Subject: Origin of the Horizontal Line in Nomina Sacra
Ben C. Smith wrote: ↑
Fri Dec 11, 2020 7:13 am
I was going through a Greek website trying to learn about THE SECULAR use of the horizontal line to denote abbreviations and came across this:
However, a very probable source seems to be the Greek numbering system where the letters of the alphabet are used to denote numbers, as well as the use of lines above the letters for some values such as e.g. 1H
Some scholar — I forget who — proposed the supralinear marks over Greek numbers as the
origin of the Christian nomina sacra
But Greek inscriptions are full of abbreviations, both of names and of other words, many of which use supralinear strokes. And, of course, Latin inscriptions are famous for their many abbreviated forms. Abbreviation by suspension
was particularly common in Greek (which would explain the ΙΗ variant for Ἰησοῦς, for example). My impression is that the secular Greek papyri bear fewer abbreviations of names and more abbreviations of common words. So it seems in some ways that Christian manuscripts resemble Greek inscriptions more closely than Greek manuscripts. Also remember that the Christian use of the codex for literary purposes was way out of proportion with how the Greeks used their rolls and codices. So it seems like Christian scribal culture was kind of its own little thing.
Obviously what applied to inscriptions applied also to coinage in many cases; perhaps coinage is the link between the inscriptional abbreviations and the Christian manuscript abbreviations.
Ben C. Smith wrote: ↑
Fri Dec 11, 2020 7:23 am
The advantage of linking the Christian nomina sacra
either to inscriptions or to coins is that usually it would be an important figure's name and titles being abbreviated, especially on coins: emperors, kings, princes, and so on. The earliest Christian usage (God, Lord, Jesus, Christ) could be saying, "Okay, well, our Lord Jesus Christ and God his father are our
Ben C. Smith wrote: ↑
Fri Dec 11, 2020 7:35 am
Christians would obviously not be allowed to express such beliefs by literally putting out their own coinage, but they could do so in their manuscripts.
I have already hinted at my current view of the nomina sacra
in the thread clipped above.
It is well nigh universally agreed that the core nomina sacra
, as well as the earliest, are θεός (God), κύριος (Lord), Ἰησοῦς (Jesus), and Χριστός (Christ). These four are the ones which we must explain, as the rest seem to have developed from their example. I am not concerned here and now to determine which of the four must have been the absolute original (Christ rarely seems to be a guess in this regard, but God, Lord, and Jesus have all taken turns at the role); I am not even certain that there necessarily has to be a single original nomen sacrum
So my observations are as follows.
First, the earliest examples of the nomina sacra
in Greek Christian manuscripts date to early century II at the very earliest. The practice may have developed earlier, but we have no direct evidence of it having done so.
Second, abbreviation as a concept certainly existed in Greek, most notably in inscriptions and, by extension, coinage:
A. N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, pages 12-13: 12-13 The Greeks in the Near East inherited from their ancestors in Greece proper the beginnings of a system of abbreviation effected by suspension combined with overwriting of the last letter of the abbreviated word, or with ligatures.... The subject-matter of the abbreviations was as yet restricted to ethnica and demotica, technical terms, money, weights and measures, dating formulas, military and civil titles. Lack of space caused the early adoption of abbreviations on coins (where the emblems usually helped to explain the meaning) and in columnar writing at the end of the line, where the temptation to cast off the suffixes was especially great. The contracted or syncopated abbreviation also occurs first of all on coins and only occasionally in inscriptions. / This basic stock of Greek abbreviations received its first extension in Ptolemaic Egypt. There the enormous amount of official writing connected with the bureaucratic régime of the Ptolemies naturally led to the creation of the extensive system of abbreviations known to us from the papyri. Such official correspondence was, of course, sometimes copied out on inscriptions and thus passed into epigraphy some of its abbreviations. Another centre for the creation of abbreviation was Rhodes, where the commercial writing and the abbreviated forms of the inscriptions on jar-handles had familiarized the public with abbreviations at an early date. As a whole, however, the sum-total of abbreviations in Near-Eastern inscriptions of the centuries B.C. does not compare either in number or in variety with those of the centuries A.D. One of the causes may have been the desire not to make the inscriptions still more difficult to understand by the populace, where the use of Greek was as yet sporadic.
A. N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, page 21: 21 The full development of the contracted abbreviation is to be found in papyri and manuscripts rather than in inscriptions.
Third, on page 34 of Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books
examples are given of overstrokes
being used in various ways to indicate an abbreviation: most notably for our purposes, these examples include strokes over only one letter, over the final two (earliest example listed is 16 BC), over three or four, and over the entire abbreviated word (earliest examples listed are AD 103 and 132).
Fourth, abbreviation was generally by suspension, but could sometimes be by contraction (Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books
, pages 17 & 28):
ΔΚ = δικαστής. (The Paros Inscription
bears many examples of abbreviation of names by suspension).
Fifth, Greek abbreviation of Latin words began to increase in the middle of century I, with two of the categories being personal names and official titles:
A. N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, pages 13: 13 The habit of abbreviated writing was transferred to the Roman word or words translated from the Latin as soon as they appeared in Greek inscription, partly under the influence of the Latin abbreviations and partly by analogy from the Greek abbreviations. It is noteworthy that the earliest abbreviations of Roman names occur in Egypt, in the Nilometer inscriptions and the Theban graffiti. The inscriptions from Rhodes of the Flavian era continue the Greek system of ligature and over written letters in preference to the Roman system, but add a few Roman names. The Roman system of abbreviation soon extends to Greek words which are translations of Roman names, such as ἔπαρχος or ἀνθυπατος. In Syria and Asia Minor abbreviations begin to increase from the middle of the first century onwards, with a few forerunners. The loaned abbreviations of Latin words include personal names (especially of those emperors who were lavish with citizenship grants, as Τιβέριος Κλαύδιος), titles, legionary names, money and dating formulas. The rise of the Flavian dynasty is promptly reflected in the spread of a new set of abbreviated names, as Τίτος Φλάουιος. On the whole, however, the spread of Roman influence into Greek epigraphy in the first century A.D. is less than one might expect. The proportion of the two elements B.C. is 62 Greek to 4 Roman; it becomes now 83 Greek to 38 Roman.
Sixth, Greek coinage bears similar abbreviations in this respect:
Greek Numismatic Dictionary:
ΑΓΩΝΟΘΕΤΗΣ, ΑΓΩ = Supervisor of the Games.
ΑΡXΙΕΡΕΥΣ, ΑΡX = High Priest.
ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΩΡ, Α, ΑΥ, ΑΥΤ, ΑΥΤΟΚ = Emperor, Autocrat.
∆ΕΣΠΟΤΗΣ, ∆Ε, ∆ΕΣ, ∆ΕΣΠΟ, et cetera
= Despot, Lord, Master.
ΕΘΝΑΡXΟΣ, ΕΘΝ = Ethnarch.
ΕΠΑΡXΟΣ, EP, EPA = Eparch, Prefect.
ΚΑΙΣΑΡ, Κ, ΚΑΙ, ΚΑΙΣ = Caesar.
ΠΑΤΗΡ ΠΑΤΡΙΑΣ, ΠΠ = Pater Patriae (Father of the Country).
ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΣ, Σ, ΣΕΒ, ΣΕΒΑ = Augustus.
ΣΤΡΑΤHΓΟΣ, ΣΤΡ = General, Magistrate.
Notice that these abbreviations are suspensions. Notice also that three of our four nomina sacra
(κύριος, Ἰησοῦς, and Χριστός) find nearly perfect analogies: κύριος is a synonym of δεσπότης, Ἰησοῦς a personal name like Καίσαρ (and therefore transliterated into Greek, not translated), and Χριστός is an honorific like Σεβαστός (and therefore translated into Greek, not transliterated). The only one of the four which lacks an analogy is θεός, since the names of deities did not tend to be abbreviated:
Greek Numismatic Dictionary:
∆ΙΟΣ ΚΑΤΕΒΑΙΤΟΣ = Zeus Descending (Zeus as Lightning God).
ΘΕΟΣ = divus, made a god.
ΘΕΩ = divo, made a god.
XΡΥΣΟΡΟΑΣ = Chrysoroas = Streaming with Gold = Name of a God = Barada River in Syria.
Seventh, while the Greeks did not seem to treat the names of their deities in special ways, many Jews most certainly treated the name of their deity, Yahweh, in special ways:
Robert J. Wilkinson, Tetragrammaton, Western Christians and the Hebrew Name of God, page 76: 76 The scribe of the famous Isaiah A scroll from the 2nd century B.C. wrote the Tetragrammaton in normal script. Nonetheless, the scroll contains clear evidence that yhwh was not articulated, but that ʾadonay was said instead. He evidently wrote from dictation which used only ʾadonay: thus, he wrote ʾadony wrongly for the Tetragrammaton in 3:17 and the Tetragrammaton for ʾadonay in 3:18. In both cases he corrected himself by writing the correct alternative word above. In 6:11, 7:14, 9:7, and 21:16 where the scribe wrote the Tetragrammaton, the Massoretic text has ʾadonay.
Robert J. Wilkinson, Tetragrammaton, Western Christians and the Hebrew Name of God, page 77: 77 The Habakkuk Commentary (1QpHab) of the early 1st century A.D. and the Psalm Commentary (4QpPsa), by contrast, write the Tetragrammaton in full — but in paleo-Hebrew characters. The Psalm Commentary is content to write both ʾl (ʾel) and ʾlhym (ʾelohim) in normal script. The Habakkuk Commentary writes ʾl (ʾel), which it uses frequently in normal script, but has a rather agonized way of writing the Tetragrammaton on the four occasions on which it occurs. The Commentaries on Micah (1QMic) and Zephaniah (1QpZeph) also use paleo-Hebrew script for the Tetragrammaton. 1QMic. frg12 uses paleo-Hebrew to write ʾl (ʾel).
Robert J. Wilkinson, Tetragrammaton, Western Christians and the Hebrew Name of God, pages 77-78: 77-78 The Apocryphal Psalm texts illustrate nicely both the development of this secondary practice of introducing the paleo-Hebrew divine name this time into quasi-biblical texts, and how the word was pronounced. 11QPsa writes the Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew, but a second contemporary copy, 11QPs b, is content to write the name in full in normal script. 11QPsa contains an alphabet acrostic — running from ʾaleph to pe — in Psalm 155. A paleo-Hebrew Tetragrammaton now stands in the initial position: it was presumably read with an initial ʾaleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) as ʾadonai. Column V, line 1 of the scroll quotes Psalm 128:4 using a paleo-Hebrew Tetragrammaton for the first yhwh in the verse and ʾadonai for the second, again suggesting that they were both pronounced as ʾadonai The manuscript substitutes ʾadonai for yhwh of the Massoretic text in Psalm 129:4 and in direct address to God in 130:1. / While the Tetragrammaton appears in this scroll in paleo-Hebrew letters, yh is written in normal letters, even in close proximity to yhwh (Ps. 135:1), and so, presumably, this word might be said — similarly, ʾl (ʾel) and ʾlyn (ʾelyon, another word for God). When yhwh occurs with an attached prefix (e.g. Ps. 136:1), the prefix is written normally, while the Tetragrammaton appears in paleo-Hebrew script. This suggests again the secondary and adventitious nature of the archaizing writing. There is therefore ample evidence here that yhwh was pronounced as ʾadonai (or ʾadoni) long before the Masoretic Bibles.
Robert J. Wilkinson, Tetragrammaton, Western Christians and the Hebrew Name of God, pages 78-79: 78-79 The scribe who sometime between 100 and 80 b.c. wrote the Community Rule (1QS and 1QSa, b), certain additions to the first Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa a), the “Testimonies” (4Q175), and 4QSam c did not write the Tetragrammaton or even the common word for “God,” ʾelohim. Other divine names he writes out in full, in his own hand and in the normal script, without resorting to paleo-Hebrew characters. But in places where yhwh was needed, he usually wrote four dots. The Community Rule itself (VI.27–VII.1) — no doubt a text for public reading — would appear to explain the reason for this reticence: “If a man has uttered the [Most] Venerable Name even though frivolously, or as a result of shock or for any other reason whatever, while reading the Book or blessing, he shall be dismissed and shall return to the Council of the Community no more.” It was presumably to avoid this eventuality that the scribe simply declined to write the Most Venerable Name at all. He also appears not to have written the common word for God, ʾlhm (ʾelohim).
Eighth, such an observation converges with the apparent fact that the Christian nomina sacra
are not abbreviations made for the sake of saving space; the terms are more standardized than that, and they are abbreviated even when the margins of the manuscript are vast and there is space left at the end of a page or column. Thus, the special Jewish treatment of the name of God seems to have been combined with Greek methods of abbreviating personal names, titles, and honorifics, especially on coinage. That θεός was abbreviated, then, as well, looks like a natural development parallel both to the Community Rule and to how some modern Jews will use G-d for God, even though that is not the personal name of the deity. In other words, it is the Jewish praxis which fills in the blanks left unfilled from the Greek praxis, a rather elegant arrangement which explains exactly that original set of four nomina sacra
Ninth, it is specifically during century II that Roman abbreviations really hit their stride in Greek inscriptions:
A. N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, page 14: 14 The great inrush of Roman abbreviations into Greek epigraphy took place in the second century A.D. The proportion is 204 Greek to 212 Roman; the Roman abbreviations never reach such a high proportion again. In the second century the abbreviated titles of the Roman emperor occur first on a bilingual milestone. It is interesting to note that Roman rule lasted two centuries before the official nomenclature penetrated sufficiently deep into the popular consciousness to make such abbreviations possible. By the end of the century the process has been much accelerated; the new titles adopted by the later Antonines and the Severian dynasty appear almost at once in their abbreviated form. In the second century A.D. the use of abbreviations spreads to Syria and Asia Minor, although Egypt and Rhodes continue to lead the way in the invention of new marks, which were then adopted elsewhere. The great building activity leads to an increase of abbreviations of words common on dedicatory inscriptions, but in all other respects there is little change in the subject-matter of inscriptions as regards categories, although the quantity of abbreviations increases enormously. The activity of Trajan and Hadrian multiplies names such as Οὔλπιος Αἴλιος. The use of abbreviation marks also becomes more widespread and much more fanciful, although the common marks still hold their ground. Contractions are incidental and do not exceed 4 per cent. of the total (15 out of 416).
This tendency is our plausible explanation for why the nomina sacra
may have really come into their own in century II and early century III. Coins (Matthew 22.15-22 = Mark 12.13-17 = Luke 20.19-26) and inscriptions were both the vehicles of Roman propaganda, to which the Christian countercultural response
was, "Our true king is the Lord Jesus Christ reigning in the name of God his father" (1 Corinthians 15.23-25). This Roman connection may or may not explain the origins of the system of nomina sacra
itself; whether it does or not, however, I think it can easily explain why the system became a hit.
Tenth, while we have early examples both of suspension and of contraction in the Christian manuscripts, it is not suspension which requires an explanation; as we have seen, suspension was the rule for Greek abbreviations. Contraction, being the exception, is the one requiring an explanation:
A. N. Oikonomides, Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, page 21: 21 Contraction is abbreviation by the omission of one or more letters from the middle of the word (ΧϹ = Χριστός). This method allows the inflexions to be indicated, and is thus a more refined form of abbreviation than suspension, where the plural only is occasionally indicated by a conventional doubling or trebling of the last letter.... It is, however, precisely because of their complicated character that contractions appear later... and less frequently than the simpler suspensions. The full development of the contracted abbreviation is to be found in papyri and manuscripts rather than in inscriptions.
That contraction is better suited for displaying the inflection of the noun is not a necessary
explanation, but it is certainly a sufficient
explanation. In other words, choosing contraction over suspension was a good move, and it being a good move may well have been the reason
for the move in the first place.
Eleventh, the nomina sacra
came to prevail in the Christian manuscript record:
Larry W. Hurtado, “Ƿ52 and the Nomina Sacra: Method and Probability,” in Tyndale Bulletin 54.1 (2003), page 5:
My point here is that it is not particularly remarkable that there are a few examples of Christian manuscripts without the nomina sacra
. The wonder is that there are so few, and that the nomina sacra
are so well attested and so early. So far as I know, among the 300 or so indisputably Christian manuscripts from before 300 CE, those that demonstrably did not have any nomina sacra forms can be counted on the fingers of our two hands. [Link
While I have no specific
explanation beyond the Roman connection for why they prevailed in this manner, I can say in general
that there existed a Christian scribal culture which, quite against the grain of the Greco-Roman culture at large, favored the codex over the scroll, for example; that something similar should have happened with respect to a certain set of abbreviations would probably be just another instance of the influence this scribal culture apparently wielded.
This reconstruction makes a lot of sense to me, tying together quite a few threads which are sometimes left swaying in the breeze. The timing lines up pretty well for the nomina sacra
taking off in century II. All of the individual elements of the system (suspension, contraction, overstrokes) are attested well before our earliest Christian manuscripts surface. The practice combines the Jewish concern for the name of God with the Greek abbreviation of the names and titles of important figures in inscriptions and in coins, a completely unsurprising outcome given that we already knew that Greek Christianity stands in some kind of relationship to Judaism (using its scriptures, for one thing). And the connection to Roman propaganda explains pretty nicely why epigraphic or numismatic protocols might have been adopted as literary protocols: as I mentioned in the other thread, Christians could not mint their own coinage.
Objective critiques welcome.
The 15 typical nomina sacra
according to the developmental tiers proposed by Hurtado:
Ἰησοῦς, Χριστός, Κύριος, Θεός
Πνεῦμα, Ἄνθρωπος, Σταυρός
Πατήρ, Υἱός, Σωτήρ, Μήτηρ, Οὐρανός, Ἰσραήλ, Δαυείδ, Ἰερουσαλήμ
Much from a proto-orthodox perspective could be told about Jesus using just these 15 words as the main story points.