New Testament Manuscripts: Their Text and Their World
Hurtado, Larry W
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Among the several monograms used by early Christians to refer to Jesus, the so-called “staurogram” or “cross-monogram”, which is comprised of the Greek majuscule forms of the letters tau and rho, the vertical line of the rho superimposed on the vertical stroke of the tau, is of particular historical significance.The specific proposal that I shall support in the present essay is that the Christian use of this device in certain early manuscripts represents the earliest extant visual reference to the crucified Jesus, indeed, considerably prior to what is commonly thought to be the time (fourth or fifth century ce) when Christians began to portray the crucifixion of Jesus visually. This has significant implications well beyond the area of codicology and palaeography, extending also into questions about early Christian beliefs and expressions of piety. Before we examine this specificproposal, however, I address some introductory and background questions and set the staurogram into an appropriate historical context. Several questions obviously present themselves. What is the historical relationship of these various Christian monograms to one another? Were some or all of them created de novo by Christians, or do they represent or include Christian appropriations of ligatures already in use? In any case, what did these devices signify and how did they function in Christian usage, especially in the earliest instances? It is not possible here to deal comprehensively with these questions with reference to all these monograms. Instead, I shall provide some limited discussion of general matters and then focus more specifically on questions about the tau-rho device.