Re: hHMIN, hUMIN : were both pronounced the *same* ?

Stephen C. Carlson (
Mon, 09 Dec 1996 23:36:27 -0500

At 05:01 12/6/96 -0500, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>In "A Textual Commentary on the GNT", Bruce Metzger talks about text
>variants which choose hHMIN vs. hUMIN, and he says:
> The interchange of hU for hH (both were pronounced EE), and
> vice versa, was a common blunder among Greek scribes...
>Certainly, they sounded similar, but the *same*? At a time that both forms
>were in active use in the language?

In the first century, H (eta) was pronounced like the vowel in English
"day", a closed 'e' (like the French =E9) with a strong 'y' glide. By
the second century A.D., the H had completely risen to its modern
Greek value.

The U (upsilon) in the first century was a high, front, rounded vowel
like the French 'u' or German =FC. This sound unrounded by the ninth
century to acquire its modern Greek value. The ninth century, by the
way, was also one of the most prolific in terms of production of the
Byzantine text.

So, hHMIN and hUMIN at the time they were in common use were pronounced
differently. However, they came to be pronounced exactly the same
when the copyists were active in transmitting the text of the New

>I hate to disagree with Bruce Metzger, who knows an awful lot more than I
>do, and for whom I have a lot of respect, but I find it very difficult to
>believe that hHMIN and hUMIN were both in common use but pronounced
>identically. Yes, I know that they would be pronounced the same in modern
>Greek, but modern Greek uses different pronouns which clearly distinguish
>the two. By the time the two pronouns were indistinguishable, I would have
>expected different pronouns to come into use, as they now have.

Yes, different pronouns did come into use (and the dative went out of
use, too), but the New Testament was not written anew in the ninth
century and beyond. Rather, the ninth-century scribes were copying a
work composed in the first century. Since, it was common for documents
to be mass-produced by one person reading and several others simultaneously
writing, such errors were not uncommon.

Bruce Metzger is a respected scholar and if you carefully read his
statement, you will find it to be correct. Of course, =E7a va sans dire,
not everything he says is right. I think Metzger is quite mistaken
over the ending of Mk16:8, that it is so highly unusual to end a
sentence with GAR. In fact, Gn18:15 (LXX) reads EFOBHQH GAR ("for
she was afraid"). But I digress.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35