Of handwriting and old letters

My handwriting is getting worse.  Our son’s handwriting is sporadically OK (e.g., with his name) but isn’t improving as nicely as we’d like.  This interview-blog with Steve Reece, professor of classical languages at St. Olaf College, is about handwriting in ancient letter-writing, and it kept me reading.  The particular passage at issue is Galatians 6:11-18, which begins with the famous exclamation “See what large letters I make . . . in my own hand!”  For a thoughtful professor and researcher, multiple questions arise when students ask a question about such a passage.

Some Christians cater to teachers and preachers who believe in the so-called dictation theory, which has God/the Holy Spirit dictating words to apostles (controlling the motions of their hands and arms?)  In the following paragraph, Steve Reece describes another possible scenario, expanding his thoughts to the way we think generally of the production of scripture—and, in particular, the writing of letters:

My impression is that Paul may have sometimes dictated syllable by syllable (e.g., Philemon), but that at other times he may have dictated the words and phrases to his scribe but given him the freedom to use his own diction and style (e.g., some of the Pastorals). The composition of a letter may have been a team effort, as Paul, his companions, and the scribe(s) bounced ideas off one another and read and re-read drafts of the letter. Obviously, if it were determined that Paul used his scribes to varying degrees in the composition of his letters, this would offer another angle from which to contemplate the ongoing debate about the Pauline authorship of some of the letters that have been traditionally attributed to him, particularly with respect to judgments that have been made about the authenticity or inauthenticity of some of the letters based on their stylistic and linguistic traits. Differences in the style and diction of letters may have arisen from the influence of scribes working at various levels of participation with the author/sender, for in such different compositional circumstances we should not expect stylistic and linguistic uniformity.

I found that succinct depiction very helpful.  It dovetails with, and bolsters, some of my comparatively non-studied hunches.  In the following paragraph, Reece deals with the specific of 1Cor 1, speculating a bit:

Incidentally, we appear to have a vestige of Paul’s interaction with a comrade and a scribe at the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, which he is dictating to a scribe, perhaps his companion Sosthenes (1.1). An irate Paul declares to the Corinthians (1.14-15): “I give thanks that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that none of you may say that you have been baptized in my name.” Then, perhaps having been reminded by the Corinthian Stephanas – who appears to have delivered a letter to Paul from the Corinthians, was expecting to deliver Paul’s letter in return to the Corinthians, and therefore was a witness to the dictation process (16.15- 18) – that his memory has failed him here, Paul offers an addendum (1.16): “And I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but as for the rest I do not know if I baptized any other.” We seem to be witnessing here a glimpse of the actual process of composition: having misspoken during his dictation, Paul simply had his scribe insert a parenthetical correction, perhaps interlinearly or marginally, rather than requiring him to go back and rewrite the entire section. Later copyists inserted the parenthetical addition into the body of the text, where it has resided, though somewhat uncomfortably, to this day.

Find the entire interview here.


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