March 01, 2014

Horse 1629 - Tychicus The Postal Worker?

He (Paul) was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.
- Acts 20:4

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.
- Ephesians 6:21

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
- Colossians 4:7

As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there.
- Titus 3:12

I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
- 2 Timothy 4:12

I hope you noticed all of that. Tychicus is mentioned five times in the New Testament and on every occasion, he is either accompanying someone or being sent somewhere.
I'm now going to make a suggestion which I've never read in any commentary about who Tychicus is. There is a great chance that I'm probably very likely wrong but here goes anyway...

Tychicus is a postal worker?

The Roman Empire which at its largest point stretched from Mauritania in the west and as far east as Kuwait. It was a vast place, with roads all over the place and to keep some sort of relative order, it required messengers to deliver orders and reports.
However, the Roman Empire which was run largely by provincial governments who then paid tribute and taxation back to Rome in return for military support and command, didn't formally have a unified postal system.
The so called "Cursus Publicus" or "public way" was not a state run organisation. It did however require the guarantee by various provincial officers that stations and horses would be kept so that messages could be transported to the next stage of the delivery run. The full extent of the Roman Postal Service was massive as the map which I've linked to at the end shows*.
Letters and reports themselves still required an official courier to make sure that they reached their final destination; it is this kind of person who I suspect that Tychicus is.

It's not really mentioned but I suspect that one of the reasons for the success of the Christian message is because it was planned to occur at a very particular place in time and history. Quite apart from the fact that crucifixion happens in only a very small window in the history of the Roman Empire, it is the success of the postal system in the first century AD which I think is rather an unsung hero.
Twenty centuries later, we can send a message to pretty much anyone in the world in less than a second. Email, forums, Twitter and Facebook means that messages can circle the globe virtually instantly but in the first century AD, that was impossible.

Someone had to physically take a letter from one place to another and if the letter needed to be circulated or sent to multiple places, then the courier would need to visit each of them in turn. You can imagine that by the end of a letter's tour, the letter carrier would have been well rehearsed in the contents of that letter. As far as their ability to then convey that message, then a postal worker would be well poised to spread the contents of that letter by physically being on the ground.
Also, if multiple copies of a letter needed to be made, then they would have to be painstakingly copied, letter by letter, iota by iota, keraia by keraia, tittle by tittle and very carefully. The person charged with such a task would equally be well poised to then spread the contents of that letter because they would have taken it in as they were copying it.

Presumably Tychicus would have been literate in order to carry the message, for the person who sent the letter probably couldn't guarantee that the person who would receive the message was literate. Remember "Tychicus will tell you all the news about me" and "Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything." I wonder exactly how Tychicus could tell people the messages that Paul was sending unless he had them written down.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
- Colossians 4:16

Who better else to read the letter than the one who would have been sent with it? Mind you, this particular instruction does beg the question of what actually happened to Paul's Letter to the Laodiceans but that's an entirely different question.

Many people have heard of the metaphorical piece of advice not to "shoot the messenger" if they happen to be the bearer of bad news. I suppose that by extension that people also don't praise the messenger if they happen to bear good news. I though think that in this case, we should perhaps think about giving a bit of credit to Tychicus. He lived at a time which increasingly grew nasty; which Christians would find themselves slaughtered in various arenas in the name of entertainment. Tychicus if he was a postal worker, carried a message which might very well have seen him killed.
Presumably Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Laodiceans were all written under house arrest in or about AD60. If Tychicus was killed in possession of the Letter to the Laodiceans, then that might explain why that letter is lost.
Of course I am speculating and that tends to be incredibly messy but if Tychicus is a postal worker, then that explains an awful lot. Maybe we should praise the messenger - the bible does.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
- Isaiah 52:7

* (warning: this map is 8MB)

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