Judith M. Lieu
The development and influence of the letter-form is one of the most striking characteristics of the New Testament: twenty-one of the NT writings are labelled letters from early in the manuscript tradition, although whether appropriately so may be disputed in some cases (Hebrews; 1 John). This sets a pattern that is consciously continued in the early Church (as already by the letters of Ignatius), and which, by the networks created and by the implicit claims to and recognition of authority, can be seen as crucial to the development of what was to become early Christianity. Although there are letters embedded within books of the Hebrew Bible, there are no books that themselves take the form of letters; however, the letters that prefix 2 Maccabees and the Letter of Jeremiah in the LXX also testify to the attraction of the genre in the Hellenistic period. Study of biblical letters, therefore, belongs to and contributes to broader debates, such as how NT literary forms are related to those of the wider Jewish or Graeco-Roman world; how their distinctiveness is to be identified and explained; and the hermeneutical problem of reading, and within the Christian tradition of treating as possessing authority, texts originally written for a specific readership and situation now accessible only through them.