great Fire of 64 CE.

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