The Staurogram and Ancient Christian Reverence for the Cross

StaurogramThe current logo  for this site is called a staurogram, and it is evidence of ancient Christian reverence for the cross of Christ. When I first saw it, I thought it was simply a tilted version of the popular Chi-Rho symbol, but in the words of David S. Pumpkins, it is “its own thing.”

Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament, Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, has written extensively about the use of the staurogram in ancient Christian texts. You will find the symbol in many of the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament where the noun “cross” (σταυρός [stauros] in Greek) or the verb “crucify” ought to appear.

It was a common practice for scribes to use a kind of shorthand in ancient texts to write sacred names (nomina sacra). Commonly, the shorthand consisted of two or three letters of the name with a line drawn over the letters. The practice wasn’t primarily about saving the scribe time and effort. Rather, it indicated the scribe’s reverence for the name being written.

The staurogram is a pictograph that served the same function.  The symbol (⳨) combines two Greek letters, tau (Τ) and rho (Ρ), but the letters don’t stand for anything. Instead, it is the resulting picture that matters. The staurogram is a kind of stick-figure drawing, visually representing a person hanging on a cross. The closed loop at the top is the person’s head.

For the scribes, then, the cross is not just an object but an act. When they envision the cross, they picture Jesus on it. The word receives reverential treatment because of the sacred place Jesus’ self-offering had in early Christianity. The staurogram is a scribal form of bending the knee before the one who gave himself for us.