Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gal 6.11 and copying Paul's Letters

In Gal 6.11 Paul wrote 'See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand'. Today I read an interesting deduction from this in Angela Standhartinger, ‘Colossians and the Pauline School’ NTS 50 (2004), 571-593. She suggests that Paul's letters were not regularly copied in the earliest period (until Colossians which she dates 65-69). She writes (at p. 576):
The earliest letter that undoubtedly reached several churches is the letter to the Galatians. Paul and its other senders did not expect this letter to be copied (cf. Gal 6.11).
I can see why she might say this, since only the autograph would visually display the large letters in the hand of Paul. But drawing attention verbally to the size of the writing only makes sense if the author understands that most readers won't actually see the large letters, but will hear it read out. This way of verbalising the graphological information actually preserves the autographical feature into the textual tradition (hence Galatians does not get what some other letters in the literary traditions got - editorial notes on the handwriting). So I don't see it as precluding any anticipation of copying. In any case if we take the plural in 1.2 seriously ('to the churches in Galatia'), multiple copies would be envisaged from the outset (as Standhartinger seems to recognise in the first sentence quoted).

NB. For a different take on this see Chris Keith «'In My Own Hand': Grapho-Literacy and the Apostle Paul» Biblica 89 (2008) 39-58 (not to my mind entirely convincingly).


  1. "editorial notes on the handwriting" -- I'd love to hear more about this!

  2. I don't think that Standhartinger's conclusion follows from the data. All we can really say is that Paul presumably had enough common sense to know that if his letters were copied, then the autographic subscriptions he put on the originals would no longer be in his own hand in the copies. So whatever the significance was for having those subscriptions in his hand was a significance that could only be recognized immediately by those who actually read the letters. Anyone else, whether they be an audience to a public reading or later readers of copies, would only have to trust what they heard or saw that the original version did have an autographic subscription written in Paul's hand. None of this should suggest to anyone that there was no expectation of copying letters that had autographic subscriptions on them.

    This doesn't only apply to Galatians. Paul also appends autographic subscriptions to 1 Corinthians (16:21), 2 Thessalonians (3:17), and Philemon (19). In 2 Thesallonians he says that he does it in all his letters. Trobisch gives other examples from ancient private letters that presumably were not copied where the change in handwriting for the autographic subscription is obvious. But he also gives two examples from Cicero, which of course, as with Paul, we only have in copies where that change in handwriting is not visible (Paul's Letter Collection, 29-33).

  3. Stephen,
    I think Eric has partly answered your question, although I don't have Trobisch to hand right now.

  4. I always appreciate the reminder for Trobisch, but I was hoping to hear more about the editorial aspect.

  5. Doesn't Paul's comment presuppose both that the letter is read out, and that the letter will be displayed to the congregation?


  6. To me it is obvious (though it's not obvious to everyone) that the autograph was circulated to all the churches by a letter carrier or letter carriers. Any expert on letter carriers should know that. The circulation of the autograph was important since it was one of the things that vouched for the authencity of the letter.

  7. Actually Trobisch, although interesting, does not refer to what I was thinking of when I mentioned 'editorial notes on the handwriting', which was notes about changes of hand in the autograph which enter the manuscript tradition of literary letters. (examples of which I shall try to find)

  8. I think the basic point would be that whichever way you imagine it multiple addressees envisages multiple copies (whether copied on location from a single couriered autograph, or copied whereever Paul is and delivered as multiple couriered autographs).

  9. I must be missing something here, Peter.
    Hoping you could tell me why the "common and obvious interpretation of the LARGEness of the epistle (Barnes)"- evolved to an interpretation of "over-sized uncial's"?
    Is there some scholarship that I am missing here?
    Or is this just a remote possibility that is being mined?
    I'm not seeing anything about this evolution from Chris.
    Does Angela interact with this evolution, Peter?

  10. Hi Ron,

    I don't know the history of scholarship on this verse, but I assume that some scholars have taken GRAMMA in the sense of 'document' or 'epistle' (for which there is good general evidence as well as Acts 28.21).

  11. Thank You Dr. Head,

    I take it that Angela doesn't interact with that evolution then either.

    If I might impose some more then:

    Does anyone interact with the closing of 2 Thessalonians, Dr. Head? Interact with the idea that Paul's signature may not even be a signature- but merely "a distinguishing mark"?

    Or does anyone interact with the idea that this "distinguishing mark"- might actually be Paul's closing greeting--- "Grace be with you"?
    Found in the closing of all of Paul's letters- with the possible textual exception of Romans?

    Just wondering...