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.

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