Proceedings of the 28th International Congress of Papyrology, Barcelona 2016, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona 2019). 2019, 162-177
The stylistic and rhetorical aspects of private letters transmitted on papyri from Egypt have been the subject of a fair number of scholarly studies from Koskenniemi’s seminal monograph of 1956 to recent studies which explore either the rhetorical organisation of private letters in general or the style and rhetoric of certain, particularly interesting specimens.1 It is hardly surprising that ancient letter-writers, especially when their letters conveyed important or sensitive requests, wielded rhetorical tools to enhance the efficiency of their appeal and thus the probability of success. Christian letter-writers are no exception in this regard. One of the principal rhetorical means in their correspondence is ‘embedded Scriptural discourse’, i.e. quotations, introduced as such or not, of identifiable passages from the Old and New Testament and formulations which echo Biblical passages.2 Biblical citations, quotations and echoes form part of matrices of narrative and argumentation in the everyday correspondence between Egyptian Christians, just as they do when they are embedded in epistles with literary ambition.
This article falls into two parts. The first part presents the preliminary edition of a new Christian letter on papyrus, and analyses its rhetorical features including the use of embedded Scriptural discourse. The second part attempts to shed some more light on the much discussed topic of Scriptural citations in early Christian papyrus letters and argues that in some early letters which incorporate Scriptural citations or quotations the form of which diverges from the transmitted text, the embedded Scriptural discourse has been adapted with an eye to the situation faced or discussed by the letter-writer and is reshaped in a creative manner to better serve the letter-writer’s purpose.