NON-CANONICAL EPISTLES AND RELATED WRITINGS
Introduction There are more epistles in the New Testament than any other genre: four Gospels, one book of Acts, and one apocalypse, but twenty-one epistles. It is somewhat ironic that relatively few apocryphal epistles exist. There are some, of course, and these still make for fascinating reading. They include a set of correspondence allegedly between the apostle Paul and the greatest philosopher of his day Seneca (the historical Seneca, of course, knew nothing of Paul) and an anti-heretical piece called “3 Corinthians” (to match the 1 and 2 Corinthians of the New Testament). Other epistles that were not forged in the name of an apostle are included in this collection because they were revered by one group or another as bearing sacred authority. This is true even of “orthodox” produc tions such as the Epistle of Barnabas, which is an anonymous piece later attributed to Paul’s traveling companion Barnabas, and the letter of 1 Clement, later assigned to a person thought to be a bishop of Rome. Both Barnabas and 1 Clement were considered by some orthodox Christians of later times to be canonical authorities and so were included in some man uscripts of the New Testament. Yet other non-canonical letters embody “heretical” concerns, including several that are clearly gnostic creations— which try, in fact, to convince proto-orthodox readers that a gnostic point of view is correct (e.g., Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora and the Letter to Rheginus). Some of the books included here are not typical letters, but are addresses to communities providing instruction on how to conduct their communal lives (e.g., the “Didache [i.e., the “Teaching”] of the Apostles”). As is true of other writings found throughout this collection, some of these books have long been known by scholars (e.g., the Letter to the Laodiceans), whereas others—both orthodox and heretical—have been dis covered just in modern times, often to much fanfare (e.g., the Didache and the Letter to Rheginus). Taken as a group, they show just how wide ranging the early Christian movement was in terms of belief, communal life, litur gical practice, and ethics.