What's in a name?: Nomina Sacra and social semiosis in early Christian textual practice
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 20:39 authored by Benjamin Ryan Overcash
The practice of abbreviating and supralineating certain sacred words, known as nomina sacra, is a remarkably widespread phenomenon across the spectrum of early Christian textual practice, appearing in materials from sacred literature to personal letters and learning exercises. While this practice has received considerable attention in the last century, approaches have generally been deductive and descriptive, and furthermore have largely been isolated to single genres of source material, with particular emphasis on their presence in literary manuscripts. Drawing on theories of social semiotics and multimodality, the present study takes an inductive and interpretive approach by analyzing particular instantiations of this practice across the broad range of materials in which it is employed. The study is divided into two parts. Part One examines the nomina sacra in early Christian literary culture. The nomina sacra are first positioned as visually and socially oriented signifiers of communal identity and expression; attention is then turned to their use in three particular Christian literary manuscripts; and finally, an answer is explored in regard to questions raised by the sacral treatment of "cross" and "crucify"and the use of the staurogram. Part Two presents case studies to address the use of nomina sacra in the "everyday writing" of early Christians-that is, in their letters,learning exercises, and amulets. Throughout the study, it is argued that the nomina sacra are best understood not as static signifiers with a standard set of forms and meanings, but as traces of dynamic and creative lived material practices by social/semiotic agents.