Reviews of

Lutz Doering, “Paul and Ancient Jewish Letter Writing”

In DSS, Durham, Justin A. Mihoc, Lutz DOERING, New Testament, Paul, SEMINAR REPORTS on February 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

This is a report on a paper presented by Dr Lutz Doering, Reader in New Testament and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, at the New Testament Research Seminar at the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, 29th of November 2010.

The list of forthcoming papers in the NT Research Seminars at Durham University can be found here.

Dr Doering presented in this paper some very interesting ideas which are to be included and developed in his forthcoming monograph on Jewish and early Christian letter writing. Whilst trying to define the characteristics of Paul’s epistles, he gradually analysed the stylisation of the author, co-senders and addressees of the letters and their use within early Christian communities and, also, epistolary formulae such as the Proem and the structure of the Prescript. In analysing the characteristics and style of ancient Jewish letter writing, Dr Doering explored a number of significant texts outside the Hebrew Bible, such as: Epistle of Jeremiah (in the lxx); Tg. Jon. Jer 10:11; 4Q389 (4QApocrJer Cd) frg. 1; Baruch (lxx); Letter of Baruch (2 Bar 78-86); 4 Bar 6:17-23, 7:23-29; 4Q203 (4QEnGiantsa ar) frg. 8; 4Q550 frg. 1; 4QMMT (?), and a number of Halachic letters: 2 Macc 1:1-10a; 2 Macc 1:10b-2:18; Ester lxx (Add. F 11: ἐπιστολὴν τῶν Φρουραι); y. Hag. 2:2, 77d, y. Sanh. 6:9, 23c; t. Sanh. 2:6; M.H.G. Deut 26:13.

One of the main questions is whether Paul was influenced by Jewish letter writing or not. On the one hand, it is unlikely that Paul would simply have adopted the Sanhedrin model and applied it to his communities. On the other hand, his letters cannot be regarded as fully belonging to the private letter tradition (Phlm is not a private letter, being addressed not only to Philemon, but also to his companions), but rather in between private and public. Paul qualifies all his addressees as members of a Christian network throughout.

In using co-senders (see: 1 Thess 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1, et al.) Paul develops a meta-private scenario which is part of his strategy. One needs to distinguish between co-senders and co-authors and, due to first person singular verbs, certain letters (or passages) have been single-authored by Paul, but have, nevertheless, co-senders.  The ‘brother’ (used for either author or addressee, or both) belongs to a larger group of ‘brothers’ (see: 2 Macc 1:1-6). Therefore, the letter writing functions within a social network. The character and style is between private and public, regarding his addressees as his ‘family’ (Familia Dei). In composing his epistles he might have looked to official roman letters between officials, but there is insufficient evidence for a claim that Paul adopted the official letter style. In his paper, Dr Doering regards the epistolary style of Paul (and, subsequently, other early Christian writers) as quasi-official, or following the model of philosophical epistles that go beyond strictly private letters and were used for networking (e.g. Cynic epistles and other pseudepigraphal epistles; Epicurus’ epistles). Epicurus, for instance, wrote not only for his friends but also for larger groups. Nonetheless, there are some important differences between Epicurus’ and Paul’s letters: Paul did not promote ‘natural friendship’ (in which a patron-client relationship is implied in the then contemporary friendship networks); Epicurus wrote for other philosophers, whereas Paul wrote for all Christians, Epicurus authored all his epistles, whereas Paul used co-senders. A very interesting example of a letter addressed to a larger group is the quasi-official epistle of an ‘association of Tyrian traders’ written on marble stone, discovered in Pozzuoli, Italy (second century A.D.). In Dr Doering’s view, in what the Pauline letters are concerned the theme of associations can be partially applied.

Some similarities between stylisations of author, co-senders and addressees in Jewish and Christian letters can be observed. For instance, the stylisation of multiple addressees: the Christian communities in Paul’s epistles resemble the communities in Jewish letters. Paul does not relate ‘Diaspora’ terminology to his addressees, as do some Jewish and Christian (1Pet, James) letters.

The structure of the Pauline prescript is conspicuous (‘A to B, grace to you and peace’), the most simplified form being found in 1 Thes. Except for 1 Thes the author uses the same salutation in all his letters. Dr Doering finds attractive the suggestion that in 1 Thes, the first extant Pauline letter, the author was experimenting a style. It seems that Paul has developed further a Jewish greeting, containing a Greek translation of an Aramaic ‘peace’ (שלם, shelam) greeting , which may already have been expanded by another ‘good’, such as ‘mercy’ (so in 2Bar 78:2). Such a greeting could be considered unidiomatic in Greek and, thereby, generate new meaning (‘resemantisation’). The Old and Imperial Aramaic letters have long salutation formulae, whereas the letters in the Greco-Roman period use the short salutation (A to B shelam; see: 4Q550 frg. 1, lines 6-7). Paul, therefore, uses the unidiomatic greeting for resemantisation: The Aramaic shelam greeting does not really wish ‘peace’, but rather ‘greeting’, because this is the regular word for the salutation. But once it is literally translated  into Greek, where one does not greet with εἰρήνη (eirene), it creates new possibilities of meaning, and Paul develops this with both the coupling of eirene and charis, and with the theological and Christological determination (apart from early 1Thess): από θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Dr Doering considers the best explanation one that reckons with a development of Jewish models by Paul, who applies a binitarian accentuation, possibly thereby drawing on early Christian tradition.

The Pauline proem stands roughly at the place of the formula valetudinis initialis. Dr Doering suggests that the impact of Jewish epistolary proems and eulogies (so in 2 Macc 1:17; 2 Bar 78:2-3) on the development of the Pauline letter proem should be appreciated. The first attestation of a proem in a Jewish/ Aramaic letter is found in the first introductory letter in 2 Macc 1:1-6. A characteristic of both Pauline and Jewish epistolary proems is the thanksgiving to God (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thes 1:2; 2 Thes 1:3; 2 Tim 1:3, Phlm 1:4; 2 Macc 1:11). The eulogy is a part of the letter itself and not a separate benediction and it is not focused on addressees, but on God and his benefactions. In the proems that feature the verb εὐχαριστέω, Paul expresses thanks for the status of the community to which he writes. The final salutation of Paul is usually a grace wish and not a final peace greeting, as in the Jewish epistolary tradition.

Concluding his discussion on Pauline and Jewish letter writing, Dr Doering emphasises that Paul is influenced by the Jewish epistolary traditions but uses them to construct something new, a new epistolary scheme and an original style. Paul addresses individual congregations and individuals within congregations and states the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as the source of peace and grace in his letters. Semantically, the Pauline proems are similar with some Jewish letters and some interaction with the Jewish epistolary tradition can be stated.

(Questions, remarks and suggestions were raised among others by Prof John Barclay and Prof Francis B. Watson.)

N.B. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Lutz Doering for revising the draft of the present report and, thereby, clarifying and improving my text as required.

Justin A. Mihoc
Department of Theology and Religion
Durham University


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