Thursday, November 27, 2008

SBL Boston, Head on nomina sacra in P66

This is my first report from the SBL and, hence, I will start with the first New Testament Textual Criticism session on Saturday morning. The first presenter is the blogmeister himself, Peter Head. I should emphasize that what follows is a summary of my own notes, and not the wording of the actual presenter. I may have added here and there, and I have certainly left things out.

SBL Boston, New Testament Textual Criticism morning session, 22/11, 2008 (Gordon D. Fee presiding)

Peter M. Head, "Nomina Sacra in P66"

1. Introduction
In his introduction Head explained why he had chosen this topic, the answer being that nomina sacra (ns) is a notable feature of early Christian texts (especially Biblical texts). Moroever, there has been a signifcant and interesting history of scholarship in the area, recently with interesting interchange between Larry Hurtado and Christopher Tuckett, concerning both the origin and usage of ns. This paper seeks to meet the need for more inductive studies, such as Tuckett has pleaded for, in order to arrive at conclusions based upon more complete data.

2. Why this MS (P66)?

Of course it is desirable to consider the role of ns in all mss, but, naturally, one has to begin somewhere. Head explains why he begins with P66: (a) it is early; (b) It is sizable and fairly complete (larger part of John); (c) the scribe is Christian. [Here I should perhaps add that Peter has worked a lot with this MS from different aspects during recent years, which is another factor]

3. The data

3.1 Consistently contracted forms

There are four terms that are always contracted.

(a) Iησους: 180 extant occurenses, all contracted (2 letter form)

(b) Θεος: 65 extant occurences, in the singular all are contracted (plural not contracted)

(c) κυριος: 37 extant occurences, all contracted (even when not referring to Jesus)

(d) Χριστος: 189 extant occurences, all contracted (2 letter form)

Head now proceeded to show images with other notable features involving these ns. Since very fast and efficient with his Power Point, I may have missed one or two examples.

- In John 20:14, there is an interesting puzzle. Royse suggests in his study that there was originally a ΙC (Ιησους) subsequently corrected to ΚC (κυριος). Head is not entirely convinced.

- In the next example the nomen sacrum was without the over-bar (either the scribe forgot the overbar, or it has worn off).

- In 10:33-36 we find two uncontracted plural forms of θεος, which gives us a clear signal that the scribe treated them distinctly since they did not refer to God.

- In 4:11 we find what, in my opinion, was the most interesting example in the whole presentation. Here the scribe first wrote an overbar over ΘΥ in the word ΒΑΘΥ, but this was later erased (possibly by the scribe himself). Significantly, Head proposed that this is evidence of the fact that the scribe read and was therefore anticipating ns in his exemplar.

- In 12:21 κυριε (ΚΕ) is spoken to Philip, but still there is a ns). Similarly elsewhere, when κυριε is used in politeness (whether addressing Jesus or someone else) it is consistently abbreviated as ns (see John 4:11, 15, 19; 13:16).

- In 20:15 there is an ambiguous example where the scribe seems to have provided a line over αυτω. Head is not sure if this is because it refers to Jesus.

3.2 Inconsistently abbreviated words in P66

(a) πνευμα: 20 times contracted, 1 time not

- In John 3:5-8 we find two occurences of πνευμα where the first has been abbreviated, the second not (appropriate exegesis, the one time it is not abbreviated, since it does not refer to the Holy Spirit). In another place, the scribe has begun unabbreviated, and then realized that an abbreviation is possible, so the scribe erased and supplied an overbar (without saving space).

- In John 6:63, according to Royse, the first hand wrote ΠΝΕΥ.

(b) πατηρ: 96 contracted, 12 times not

- Examples in John 6:44f.; John 8:44. In the latter example, the word is even contracted on the second occasion, referring to the devil (i.e., the contrnot determined according to context)

(b) σταυρος / σταυροω: 6 times contracted, 2 times not
Only in John 19 there some staurogram are found, 19:6, 15, etc. Head thinks they must have given the visual impact of a crucified person.

(c) ανθρωπος: 35 times contracted; 20 times not

- Illustrative examples in John 5:5-9, 9-15, where there are five uses of ανθρωπος, reflecting an inconcistency, sometimes contracted, somtimes not, without logical pattern. Similarly in John 9:1ff.

(d) υιος: 32 contracted; 19 times not

- Examples are found in John 4:50, 53; 5:19-20. Again the scribe is inconsistent. In John 11:27 there is a perplexing example of a christological formula, "Christ, the Son of God," where only υιος is unabbreviated!

- In the expression "The Son of Man" we find that sometimes both terms are contracted, sometimes only the first or the second, and sometimes neither term is contracted. The inconsistent pattern, according to Head, suggests that the scribe did not recognize this as a title.

4. Conclusions

Head expressed his surprise of having reached the final part with conclusions, with another two minutes left! (However, I don't remember if he considered this to be positive or negative.)

He sums up his observations.

- Four ns occur with regularity: God, Jesus, Christ, Lord.
- Reverantial referentiality is clear regarding God in singular, cf. plural; but uncertain regarding Lord.
- The ns are already part of a scribal tradition, as is apparent from the relative degree of regularity, and from the example of ΒΑΘΥ (=anticipation)
- The irregularity of other ns is difficult to account for. Perhaps the previous tradition, and specifically the exemplar, was also inconsistent in cases like, πνευμα so that the scribe sometimes found it contracted in the exmplar and sometimes not.

Time for questions:

Q: "How do you abbreviate the plural God?"
A: "Since there are no examples I can make up an answer. At least he is not bound to two-letter forms (cf. ΠΝΑ for πνευμα)." However, Head could not think of any examples where a plural for of θεος has been contracted.

Q: "Does it not seem as if the scribe is making decisions?"
A: Head thinks he inherits a tradition that contracts the four terms, cf. ΒΑΘΥ. He is expecting to read two-letter abbreviations in his exemplar. Also the inconsistency may point to this. Gordon Fee, who has studied P66 extensively, fills in that the scribe is know for inconsistency, e.g., letter size, etc. There are many carelessnesses.


  1. wow. You must have had plenty of note-taking energy at the start of the conference Tommy!

  2. I did not want to miss anything out from one of the most significant papers.

    But just wait til the report from the *last day* of textual criticism with the review of Parker's book. I have seven pages of notes.

  3. Well I do look forward to that because I was not able to fit into the very small room and so left to do something else (of course I later found out that they shifted rooms after 30 minutes and before the fireworks began).

  4. Tommy, did you think I was too fast with the powerpoint?

  5. Pete, showing those manuscript pages highligthing significant details with circles and arrows, etc, is very effective and allows a much higher tempo than if one has to look at the whole manuscript page. Besides, the high tempo somehow gave the impression that you really knew what you were talking about ...

  6. That is of course a good impression to give at an academic conference.

  7. Dear Peter,

    Has this presentation been published? I am doing a research on the NS of a particular papyrus (as early as P66). Thus far, I have not seen any major work on a specific papyrus, and I just read today about your 2008 presentation on P66. Is it possible to direct me where I can get a copy of this presentation?



  8. Edgar, email me and I will send you something.