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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Other Models

Despite the impact of the study of classical letters on those of the NT, there are evidently other genres represented within the latter, including liturgical and catechetical materials, and extended passages which have sometimes been linked to the diatribe or to the synagogue homily. How far are these of greater influence than the formal epistolary conventions? For example, are the liturgical echoes and passages, such as benedictions and doxologies (e.g. Rom. 11: 36; 15: 13, 33; 16: 25–7), merely formal, or would they have shaped the gathered congregation's experience as they listened to the public reading of the letter (Col. 4: 16)? Some have suggested that the innovative ‘grace’ greeting is dependent on earlier liturgical tradition (Lohmeyer 1927), although the absence of certain parallels probably do point to Pauline creativity; Robinson (1964) argued that the distinctive thanksgivings that follow (e.g. 1 Cor. 1: 4–9) owe more to the prayer and hymnic than to the epistolary tradition. Others have drawn attention to the uncompromising claim to authority with which Paul prefaces his letters, as well as to the use of the letter-form in other literature within the Jewish and early Christian tradition, including the Testament (cf. 2 Pet. 1: 12–15) and the Apocalypse (cf. Apocalypse of Baruch 78–87; Rev. 1–3); this focuses attention on the character of the letter as fixed, authoritative address, rather than on its being sent, and may be able to encompass the presence of other literary elements, including thanksgiving, affirmation, and paraenesis. From this perspective, what defines the Pauline letter is Paul; the ‘apostolic letter’ becomes a distinct genre related most closely to the apostle's conception of himself and his task, with roots more in a religious tradition than in the epistolary format (Berger 1974).

Certainly, when we extend our view to other NT letters, the Jewish framework becomes unmistakable. 1 Peter's greeting, a wish that ‘grace and peace…be multiplied’ has biblical precedent in Dan. 3: 31 (Eng. 4: 1); 6: 26; the same form is found in the letters of Gamaliel in b. San. 11b. The circular address ‘to the elect exiles of the diaspora’ evidently adopts a Jewish perspective. 1 Clement, written from and to a ‘sojourning’ church, uses the same greeting formula. It has been argued that behind this language, and the writing of a letter to a number of communities, or, in the case of 1 Clement, from one community to another, stands the distinctive tradition of the ‘Jewish diaspora letter’. Actual evidence for this is sparse, appealing to a few rabbinic exempla, mainly concerning calendrical matters (letters of Gamaliel and of Simon b. Gamaliel in b. San. 11b; Midrash Tannaim Deut. 26: 1), to the practice implied by the letter from the Jerusalem community in Acts 15: 22–9, and to the assumptions of texts like the Syriac Apoc. Baruch 78–87, fictitiously written to the nine and a half tribes. Building on the earlier work of Peterson (1959), Andresen has used this and similar traditions, including the letters prefacing 2 Maccabees, to explain the combination of encouragement and exhortation in a context of suffering found in 1 Clement, and again in the Martyrdom of Polycarp and in the Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons (Eusebius, HE 5.1), each of which take the form of letters sent from and to communities, and which use the language of ‘sojourning’ and similar greetings formulae (Andresen 1965). A Jewish Diaspora letter tradition remains poorly attested, although not improbable, and further research is required here. The value of this sort of approach is that it is able to combine genre, language, context, and function of what are clearly carefully and consciously constructed texts.

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