Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Christos and Chrestos

I'm thinking about Suetonius' Claudius at the moment. Maybe this is a bad idea. However, it raised a series of questions for me:

1) What is the earliest occurrence of the full form χριστος in a Greek NT ms?
2) What is the earliest occurrence of the full form χριστος in any ms?
3) What is the earliest occurrence of the form χρηστος in a Greek NT ms? Does it even occur?
4) What is the earliest occurrence of the form χρηστος in any ms?

I think you can guess where I'm heading.


  1. I don't know if we have any LXX msss that preserve the full form of Christos. But if we don't, I think we have to assume that there were plenty of them out there prior to the advent of NS.

  2. What are you looking for in #4? I assume that occurrences of the word chrestos don't count unless they are using it as a proper noun right?

  3. For that matter, I guess the same qualification needs to be made for christos too.

  4. Another question would be how well attested is Chrestos as a common name? It is always helpful to remember with this name that Suetonius (properly pronounced by the Roman historians I knew as Swee TO nius) wrote his De vita caesarum under Hadrian and relied upon a number of sources. We have no reason to assume that he had any contact with Christians to inform him about this issue. He was born after the events under discussion. It would be easy to have a corruption here in the midst of a number of sources who knew nothing of Jewish eschatology, but who might have been familiar with a common name 'Chrestos'. A Romodox corruption...

  5. Sorry, of course I mean all these questions only in regard to forms used a proper name referring to Christ.

    Christian, I know the usual lines on Suetonius. I'm thinking something rather more radical. What if Chrestians sometimes did actually call Christ 'Chrestos'? Why do we always 'expand' the nomen sacrum χς to a form with an iota in the middle?

    Isn't this simply a result of conjecture?

    (sorry for having such a naughty idea)

  6. PJW, also have a look in my dissertation on p. 48 and the common wordplay in early Christianity XRHSTOS / XRISTOS, and cf. the reading of P72 in 1 Pet 2:3.

  7. Tommy, I liked that section very much. Could the wordplay even be part of the original intention in 1 Pet. 2:3?

  8. Well, with regard to the rule of supplying iota instead of eta, is the nomen sacrum XS only used of Jesus? I have to admit I don't know personally, but from what I've seen of other nomina sacra, I doubt it (then again, in Christian lit. there probably aren't many opportunities to find the word used in reference to anything else). So if we find it in other places where we know it stands for the word christos, then we have confirmation of the conjecture. Occurrences of XS in our LXX mss in place of meshiach in the Hebrew must also qualify as confirmation.

  9. PJW: "Could the wordplay even be part of the original intention in 1 Pet. 2:3?"

    Possibly. It can hardly have escaped the author that XRHSTOS/XRISTOS sounds alike. Further, it is clear from the context of 1 Pet that the KURIOS of the psalm here is Christ—a natural and self-evident change for the author and addressees, which needs not be argued for.

    1. Dear Tommy Wasserman... Can you please get me the title of your dissertation and when i can found her ? Even possible if you allowed the pdf version in public ?

  10. I recall reading somewhere that XRHSTOS was a common name for slaves and donkeys, with the connotation "useful," hence the "Alexamenos..." graffiti of a crucified donkey-headed man, but where, unfortunately, I can't recall.

  11. Just a quick comment.

    As I recall, some manuscripts of Tacitus, Annals 15,44 also record Chrestus as a reading, but, generally, Christos is read in.

    Tertullian deals this point rather summarily in his Apologeticus 3,5 in which he attributes the error to a mispronunciation on the part of Latin speakers.


  12. According to Fisher's edition the single ms of Tacitus (Annales 15.44) supports Christianos and Christus.

  13. "I think you can guess where I'm heading."
    I'm not quite sure if I can guess it. Are you going to come right out and tell us? Or is this a pre-publication teaser?

  14. Alas, no publication due. I was merely toying with whether the spelling χρηστος might have been an approved Christian spelling of 'Christ' at the earliest period and even one used in the autographa of NT texts. Though the idea would raise other problems (since such a spelling would be irrecoverable—and I wouldn't like that) it would allow Suetonius to have been right in talking of Chrestus while meaning 'Christ'. Sorry, I just had to get the thought out of my system.

  15. I guess I would just stick with the old standby myself, which is that, yes, Seutonius spelled the name wrong, but that it was a very understandable misspelling, and probably one that occurred from time to time among Christians themselves for the reasons you've given.
    But to get to the meat of your initial question, I think another path to take would be to look at the occurrences of christos and chrestos when they are not talking about Jesus in Christian mss and to see if either of them is ever represented by a NS in such cases. My intuition is that christos is still sometimes represented that way in some cases where it is not about Jesus and the chrestos never is.

  16. What would be the difference between the title crestus and the title Christos? Is one Greek the other Latin or...? Also don't these terms precede Christianity?