segunda-feira, 20 de janeiro de 2014


Analyzed text by Scribe Valdemir Mota de Menezes

They didn't circulate as part of a bound book.
We don't have autographs, the original letters.
And we have to remember that Paul's letters were written as an individual
letters aimed at particular communities.
They were often co-written, sometimes penned by a scribe with Paul only
putting his own pen to papyrus or vellum at the end.
We're aware that ancient teachers trained their students in the arts of
letter writing and that there were conventional forms and topoi, just as
we have today--
"Dear so and so" or "I hope you're well."
But at some point, these individual letters of Paul and his co-writers
became part of a circulating set.
They were no longer individual letters aimed at particular communities, but a larger corpus that was understood to have relevance for a broader set of
When and how did that happen?
The earliest manuscripts we have of Paul's Letters date to the third
century, roughly 150 years after he set pen to papyrus.
It's overwhelming to think more broadly about the manuscripts of the
Letters of Paul.
Scholar David Trobisch writes, "Approximately 800 early copies of the
Letters of Paul have survived to the current day.
No two copies are completely identical."
I'd like to give us a taste of what some of these oldest manuscripts
looked like.
The first way to address the question of how Paul's earliest letters
circulated is to start with what's thought to be the oldest manuscript of
almost all of Paul's letters.
This is called P46 or Papyrus 46.
And part of it is located at the University of Michigan.
And part is in the Chester Beatty Collection in Dublin.
The text is from the third century CE from Egypt.
It's in fairly good shape.
But the outer pages don't survive.
The manuscript begins with Romans 5:17 and ends with 1 Thessalonians 5:28.
Many pages still have their page numbers.
And this is useful, because scholars can figure out then that there were
seven missing outer leaves.
The scribe also miscalculated the amount of paper needed.
After more than half the book was filled, the scribe began to write more
characters per line and more lines per page.
The remainder of 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, and other letters
traditionally ascribed to Paul--
2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus--
can't fit into the remaining 14 pages of the text.
So this is the earliest manuscript of the Letters of Paul.
But it seems not to have contained the entire collection that we know.
They are also four early codices that date from the fourth to the fifth
centuries, not scrolls but codices--
they look like modern-day books--
that contain all or parts of Paul's letters.
The first is Codex Alexandrinus from the fifth century.
It contains all the Letters of Paul with only a few pages missing.
The second is Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus from the fifth century.
Originally, the entire Old Testament and New Testament were
written onto it.
But in the 12th century, the ink was washed off, and the texts of the early
Christian writer Ephrem were written onto it.
Ultraviolet lighting helps us to see the palimpsest's original text.
It contains portions from every book of the New Testament with the
exception of 2 John and 2 Thessalonians.
But none of the individual texts within the New Testament is complete.
The third example is Codex Sinaiticus.
It probably dates to the fourth century.
And it's the only one of the four manuscripts that still contains all of
the books of the New Testament.
It was discovered in 1844 at the monastery of Saint Catherine in Egypt.
In 1869, it was given to Russia and in 1933 sold to the British Museum.
We can say that it has all of the Old Testament and New Testament within it.
But it also has text that some Protestants today might not know from
their bibles--
2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 4 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach.
And it also contains within it the early Christian texts--
the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.
The fourth example is Codex Vaticanus, also dating from the fourth century.
Nobody knows where this one was found.
But it's recorded at the Vatican Library as far back as 1481.
The manuscript lacks 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
But perhaps, those had been at the end of the manuscript.
Manuscript evidence shows Christians were copying Paul's letters and
circulating them by the third century CE, even as early as 150 years after
they were written.
But remember also that this is a world in which oral
tradition is highly valued.
The early second century bishop Papias, for example, writing about the
circulation of early Christian texts says this: "For I considered that I
should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice
which yet lives and remains." This is also a world of low literacy.
We should picture publication of ancient texts less in terms of copying
and circulation, not so much in terms of a New York Times bestseller list,
but more in terms of people sitting together and hearing
text read out loud.
We're still left with the question, how did early Christians first
evaluate the letters of Paul?
What discussions arose in those first 150 years, and just thereafter, at the
time when the manuscripts are being drafted and redrafted?
Today, it seems self-evident that Paul's letters are important to the
Christian tradition.
After all, they're in the Bible, first of all.
And second, they're imitated in the New Testament itself by letters
written in Paul's name, such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians,
Third, there's evidence that Christians were circulating the
letters by the third century.
Even within the New Testament, we have evidence that the letters of Paul were considered scripture by some Christians quite early
in the second century.
There's a passage in 2 Peter in which the term scripture, in this case the
Greek graphas, also translated "writings," does not refer to the
Jewish scriptures, as it usually does, but to Paul's own letters.
"So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom
given to him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.
There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and
unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other
scriptures." Many early Christians thought too that Paul's letters were
important enough to collect.
But some thought that Paul's letters and his legacy should be
resisted and rejected.

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