The “Staurogram”: Newly published article
I’ve learned from a reader that my short article, “The Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus’ Crucifixion,” has appeared in the March-April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The piece is a digest-for-general-readership version of an emphasis that I’ve made in several publications over the last decade or so, echoing and supporting observations made many years ago by, e.g., Kurt Aland and Erik Dinkler, that the curious scribal device in question is likely the earliest extant visual reference to the crucified Jesus.
I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ve treated it more extensively in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 135-54. Essentially, the device involves a monogram-like combination of the Greek letters tau and rho that is used in abbreviated forms of the Greek words for “cross” (σταυρος) and “crucify” (σταυροω), the vertical stroke of the rho superimposed on the vertical stroke of the tau, the result being that the loop of the rho can be taken as the head of a crucified figure on a T-shaped cross.
As I’ve repeatedly noted, the device itself is pre-Christian, used for more mundane purposes, e.g., as an abbreviation for “three/thirty”. Early on (likely sometime in the second century), Christians appropriated the device and invested it with a new function and meaning all their own. The earliest Christian uses extant are in NT manuscripts: P75, P66 and P45, which are typically dated to the early 3rd century CE. As Robin Jensen has observed, in these cases the staurogram likely served as a pictographic reference to the crucified Jesus.