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Manuscripts as Artefacts: Kraus on Hurtado

December 15, 2014

In my continuing series of postings on contributions to the recent Festschrift for me, I turn to Thomas Kraus’s essay:  “From ‘Text-Critical Methodology’ to ‘Manuscripts as Artefacts'”:  A Tribute to Larry W. Hurtado,” in Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter Roth (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), 79-98.

I should explain that the original version of Kraus’s paper was presented at a small conference held here in New College, sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins, upon the occasion of my retirement.  That’s why you have the (slightly embarrassing for me) title of the essay. Kraus engages thoughtfully some questions to which I’ve devoted attention over the years, offering his own independent judgements (and Kraus, for those who don’t know his work, is fully up to the task of making independent judgements).

First, he considers the early Christian preference for the codex (early leaf-book) over the bookroll.  I’ve tended to side with those who think that this preference was intentional, and likely signalled something, in particular a desire to distinguish early Christian books (and especially those texts treated as scripture) from other books.  Others, of course, have offered various putative practical “advantages”  of the codex as reasons.  One thing that hasn’t to my mind been taken into account often enough in these discussions is that the preference for the codex was apparently significantly stronger for texts treated as scripture than for other texts.  By my counts, ca. 95+% of identifiably Christian copies of “Old Testament” texts are codices, and for those that came to form the New Testament, there is no copy of any on an unused bookroll (only a very few instances of “opisthographs”).  Whereas for other texts (theological treatises, homilies, so-called “apocryphal” writings, etc.), about 65% are codices, the remaining one-third bookrolls.  ( I highlight this in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts, 53-82).  Kraus gingerly agrees, it seems, that, on balance, the preference for the codex represented more than mere perceptions of some practical advantage.

He then addresses questions about the “nomina sacra,” generously referring to my own published work on this topic “essential for every future discussion of origin, meaning, and purpose of this phenomenon” (88).  Kraus agrees that the motivation for this scribal convention was not to save time or space.  But he’s hesitant to endorse the proposal that I’ve supported, that the convention may have begun with writing Jesus’ name in the two-letter suspended form, IH, and that this may have held also a numerical significance (IH = 18), although he grants that the idea is “by no means groundless” (94).  For my argument, see:  Larry W. Hurtado, “The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal,” Journal of Biblical Literature 117, no. 4 (1998): 655-73.

Then, Kraus considers another interesting feature in some early Christian manuscripts, the “staurogram” (the Greek capital letter “rho” superimposed on the Greek letter “tau” as part of the abbreviated forms of the Greek words “stauros” (“cross”) and “stauroo” (“crucify”).  (One error in Kraus’s discussion is his statement that there is no pre-Christian evidence for this ligature; actually, there is, the tau-rho used sometimes to = “three” or “thirty”.  What’s distinctive about the early Christian use of the tau-rho is the new meaning they assigned to it, the device functioning in these early manuscripts as a kind of pictographic reference to the crucified Jesus).  After considering some other suggestions, he endorses this view, which I’ve argued for, drawing upon earlier work by Aland and Dinkler.

I’m honoured and touched by Kraus’s essay, and grateful for his readiness to contribute to the volume.  Readers will find a wealth of bibliographical references as well as Kraus’s own careful expertise on display.

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3 Comments
  1. S_Walch permalink

    Just a quick question with regards to the two-letter suspension form (IH = 18):
    I know you base this on what is mentioned in the Epistle of Barnabas, but is there any reason therefore why we only have (to my knowledge – please correct me if I’m wrong) this written form evidenced in two papyri (P45 and P18; containing sections from Matt-Acts, and Revelation respectively), both of which are dated to the 3rd Century CE, of which P45 is a “free” text, and P18 was written by someone “untrained in writing books (according to P. Comfort, Text of the NT Greek MS)”? (P18 also contains the only instance of XP for “Anointed” that I know of).

    If IH is the origin of the Nomina Sacra, why is there such scant evidence of it being employed in the manuscripts?

    • Steve: The IH form of Jesus’ name does appear a bit more widely, e.g., P.Egerton 2. For general coverage of nomina sacra forms (though somewhat dated now): A. H. R. E. Paap, , Nomina Sacra in the Greek Papyri of the First Five Centuries A.D.: The Sources and Some Deductions, Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava, no. 8 (Leiden: Brill, 1959)

      It does, however, appear to have been an early form of the nomina sacra writing of “Jesus” and was then replaced by iota+final letter forms, in keeping with what was becoming the more standardized approach (lst letter + last letter). So, IH seems to have been a very primitive form. Plus it alone (of various nomina sacra forms) has numerical significance in early Christian number-symbolism. And this number (18) seems to have been one already significant in ancient Jewish usage: see, e.g., Lehman. O. H., “Number-Symbolism As a Vehicle of Religious Experience in the Gospels, Contemporary Rabbinic Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Studia Patristica, Vol. IV, ed. F. L. Cross (TU 79; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961), 125-35.

      • S_Walch permalink

        Cheers, Prof. Hurtado.

        Now to try and find somewhere that actually *has* the A. H. R. E. Paap book…🙂

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