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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

In Christian scribal practice, nomina sacra (singular: nomen sacrum from Latin sacred name) is the abbreviation of 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 developmentEdit

 
Nomina sacra IC XC, from the Greek ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Jesus Christ - the letter C on the icon being koine Greek Σ). Detail from an icon at the Troyan Monastery in Bulgaria. See complete icon

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 of God, commonly rendered as Jehovah or Yahweh in English, as the Hebrew tetragrammaton (transliterated as YHWH) even in Greek Scriptures. The Septuagint manuscript LXX P.Oxy.VII.1007 uses two Paleo-Hebrew yodh's with a horizontal line through them for YHWH[4] (an abbreviated form of the Name of God transliterated as YY).

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".[5] 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.[6]

According to Dr. Cilliers Breytenbach (Professor of New Testament at Humboldt University of Berlin) and Dr. Christiane Zimmermann (Faculty of Theology at University of Kiel), in Greek Christian inscriptions in the region of Lycaonia (modern central Turkey) nomina sacra occur around the end of the 2nd century CE onwards.[7]

George Howard argues that κυριος and θεος were the initial nomina sacra when later non-Jewish Christian scribes did not copy the tetragrammaton in LXX manuscripts once they "found no traditional reasons to preserve the tetragrammaton."[8]

List of Greek nomina sacraEdit

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)[9]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 ΧΥ
 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 ΧΥ 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

ReferencesEdit

  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. ^ Larry W. Hurtado (2006). The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0802828957.
  5. ^ Colin H. Roberts, Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt (1979), p. 37.
  6. ^ Larry Hurtado, "The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal", JBL 117 (1998), pp. 655-673.
  7. ^ Cilliers Breytenbach, Christiane Zimmermann (2018). Early Christianity in Lycaonia and Adjacent Areas: From Paul to Amphilochius of Iconium, Early Christianity in Asia Minor. BRILL. p. 14. ISBN 9789004352520.
  8. ^ Larry W Hurtado (2017). "The origin of the Nomina Sacra". Texts and Artefacts: Selected Essays on Textual Criticism and Early Christian Manuscripts, The Library of New Testament Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 127. ISBN 0567677702.
  9. ^ All nomina sacra and dates of manuscripts taken from Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts - Philip Comfort and David Barrett (1999)

Further readingEdit

  • 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.