The Introduction surveys scholarly work on letter-writing in the ancient world. While generally of a high standard and often interdisciplinary in nature, bridging such fields as Near Eastern and Jewish Studies, Biblical Studies, Patristics, and Classics, research on ancient epistolography often marginalizes the role of letters in constituting and sustaining communities of various stripes (political, social, ethnic, religious, philosophical). The introduction explores various reasons for this oversight (the overriding importance given to face-to-face communication in public settings, the apparently ‘private’ nature of corresponding via letters, its low rank in the hierarchy of genres, and the marginal status this aspect of letter-writing has in ancient epistolary theory) before outlining why letters played such a vital role in ancient community-building, with an emphasis on long-distance communication, permanence, and the genre’s ideological flexibility and strong pro-social outlook. The second half offers a narrative of the volume, with summaries of its thirteen case studies.
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