I like this.Ben C. Smith wrote: ↑Tue Apr 06, 2021 5:05 pmGood point.
The issue we face when trying to trace the origins of the nomina sacra is that none of the usual reasons for abbreviations appear to hold in our manuscripts:
Because it is difficult to think of a reason for the extant system of nomina sacra, it is not uncommon to suppose that the system began for a reason which no longer holds in our extant manuscripts. In other words, perhaps the original reason was to save space or time, but even once that original reason faded the tradition continued. There is nothing irrational about such a guess. This kind of thing can definitely happen.
- The nomina sacra are not saving space, given that most of our manuscripts have very generous margins and line spacing. Oikonomides points out that, while abbreviations commonly begin as space saving devices they often stay on only as time or labor saving devices.
- But the nomina sacra do not appear to be designed to save time or labor, either. If that were their purpose, we might expect the practice to extend to a fair number of different words, but in reality, for the most part, only 15 words are thus rendered.
- If secrecy were the goal, then we face the conundrum that, in our extant manuscripts, the vast majority of the nomina sacra are very easy to figure out. Furthermore, we have no evidence that the most important names or titles in the nascent movement (Jesus, Christ, God, Lord, Son, and so on) were ever actually kept secret. And, as you point out, one could simply keep the names out of the manuscripts if one wished to keep them secret.
My most recent approach, however, is rather different. It proposes a reason which may well be both current in and original to the system. Basically, the suggestion is that the abbreviations of what may be considered the most important names, titles, and related nouns of early Christianity run parallel, both in form and in effect, to the abbreviations of the names and titles of important Roman officials in inscriptions and especially on coins, which everyone great or small would have regular access to. The purpose of the system of nomina sacra would be to highlight those names and titles and concepts which Christians regarded as more important than the reigning Caesar or the officiating governor. While the Roman world was calling Claudius the "savior of the world" and naming Domitian as "Lord and god" and Augustus the "son of a god," Christians were claiming these titles for Jesus Christ instead, and my suggestion is that Christian scribes did this very same thing by abbreviating the important elements of those (and other important) names and titles: son, lord, savior, Jesus, Christ, and so on. Just as one would find both the name of Claudius and his various titles abbreviated on a coin or an inscription, so too one would find both the name of Jesus and his various titles abbreviated in Christian manuscripts, which is all Christians could work with, since they had very little control at first over inscriptions and absolutely no control over coinage. The special treatment which Jewish scribes accorded to the name of Yahweh would also have inspired a similar treatment of the title of God for Christian scribes, given that the Greeks themselves did not tend to abbreviate the term "god" or the names of their gods. Thus, Jewish concerns (special treatment for the name of God) + Greek concerns (the most common abbreviations being of rulers and their titles) = Christian concerns, which is an equation that proves true time and time again in so many other areas that one may be surprised if it did not prove true in this one, as well.
I am still quite happy with this reconstruction. It explains the limited scope of the nomina sacra, as well as the obviousness of the words being thus abbreviated: the whole point was that they were the most important words to a Christian, just as the name and titles of the current emperor were the most important words to the civic body of a Greco-Roman city. It also works as an explanation both of the current state of the extant manuscripts and of the possible origins of the system itself; there is no need to imagine a change in focus or purpose. At least, I have yet to come across a better explanation or one which explains more data.
I also like Trobisch's point of this being a very specific editorial decision, at least with the Big Four, and I think that goes beyond anti-imperial psyops and so were also in the world of counter-arguments to unorthodox positions (including names).