How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics
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Benjamin Kantor
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How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Benjamin Kantor » January 2nd, 2020, 6:14 am

Many years ago someone at a Biblical Language Center Greek workshop asked this question:
If the Greek diphthong represented by αι had already shifted to a monophthong of the [ε] or [e̞] quality by the Koine period (no longer historical *[ai]), does that mean that Hebrew proper names (PNs) like Ἰεσσαί 'Jesse' would have been pronounced as [iεˈsε] (note αι as [ε]) when Koine Greek speakers read the New Testament?
I didn't remember (or hear) the answer at the time, but since I was about to record the Gospel of Matthew in Koine pronunciation (with the genealogies of course where this is important) I decided to look into this. I think we actually do have evidence to conclude that those highly knowledgeable scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge would have pronounced a word like χαίρειν as [ˈxεrin] but a name like Ιεσσαι as [iε(s)ˈai].

I lay out the evidence here:

https://www.koinegreek.com/post/how-was ... -testament

I'd appreciate any feedback!
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Brian Gould
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Brian Gould » January 2nd, 2020, 9:31 pm

Your sources seem to be conceding that only a small minority of scribes, largely restricted to those who knew Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, in addition to Greek, ever used the alternative spellings corresponding to αϊ. If that is the case, surely the corollary is that |ε| had by then become the standard pronunciation throughout the broader Hellenistic world, even in the case of OT names, and would therefore be the more suitable pronunciation to adopt for your planned recording?
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MAubrey
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by MAubrey » January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm

Brian Gould wrote:
January 2nd, 2020, 9:31 pm
Your sources seem to be conceding that only a small minority of scribes, largely restricted to those who knew Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, in addition to Greek, ever used the alternative spellings corresponding to αϊ. If that is the case, surely the corollary is that |ε| had by then become the standard pronunciation throughout the broader Hellenistic world, even in the case of OT names, and would therefore be the more suitable pronunciation to adopt for your planned recording?
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
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Mike Aubrey, Linguist
Koine-Greek.com

Brian Gould
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Brian Gould » January 3rd, 2020, 7:50 pm

MAubrey wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
Yes, I think we are in agreement on the basic criterion, which boils down to a question of statistics. If a comparison of the different manuscripts leads to the conclusion that one pronunciation was statistically dominant, with only a small minority using the other pronunciation, then I would say go with the larger language community. Although Benjamin’s link doesn’t quote any statistics, this sentence gave me the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the diphthongal pronunciation |aï| was by no means in widespread use:

The evidence of early LXX and NT manuscripts suggests that this phenomenon was preserved to a degree—perhaps only among highly educated scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge—in the manuscript tradition all the way up into the Byzantine period. On the other hand, Greek speakers without such knowledge would be prone to pronounce αι in Semitic names just like everywhere else.
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MAubrey
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by MAubrey » January 10th, 2020, 9:49 pm

Brian Gould wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 7:50 pm
MAubrey wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
Yes, I think we are in agreement on the basic criterion, which boils down to a question of statistics. If a comparison of the different manuscripts leads to the conclusion that one pronunciation was statistically dominant, with only a small minority using the other pronunciation, then I would say go with the larger language community. Although Benjamin’s link doesn’t quote any statistics, this sentence gave me the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the diphthongal pronunciation |aï| was by no means in widespread use:

The evidence of early LXX and NT manuscripts suggests that this phenomenon was preserved to a degree—perhaps only among highly educated scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge—in the manuscript tradition all the way up into the Byzantine period. On the other hand, Greek speakers without such knowledge would be prone to pronounce αι in Semitic names just like everywhere else.
It isn't entirely clear to me that we are in agreement on the basic criterion.
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Mike Aubrey, Linguist
Koine-Greek.com

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