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  • Writer's pictureLarry Neville

The High Cost of Letter Writing in Ancient Times

I recently listened to an archaeologist discuss the significant expense of writing letters during the early church era. Despite these costs, many personal letters from that period have been discovered, including those from figures like Seneca and Cicero. These letters, along with the epistles in the Bible, offer a unique glimpse into the past.


Remarkably, the letters found in the Bible are substantially longer than other personal letters of the time. This is noteworthy because writing a personal letter was incredibly costly. The materials, such as paper, and hiring a professional scribe, who could write perfectly and concisely to maximize space, added to the expense.


The process of writing a letter involved multiple steps. Imagine going to a modern-day Starbucks to meet with a scribe. You would discuss the content of your letter, perhaps providing some initial notes. The scribe would then draft the letter on worn-out materials. After reviewing the draft, you would meet again to refine the letter. This iterative process ensured the final letter was perfect.


For instance, the Book of Romans might have cost the equivalent of $15,000 to $20,000 today to produce and send to the church in Rome. Even shorter letters, like the Epistle of Jude, would have required a significant investment, perhaps around $1,000 to $2,000.


This high cost underscores the importance of the messages conveyed. Every word was carefully chosen to ensure no space was wasted. Additionally, the expense of sending the letter and ensuring its safe delivery further highlights the value placed on these communications.


Today, it is astounding to think that we have access to these ancient words of God, preserved through such costly and meticulous efforts.


Let’s cherish every word in the Bible.


Paul Neville


From a sermon titled, “Loyalty” delivered at LeaderCon 2024

References

- "Seneca and Cicero Letters" – Ancient History Encyclopedia

- "The Cost of Writing in the Ancient World" – Archaeology Magazine

- "Epistles in the Bible: Historical Context" – Biblical Archaeology Society


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