2 Corinthians and possible material evidence for composite letters in antiquity

Brent Nongbri*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The tradition of Christian letter-collections begins with the letters of the apostle Paul, and, according to many scholars, the collection of Paul’s letters involved the combination of fragments of discrete letters to form so-called composite letters. While nearly all of the letters attributed to Paul have, at one time or another, been subject to such partition hypotheses, it is the composite nature of 2 Corinthians that enjoys the widest agreement among scholars of the New Testament. It is no overstatement to say that the majority of critical scholars of ancient Christianity are convinced that the letter now known as 2 Corinthians actually contains parts of multiple different letters. Partition theories generally divide 2 Corinthians into between two and six letters. The arguments for the composite nature of 2 Corinthians are usually described as ‘internal’ that is to say, they are based on perceived inconsistencies in the rhetoric and content of the composition and apparent ‘literary seams’. Yet, all of our surviving manuscripts of Paul’s letters present 2 Corinthians as a seamless whole, which would mean that any compilation of letters to assemble 2 Corinthians must have taken place before the archetype(s) of our surviving manuscripts came into being. In other words, partition theories posit that several shorter letters were (either intentionally or unintentionally) blended into one longer letter at some point not long after the sending and receiving of the hypothetical ‘original’ shorter letters. The present chapter sets out some ancient material evidence relevant to the question of how letters were collected and archived in the decades immediately after their sending and receipt. I begin by examining recent attention dedicated to the letters of Cicero in regard to the question of composite letters before moving to what I see as a potentially even more fruitful area of investigation - namely, two bodies of ancient material evidence, the letters of Pachomius and collections of documentary papyrus letters.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollecting early Christian letters
Subtitle of host publicationfrom the apostle Paul to late antiquity
EditorsBronwen Neil, Pauline Allen
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781316135655
ISBN (Print)9781107091863
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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