P52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra: Method And Probability -- By: L. W. Hurtado

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:1 (NA 2003)
Article: P52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra: Method And Probability
Author: L. W. Hurtado

P52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra:
Method And Probability

L. W. Hurtado


This article responds to the recent proposal (by Chris Tuckett) that space considerations suggest that P52, our earliest NT manuscript, would have written out the name of Jesus in full. This would have implications for the study of the nomina sacra, abbreviations used for divine names (and some other terms) in all our other NT manuscripts. The main emphasis of this article is the importance of taking account of all scribal features of manuscripts in attempting to establish probabilities for lacunae. Careful attention to method and to all the scribal features of P52 suggests that the use of an abbreviated form of the name ‘Jesus’ is more probable than not, and that P52 is not an early exception to the rule that all NT manuscripts use nomina sacra.


Since its identification and publication by a twenty-four year old Colin Roberts in 1935, the famous Rylands fragment of the Gospel of John (P.Rylands Gk. 457, also known as P52, which contains seven partial lines of John 18:3133 on the recto, and seven more partial lines of 18:3738 on the verso), has continued to hold an importance incommensurate with its size.1 This is largely because it is widely

regarded as the earliest portion of any NT writing extant, commonly dated to the first half of the second century.2 In a recent article, Christopher Tuckett has drawn fresh attention to this fragment, arguing that it likely did not have the distinctive Christian abbreviations called the ‘nomina sacra’, and claiming that this may have significant ramifications upon widely-held views about this scribal practice.3 In what follows, I address these particular questions, indicating why I find Tuckett’s analysis unpersuasive. But my more important aim is to stress and illustrate the necessity to pay careful attention to the physical features of manuscripts in attempting to judge probabilities for lacunae.

In the course of preparing this paper, I was made aware of another critique of Tuckett’s article written by Charles Hill. Hill kindly sent me a typescript of his article (now published), which I gratefully acknowledge here, and to which I refer in subsequent paragraphs.4...

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