Thursday, March 29, 2012

Opening Paul's Letters

Over at Crux Sola Nigay Gupta has a review of Patrick Gray's new book, Opening Paul's Letters, which he quite likes except for the fact that he has "very little discussion of letter-carriers and their roles (see only short discussion ~p. 136)".
Gray's comment was:
‘Paul’s coworkers who delivered his letters did not drop them in the mailbox and then go on their way but, rather, would likely have read them aloud to the recipients and been available to explain the significance of the references they contained.’ Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 136.
This comes in the context of a discussion about Paul's use of the Old Testament in his letters (hence 'explain the significance of the references', i.e. to the Old Testament).

Three main ideas here, and I would score this at 1.5 out of 3.

The idea that letter carriers don't drop the letter and move right on is a good idea. Hence the introduction and request for help in relation to Phoebe. The introduction helps to initiate a relationship. Not necessary to think of a long stay in Rome of course.

The idea that the letter carrier is the reader/performer of a Pauline letter is becoming more widespread even as it becomes clearer (to me anyway) that there is no evidence for such a practice in antiquity. Nor does Gray offer any evidence. Of course, the fact that none of the advocates of such a theory do offer any evidence in its support ought to be enough of a warning to careful readers. And it hardly fits with waiting until chapter 16 before actually introducing Phoebe.

The idea that the letter carrier is on hand to be available to aid the reception and understanding of a letter is a good one. The further idea that someone like Phoebe (or any of the other Pauline letter carriers) would have been equipped to explain all the details of Paul's use of the Old Testament is probably, in my view, taking a reasonable idea a bit too far.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SBL 2012 Paper accepted

Dear Peter,
Congratulations, your paper, The Role of Tychicus in Col 4.7-9 (with an old approach to the text of 4.8), was accepted for the 2012 Annual Meeting program unit Disputed Paulines. The meeting will be held in Chicago, IL from 11/17/2012 to 11/20/2012.
Please note that, by submitting a paper proposal or accepting a role in any affiliate organization or program unit session at the Annual or International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, you agree to participate in an open academic discussion guided by a common standard of scholarly discourse that engages your subject through critical inquiry and investigation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paul to Seneca (II)
I was happy to receive your letter yesterday. I could have answered it at once if I had had the young man at hand whom I intended to send to you. You well know when and through whom, at what time and to whom something ought to be given for transmission. I beg you therefore not to think yourself neglected, while I have regard to the trustworthiness of the person. ...
So I was wondering whether I could use this as one aspect of the reception historical evidence for Paul as a user of letter carriers. My caution would be that these letters (4th cent. AD pseudonymous collection) exhibit several other epistolary commonplaces, so it might not offer evidence of anything other than an author sprinkling his compositions with authentic sounding epistolary themes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mike Bird posted a comment on Cicero and Letter Carriers, reflecting (a little too superficially) on a single quote from Atticus 1.13:
In these letters, indeed, I am urgently pressed by you to send answers, but what renders me rather dilatory in this respect the difficulty of finding a trustworthy carrier. How few of these gentry are able to convey a letter rather weightier than usual without lightening it by skimming its contents! (Letter XVIII).
Mike said:
This would suggest that some letter carriers were not just Roman fedex delivery boys, but were responsible for reading the letters on delivery. Interesting implications for the role of Phoebe in Romans and Tychicus in Colossae!
My comments (from his blog - where there are obviously intervening comments which I haven't posted here):
  1. Mike, nothing in that comment suggests your conclusion that Ciceronian letter carriers "were responsible for reading the letters on delivery". That does not follow.
  2. Ah. No that is not what Cicero meant. His primary issue is confidentiality, not skim reading at the destination. 'Convey a letter' means simply deliver the letter to its recipient. The reference to lightening the letter is a humorous figure of speech referring to reading the letter. Later in this same letter (Att. I 13) he refers to the risk that a letter might be lost, opened or intercepted. He adds, 'I dare not intrust a letter on such weighty matters to such a casual nobody’s son as this messenger.'
  3. I don't recall any incident where Cicero refers to including money inside a letter. I don't think that is relevant here. He is worried that the letter carrier might read a fullsome and confidential letter. In fact he is so concerned by this possibility that he won't actually write the letter he would like to write (which would have included full answers to Atticus' questions). So it is an interesting situation where the presence/absence of a letter carrier impacts the composition and the contents of the letter. Lacking a trust-worthy letter carrier Cicero has to write a shorter, less detailed letter. The implication, in this situation, would be that Cicero did not want such a letter carrier to do any more than simply deliver the letter.

    Cicero has another delivery problem which he mentions here and in some other letters of the period, that he is not sure where Atticus is, so can't give detailed instructions to a letter carrier.