Klauck_LettersMy latest book recommendation is Ancient Letters and the New Testament by Hans-Josef Klauck.  Klauck’s work is the new standard for scholarly yet approachable works to ancient letter writing.  Klauck explores many important topics such as the postal system, epistolary theory, rhetoric, and classifying letters.  Additionally, Klauck includes an annotated list of all the ancient letters writers, divided between Latin and Greek.  Moreover, Klauck’s excellent bibliographies alone make this work a worthy purchase.  Yet another useful feature is the example(s) included at the close of each section.  Essentially Klauck’s work could be used as either a textbook or a reference work.  I highly recommend this work and consider it the new gold standard of its genre.

Prior Recommendations

E. Randolph Richards: Paul and First-Century Writing (review)

Margaret M. Mitchell: Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation  (review)

Richard Hays: Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (review)



This week’s Paul Post of the Week is Nijay Gupta’s insightful interview with Peter Head.  The focus of Nijay’s interview is Dr. Head’s work on ancient letter carriers, a topic which interests me greatly.  Nijay poses a number of questions to Dr. Head such as what texts he is examining, the possible implications of his research, and how his work compares to that of E. Randolph Richards (whose book I recommend).  Nijay’s interview is informative for anyone interested in Dr. Head’s work.  For those interested, I interacted with Head’s article “Named Letter Carries among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri” (JSNT 2009) in a prior post concerning Paul’s envoys and letter carriers.

Any post that has won this award should feel free to proudly display one of the banners generously donated by Brandon Wason.  As always if I missed a post you think should have been chosen or would like to highlight please respond in the comments section below.


Richards_lettersToday’s book recommendation is E. Randolph Richards’ Paul and First-Century Writing.  Richards’ wrok covers a wide variety of topics concerning Paul and letter writing.  He examines the following topics and more: secretaries, letter carriers, co-authors, tools of the trade, and Paul’s writing style.  The work is quite illuminating, however, Randolph is willing is prone to speculation when evidence is lacking.  Additionally, he has an agenda which does not become clear until mid way through the book, Paul wrote every letter attributed to him.  Despite the possible shortcomings Richards has provided an excellent work that I used in my course on Paul and ancient letter writing last year at, the exceedingly secular, UCLA (Hist 97K for those interested).  I highly recommend the work for anyone interested in Paul and ancient letter writing.




Paul the Letter Writer

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor







•  Short, allowing for use in any course related to Paul.

•  Interacts with many primary sources.

•  Adequate introduction to many topics concerning Paul and ancient letter writing.


•  Too short.  Many topics lack depth.

•  Although expected to some degree for this topic, there is extensive unsupported speculation.

•  Important topics are missing, such as the environment in which one wrote letters in antiquity and the possibility that Paul employed a revision process which included multiple drafts for many of his letters.

Full Review

Paul the Letter Writer, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.  Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1995.  Pp. viii + 152. $24.95.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has provided a useful and concise look into how Paul wrote letters.  Murphy-O’Connor covers many important topics such as secretaries, co-authorship, epistolary theory, rhetoric, the organization of a letter, and how the collection of Paul’s letters came together.  Murphy-O’Connor covers a wide variety of topics and does so in a scant 130 pages.  This is both a positive and a negative.  As a positive this work can be used in most any Paul class as supplementary reading material.  However, if one is truly interested in this material Murphy-O’Connor has provided a starting point for one’s study rather than the final word on the matter.  For more material one can consult works by E. Randolph Richards, Hans Josef Klauck, Stanley Stowers, and many others.

Murphy-O’Connor divides the book into three chapters.  The first covers the process of writing a letter.  The author begins with an examination of ancient writing utensils and papyrus, even including ancient accounts of how each were created and used.  Next Murphy-O’Connor addresses the use of secretaries in the ancient world.  He notes that secretaries could function as recorders, editors, or even substitute authors.  However, while he concludes that Paul did in fact use a secretary, “which system he used is impossible to determine with any certitude.” (34)

Within the first chapter Murphy-O’Connor also examines the possibility that Paul wrote with co-authors.  This section is one of the largest in the book covering eighteen pages.  While most scholars simply dismiss the reference to individuals such as Timothy, Silvanus and Sosthenes as mere courtesy, Murphy-O’Connor pursues the possibility that these references are to Paul’s co-authors.  Murphy-O’Connor examines each of Paul’s letters individually and concludes that Paul did in fact use co-authors in a number of letters.  However, due to the lack of evidence his conclusions are often built upon wild speculation.  For instance, he constructs an entire relationship between Paul and Sosthenes for the writing of 1 Corinthians in which Paul is the “pragmatic” who became irritated with Sosthenes and his “complicated and overly subtle” (33) method of writing.  In fact, Murphy-O’Connor isolates two passages in which Sosthenes included his input but concludes that Paul chose to shut him out of the process later.

Finally, Murphy-O’Connor turns to the process of sending a letter.  After examining the options available to Paul he concludes that Paul sent his early letters with strangers.  However, as he made more contacts he was able to send his letters with Christians and often his assistants.  This section is an excellent example of the brevity of this work.  While the five pages Murphy-O’Connor devotes to this topic are plenty for a course on Paul, there are many other issues that could be addressed.  For instance, one should consult Margaret Mitchell’s work “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus” for information regarding the roles that the letter carriers played in delivering letters.  Furthermore, Murphy-O’Connor could address the importance of having someone deliver the letter who could elaborate on the letter or even read the letter to the community.  This seems especially important for Murphy-O’Connor who conceives of Paul as one who was well trained in rhetoric.

Chapter two focuses on the different parts of a letter.  However, imbedded within this information is useful information concerning epistolary theory and rhetoric.  In fact, Murphy-O’Connor dedicates thirty pages to rhetoric, a massive amount in such a short work.  Within this section he introduces the different types of rhetoric, parts of a rhetorical speech, and scholars who interact with rhetoric.

The final chapter is an examination of how Paul’s letters were collected.  Murphy-O’Connor discusses the three major theories, the big bang, the snowball, and Paul’s notebooks.  In short the theories are as follows.  The big bang theory is that one collector decided at some point to collect all of Paul’s letters.  The snowball theory assumes that multiple smaller collections were made before they were put together into a bigger collection.  The most attractive, yet least plausible, theory is that Paul made copies of his letters and his notebooks were then given to his disciples who then possessed a collection of Paul’s letters.  Murphy-O’Connor recognizes that this is an especially difficult topic as there is not much evidence.  However, he proposes that there were actually three smaller collections of Paul’s letters.  His proposal is built upon the varying location of Hebrews in our extant manuscripts.  Additionally, he proposes different scenarios for the location of the assembly of these three collections.  Unfortunately, Murphy-O’Connor’s conclusion is as unsatisfying as those that have come before, however, it is an interesting possibility to add to the list.

Paul the Letter-Writer is both useful and limited.  It is frankly far too brief to be an essential work on the topic of Paul and ancient letter writing.  Murphy-O’Connor does not provide enough detail on the topics he covers and leaves out many other important issues such as Paul’s potential use of drafts.  However, because the work is so short it is useful in a classroom setting or as an introduction to Paul and letter writing.  For instance, I will use this work in any general course I teach on Paul or his letters.  However, for a course focusing on Paul the ancient letter writer, other books such as E. Randolph Richards’ Paul and First-Century Letter Writing would be more useful.  Thus, my final recommendation is that everyone needs to be aware of the issues raised by Murphy-O’Connor and that his contribution is a worthy introduction to the material but it is by no means the final or definitive work on the subject.

Mark Goodacre continued his insightful new NT Pod series today by posting a new podcast focusing on how Paul would have written letters.  This is a topic that I am especially interested in (I taught a class this year called Paul, the New Testament, and Ancient Letter Writing at UCLA) so not surprisingly I am excited to see that Goodacre has decided to enlighten a broad audience concerning this topic. 

In six minutes Goodacre is not able to address all of the relevant material for this rich topic but he does highlight Paul’s use of a secretary, which is rather important.  I would have liked to hear him address some of the further ramifications of employing a secretary such as the distinct possibility that Paul’s letters would have been composed using multiple drafts over many days.  Perhaps he will revisit this topic in the future but I appreciate the illumination he has brought to the topic this time around.

For those seeking more information and sources concerning this topic feel free to consult my UCLA course syllabus and/or the following books:

E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing.

Jerome Murphy-O’Conner, Paul the Letter Writer.

Hans-Josef Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament.

I have also posted two parts of an ongoing series concerning Paul’s envoys/letter carriers.  Part 1Part 2.

As one who is interested in placing Paul in his historical context, I am especially interested in letter writing.  One important aspect of letter writing that is often overlooked is the role of the individuals who delivered Paul’s letters.   This series of posts will examine these individuals and the role they played in Paul’s communication.

In this post I will examine an important article by Margaret Mitchell, “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” In this work Mitchell examines the role of Timothy and Titus as envoys who would have carried with them the authority of Paul.  She is especially interested in refuting Funk’s claim that Paul considered letters and envoys poor substitutes for his own physical presence.  Mitchell rightfully claims that in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, Paul is aware that at certain points a letter (2 Cor 2:4) or envoy (2 Cor 7:5-16) would be more effective than his personal presence. Thus, Mitchell seemingly refutes Funk’s claim that Paul thought his presence was always the best solution and that a letter or envoy were only used when he was not able to personally visit a community.

Mitchell continues by examining the role of envoys in the ancient world and applying this information to Paul’s co-workers, Timothy and Titus.  Mitchell provides extensive evidence which demonstrates that an envoy served a dual purpose of both transmitting information from sender to receiver and then carrying information from the receiver back to the sender.  There are many passages in which Paul states that he either sent or will be sending Timothy or Titus to a community.  However, there are also two noteworthy passages which state that Timothy (1 Thess 3:6-10) and Titus (2 Cor 7:5-16) have returned to Paul with information from the community.  In addition to bringing Paul messages from communities, his envoys would also bring back information which they gleaned from their own experiences with the community.  Mitchell highlights the importance of this role with a thought provoking statement, “… Timothy and Titus … decided just what to tell Paul upon their return with messages from the church!” (654)  This is certainly an intriguing and correct statement, Paul’s knowledge about many of his communities was filtered through his envoys.

In addition to simply bringing messages, Mitchell demonstrates that it was expected that envoys would represent the one who sent them and be treated as such.  As a representative of the sender it would also be expected that the envoy would transmit information not contained in the letter.  This concept is especially interesting and important for my work.  The implication seems to be that as Paul’s envoys, they could answer any follow up questions a community might have concerning the letter they received from Paul.  Additionally, the envoys would have probably brought extra information not contained in the letters.  I will address in my next posting what some of this information might have been.  Mitchell’s work certainly opens many interesting avenues for studying Paul’s letters.

My next post will focus on letter carriers and additional roles they may have had in Paul’s communication process.

Mitchell, Margaret M. “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” JBL 111 (1992): 641-662.