Re: Greek Inscriptions and Orthography

From: Rodney J. Decker (
Date: Thu Sep 23 1999 - 09:46:30 EDT

> I have been asked a question about dating the different scripts of
>the Greek alphabet. It appears that in the inscription we have from Herod's
>Temple that warns Gentiles not to enter on pain of death, the full Sigma is
>used. Coinage from Herod's time reflects both the full Sigma and an
>abbreviated Sigma that looks like our letter 'c'. In the Byzantine period
>only the abbreviated Sigma is found.

This isn't a full answer to your query, but when reading inscriptions, you
should be aware that what sometimes looks like a lunate sigma (what you
call an "abbrev. sigma") is often a "stigma."

I learned this recently when puzzling over the Gallio inscription (relevant
to Acts 18 and the Corinthian correspondance of Paul). I noted what I
initially took to be two different forms of the sigma in the same text:
both the usual capital form and the lunate form. It took me more time that
perhaps it should have, but I finally figured out that what I had tried to
read (unsuccessfully!) as a sigma was actually a *stigma.* The text (in the
2d line of the 3d fragment, top right) reads "KAPPA STIGMA" (2 characters;
b-greek doesn't have a transliteration convention for a stigma!)--i.e.,
"twenty six." (There is a regular capital sigma almost directly above it in
line 1.) The date of the original rescript from Tiberius is ca. AD 52; the
actual inscription may have been cut sometime later (but probably not much
as I doubt that it would have served any purpose at a much later time).

I don't know if that's the case with the items you're looking at or not,
but it's worth checking. I'd probably turn first to Metzger's volume on
paleography if I were looking for an answer (*Manuscripts of the Greek
Bible: An Introduction to Paleography*).


Rodney J. Decker, Th.D. Baptist Bible Seminary
Assoc. Prof./NT PO Box 800, Clarks Summit, PA 18411
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