Writings in the First Century

Okay, so I’ve complained about my professor; let me now state that his practice of participating within the forum discussions is completely outstanding.  He challenges our way of thinking, directs and nudges gently to areas we might want to explore, and seems to truly be delighted when he learns something he hasn’t read or thought about before.  I believe that if we simply got him a TA to organize and distribute a full set of notes for when he gets distracted while actually lecturing, all would be just fine. 🙂

So, this past week’s topic was with regard to the Synoptic “problem” (their word, not mine).  There are a ton of theories, and absolutely nothing to prove any of them.  But, that’s what makes theories fun to contemplate.  In any case, one document referenced was a theory by Bauckham about how he believed (contrary to mainstream belief) the gospels were not written for any particular community by the author, but rather for the community of Christians at large.  The professor argued for sort of a middle point, that each gospel would have been written for the particular community in which it was written, but could then be extrapolated into the larger community.  My comment back:

As for Bauckham, I tend to think it was probably a combination. We have references where Paul refers to letters that he’s written to other communities, and yet he expects that the community to which he is writing has read it. Would this have been an unusual event? Or did the organizers (for lack of a better term) of the faith agree to send copies of things to one another so that 1) there was a system of accountability; one person wasn’t saying something that went against what the teachings actually were or what another teacher had said; 2) there was a system of organization so that the archives, so to speak, could be preserved for future generations; and 3) if something happened to them (and apostles did have a bad habit of being martyred), someone would be able to pick up where they left off?

The professor asked for the references.  I provided:

1 Cor. 16:1, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia.” Here, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, referencing instructions he gave to Galatia.

A portion of 2 Pet 3:15-16 reads, “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.” This one is actually an Epistle, not directed to any specific community, and the authorship is in question, but it’s included in the Bible, so it’s meant to be there in any case. The reference, though, as included in a general, [Christian] community-wide book, implies that everybody hears from Paul.

In Colossians 4:16, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.” (This actually sounds more like an instruction to travel and trade letters, since Paul is writing from prison, and may not be able to get too many letters out?)

But it leaves me wondering if there are other references that I may be entirely missing with regard to how the writings of the first century were distributed and disseminated.  How did one get mail in those days?  Were you dependent upon travelers?  Messengers?  Caravans?  Pony express hadn’t been invented yet. 🙂


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