Oct 13, 2008

Paul as Letter Writer

Matthew Malcom has a nice post that offers annotations of some recent books that help to better understand Paul as a letter writer. Malcom offers the following:

Greek and Latin Letters: An Anthology with Translation, by Michael Trapp

This is a useful collection of ancient letters in the original greek & latin, along with a discussion of issues related to the production of the letters. For example, Trapp states, in relation to the use of secretaries: “[W]e can make at least some headway with the question of who did the writing: the presence of particularly skilful hands, and of changes of hand between the main body of the letter and the final salutation, suggest just how often the bulk of the work, or all of it, was done by secretaries (for the affluent) and (for the less well-off) professional letter-writers.” (p8)

Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.

This book explores three areas: Practical issues related to writing a letter; Theoretical issues related to creating the content of a letter; and issues related to the collecting of ancient letters. Unfortunately his consideration of the ‘content’ of letters relies too much on Rhetorical Criticism, but this is a great little book. He notes, for example, that secretaries/professional letter-writers (as mentioned by Trapp above) would generally have been employed not only to write the letter to be dispatched, but also to write a copy for the sender to keep, “both for control and perhaps future use” or perhaps because one’s letters “were shared with friends” (p13)

Books and Readers in the Early Church, by Harry Y. Gamble

Gamble argues for the collection of Paul’s Epistles as canon, a canon sufficiently long that it needed to be kept together using the format of the Codex - explaining the early Christian preference for the codex over the roll. He covers a number of interesting issues along the way. For example, he applies the insight that ancient letter-writers kept copies of their letters (as mentioned by Murphy-O’Connor above) to Paul: “A dossier of Paul’s letters would surely have been useful to Paul and his coworkers: it can hardly be supposed that each letter immediately had its intended effect, required no further clarification, and generated no new issues. The letters themselves are proof to the contrary. The tangled correspondence of Paul with the Corinthians, if not typical, certainly indicates that Paul needed to and did keep track of what he had written.” (p101)

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection, by E. Randolph Richards

This is a great overview of the issues in the title. For example, Richards considers ancient letter writers’ use of secretarial copies of their letters (as mentioned by Gamble above), and writes: “From the evidence we can infer that material was recycled from one letter to another in two common scenarios. First, if a writer had written a lengthy account and then later wanted to send the information to another recipient…. A second common reason for reusing material in another letter was when the writer wanted to send a well-written passage to another.” (p160) Obviously, this sort of insight might be fruitfully examined in relation to the letters of Paul - perhaps in terms of a possible relationship between Ephesians and Colossians… perhaps in terms of a possible relationship between 1 Thessalonians & 1 Corinthians…

You can read the entire post here.

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