Updates regarding the Christian mosaic inscriptions and possible church at Megiddo (Megiddo mosaics 2)

There are now other more detailed stories emerging (along with some nice photos) in connection with the new find of Christian mosaic inscriptions in the Megiddo prison yard. Go to post no. 1 in this series and scroll down to the updates.

UPDATE: Also see the comments section of this post, where I address a reader’s questions regarding the so called nomina sacra (“sacred names”) abbreviations which do appear in one of the Megiddo inscriptions and which may have an impact on the question of dating.

Nov 16.: Jean Véronis now has a discussion (in French) on “sacred names”: Ecriture: La Nomina Sacra sous la prison.

6 thoughts on “Updates regarding the Christian mosaic inscriptions and possible church at Megiddo (Megiddo mosaics 2)

  1. Phil Harland Post author

    7 Comments:

    At 10:20 AM, DerekD said…

    I noticed that the inscription includes the practice of the nomina sacra. Having only a minimal knowledge of inscriptions, I have a couple of quesions. How prevalent are Christian inscriptions; and for those we have, how many make use of the nomina sacra? Do Greco-Roman inscriptions abbreviate certain words or names that would be comparable to this inscription?
    Thanks for your help.
    Derek Dodson,
    PhD candidate, Baylor University

    At 12:06 PM, Phil Harland said…

    Very good question regarding nomina sacra (“sacred names”) abbreviations (for God Jesus, Christ, etc.), which are characteristic of Christian inscriptions especially from the fourth century CE and after. (Derek Dodson is referring to the abbreviation for God and Jesus Christ in this photo, second line from the bottom, at the far right, I believe). Quick answers to your questions: Inscriptions that are identifiable as Christian first begin to appear in the record beginning about 190 CE (at this point there is no clearly developed Christian form of abbreviations). “Pagans” frequently used abbreviations in inscriptions, but rarely if ever abbreviations of a god’s name. Christians seem to have developed a peculiar system of abbreviations for God, Jesus, Christ and other frequently used terms using a horizontal stroke over the abbreviated portion (these abbreviations are the so called nomina sacra). This system is primarily reflected in Christian inscriptions from the fourth century and later.

    For some further detail:

    There are some online materials that discuss the nomina sacra, but mainly in connection with literature. Robert Kraft (U. Penn.) has a summary of a talk he gave on nomina sacra and scribal techniques. He also links to a good, basic overview of the common contractions in Christian literature, available online here.

    As to abbreviations in inscriptions (as well as papyri and manuscripts) and the question of “pagan” vs. Christian practice, see A. N. Oikonomides’ compiled , Abbreviations in Greek: Inscriptions, Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books (Chicago: Ares, 1974), which includes M. Avi-Yonah’s Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions (The Near East, 200 B.C.-A.D. 1100) (originally 1940). Remember that this was written some time ago (1940) and may need some modification, but it should help.

    Avi-Yonah’s introductory “Remarks on the history of the contraction and the ‘nomina sacra’” (pp. 25-29) include the following:

    “The development of contractions can be divided into two distinct periods: the pagan and the Christian. The contractions in both periods differ in quantity, technique, and subject-matter.

    a) Before the fourth century contractions are few, both absolutely and relatively to the general total of abbreviations in use. . . The pagan contractions amount to 45 in 54 inscriptions, as compared with 191 Christian in 171 inscriptions. . .

    b) Pagan contractions differ from the Christian also in technique. The standard type of the pagan contractions is a combination of contraction and suspension. . . The Christian contraction, on the contrary, is based on a system of simple continuous or discontinuous contractions, i.e. a letter is taken from the beginning and the end of the declined noun, sometimes with another letter from the middle (ΧC or ΧΡC for Χριστός). . .

    c) Pagan contractions are not limited to any single subject, although proper names are rarely abbreviated in this manner. From among the Christian contractions stands out a group of abbreviations by contraction which is restricted to fifteen words; and this groups amounts to almost half of all the dated Christian contractions (94 out of 191). It is the group known since Traube’s remarkable work as nomina sacra.”

    L. Traube, Nomina Sacra, Versuch einer Geschichte der chr. Küzung (Munich, 1907). Traube argued that Christians developed their own clear system of abbreviation using the contraction with a line over the contraction, and Avi-Yonah agrees in large part with some minor modifications.

    Avi-Yonah then goes on to present the following modifications or supplements to Traube’s theory in connection with inscriptions, including the following which relate to your question, I believe:

    – there is only one “pagan” example of a nomen sacrum in an apparently Christian manner (θω for theos in the dative), but this may simply be an error in engraving.
    – the earliest cases of the Christian nomina sacra are from the graffiti in the chapel, dated 232-33 CE, which have no horizontal line over them (as in the later Christian system).

    See Avi-Yonah for very useful charts, lists of abbreviations, and further discussion. But this should at least help you and others to make some sense of this Megiddo inscription in light of contractions in Christian inscriptions.

    At 12:54 PM, Phil Harland said…

    The “chapel” mentioned towards the end of my comment above is the chapel at Dura-Europa. Sorry for the omission. Phil

    At 10:29 AM, Jean Véronis said…

    Phil> You said “Inscriptions that are identifiable as Christian first begin to appear in the record beginning about 190 CE (at this point there is no clearly developed Christian form of abbreviations).”.

    What about the Egerton Papyrus II? People seem to agree on a date somewhere around the end of the Ist century or beginning of the second. It seems to contain nomina sacra [here].

    At 2:10 PM, Phil Harland said…

    Thank you for the comment that will allow me to clarify, Jean. I was speaking only of inscriptions (in a monumental sense) here and not literary cases. You are absolutely right that there are nomina sacra in the papyri before the fourth century. We lack such early evidence for nomina sacra with the horizontal line for Christian inscriptions / monuments, however, when they (the inscriptions but not the nomina sacra) begin to appear on our radar around the turn of the third century.

    At 12:46 PM, Phil Harland said…

    Please note that all of my comments above regarding nomina sacra are focussed on inscriptions (epigraphy), not on the use of nomina sacra in manuscripts and literary works (on which see, for instance, the paper by Robert Kraft mentioned in my earlier comment. For literary examples online, also see the Papyrus Egerton 2 webpage here.

    At 10:55 PM, Anonymous said…

    Can somebody please transliterate the inscription word for word?

  2. Sue Barton

    Those mosaics are really exciting. In fact,for a change in locale,do you remember seeing the early church mosaic of christians worshipping with raised hands? I have seen it years ago & have been unsuccessfully trying to retrieve it on the web. Thanks for any help.!!!

  3. lisa crowder

    what is the latest update on the chuch found in 2005?have they unearthed any more?are there any new photos?What has been going on for the last few years on it?How do i find out this info?

  4. Jay Thompson

    I think that Phil is only referring to the Gentile Christian churches that were home-based out of necessity, but the Jewish Christian community had a synagogue system that has been seen in sights around Tiberias and have Nomina Sacra in the synagogue floors in my estimation dating around 150 C.E. Key designs to look for are the “Solomonic knot”, and the “Tau”. The inscriptions reference the occupation of Jerusalem immediately after Hadrian and the designs are geometric instead of realistic depiction of persons and events. In the next few years I hope that these discoveries will be exposed.

    Jay Thompson, Ph.D.
    Professor Church History
    Faith Evangelical Seminary

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