Sunday, 10 February 2019
Luise Marion Frenkel: Alexandria in control? The written reception and oral transmission of Festal Letters in the light of fifth-century papyri
Contemporary remarks about the circulation of Festal Letters in the fourth and fifth centuries are usually taken at face value and it is assumed that copies of the letters reached each year all dioceses and communities in Egypt. This is not corroborated by the papyri. They cast doubt on the use of writing, its efficacy and the relevance and impact of the pronouncements of the bishop of Alexandria. The papyri and ostraca show a multifaceted textual culture in which more often than not letters were edited and interpolated. At the same time, papyri like P. Vindob. K 10157, show the prestige of the format of the festal letter as a vehicle for theological teaching, in that case of Origenistic and Evagrian vein, which Cyril would probably have criticised rather than espoused. Thus, rather than descriptions, the claims about the circulation of the letters should be read as injunctions or pleas for allied clerics and religious people to spread the content of that year as efficaciously as possible in their zone of influence, and thus, probably, orally and in translation into local languages and theological parlance.