**From:** Edward Pothier, Physics Dept. (*POTHIER@neu.edu*)

**Date:** Mon Aug 11 1997 - 17:14:23 EDT

**Next message:**Edward Hobbs: "Textbooks for Hellenistic and Classical Greek"**Previous message:**Kevin W. Woodruff: "Re: CIPHER NUMBERS IN GREEK MANUSCRIPTS"**Maybe in reply to:**Brian E. Wilson: "CIPHER NUMBERS IN GREEK MANUSCRIPTS"**Messages sorted by:**[ date ] [ thread ] [ subject ] [ author ] [ attachment ]**Mail actions:**[ respond to this message ] [ mail a new topic ]

"Brian E. Wilson" <brian@twonh.demon.co.uk> wrote:

*>
*

*> In English we can write the number "two" either as a word - TWO - or as
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*> a cipher - 2. In many Greek papyri of parts of the New Testament, very
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*> roughly half of the numbers are written as words, and the other half as
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*> ciphers. Thus a lone Alpha with a superscript line is the cipher for
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*> the number one, and a lone Beta with superscript line is the cipher for
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*> the number two, used in roughly half of the instances of the numbers
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*> one and two, whereas elsewhere the numbers are written as the words
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*> EIJ and DUO, and so on.
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*>
*

*> I am interested in finding out whether this is a characteristic of
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*> Christian writing in Greek. Does anyone know, please, whether
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*> manuscripts of Classical Greek literature use ciphers for numbers? Where
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*> can I read about this (apart from ploughing through facsimiles of
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*> manuscripts!)?
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*>
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*> Also, does anyone know how the Greek ciphers for larger numbers are
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*> worked out?! Maybe mathematics and B-Greek have something in common
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*> after all?!
*

---------------------- end quoted material

I was engaged in a recent discussion of the representation of the

number in Rev 13:18. Since many summers ago I wrote a lengthy paper on

that subject, I am including a edited version of PART of it. Even when

Greek NT manuscripts use a numerical rather than verbal representation,

they use three different symbols for the digits (chi=600, xi=60, and

stigma=6 [Stigma or digamma being an obsolete letter]).

From: SIX HUNDRED SIXTY-SIX BUT NOT 666 (Part III of original)

Edward L. Pothier (July 1991)

III. Greek Alphabetic Numbers at the Time of the New Testament

Since the Book of Revelation, like the other twenty six

books of the New Testament, was written in Koine Greek in the

first or early second century AD, we must study how numbers were

represented at that time in Greek.[5]

One early Greek numeral system, known as Attic numerals,

started at Athens and used symbols for the key numbers 1, 5, 10,

50, 100, etc. The individual symbols of each type were repeated

as often as needed (up to four times) to make up a number's

representation. This can be called a REPETITIVE 1-5 system.

This system was similar to the later (but more familiar to us)

system of Roman numerals except that it was always additive

(repetitive) unlike the Roman numeral system which has also

subtractive forms.[6]

Another system also existed (not surprisingly considering

the independence and non-cooperation of Greek city states). This

system, known as the Ionian or Milesian (from Miletus in Asia

Minor)[7], may have started in the 6th century BC. The Attic

system was fading out of use, disappearing almost entirely in the

time of the Roman Empire. The Milesian alphabetic numeral system

was officially adopted in Athens in the first century BC.[8]

By the time of the New Testament we need only consider the

Greek alphabetic numeral system. Although the Greeks had ways of

representing numbers in the thousands and also those above

ten-thousand (myriads), we will only consider how they

represented numbers up to nine hundred ninety nine.

These Greeks, like us, used a decimal system but, unlike us,

they did not use a zero number[9]. Thus, although it was a

decimal system, it was not a place-value system. Therefore more

symbols were needed than just the nine (plus zero) which we use.

To represent the numbers up to our 999, they needed 27 different

symbols: nine for the units 1, 2, ..., 9; nine for the tens 10,

20, ..., 90; and still another nine for the hundreds 100, 200,

..., 900.

For symbols they used the letters of the Greek alphabet.

However, an immediate problem arose since the Greek alphabet

contained only 24 letters. To fill in the missing three, they

used old obsolete letters from previous alphabets and, somewhat

confusingly, these were interspersed with the regular letters.

The following table show the assignments[10].

TABLE OF NUMERICAL VALUES OF GREEK LETTERS

1 alpha 10 iota 100 rho

2 beta 20 kappa 200 sigma

3 gamma 30 lambda 300 tau

4 delta 40 mu 400 upsilon

5 epsilon 50 nu 500 phi

6 [digamma] 60 xi 600 chi

7 zeta 70 omicron 700 psi

8 eta 80 pi 800 omega

9 theta 90 [koppa] 900 [sampi]

Note the obsolete letters in brackets in the table: digamma

for 6, koppa for 90, and sampi for 900. The koppa and sampi will

not affect us further except that the presence of koppa for 90

pushes letters such as rho, sigma, etc., one position down.

The digamma at 6, however, will be directly relevant for the

representation of six hundred sixty-six. This letter also became

known as stigma (note the "t") because the form of writing it

looked like the ligature (writing together) of the two Greek

letters sigma and tau, roughly corresponding to our s and t. [If

not done carefully, it can even look like just a sigma, which

would be an error.] For most of the rest of this study this

obsolete letter pushed into service to represent the numeral for

6 will be referred to as stigma.

Now to represent a number in alphabetic symbols in the first

century AD[11] Greek writers could just use the individual

symbols concatenated together similarly to how we do it. Because

there was no zero, more possible symbols were needed (the 27

listed above). However, to represent a number which has a zero

in our representation, they would need less characters. Our

number 123 would be represented the three letter symbols

(rho)(kappa)(gamma). Our number 209 could be represented by only

two letters (sigma)(theta) and 300 by only one letter (tau).

To distinguish letters used as numbers from normal letters a

horizontal line was usually written above the letter-numbers or

sometimes just a tick mark[12]. It should be noted that the

order of the letters needed to represent a number is not

important, since this system is not a place-value system. Most

often, however, the highest valued letter would be put first.

Thus to represent our number of interest, six hundred

sixty-six, rather than using three identical characters (666) as

we do in our decimal PLACE-VALUE system, a first century Greek

writer (if not spelling out the words just as we also can) would

use three distinct characters (chi)(xi)(stigma)!

-- NOTES --

[3]. For a detailed description of the evolution of our

current number system and how it gradually made its way to the

West see such works as:

Graham Flegg (ed), NUMBERS THROUGH THE AGES (London:

Macmillian Education, 1989) 88-130.

Georges Ifrah, FROM ONE TO ZERO: A UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF

NUMBERS (New York: Viking, 1985) 428-497.

Karl Menninger, NUMBER WORDS AND NUMBER SYMBOLS: A CULTURAL

HISTORY OF NUMBERS (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969) 389-445.

[4]. Incidently, some modern apocalyptic fanatics (or

"prophecy" students) who are most alarmed at the number 666 and

worry about large computer-based control systems that the Beast

will use should perhaps worry about a hexadecimal based system

(base 16) rather than the decimal based 666 number. In the

modern computer hexadecimal number system a number is represented

using 16 possible "numeral" symbols: our usual 0-9, then 6

additional "numerals": A=10, B=11, C=12, D=13, E=14, F=15. In

hexadecimal notation instead of having units, tens, hundreds

places one has units, sixteens, two hundred fifty-sixs places.

Thus six hundred sixty-six is represented as 29A (hexadecimal)

since decimally 666= 2x256 + 9x16 + 10x1.

[5]. The relevant sections in the works in [3] are:

Flegg, NUMBERS THROUGH THE AGES, 88-101.

Ifrah, FROM ONE TO ZERO, 261-274.

Menninger, NUMBER WORDS AND NUMBER SYMBOLS, 268-274.

Also see O.A.W. Dilke, MATHEMATICS AND MEASUREMENT (London:

British Museum Publications, 1987) 13-16.

[6]. A subtractive form means that sometimes a number such

as 9 is represented as IX, with the smaller unit (I) preceding

the larger (X) meaning one less than 10, rather than additively

as VIIII meaning four more than five.

Interestingly, the Roman numeral system, which uses the

symbols I, V, X, etc., for 1, 5, 10, etc., gives a peculiar

representation for our number of interest: six hundred sixty

six. Since 666 = 500+100+50+10+5+1, in Roman numerals it is

represented as DCLXVI, using every symbol through D (=500) once

and only once.

[7]. Miletus is mentioned in the NT (but with no numerical

connection) in Acts 20:15,17 and 2 Tim 4:20.

[8]. Menninger, NUMBER WORDS AND NUMBER SYMBOLS, 268.

Dilke, MATHEMATICS AND MEASUREMENT, 14.

[9]. Later, the Alexandrian Greek astronomer Ptolemy (2nd

century AD) used a symbol similar to zero in some astronomical

tables, but it never seemed to be developed by the Greeks.

[10]. Bruce M. Metzger, MANUSCRIPTS OF THE GREEK BIBLE: AN

INTRODUCTION TO GREEK PALAEOGRAPHY (New York: Oxford University

Press, 1981) 7-9.

[11]. These alphabetic numerals have mainly fallen out of

modern Greek which uses the regular decimal Arabic place-value

numbers. They are still used, perhaps similarly to how we use

Roman numerals, to annotate items in a list. An example of

useful non-library research was the discovery on the wall of a

local Greek pizza/submarine sandwich shop of a 1987 map of

Greece. Around the edge was a table of the land areas of various

political regions of Greece. Although the numbers for the areas

were written in Arabic numerals, the labels beside the names of

the regions used Greek letters: alpha, beta, etc.

Interestingly, at the sixth location the two greek letters

(sigma) and (tau) were used, obviously from the old stigma. The

list then continued with single letters up through the tenth

entry (iota), then double letters up to the fourteenth and last

element, represented by (iota)(delta).

[12]. Metzger, MANUSCRIPTS OF THE GREEK BIBLE, 9.

=============================================================================

= Edward L. Pothier pothier@nuhub.dac.neu.edu =

= Physics Department BUT PREFERRED EMAIL:pothier@hex.neu.edu =

= Northeastern University / Boston, MA 02115 =

=============================================================================

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