Saturday, November 07, 2009

Taking Dictation

Today's first reading includes one of the few "third party" remarks in all of Sacred Scripture. I mean a place where someone other than the "official" inspired human author shows up in his own right. There are some places in the Old Testament where this happens--Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch, is one of those--of course, he is also presumed to be the author of the prophetic book that bears his name, so maybe Baruch doesn't count. Then there is the grandson of Jesus ben Sirach, who translated and wrote an introduction to his grandfather's work, the book of Sirach (also called "Ecclesiasticus"). The introduction, even though it is in our Bible, is not recognized as inspired Scripture! And then there's Paul's scribe, Tertius, who took Paul's dictation for the letter to the Romans. (What a job!) Paul is almost always depicted holding his own pen, but today's reading sets us straight.
Reading the conclusion of Romans with its evidence of Paul's dictation reminded me of how my Dad (whose 3rd anniversary is tomorrow) would use a dictaphone or tape recorder to dictate letters and documents for his legal practice. At a certain point, he would cease narrating clauses, turn the radio on, and say, "And now, for a musical interlude..." (I don't know what his secretary did with that "interlude"; maybe it gave her a chance to keep up with my Dad's prodigious output!
Tertius' little greeting is a font of information for scholars. First of all, it proves that Paul didn't do his own handwriting (which we gather from Galatians). From Tertius we see that prominent locals hosted the whole Church, and that some of these people, like "Erastus, the city treasurer," were very prominent indeed. Actually, that reference to Erastus is important for more than one reason. Archaeologists have found an inscription in the ruins of Corinth which identify "Erastus, the city treasurer" of Corinth as the financier behind the paving of the public square. Given that the letter to the Romans is presumed to have been written from Corinth, it is tantalizing to think that this stone is a physical link to Paul.
Tertius' name even tells us something about himself! It was Roman custom for a first-born son to receive his father's name in the three-fold Romans form: praenomen (first name), nomen (clan) and cognomen (specific family within the clan). For instance, Gaius Julius Caesar. Any further sons, however, did not receive a special praenomen. They were just named in numerical order: Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus. So we know from his name that the helpful and literate Tertius of Corinth was the third son of a Roman family. Was the "Quartus" whose greetings he so graciously delivers his own younger brother, or some other fourth-born son?

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