Tuesday, September 18, 2012

a Greco-Roman Letter of Recommendation and Paul's Letter to Philemon

Letter of recommendation written in Latin
 P.Ryl. 608 John Rylands Library

When one goes for a job it is common to be asked to provide a few letters of reference or recommendation. We do this to have someone vouch for our character and skills as a potential employee. In the Greco-Roman period similar letters were used, but not just for employment purposes. Often times they were also letters of introduction.

The letter of recommendation provided an opportunity for one person, to make an introduction to another, on behalf of a third party.  The purpose of the letter was to provide the one being recommended with credentials or to request a favor of the recipient.  Often the person being recommended was the carrier of the letter so that the writer created a fictional face to face introduction between himself and the recipient.

Paul constructed a letter to Philemon that is similar in structure, phraseology, and purpose to that of the Greek letter of recommendation.  Because Paul's intention was not to introduce Onesimus to Philemon, but restore a damaged relationship between them, the letter is best classified as a letter of mediation.  Paul's approach to the letter was done in an eclectic manner drawing from recognized techniques that were combined with the common features of Christian epistles.

Over at the John Rylands Library blog a letter of a papyrus fragment of a letter of recommendation has been posted. I thought I would bring it readers’ attention since, like Paul’s letter to Philemon, it is written on behalf of a slave. It is interesting that the slave, like Onesimus, is said to be dear to the letter writer. It is also interesting that anything that the recipient does for the slave will make the writer happy. 

Here is a translation of the letter.

…ius Celer to his Hermeros, greetings.
Allow me, sir, to commend to your notice …on, a slave of our lord the emperor, a member of my household and dear to me. He is most deserving of advancement and of your favour, and I do not disguise that any service you can render him in his career will be most welcome to me.

(Address on the verso)
To Tiberius Claudius Hermeros imperial procuratorGiven in Panopolis by Celer the architect

You can see read the full post here


  1. I wish I could travel back to the first century and take a tour of the "eclectic manor" in which Paul wrote his letters.


    1. Thanks Beau. I had missed that one. :)

    2. My favorite typos are those that have a serendipitous meaning of their own.

  2. How can I get someone to write a letter of recommendation like that? Hmmm?

  3. The need and demand to write effective letters has existed for long as a means of communication between two individuals. It holds a key importance in all aspects of life including social, personal, and professional. letter of recommendation for medical school