Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Classical Studies

Reader 1

Gary Gilbert

Reader 2

Michael Shane Bjornlie


This thesis traces the arguments of two scholars, Isaac and Gruen, and their debate over the ironic or unironic nature of Ancient Roman depictions of Jews and Isiac cult members. Minority religions faced persecution in Ancient Rome, but they also shaped Roman culture and history in their own way. Romans held a variety of views about how these religious traditions were influencing their society. In Gruen's view, Romans made fun of Judaism and the cult of Isis with humorous intent, not malice toward the groups. Isaac argues that the disparaging remarks about Jews and Isis worshippers were instead reflective of a sincere opposition to the existence of those groups in Rome.

This thesis examines many primary sources and some secondary sources to assess the validity of Gruen's and Isaac's claims. Ultimately, it comes to the conclusion that Isaac has the more tenable argument, and Roman attitudes toward minority religions were probably more hostile than Gruen admits. However, over the course of the thesis, the author explores the strong possibility that the truth lies somewhere between Isaac's interpretation and Gruen's, where Romans grudgingly tolerated minority religions up to a point. This thesis is therefore informative for readers who wish to better understand the interactions between Ancient Roman society and two of the Eastern religious traditions with which they came into extensive contact.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.