Wednesday, December 09, 2009

David Miller has an interesting post on Paul's geographical horizon and eschatological mission agenda based on Rom 15.19 and ancient (well, relatively ancient) maps. Here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

McCabe on Phoebe

Over at the SBL forum, Elizabeth A. McCabe posts a paper entitled "A Reexamination of Phoebe as a “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”: Exposing the Inaccuracies of English Translations"
This is not the strongest argument about Phoebe I have ever seen. On her role as letter carrier of Romans she writes:

The alternate definition for diakonos, namely an “intermediary” or “courier,” is also appropriate here. Diakonos in this regard means “one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction.”[3] In terms of Phoebe, this distinction would classify her as the letter carrier to the book of Romans. In light of the fact that many letters did not reach their designated locations in antiquity, the appointment of a woman as the carrier of the book of Romans is noteworthy, particularly since Romans is arguably the most significant book in the New Testament.


Note 3 is: [3] “diakonos,” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago, 2000), 230.

There are several problems here. First, she has already argued that diakonos is some kind of role associated with the church at Cenchrea (fair enough); but you can't then piggy-back an additional meaning based on a further possibility found in the lexicon. Secondly, precisely because she was 'deacon of the church of Cenchrea', this was not a word that evokes the idea of mediation or letter carrying (since the letter does not come from Cenchrea!). Thirdly it is not a "fact" that many letters did not reach their destination in antiquity (although as a matter of "fact" we don't actually know if Phoebe succeeded in delivering this one to Rome). Fourthly, I do think the use of a female letter carrier is significant, but not because of a rather arbitrary and arguable view of the significance of Romans (this is a later projection).

So, I know it is meant to be 'be nice to women bloggers month', but this paragraph is unfortunately weak.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here is my handout from today's presentation:

‘“Witnesses between you and us”:

The Role of the Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement’

Peter M. Head

Second British National Patristic Conference

Cambridge Sept 2009

1. Introduction

- broader project on epistolary communication and the role of letter-carriers in Greco-Roman antiquity and early Christianity

- letter-carriers important for security, confidence in delivery, personal contact

- named letter-carriers often have further role in communication

2. 1 Clement unusually explicit about role of letter-carriers

- closing summary (62-63)

- purpose of letter (63.2) co-ordinated with purpose of emissaries (63.3)

- ‘peace and concord’ (63.2; 65.1)

- the relationship between 63.3-4 and 65.1: the same people

a) linked by task (restoration of ‘peace and concord’)

b) linked by commission (sent from Rome)

c) linked by urgency

- no specificity about ‘carrying’ the letter (not unusual)

- not paralleled in other deliberative epistles appealing for concord

3. The nature and role of the emissaries/letter-carriers

- faithful: Noah (9.4); Abraham (10.1); Moses (17.5; 43.1); this is a characteristic which the recipients ought to display (48.5; 62.3)

- soberminded: a quality which the Corinthians are depicted as having once had but lost (1.2). Schism is described as a kind of madness/insanity (1.1; 21.5; 46.7)

- old: schism is attributed to younger men (so 3.3: the young were stirred up against the old/elders, cf. also 47.6)

- blameless: used three times in 1 Clement 44 to describe the behaviour of those who had been removed from ministry in the schism (44.3, 4, 6).

- witnesseses [Perhaps cf. Deut 19.15, but no verbal allusion at all]

- urgency: 63.4; and then is repeated three times in 65.4

- named (Greek, imperial freedmen of Claudius)

4. Concluding Reflections

- emissaries/letter-carriers essential to communication by letter and to successful reception of the epistle (from Roman perspective)

- emissaries/letter-carriers chosen carefully to reflect nature/purpose of communication and absolutely fundamental to that communication

- emissaries/letter-carriers interpret, reinforce, and even personally embody the appeal of the written letter to the recipients

- written letter did have significant Wirkungsgeschichte

- some parallels with Pauline practice (cf. generally 5, 47): sending language, pistos in recommendations, anticipated return; but not the only/major influence (Roman setting, embassies to cities, appeals for concord etc.)


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

‘Witnesses between you and us’: the role of the letter-carriers in 1 Clement

My paper at the Second National Patristic Conference is scheduled for next Thursday (10th Sept) at 12:20. Must get it tidied up and finished. (For normal techniques see here). Further details: SECOND NATIONAL PATRISTIC CONFERENCE

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interview with Nijay Gupta
Nijay was so keen on my article in JSNT that he asked me a load of questions about this Letter Carrier project. You can read all about it here.
Up-date: Nijay's interview won the coveted Paul Post of the Week Award. A stunning achievement.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Paul the Letter Speaker
Mark Goodacre has a brief pod on the subject of 'Paul the letter speaker' - about the use of dictation and secretaries in the composition of the Pauline correspondence (
Rom 16.22, Gal 6.11). NT pod 2

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Over at his blog - Paul of Tarsus in Historical Context- Kevin Scull has offered some comments on my JSNT article “Named Letter Carries among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri” - which I may have mentioned once or twice in earlier posts on this blog.
This is the second in a series of posts on Paul's Envoys and Letter Carriers - a subject of obvious interest - the first of which discussed Margaret Mitchell's article “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus” JBL 111 (1992): 641-662.
Kevin has promised some more interaction in the next instalment to this series (see his comment on this post at ETC.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement (LNTS 325; London: T&T Clark, 2007).

Reviewed by Thomas R. Blanton IV at RBL: http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/6503_7033.pdf

The book doesn't seem to mention letter-carriers (based on the review); but in treating the relationship between Paul and his addressees in an apparently nuanced manner (so Blanton) it looks like a useful resource.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon (eds. C.A. Evans & H.D. Zacharias; SSEJC 13; LNTS 70; London: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2009) is now listed on the Continuum web-site (as published in April 2009). Here is a brief description:
A fascinating collection of essays that builds upon the growing interest in manuscripts as artifacts and witnesses to early stages in Jewish and Christian understanding of sacred scripture.

My paper ‘Letter Carriers in the Ancient Jewish Epistolary Material’ is on pp. 203-219.

The Table of Contents is as follows:
Introduction — C. A. Evans and H. D. Zacharias
John P. Flanagan, “Papyrus 967 and the Text of Ezekiel: Parablepsis or an Original Text?”
Gregg Schwendner, “A Fragmentary Psalter from Karanis and its Context”
Thomas Kraus, “‘He that dwelleth in the help of the Highest’: Septuagint Psalm 90 and the Iconographic Program on Byzantine Armbands”
Don Barker, “Another Look at Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1353?”
Scott D. Charlesworth, “Public and Private — Second and Third-Century Gospel Manuscripts”
Pamela Shellberg, “A Johannine Reading of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840”
Peter Arzt-Grabner, “‘I was intending to visit you, but . . .’: Clauses Explaining Delayed Visits and their Importance in Papyrus Letters and in Paul”
Annette Bourland Huizenga, “Advice to the Bride: Moral Exhortation for Young Wives in Two Ancient Letters”
Marianne Schleicher, “Transitions between Artifactual and Hermeneutical Use of Scripture”
Larry Hurtado, “Early Christian Manuscripts of Biblical Texts as Artifacts”
Stephen Reed, “Physical and Visual Features of Dead Sea Scrolls Scriptural Texts”
Eduard Iricinschi, “‘A thousand books will be saved’: Manichean Manuscripts and Religious Propaganda in the Roman Empire”
Kirsten Nielsen, “The Danish Hymnbook: Artifact and Text”
David Chalcraft, “Some Biblical Artifacts in Search of a Sociological Theory”
Dorina Miller Parmenter, “The Bible as Icon: Myths of the Divine Origin of Scripture”
Peter M. Head, “Letter Carriers in the Ancient Jewish Epistolary Material”
Juan Hern├índez, “The Apocalypse in Codex Sinaiticus”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Congratulations to Lutz Doering on his recently revealed/announced move to Durham (HT: nijay). Notable because Lutz is very interested in various matters epistolary, partly connected with his ongoing work on 1 Peter, but also more broadly concerning Jewish epistolography. E.g. (excerpted from his list of publications):

‘Jeremiah and the “Diaspora Letters” in Ancient Judaism: Epistolary Communication with the Golah as Medium for Dealing with the Present’, in: Reading the Present in the Qumran Library: The Perception of the Contemporary by Means of Scriptural Interpretation (ed. K. de Troyer & A. Lange; SBLSymS 30; Atlanta (Ga.): SBL, 2005), 43–72.
‘First Peter as Early Christian Diaspora Letter’, in: A New Perspective on James and the Catholic Letter Collection (ed. K.-W. Niebuhr & R. Wall; Waco: Baylor University Press, forthcoming).

His is also working on a collection:
Ancient Jewish Letter Writing (publication in TSAJ, T├╝bingen: Mohr Siebeck; expected for 2009).

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Postman

Last night I watched, strictly for research purposes, the Kevin Costner movie The Postman (based on a novel by David Brin). In many ways this was typical Costner: an over-long post-apocalyptic hope movie, with shallow characterisation and cheap plot-devices. The one feature of interest is the way that the Postman and the facilitation of communication by letter-carriers between isolated communities produces hope and restores civilisation. The letter-carrier motto is iconic in this movie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Just received proofs of my chapter ‘Letter Carriers in the Ancient Jewish Epistolary Material’ in a forthcoming book of great importance: Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon (eds. C.A. Evans & H.D. Zacharias; SSEJC 13; LNTS 70; London: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2009), 203-219.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Letter-Carriers of 1 Clement

Just got news that my paper - '"Witnesses between you and us": The Role of the Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement' - has been accepted for the National Patristics Conference (9-11 Sept 09, in Cambridge).

For details about the conference check here.

The abstract:
This paper discusses the role which 1 Clement envisages for those sent with the letter ‘who will be witnesses between you and us’ (1 Clement 63.3). The couriers are presented as the personal agents by which the appeal for ‘peace and harmony’ will be speedily received in the Corinthian church. Careful attention is given to 63.1-4 and 65.1-2 within the context of the letter as a whole.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Published in JSNT
Just received an email saying that my article ‘Named Letter-Carriers among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri’ has been published in JSNT 31.3 (2009), 279-299; and is now available on-line (DOI: 10.1177/0142064X08101525). On-line at:
http://jnt.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/31/3/279

The abstract: This paper analyses the role played by named letter-carriers among Greek personal letters in the Oxyrhynchus papyri as possible background for Pauline practice, and within the context of recent proposals concerning the role of the letter-carriers within Pauline practice. Around forty letters are discussed, with three examples analysed in more depth (P.Oxy. 113; P.Oxy. 3313; P.Oxy. 3505). It is seen that, when named and identified within the letter, the letter-carrier frequently supplements the written communication with some oral supplement. Against some recent proposals no evidence is found in support of the view that the letter-carrier ever read the letter itself to the recipient.