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The Staurogram and P45

January 5, 2015

In a recent essay Dieter Roth (former PhD student) offers a fresh study of the occurrences of the “staurogram” in the early NT papyrus, P45 (Chester Beatty I), plus some helpful analysis of how punctuation in this manuscript likely signals the order of the Gospels in it.  “P45” is commonly dated ca. mid-3rd century CE, and contains the four Gospels and Acts in one codex.

This essay is his contribution to Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), 118-29.

The “staurogram” is the curious monogram-like device involving the Greek capital letter rho superimposed on the capital letter tau.  I’ve posted about this device earlier several times (see previous postings listed here).  Essentially, it appears that early Christians adapted this device initially to serve as a simple pictographic reference to the crucified Jesus, giving us our earliest visual reference to this.

In the first part of his essay, Roth lists the various previous scholars/studies that have erred in one way or another in reporting on the occurrences of the staurogram in P45.  Roth makes a cogent case that, contrary to some previous reports, there are at least two instances of the staurogram in P45:  one at Matt. 26:2 (in the single leaf of P45 held in Vienna) and another at Luke 14:27 (in the leaves of P45 held in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin).  Each of these is part of a “nomina sacra” form of the Greek words for “crucify” and “cross”.  Along with instances also in P75 and P66, these instances of the staurogram in P45 confirm that (contrary to now-dated art-historical accounts) Christians did make visual reference to the crucified Jesus already in/by the early 3rd century, and likely earlier still.

In the second part of his essay, Roth then turns more briefly to note punctuation in P45.  There is punctuation supplied by two hands, in both cases with the intention of facilitating the reading of the manuscript.  Interestingly, the slanted strokes added by the second hand appear only in GMark and Acts, and Roth rightly observes that this strongly suggests that in P45 the Gospels were in the so-called “Western” order:  Matthew, John, Luke, Mark (followed by Acts).

Roth’s essay shows how careful observation of the physical/visual features of ancient manuscripts (what we may call the “para-textual data”) provides us with helpful information about various matters, such as ancient Christian copyist practices, reading practices, and, in the case of the staurogram, about earliest Christian efforts to express their faith visually.

I’m very pleased to have Roth’s essay in the volume published in my honor, and I recommend it as a model of the sort of observation and analysis that I hope other young scholars will take up.

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