From: Randall Buth (ButhFam@compuserve.com)
Date: Wed Feb 06 2002 - 07:55:25 EST
Meet 1c Greek, Israel
Here is the promised follow up to the Gemellus
letter. It is a fascinating little window into the land
of Israel 100 years after the gospel events. Technically,
this is second century Greek, though one may take
comfort in knowing that some of the persons involved were
born in the 1st century. As for the time, beggars can't be
choosers. We are just glad to have whatever we can
get from the period.
It was written in Judea by a certain Soumaios during the
Bar Kochba revolt between 132 and 134 CE (This was a
year before the Romans changed the province name from
Judea to Palestine. The geographical name had been 'land
of Israel' cf. Mt. 2.21.) Speculation about who this Soumais
was has ranged from Shim`on Ben Kosiba himself
(a.k.a. 'Bar Kochba') to a non-Jewish Greek compatriot.
This latter is the most probable historically, as will be
seen by the phraseology of the letter. Cassius Dio, the
Roman historian [c. 160CE-230 CE] wrote:
"And many others even from outside nations were joining
them [the Jews-RB] through eagerness for gain"
(Historia Romana 69:13.2)
POLLOI TE ALLOI KAI TWN ALLOFULWN
EPIQUMIAi KERDOUS SFISI SUNLAMBANONTO
[just like 'NT Greek' except for the Attic SFISI 'to them'
and perhaps the more formalistic/backgrounded word
order reserving the verb for the end]
This letter is not preserved as well as Gemellus .
An editor needs to judiciously fill in missing pieces of
words. They are marked with [ ] in the text below.
I have followed the transcription of Baruch Lifshitz in
Aegyptus 42 (1962: 241). Line numbers represent 'sense
units' and do not correspond to the papyrus.
2 IWNAQHI BAIANOU KAI MA[S]ABALA
yonates son of bayanos and masabala
to be happy (=greetings)
4 E[P]HDH EPEMSA PROS UMAS A[G]RIPPAN
since i-sent to you agrippa
5 SPOUD[ASA]TE PEMSE MOI
hasten to-send to me
6 S[TE]LEOU[S] KAI KITRIA
poles and citrons
7 A[UTA] D'ANASQHSETAI
and they will-stand-up [=will need to arrive]
8 IS [K]ITREIABOLHN IOUDAIWN
for the citronhappening of-the-jews
9 KAI MH ALWS POIHSHTAI.
and do not otherwise do
10 EGRAFH D[E] ELHNISTI
and this-was-written in greek
11 DIA T[O OR]MAN MH EURHQ[H]NAI
on-account-of to-be-eager not to-be-found
(=I had no desire)
12 EBRAESTI G[RA]YASQAI .
in hebrew to write-out
13 AUTON AP[O]LUSAI TACION
him send-off quickly
14 DI[A T]HN EORTHN
on-account-of the feast
15 KA[I M]H ALLWS POIHSH[TA]I
and do-not otherwise do
First, a brief historical note:
The reference to "of the Jews" in line 8 sounds like
a non-Jew writing. This might be further supported
by the comment about not writing in Hebrew,
something that a foreigner probably had a weaker
control of than Greek, even if fighting in a southern
Judean army. He may have needed help to
write in Hebrew.
Comments on interesting forms and structures:
4 EPHDH for EPEIDH 'since' probably represents fast
speech rather than a full itacism [epidi]. Slow speech of
standard EPEIDH at this time was [epide']. This may be
compared to something like English "I went to the store."
In fast speech 'to' is pronounced [ta or t' ]. Further support
for the lack of itacistic H=I can be found in HTA being
used correctly, elsewhere in this letter and in general in the
Dead Sea area Greek papyri.
EPEMSA for EPEMYA is a common colloquial spelling
that does not affect the phonemic structure of the language.
5 SPOUD[ASA]TE is correct for SPOUDASATE the
2p imperative. I point this out because of alternative
spellings for 2p that follow.
Of more interest is the form PEMSE. This is the
infinitive 'to send', normally spelled PEMYAI. It is a
good example of the AI/E interchange in Koine Greek.
By chance it was not exemplified in the Gemellus
letter, but it is widely attested throughout the
Mediterranean. [NB: PEMSE is most probably not an
imperative, PEMYON, which would be unexpected
after 'hasten' and would unexplainably use the
continuative imperative ending -E.
6 STELEOUS are normally axe-handles or the like,
while here they apparently refer to 'lulav' palm
7 ANASQHSETAI for ANASTHSETAI. The use of
Qeta in place of Tau was easy at this time because
Qeta itself was still a 'stop' [i.e. not a fricative], just like
the 't' in English "top". Tau on the other hand, was like
the 't' in English "stop" [i.e., an unaspirated stop]. These
sounds (FEI, QETA, CEI) were starting to weaken at this
time under the influence of the already fricativized
(BHTA, DELTA, GAMMA). This is backwards from
standard erasmian. The Allen-Daitz system keeps all
six of these 'stops'. Myself, I follow the lead of the voiced
fricatives, knowing that the voiceless ones were in the
process of changing during the Koine period, ending up as
fricatives from Eusebius' time, likewise in modern and
8 IS for EIS should be recognizible by now. There are
as many examples of EI for I and I for EI as one would
want to collect from early Hellenistic Koine right up to
modern Greek. Note the following, as well:
KITREIABOLHN used -EI- while KITRIA line 7
used -I- .KITREIABOLH is an otherwise unattested
word in Greek and refers to the Jewish Feast of
Tabernacles, where citrons were carried.
IOUDAIWN Historically, this probably points
to a non-Jewish writer. See discussion at the beginning
of the comments.
9 ALWS for ALLWS. Length was not a phonemic
part of the spoken language during the Koine period,
so this spelling is not surprising. See line 15 where is
is spelled ALLWS, as in standard Greek spelling.
POIHSHTAI for POIHSHTE, subjunctive 2p used
in a negative command. Notice the ending -AI.
An ending [-tay] did not exist in Greek for the 2p. This
is simply one of the ubiquitous examples of writing
AI for the sound E, just like E was written for AI in
10 ELHNISTI for ELLHNISTI . see comment line 9.
11 T[ OR]MAN is a very probable reconstruction for the
active continuative infinitive "to rush" "start" "be eager".
A noun "T[HN OR]MAN
would be a dialectical oddity for H ORMH and TO
ORMHMA wouldn't fit.
12 EBRAESTI , a dialectical form for EBRA-ISTI. The
A and I were kept separate in standard pronunciation and
are marked with diairesis (two dots) in standard
Historically, this probably points to a non-Jewish writer.
See discussion at the beginning of the comments.
GRAYASQAI is interesting as a middle for 'to write'
13 APOLUSAI is also interesting as a middle imperative
15 POIHSH[TA]I again, for POIHSHTE .
Another example of AI being written for the sound E.
In sum, this letter provides a very interesting historical
window into the life and times of the period. As for
language, it shows examples of EI=I and AI=E in
spelling. Just for the record, elsewhere in the Babata
archive (124-130 CE, Dead Sea area) are further
examples of W=O and OI=U. For some examples,
see Living Konie Greek for Everyone, v. 1, pp.
175-184 (www.biblicalulpan.org). Thus, the equations
EI=I, AI=I, W=O and OI=U are not to be thought of
as limited to Egypt, Israel or anywhere in the
Mediterranean. They are panhellenic Koine.
I am writing as a teacher. If someone wants to ask
'but couldn't A explain this or B explain that, so that we
could speculate on an 'erasmian' use of symbols?', I can
only respond, "not in the light of contemporary documents,
either locally or abroad, nor in the light of previous periods
of the language and following periods of the language."
Experience brings the necessary background to
distinguish static from pattern. There are certainly
points where one is not completely certain in this
particular letter. E.g. It is possible that
EPHDH was pronounced [epipi], I just don't feel it is
the most probable here. If someone wants to object to
the direction and tenor of this presentation, they would
do well to read a few hundred ancient documents first:
all the Dead Sea Greek papyri, and a sample of
inscriptions from Asia Minor, Greek writings in the
Roman catacombs, papyri from Egypt, and our major
NT manuscripts from the 2nd century and following.
I am not alone in arriving at such "definite" conclusions.
Listen to Blass-D-F Greek Grammar of the NT
(par. 23, p. 13): "The phonetic leveling of EI
and I betrays itself by the rather frequent confusion in usage
in the early Hellenistic period, in Attic inscriptions from
ii BC end, in Egyptian papyri from iii BC mid. The
possibility is accordingly precluded that even Lk and Paul
employed the correct historical spelling of I and EI; how
they actually wrote is unknown to us."
The "possibility is precluded" is academese for "next to
impossible" or "impossible".
Lest someone feel discouraged by that, I would recommend
turning it around: If Luke and Paul were not bothered by a
confusion of EI and I, and the early Christian community
could live with it, we should be able to live with it. The
'silver lining' in this is that we keep EI clearly distinct
For the record, I am happy to use 'standard Attic'
orthography for our texts. Spelling standards are useful
and make reading easier (like in this English email),
as long as we don't hide ourselves from what lies
underneath in the phonemic sound system.
Randall Buth, PhD
Director, Biblical Language Center
and Lecturer, Biblical Hebrew
Rothberg International School
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