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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Writing, Sending, and Collecting Letters

Study of ancient letters has also directed attention towards the mechanics and material realia of letter writing and sending. In an age of limited literacy, the agency of the scribe was indispensable, and the papyri themselves reveal vast differences in skill even among such scribes. Still debated is the degree of freedom allowed a scribe, whether one who worked to standard models in a village or the highly educated and trusted amanuensis of a Cicero or Seneca. What control did the sender retain over the final version of a missive he (sic) may only have sketched out, or swiftly, but not always coherently, dictated (Rom. 16: 22; see Richards 1990, 2004)? How far can stylistic idiosyncrasies be attributed to the hand of the amanuensis without detracting from the preservation of authorial intention—a question of much significance for letters whose Pauline authorship is often challenged on grounds of style or thought, such as Colossians or Ephesians, or for 1 Peter if its Greek can hardly be credited to the Galilean fisherman (cf. 1 Pet. 5: 12, ‘through Silvanus’). In this light, authorial summaries and assertions of authentication (Gal. 6: 11–18; Col. 4: 18) also become more significant (Bahr 1966; Stirewalt 2003); but so too does the role of co-senders and the question of their contribution to the content (1 Cor. 1: 1; 2 Cor. 1: 1, etc.).

Also of interest is the means of delivery in a world with no postal service, usually through a traveller on the criss-crossing paths of trade or military service in the Mediterranean world (cf. 1 Cor. 1: 11). This points us back to the distinctive networks not just presupposed by, but also reinforced by, the exchange of letters which shaped the early Christian movement. Furthermore, descriptions by authors such as Cicero, but also actual exemplars among the papyri, provide evidence of the collection, copying, and storage of letters, which might give some sense of the origins and development of the Pauline and other corpora (cf. Col. 4: 16; 2 Pet. 3: 15–16).

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