Smarts About The Nomina Sacra

So here is another bit about scribal practices in Greek manuscripts.

The text is fragmentary, but just a little is missing. You will notice on the right-hand side of the image that the page is angling in. Here is the text:


...which is...

λεγει δε ο κυριος ουδεις οικετης δυναται δυσι κυριοις δουλευε[ιν] εαν ημεις θελωμεν και θεῳ δ[ου]

On reading that you might have thought "hey look, a groovy gospel manuscript snippet." If you thought that you are...drum roll please...incorrect. This is actually 2 Clement 6:1, where the author is quoting either Matt 6:24, Luke 16:13, or some other gospel tradition we don’t know about. The manuscript is GA 02, Codex Alexandrinus, a 5th century uncial manuscript.

So what is interesting about this snippet? I titled this post "Smarts About The Nomina Sacra" because this snippet shows the scribes were cognizant enough to tell the difference between when a word should be abbreviated and when not. There are two nomina sacra in this snippet, one on the first line and one on the third. Note that the word κυριοις, the plural of the first of the nomina sacra κυριος, is not abbreviated (line 2, 12th character). And why is κυριος abbreviated but not κυριοις? Because the former refers to the Lord, and the latter does not. So you would expect to see this phenomenon with words like θεος, πνευμα, et al.

As it turns out, this is not terribly unusual. I am sure there are many exceptions, but often when the context is clear that the normally abbreviated word is different from its normal referent, it will not be a nominum sacrum. I would imagine whether or not this is practiced will differ from scribe to scribe.


Chuck Grantham 2008-03-03 01:23:55

No doubt you are heading for a post about the expansion of nomina sacra as time went on. Some of the words contracted don’t seem to be a "sacred name", but scribes apparently thought "better safe than sorry" and contracted the words anyway.

Eric 2008-03-03 01:26:31

I’ll get there :). Have you read Hurtado’s "Earliest Christian Artifacts"? It had a very informative chapter on the nomina sacra.

Chuck Grantham 2008-03-03 02:22:07

Life is short, the "to be read" list nigh infinite.

I just recently re-read Philip Comfort’s "Encountering the Manuscripts", which has a chapter on nomina sacra.

Eric 2008-03-03 02:49:55

I haven’t read that one. I’ll have to add that one to my own infinite list.