Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nomina sacra: an introduction

Nomina sacra are abbreviations used in ancient manuscripts for certain names or titles; our interest is in the Greek abbreviations, although nomina sacra are also found in other ancient languages (e.g., Latin).

The singular is nomen sacrum, 'sacred name', from the Latin.  A nomen sacrum consists of a few letters of the source word, with an overline; one of the more familiar places to see them is in traditional iconography:

The letters to the top left are Ι C, the first and last letters of 'Ιησοῦς (lunate sigma).

The letters to the top right are Χ C, the first and letters of Χριστός.


Here is the familiar beginning of John's gospel, in the Codex Sinaiticus:

The Greek, in conventional typescript, is:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος 
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν 
πρὸς τὸν Θεόν καὶ 
Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος . . .

You can see two nomina sacra with overlines:

 1  for Θεόν (ΘΝ), on line 3, and

2  for Θεός (ΘC), on line 4.

 Notice that the first, ΘΝ, reflects the accusative case of the source word.


Below is a list of some of the nomina sacra found in the New Testament, showing the nominative form/s and the genitive form/s:

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