Much attention has been paid to the words of the earliest Christian canonical and extracanonical texts, yet Larry Hurtado points out that an even more telling story is being overlooked—the story of the physical texts themselves.
Widely recognized for his outstanding scholarship, Hurtado combines his comprehensive knowledge of Christian origins with an archivist’s eye to make sense of these earliest objects of the faith. He introduces readers to the staurogram, possibly the first representation of the cross, the nomina sacra, a textual abbreviation system, and the puzzling Christian preference for book-like texts over scrolls. Drawing on studies by papyrologists and palaeographers as well as New Testament scholars—and including photographic plates of selected manuscripts—The Earliest Christian Artifacts astutely introduces the distinctive physical features of early Christian manuscripts, illustrating their relevance for wider inquiry into the complex origins of Christianity.
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“I contend that this Jewish reverential attitude reflected in the scribal handling of the Tetragrammaton and key related designations of God has a counterpart in the early prominence of the four nomina divina (Theos, Kyrios, Christos, and Iēsous) in the Christian manuscripts.” (Pages 104–105)
“writings that came to make up the Christian Old Testament, the Psalms are far and away the most attested text” (Page 27)
“nomina sacra is to make it more likely that the specific practice originated among early Christian circles” (Page 111)
“it appears that Christians strongly preferred the codex for those writings that they regarded as scripture” (Page 57)
“was not simply a ‘Christogram’ but, more precisely, a ‘staurogram.” (Page 151)
A landmark study, clearly explained, cautious, yet intriguing. Why the experimental, indeed pioneering, exploitation of the book form (actually more awkward than dignified rolls)? Why try out punctuation and spacing? Why the novel signal for words given divine meaning? Why convert the word ‘cross’ itself into the earliest image of Christ? The many unknown Egyptian scribes prove more independent, yet more of a common mind, than had earlier been thought.
—E. A. Judge, emeritus professor of history, Macquarie University