In the statements in Luke 9:23 and 14:27, Jesus is pictured as summoning followers to “take up daily” and “bear” their own crosses, but in each case there is a clear conceptual linkage also to Jesus’ own crucifixion.
The earlier view, sometimes still repeated, that these christograms emerged in the post-Constantian period—and that the chi-rho was the earliest and the tau-rho developed from it—are now all shown to be erroneous. These influential claims were made by M. Sulzberger, “Le symbole de la Croix et les monogrammes de Jésus chez les premiers Chrétiens,” Byzantion 2 (1925), pp. 337–448. Also shown to be incorrect is Sulzberger’s claim that there was no Christian use of the cross-symbol, no christogram, and no representation of Jesus’ crucifixion before the fourth century C.E. (p. 371). Among works that perpetuate Sulzberger’s views long after they were shown incorrect, see G.F. Snyder, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine (Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 1985; 2nd ed. 2003).
Other examples of this “visual culture” are the so-called nomina sacra. They included Theos (“God”), Kyrios (“Lord”), Iesous (“Jesus”) and Christos (“Christ”). By the Byzantine period, some 15 words were treated as nomina sacra. The nomina sacra were written in abbreviated form, but were intended to be read as if spelled fully. These abbreviations were apparently intended to set off these words visually from the surrounding text. There is no indication, however, that the nomina sacra were read out or pronounced in any different manner, or that there was any sort of reverential gesture used when these words were read out in worship services or privately.
Baruch Kanael, “The Coins of King Herod of the Third Year,” Jewish Quarterly Review 62 (1951–1952), pp. 261–264; Baruch Kanael, “Ancient Jewish Coins and Their Historical Importance,” Biblical Archaeologist 26 (1963), pp. 38–62, esp. 48.
R.N. Freye, J.F. Gillam, H. Inghold and C.B. Welles, “Inscriptions from Dura-Europos,” Yale Classical Studies 14 (1955), pp. 123–213, esp. 191–194.
Don Pasquale Colella, “Les abréviations ט et ,” Revue Biblique 80 (1973), pp. 547–558, who comments on chi-rho marks on non-Christian amphorae.
For fuller discussion and citation of scholarly publications, see L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 135–154; Larry W. Hurtado, “The Staurogram in Early Christian Manuscripts: The Earliest Visual Reference to the Crucified Jesus?” in T.J. Kraus and T. Nicklas, eds., New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2006), pp. 207–226. The most important previous studies were by K. Aland, “Bemerkungen zum Alter und Entstehung des Christogramms anhand von Beobachtungen bei P66 und P75,” in Studien zur Überlieferung des Neuen Testaments und seines Textes (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1967), pp. 173–179; and Matthew Black, “The Chi-Rho Sign: Christogram and/or Staurogram?” in W.W. Gasque and R.P. Martin, eds., Apostolic History and the Gospel: Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 319–327.