Re: John 18:2

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Apr 17 1996 - 06:15:18 EDT

On 4/16/96, Dale M. Wheeler wrote:

> I wonder what the reaction of the membership is to the orthography
> of the first word in John 18:2 in NA26/27 when compared with the
> same word in UBS3/4. The fact that the NA editors have chosen NOT
> to put the iota as a subscript with a capital eta makes me blink
> everytime I see it. Has anyone ever run into an explanation for
> why they chose to do this (aside from the fact that their font
> would not support the subscript iota with a capital)? As far as I
> can tell this is the only time this happens (no capital omegas or
> alphas which should have iota subscripts).

I had not noticed this until it was now called attention to. When I saw it
I was not shocked to see the iota postscript substituted for the subscript,
primarily because there's a growing tendency to print an adscript instead
of a subscript iota in 5th century texts by some recent editors,
particularly in the Oxford texts, on grounds of the belief that the iota
was at that time actually being pronounced as part of a long diphthong.

The fact is, however, that traditional orthography in ancient texts is
heavily charged with anachronism: the iota subscripts are grammarians'
tributes to what is already an ancient pronunciation--the subscripts are
absent in Egyptian papyri wherein living Greek is written; the accents are
also surely an anachronistic convention for preserving the intonation
patterns of a long-past era of Greek pronunciation. While we continue to
teach these conventions in our pedagogical devotion to traditional
orthography, they are surely distortions of the language as spoken AND
WRITTEN in the New Testament era, just as surely as English spelling of the
archaic "night," "right," "tough," "wrought," etc. are distortions of the
way these words are pronounced in every spoken dialect of English that I am
aware of.

But I suppose these orthographical conventions are baggage that we're stuck
with; to shake them loose would require much more in the way of pangs of
conscience--as well as surrender to greater confusion and costs of
re-setting the type in textbooks--than would adoption of the metric system
by the U.S.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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