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IH v. IS

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  • Michael Grondin
    (Some thoughts related to my long-delayed paper now tentatively titled In the Name of IS: Two Hidden Features of Coptic Thomas .) As list-members know, early
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 10, 2009
      (Some thoughts related to my long-delayed paper now
      tentatively titled "In the Name of IS: Two Hidden Features
      of Coptic Thomas".)

      As list-members know, early Christian writings employed a
      number of abbreviations for names and words that were
      considered particularly holy or meaningful. Together with the
      codex, this feature marked Christian writings as different from
      others of that time. The abbreviated words (about 12-15) were
      overstroked, like numbers. They're referred to as nomina sacra
      (lit. 'sacred words') and mostly followed one of three conventions:

      1. First two letters (e.g., 'IH' of 'IHSOUS')
      2. First and last letters (e.g., 'IS')
      3. First two and last letters (e.g., 'IHS', or 'PNA' of 'PNEUMA')

      Different manuscripts used different abbreviations. No one seems to know
      why any particular ms used one convention rather than another for certain
      words. I'd like to suggest one here, with respect to abbreviations for

      In arguing that the use of 'IH' was earlier than that of 'IS', Larry
      Hurtado drew attention to the fact that 'IH' with overstroke actually was
      the number 18 in Greek, and that the equivalent Hebrew letters were an
      abbreviation for a word that meant 'life'. What he didn't say, in either
      his article or book (ref. on request), is that 'IS' was the Greek number
      210 when read from right to left, as in Hebrew. But let that pass for the
      moment, as we turn to the Letter of Barnabas, which Hurtado uses as a
      piece of evidence. (See:

      "Barnabas" was evidently written by a Jewish Christian, whether that author
      was actually Barnabas or not. It doesn't spend a lot of time on numbers,
      but it mentions two prominently: 318 and 6000. The first was in reference
      to a biblical passage that used the number 318. The Barnabas author, in
      typical Christian eisegesis of Jewish writings, claimed that that number
      ('TIH' in Greek) was a kind of prophecy of Jesus on the cross. This is
      important not because of the absurdity of the claim, but because it seems
      to have been the only time that a Christian writer referred to the numeric
      value of any of the abbreviations 'IH', 'IS', or 'IHS'. The only time, that
      is, except for a mention in Clement's writings that was probably (IMO)
      derived from the Barnabas Letter.

      With respect to the number 6000, the Barnabas author states in 15.3 that
      "in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end". He ties this in
      with the Genesis story of creation taking six days, and the verse that "the
      day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years". He apparently envisions
      another thousand years preceding "the beginning of another world", which
      he reckons will be on the eighth "day".

      It's probably not a coincidence that the full Greek version of the name
      (IHSOUS) had a value of 888. What I find intriguing, though, is the
      relationship of the two abbreviations 'IH' and 'IS'. At first glance, there
      might not seem to be much in common between their two values 18 and 210.
      But think of 210 as ten times 21. Then think of 18 as 6+6+6 and 21 as
      7+7+7. Ties in beautifully with 888, and no danger of anachronism. But what
      interplay of ideas would have occurred in the ancient Christian mind as it
      contemplated the symbolism of the numbers 6, 7, and 8, as they related
      to Jewish and Christian beliefs? ISTM that the number six might have
      been generally associated in the Christian mind with orthodox Judaism.
      If that is so, then perhaps the use of the abbreviation 'IH' tells us
      something about the leanings and/or hopes of the using author/scribe.

      While the Barnabas letter favors 'IH' and gives no indication of knowing
      about 'IS', the Coptic Thomas favors 'IS' and gives no indication of
      knowing about 'IH'. Or is that merely appearance?Perhaps the Barnabas
      letter hopes for conversion of the Jews, while the Thomas gospel doesn't
      care? Or maybe the one is Jewish-Christian while the other is
      Gentile-Christian? What may be suggested here is that the more closely a
      Christian author/scribe associated with Judaism, the more likely that 'IH'
      would be used. (Note GJn's repeated use of the number six and GMt's several
      mentions of 18.) Whether that favors Hurtado's thesis, I'm not sure. It
      seems to me that both abbreviations could have arisen at about the same
      time, within evangelical groups where Judaic-Jewish, Diaspora-Jewish and
      Gentile Christians came in contact with each other.

      Cheers to all,
      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
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