[b-greek] RE: Structure of a 1st century Epistle

From: David C. Hindley (dhindley@compuserve.com)
Date: Mon Apr 02 2001 - 09:07:32 EDT

Mike Sangrey asks:

>>What is the common structure of a 1st century letter? ... In other
words, what are the parts? And what are they called?<<

Dave Haeuser made a good recommendation with Hans Dieter Betz's ground
breaking _Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches of
Galatia_ (Fortress, 1979). Betz provides a quite detailed analysis of
the letters from the standpoint of "handbook rhetoric." There has been
some controversy over this approach, as rhetorical conventions are
not exactly the same as letter writing conventions, and Betz may have
over-emphasized the conventions of rhetoric over those of
letter-writing in general.

Jeffrey Gibson offered two good suggestions: Wm. G. Doty's _Letters in
Primitive Christianity_ (Fortress, 1973) and John L. White's _Light
from Ancient Letters_ (Fortress, 1986). While I have not read these
two, I may well obtain them when I can find copies, as they sound very

Finally (and I have not seen any responses since the last digest went
out around 12:00am this morning, so if I missed a respondent please
forgive me), Steve Paluka recommended Fr. Raymond E. Brown's _Epistles
of John_ (Doubleday, 1982). Again, another one I have not read, but if
the late Father is anything as thorough as he was with his ABD
commentary of the Gospel of John it will be well worth the read.

Following up on these, I *have* read Phillip H. Kern's _Rhetoric and
Galatians: Assessing an approach to Paul's epistle_ (Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1998). Prof. Kern basically reviews almost all research to the
date of composition of his book (mid 90's) relating to rhetoric and
letter-writing style (as in order of sections, etc), and notes that
the structures and their relative order varies quite a bit from writer
to writer. There is also a lot of discussion regarding the relative
merits of rhetorical analysis of Paul's letters. Very interesting
stuff. He participated in an open question and answer session last
year on the Rhetoric-l list, which is archived at YahooGroups (former

Good luck!


Dave Hindley
Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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