Philosophers, puppies, parchments and Pastoral epistles

flickr: volantra


Paul’s Pastoral letters can sound strange to our modern ears, especially since they mix high-minded theology together with mundane, personal instructions. In 2 Timothy, for example, we read the following theological exhortation:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

But in the the same letter we also have statements dealing with very mundane details:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13)

But, strange as it may sound to us, such a mixture wasn’t all that rare in the ancient world. As a point of comparison, I recently came across the following personal letter, “To Sarapion the philosopher from his friend Aquila”, dating from the 3rd or early 4th century. It carries the same kind of mixture of high-minded philosophy, vocational encouragement, and a mundane instruction (about a puppy!):

Aquila to Sarapion, greetings. I was overjoyed to receive your letter. Our friend Callinicus was testifying to the utmost about the way of life you follow even under such conditions–especially in your not abandoning your austerities. Yes, we may deservedly congratulate ourselves, not because we do these things, but because we are not diverted from them by ourselves. Courage! Carry through what remains like a man! Let not wealth distract you, nor beauty, nor anything else of the same kind, for there is no good in them, if virtue does not join her presence, no, they are vanishing and worthless. Under divine protection, I expect you in Antinopolis. Send Soteris the puppy, since she now spends her time by herself in the country. Good health to you and yours! Good health!

Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 3061. Translation from Parsons, ed. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 42; Graeco-Roman Memoirs, no. 58; Published for The British Academy by the Egypt Exploration Society, London, 1974, p. 163.