Nomina sacra

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Two nomina sacra are highlighted, ΙΥ and ΘΥ, representing Jesus and God respectively, in this passage from John 1 in Codex Vaticanus (B), 4th century
The use of nomina sacra has continued in iconography. In this mosaic in Hagia Sophia, ΙΣ ΧΣ indicates Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ.

Nomina sacra (singular: nomen sacrum) means "sacred names" in Latin and refers to the Christian scribal practice of abbreviating several frequently occurring divine names or titles, especially in Greek manuscripts of Holy Scripture. A nomen sacrum consists of two or more letters from the original word spanned by an overline.

Metzger lists 15 such expressions from Greek papyri: the Greek counterparts of God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, Son, Spirit, David, Cross, Mother, Father, Israel, Savior, Man, Jerusalem, and Heaven.[1] These nomina sacra are all found in Greek manuscripts of the 3rd century and earlier, except Mother, which appears in the 4th.[2]

Nomina sacra also occur in some form in Latin, Coptic, Armenian (indicated by the pativ), Gothic, Old Nubian, and Cyrillic (indicated by the titlo).

Origin and development[edit]

Nomina sacra are consistently observed in even the earliest extant Christian writings, along with the codex form rather than the roll, implying that when these were written, in approximately the second century, the practice had already been established for some time. However, it is not known precisely when and how the nomina sacra first arose.

The initial system of nomina sacra apparently consisted of just four or five words, called nomina divina: the Greek words for Jesus, Christ, Lord, God, and possibly Spirit. The practice quickly expanded to a number of other words regarded as sacred.[3]

In the system of nomina sacra that came to prevail, abbreviation is by contraction, meaning that the first and last letter (at least) of each word are used. In a few early cases, an alternate practice is seen of abbreviation by suspension, meaning that the initial two letters (at least) of the word are used; e.g., the opening verses of Revelation in 18 write Ἰησοῦς Χριστός (Jesus Christ) as ΙΗ ΧΡ. Contraction, however, offered the practical advantage of indicating the case of the abbreviated noun.

It is evident that the use of nomina sacra was an act of reverence rather than a purely practical space-saving device, as they were employed even where well-established abbreviations of far more frequent words such as and were avoided, and the nomen sacrum itself was written with generous spacing. Furthermore, early scribes often distinguished between mundane and sacred occurrences of the same word, e.g. a spirit vs. the Spirit, and applied nomina sacra only to the latter (at times necessarily revealing an exegetical choice), although later scribes would mechanically abbreviate all occurrences.

Scholars have advanced a number of theories on the origin of the nomina sacra. An obvious parallel that likely offered some inspiration is the Jewish practice of writing the divine name as the Hebrew tetragrammaton even in Greek Scriptures. Greek culture also employed a number of ways of abbreviating even proper names, though none in quite the same form as the nomina sacra. Inspiration for the contracted forms (using the first and last letter) has also been seen in Revelation, where Jesus speaks of himself as "the beginning and the end" and "the first and the last" as well "the Alpha and the Omega".[4] Greek numerals have been suggested as the origin of the overline spanning the whole nomen sacrum, with the suspended form ΙΗ being simply the ordinary way of writing eighteen, for example.[5]

List of Greek nomina sacra[edit]

English Meaning Greek Word Nominative (Subject) Genitive (Possessive)
God Θεός ΘΣ ΘΥ
Lord Κύριος ΚΣ ΚΥ
Jesus Ἰησοῦς ΙΣ ΙΥ
Christ/Messiah Χριστός ΧΣ ΧΥ
Son Υἱός ΥΣ ΥΥ
Spirit/Ghost Πνεῦμα ΠΝΑ ΠΝΣ
David Δαυὶδ ΔΑΔ
Cross/Stake Σταυρός ΣΤΣ ΣΤΥ
Mother Μήτηρ ΜΗΡ ΜΗΣ
God Bearer i.e. Mother of God Θεοτόκος ΘΚΣ ΘΚΥ
Father Πατήρ ΠΗΡ ΠΡΣ
Israel Ἰσραήλ ΙΗΛ
Savior Σωτήρ ΣΗΡ ΣΡΣ
Human being/Man Ἄνθρωπος ΑΝΟΣ ΑΝΟΥ
Jerusalem Ἱερουσαλήμ ΙΛΗΜ
Heaven/Heavens Οὐρανός ΟΥΝΟΣ ΟΥΝΟΥ

New Testament Greek manuscripts containing nomina sacra (before 300 CE)[6][edit]

Greek manuscript Manuscript date Nomina sacra used
1 (P. Oxy. 2)
~250
ΙΥ ΙΣ ΧΥ ΥΥ ΚΥ ΠΝΣ
4 (Suppl. Gr. 1120)
150–225
ΘΣ ΘΥ ΚΥ ΚΣ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΟΣ ΠΝΑ ΧΣ ΙΥ ΙΣ
5 (P. Oxy. 208 + 1781)
~250
ΙΗΝ ΙΗΣ ΠΡ ΠΡΑ ΠΡΣ ΘΥ
9 (P. Oxy. 402)
~250
ΘΣ ΧΡΣ
12 (P. Amherst. 3b)
~285
ΘΣ
13 (P. Oxy. 657 + PSI 1292)
225–250
ΘΣ ΘΝ ΘΥ ΘΩ ΙΣ ΙΝ ΙΥ ΚΣ ΚΥ
15 (P. Oxy. 1008)
200–300
ΚΩ ΚΥ ΧΥ ΑΝΩΝ ΑΝΩ ΠΝΑ ΘΝ ΚΜΟΥ
16 (P. Oxy. 1009)
250–300
ΘΥ ΙΥ ΧΩ
17 (P. Oxy. 1078)
~300
ΘΩ ΠΝΣ
18 (P. Oxy. 1079)
250–300
ΙΗ ΧΡ ΘΩ
20 (P. Oxy. 1171)
200–250
ΠΝΣ ΚΝ ΘΥ
22 (P. Oxy. 1228)
200–250
ΠΣ ΠΝΑ ΠΡΣ ΠΡΑ ΙΗΣ ΑΝΟΣ
24 (P. Oxy. 1230)
~300
ΠΝΑ ΘΥ
27 (P. Oxy. 1395)
200–250
ΘΥ ΚΩ
28 (P. Oxy. 1596)
255–300
ΙΣ ΙΝ
29 (P. Oxy. 1597)
200–250
ΘΣ ΘΝ
30 (P. Oxy. 1598)
200–250
ΚΥ ΚΝ ΘΩ ΙΗΥ
32 (P. Rylands 5)
150–200
ΘΥ
35 (PSI 1)
~300
ΚΣ ΚΥ
37 (P. Mich. Inv. 1570)
~260
ΚΕ ΙΗΣ ΠΝΑ ΙΗΣΥ
38 (P. Mich. Inv. 1571)
~225
ΧΡΝ ΠΝΑ ΚΥ ΙΗΝ ΙΗΥ ΠΝΤΑ
39 (P. Oxy. 1780)
200–300
ΠΗΡ ΠΡΑ ΙΗΣ
40 (P. Heidelberg G. 645)
200–300
ΘΣ ΘΥ ΘΝ ΙΥ ΧΩ ΧΥ
45 (P. Chester Beatty I)
~250
ΚΕ ΚΣ ΚΝ ΚΥ ΣΡΝΑΙ ΙΗ ΙΥ ΙΗΣ ΠΡ ΠΡΣ ΠΡΑ ΠΡΙ ΘΥ
ΘΝ ΘΩ ΘΣ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΣ ΠΝΑ ΥΝ ΥΕ ΥΣ ΥΩ ΣΡΝ ΧΡ
46 (P. Chester Beatty II
+ P. Mich. Inv. 6238)
175–225
ΚΕ ΚΝ ΚΥ ΚΩ ΚΣ ΧΡΩ ΧΡΥ ΧΡΝ ΧΝ ΧΣ ΧΩ ΧΥ ΧΡΣ ΙΗΥ ΙΗΝ ΙΗΣ ΘΩ ΘΥ ΘΝ ΘΣ

ΠΝΑ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΣ ΥΙΥ ΥΙΝ ΥΙΣ ΥΝ ΣΤΡΕΣ ΣΤΡΝ ΣΤΡΩ ΣΤΡΟΣ ΣΤΡΟΥ ΕΣΤΡΟΝ ΕΣΤΡΑΙ

ΕΣΤΑΝ ΣΤΟΥ ΑΙΜΑ ΑΝΟΥ ΑΝΟΝ ΑΝΟΣ ΑΝΩΝ ΑΝΟΙΣ ΠΡΙ ΠΗΡ ΠΡΑ ΠΡΣ ΙΥ

47 (P. Chester Beatty III)
200–300
ΘΥ ΘΣ ΘΝ ΘΩ ΑΘΝ ΚΣ ΚΕ ΚΥ ΕΣΤΡΩ ΠΝΑ ΧΥ ΠΡΣ
48 (PSI 1165)
200–300
ΥΣ
49 (P. Yale 415 + 531)
200–300
ΚΩ ΘΥ ΘΣ ΙΥ ΠΝ ΧΣ ΧΥ ΧΩ
50 (P. Yal 1543)
~300
ΙΛΗΜ ΠΝΑ ΑΝΟΣ ΘΣ ΘΥ
53 (P. Mich. inv. 6652)
~250
ΠΡΣ ΙΗΣ ΠΕΡ ΚΝ
64 (Gr. 17)
~150
ΙΣ
65 (PSI XIV 1373)
~250
ΧΥ ΘΣ
66 (P. Bodmer II +
Inv. Nr. 4274/4298
150–200
ΚΣ ΚΥ ΚΕ ΘΣ ΘΝ ΘΥ ΘΩ ΙΣ ΙΝ ΙΥ ΧΣ ΧΝ ΧY ΥΣ ΥΝ ΥΩ ΠΝΑ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΣ

ΠΗΡ ΠΡΑ ΠΡΣ ΠΡΙ ΠΕΡ ΠΡΕΣ ΑΝΟΣ ΑΝΟΝ ΑΝΟΥ ΑΝΩΝ ΑΝΩ ΑΝΟΙΣ ΑΝΟΥΣ

ΣΡΩ ΣΡΟΝ ΣΡΟΥ ΣΡΘΗ ΣΡΑΤΕ ΣΡΩΣΩ ΕΣΡΑΝ ΕΣΡΘΗ

69 (P. Oxy. 2383)
~200
ΙΗΝ
70 (P. Oxy. 2384 +
PSI Inv. CNR 419, 420)
250–300
ΥΝ ΙΣ ΠΗΡ
72 (P. Bodmer VII and VIII)
200–300
ΙΥ ΙΗΥ ΙΗΝ ΧΡΥ ΧΡΝ ΧΡΣ ΧΡΩ ΘΥ ΘΣ ΘΝ ΘΩ ΠΡΣ ΠΑΡ ΠΤΡΑ ΠΡΙ ΠΝΣ

ΠΝΑ ΠΝΑΙ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΤΙ ΚΥ ΚΣ ΚΝ ΚΩ ΑΝΟΙ

75 (P. Bodmer XIV and XV)
175–225
ΙΣ ΙΗΣ ΙΥ ΙΗΥ ΙΝ ΙΗΝ ΘΣ ΘΝ ΘΥ ΘΩ ΚΣ ΚΝ ΚΥ ΚΩ ΚΕ ΧΣ ΧΝ ΧΥ

ΠΝΑ ΠΝΣ ΠΝΙ ΠΝΟΣ ΠΝΤΑ ΠΝΑΣΙ ΠΝΑΤΩΝ ΠΡΣ ΠΗΡ ΠΡΑ ΠΡΙ ΠΡΟΣ ΠΡ

ΥΣ ΥΝ ΥΥ ΙΗΛ ΙΛΗΜ ΣΡΟΝ ΣΤΡΟΝ ΣΡΩΘΗΝΑΙ

ΑΝΟΣ ΑΝΟΝ ΑΝΟΥ ΑΝΟΙ ΑΝΩΝ ΑΝΩ ΑΝΟΥΣ ΑΝΟΙΣ ΑΝΕ

78 (P. Oxy 2684)
250–300
ΚΝ ΙΗΝ ΙΗΝ ΧΡΝ
90 (P. Oxy 3523)
150–200
ΙΗΣ
91 (P. Mil. Vogl. Inv. 1224 + P. Macquarie Inv. 360)
~250
ΘΥ ΘΣ ΠΡΣ ΧΡΝ ΙΗΝ
92 (P. Narmuthis 69.39a + 69.229a)
~300
ΧΡΩ ΚΥ ΘΥ
100 (P. Oxy 4449)
~300
ΚΥ ΚΣ
101 (P. Oxy 4401)
200–300
ΥΣ ΠΝΑ ΠΝΙ
106 (P. Oxy 4445)
200–250
ΠΝΑ ΠΝΙ ΧΡΣ ΙΗΝ ΙΗΣ
108 (P. Oxy 4447)
175–225
ΙΗΣ ΙΗΝ
110 (P. Oxy. 4494)
~300
ΚΣ
111 (P. Oxy 4495)
200–250
ΙΗΥ
113 (P. Oxy. 4497)
200–250
ΠΝΙ
114 (P. Oxy. 4498)
200–250
ΘΣ
115 (P. Oxy. 4499)
225–275
ΙΗΛ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΠΡΣ ΘΩ ΘΥ ΑΝΩΝ ΠΝΑ ΟΥΝΟΥ ΟΥΝΟΝ ΚΥ ΘΝ ΑΝΟΥ ΟΥΝΩ
121 (P. Oxy. 4805)
~250
ΙΣ ΜΗΙ
0162 (P. Oxy 847)
~300
ΙΗΣ ΙΣ ΠΡΣ
0171 (PSI 2.124)
~300
ΚΣ ΙΗΣ
0189 (P. Berlin 11765)
~200
ΑΝΟΣ ΠΝΑ ΚΥ ΚΩ ΙΛΗΜ ΘΩ ΙΣΗΛ
0220 (MS 113)
~300
ΚΝ ΙΥ ΙΝ ΧΥ ΘΥ

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruce Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, pp.36-37
  2. ^ Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts - Philip Comfort and David Barrett (1999) pp.34-35
  3. ^ S. D. Charlesworth, "Consensus standardization in the systematic approach to nomina sacra in second- and third-century gospel manuscripts", Aegyptus 86 (2006), pp. 37-68.
  4. ^ Colin H. Roberts, Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt (1979), p. 37.
  5. ^ Larry Hurtado, "The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal", JBL 117 (1998), pp. 655-673.
  6. ^ All nomina sacra and dates of manuscripts taken from Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts - Philip Comfort and David Barrett (1999)

Further reading[edit]

  • Don C. Barker, "P.Lond.Lit. 207 and the origin of the nomina sacra: a tentative proposal", Studia Humaniora Tartuensia 8.A.2, 2007, 1–14.
  • Philip Comfort and David Barrett. Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (1999).
  • Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005, pp. 199–253.
  • Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins, Cambridge 2006, pp. 95–134.
  • Bruce M. Metzger. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible (1981).
  • A.H.R.E. Paap, Nomina Sacra in the Greek Papyri of the First Five Centuries, Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava VIII (Leiden 1959).
  • Ludwig Traube. Nomina Sacra. Versuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung, Munich 1907.