The Function of Distinctive Features in Early Christian Manuscripts

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


The last decade has seen a number of scholarly works within the field of manuscript studies/textual criticism that focus on different aspects of early Christian reading culture (e.g. by Hurtado, Charlesworth, Cribiore, and Haines-Eitzen). The distinctive features of early Christian manuscripts—e.g. codex format, handwriting, nomina sacra, lectional signs, etc.—are not just identified, but also connected to a larger picture of scribal traditions and reading habits. These distinctive features include a number of lectional signs, such as punctuation, apostrophe, and diaeresis, which are habitually described as “reader’s aids” for public reading.

This paper examines the use of distinctive features—with a focus on lectional signs—in three early Christian manuscripts (P46, P66, and P75). It challenges the widespread notion that lectional signs functioned as “reader’s aids” in public reading. It demonstrates how most of lectional signs are not used frequently and consistently enough to significantly aid the lector’s task. A comparison with the same texts displayed as they would appear in non-Christian literary manuscripts (i.e. in narrow columns without abbreviations, lectional signs, etc.) shows that although the differences are notable, they are not extensive enough to substantiate the claim that they enfranchise a wider social diversity in the public reading of Christian texts.

Finally, the paper presents an alternative interpretation of the function of distinctive features in early Christian manuscripts. It argues that they should be understood both as a reflection of a specific early Christian reading culture and as aids to private reading and study for ordinary readers. By demonstrating that most abbreviations and lectional signs function as indicators of division, it shows that they are more helpful in interpreting the text than in reading it aloud.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Religious Studies


  • Manuscript Studies, Early Christian Manuscripts, Public Reading, Lectional Signs, Lector, Orality, Performance, New Testament, Textual Criticism
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch
EventSociety for Biblical Literature International Meeting 2013 - St. Andrews, Scotland
Duration: 2013 Jul 72013 Jul 11


ConferenceSociety for Biblical Literature International Meeting 2013

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: New Testament Studies (015017052)