Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

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Ben C. Smith
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Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:20 pm

As I was responding to something Jax wrote yesterday my brain conjured a thought it had conjured once or twice before but which I have not properly followed up on, so I thought I might throw it into the ring and see if anyone has any ideas about it.

First, a digression. Many of you are doubtless aware that some 5 or 6 years ago Carrier posted some essays on his blog about Jews before Christ having the idea of a dying Messiah; Thom Stark responded to these essays on his own blog (part 1, part 2). I apologize in advance for indulging in what Peter Kirby called "the metaphors of gladiatorial combat," but it is kind of necessary to my present point: basically, it was a blood bath, with little or none of the blood being Stark's. A couple of years later Carrier published his book, including sections on Jewish ideas about a dying Messiah; in his book he managed to avoid most if not all of the pitfalls into which he had stumbled on his blog. Lessons learned.

So what I am wondering is: what if this happened in antiquity, as well? Galatians 1.18-24 comes off as a concession; Paul is at pains to minimize the extent of his dealings with the Pillars in Jerusalem so as to demonstrate that his gospel comes directly from God. What if, in fact, he was at such pains in his original letter that he actually omitted a brief but real visit he had enjoyed with Cephas and James in his recounting of events to the Galatians? What if Paul made it seem like he had visited only the once, in 2.1-10? And what if the Galatians either knew or found out that Paul had fudged the data here and became even more upset with him than they already were? Mark Goodacre argues that Paul actually lost the Galatian church to his rivals sometime in between the penning of 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9:

Galatians 2.10: 10 Only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.

1 Corinthians 16.1-4: 1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

2 Corinthians 9.1-4: 1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the offering for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaea has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brethren so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; lest if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we be humiliated, to say nothing of you, for being so confident. [Where is Galatia??]

And then, to complete the picture, what if Paul (as is argued by some scholars) published versions or even collections of his own epistles for circulation among other churches and at least sometimes made up deficiencies from the original epistles, in this case penning Galatians 1.18-24 himself and inserting it into the new edition (not to mention adding the word "again" to 2.1) so as no longer to stand accused of falsifying his back story? In this scenario there are two distinct editions of the epistle, both by Paul, and both differing from one another in the same basic way that Carrier's book differs from his blog posts: the shortcomings of the first edition that blew up in Paul's face have been rectified for posterity in the second.

I have no very strong feelings about this particular example, and if it does not work for you please feel free to substitute another. And the reasons for editing one's epistle collection differently than the original epistles were edited would not have to be limited to rectifying such grand mistakes. Paul could have added materials he found edifying, fleshed out arguments which had been a bit too bare the first time through, corrected turns of phrase, and waxed poetic in ways his original letters were not. I remember a scholar being interviewed on a TV special many years ago who was discussing Paul's letters; she called Paul's speech to Cephas in Galatians 2.14-21 l'esprit de l'escalier, "the wit of the stairs," or the comeback one should have thought of on the spot but really only thought of later (as one was already leaving by the stairs). Well, what if whole expository paragraphs in Paul are l'esprit de l'escalier, not with respect to his recounting of episodes in the epistles, but with respect to his very penning of the epistles themselves? In other words, maybe some of the theologically denser parts of Romans (for instance) are actually musings from after the sending of the original letter to Rome: still Paul, but after some reflection, wanting to leave a heavier impression for posterity than he originally made on the Romans themselves.

If both the original epistles and the versions found in the epistolary collection(s) circulated simultaneously for a while, then someone like Marcion might have found one exemplar of Galatians containing 1.18-24 and another lacking it, noticed that the additional material in the former made it look slightly worse for Paul vis-à-vis the Jerusalem apostles, and assumed that it had been added in order to subordinate Paul to the Pillars.

I do not wish to minimize the very real possibility of interpolations into the Pauline letters: far from it. We know that ancient letters could accumulate interpolations:

2 Thessalonians 2.1-2: 1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Eusebius, Church History 4.23.12: 12 The same writer [Dionysus of Corinth] also speaks as follows concerning his own epistles, alleging that they had been mutilated: "As the brethren desired me to write epistles, I wrote. And these epistles the apostles of the devil have filled with tares, cutting out some things and adding others. For them a woe is reserved. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at if some have attempted to adulterate the Lord's writings also, since they have formed designs even against writings which are of less account." There is extant, in addition to these, another epistle of Dionysius, written to Chrysophora, a most faithful sister. In it he writes what is suitable, and imparts to her also the proper spiritual food. So much concerning Dionysius.

But I wonder whether anything might be said for an author like Paul interpolating his own letters sometimes, so to speak. Are there any known examples of this from antiquity? Are there any arguments to be mounted in its favor?

Thanks in advance.

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:24 pm

I quicker think a later editor "communing in the spirit" (of course) is responsible for this change of heart, much like Jesus's posthumous change of heart in the Talmud or Ignatius continuing to send letters from the underworld in Lucian.

The sanctity of the Christian canon is still preserved by scholars albeit for entirely practical reasons. That's why the actual situation in antiquity is never conceded IMHO viz it's all quintiply reworked rubbish. The canon is Dolcinea and the scholar Don Quixote. But this position will never get a hearing or a monograph devoted to it. It's like arguing "let's trash the planet" at an environmental conference. Surely there has to be a rational argument for littering. The reality is - it's a non-starter.
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by DCHindley » Tue Jan 09, 2018 7:16 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:20 pm
But I wonder whether anything might be said for an author like Paul interpolating his own letters sometimes, so to speak. Are there any known examples of this from antiquity? Are there any arguments to be mounted in its favor?
You are probably aware that David Trobisch had proposed that Paul had self published a short selection of his own letters (I think it was Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians & Galatians), in his book on the Pauline epistles. However, I think that he limits the edits to "cleaning up" unnecessary details (excise details unrelated to the points he was concerned with repeating) and perhaps consolidation (refer to all the various proposals for multiple books being consolidated into one, especially 2 Corinthians and Romans). He does provide examples of ancient writers who did this kind of thing, or at least called attention to narrative characteristics of these "literary" letters that suggested they were excising or re-arranging things. I do not remember anything about adding details to smooth out rough edges.

There is an extensive literature on the Platonic letters (quite a few more than just the Dialogues), as it is not always clear whether we are dealing with an original letter or a clever letter in his style. Analysis of style is still so crude, despite advances in computer analysis, to say for absolutely sure whether this or that letter is an imitation. Some writers of clever imitations are better than others. Also, original writers also have good days and bad days, and the quality of the prose may vary from letter to letter based on subject matter and reason for writing.

Dionysius of Corinth is interesting, suggesting that letters of even secondary writers were routinely changed to advance alternate agendas. However, interpolation by others is a bit different than redacting one's own works. Eusebius mentions nothing about Dionysius publishing "corrected" versions of his letters. All he needed to do was supply a fair copy of the original.

I also know that Tertullian and some classical or philosophical writers complained that there were folks who had published altered versions of their letters or treatises, or sometimes "student notes" were published by individuals who were not "up to snuff," not really understanding what he had heard in a lecture. Sometimes this prompted the person who gave the lecture to formally publish his theories, IIRC.

I used to think that there were examples in Harry Gamble's book on Books and Readers but I think I may be wrong as I could not find the comments I thought I remembered (I think ... :scratch: ).

DCH

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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 09, 2018 7:28 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 7:16 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:20 pm
But I wonder whether anything might be said for an author like Paul interpolating his own letters sometimes, so to speak. Are there any known examples of this from antiquity? Are there any arguments to be mounted in its favor?
You are probably aware that David Trobisch had proposed that Paul had self published a short selection of his own letters (I think it was Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians & Galatians), in his book on the Pauline epistles.
Yes. But I do not have regular access to his book(s). I have to order them through interlibrary loan.
He does provide examples of ancient writers who did this kind of thing, or at least called attention to narrative characteristics of these "literary" letters that suggested they were excising or re-arranging things.
In which book(s)? Do you remember? Is it Paul's Letter Collection?
I also know that Tertullian and some classical or philosophical writers complained that there were folks who had published altered versions of their letters or treatises, or sometimes "student notes" were published by individuals who were not "up to snuff," not really understanding what he had heard in a lecture. Sometimes this prompted the person who gave the lecture to formally publish his theories, IIRC.
Maybe I am just being too strict as to genre. I know that Galen, for example, claimed to have passed copies of various books, without inscription, to various people who asked for his material, only to have lost control of them to the point where they were being copied in other people's names. Once people realized that it was actually Galen's book they had purchased a copy of, however, they would notice differences between their copy and other people's copies, and they would go back to Galen himself, hoping he would correct any deficiencies. So here we have an author circulating multiple versions of his own books, with many differences between the various copies.

What makes me hesitate to apply this model to Paul is that Galen's situation is very much one of teaching students live in lectures. People went up to him and requested that he give them a copy of his notes, essentially, in the form of a booklet or some such, and he obliged them. I am not certain that this didactic situation can be coldly applied to the Pauline issue at hand, so I would prefer to find examples specifically involving letters, if possible.
I used to think that there were examples in Harry Gamble's book on Books and Readers but I think I may be wrong as I could not find the comments I thought I remembered (I think ... :scratch: ).
I do have access to that one, and I have read some/most of it before. Perhaps I will find time to browse through it again here soon. Thanks!
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Bernard Muller » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:12 pm

Galatians has so much of the same themes, same outlook than 'Romans' that I am certain it was written soon before 'Romans' (his last major epistle), that is after the Corinthians letters.
See http://historical-jesus.info/hjes3xx.html#galdate

As for 2 Corinthians 9.1-4, I don't think there is a problem here:
The collection among Galatians had already been done and probably already sent to Jerusalem.

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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:24 pm

Bernard Muller wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:12 pm
Galatians has so much of the same themes, same outlook than 'Romans' that I am certain it was written soon before 'Romans' (his last major epistle), that is after the Corinthians letters.
I do not buy this methodology (same themes = same time frame).
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Bernard Muller » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:36 pm

to Ben,
I do not buy this methodology (same themes = same time frame).
Did you bother to read the part of the web page I posted?
There are a lot of analogies between 'Galatians' and 'Romans' which do not exist in the other epistles. The two letters are also dealing with issues which are very similar but not present in the other letters.

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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:40 pm

Bernard Muller wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:36 pm
to Ben,
I do not buy this methodology (same themes = same time frame).
Did you bother to read the part of the web page I posted?
Yes.
There are a lot of analogies between 'Galatians' and 'Romans' which do not exist in the other epistles. The two letters are also dealing with issues which are very similar but not present in the other letters.
They sure are.
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:54 pm

Bernard, you date Galatians to late 56, right?
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Re: Did Paul sometimes interpolate his own epistles?

Post by Bernard Muller » Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:22 pm

Yes, late 56. But could be early 57.

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