Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Staurogram

Every now and than an article from Biblical Archeology Review catches my eye.  One in particular from the current March/April issue interested me in particular.  The article by Larry W. Hurtado is "The Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus' Crucifixion" (see here for a somewhat abbreviated version by BAR on their website.)  The symbol to the right was an early Christian representation of the crucifixion (combining the Greek letters tau and rho, no doubt from the Greek word for cross - stauros), intending to serve as a kind of pictogram of a figure hanging on a cross.  What makes the article most interesting is that this symbol has been discovered in a papyrus fragment dating to 200 AD.  And why is this significant?  For the simple reason that it provides an example 150 to 200 years earlier than the earliest depictions of the crucified Jesus.  This challenges what the article's author noted has been a "commonplace belief among historians of the early church that early Christianity did not emphasize Jesus' crucifixion and that this did not change until the late fourth or fifth century."  The article seemed doubly appropriate this week given that the cross and the crucifixion is so central to the story of salvation.  So, despite so much scholarship to the contrary, it looks like the cross really was important to the church from the beginning!

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