Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 22.13)

The other day I was introducing the Greek alphabet to some beginning students, and we checked in with the interesting alphabetical reflection in Rev 1.8; 21.6; 22.13. If you look at Rev 22.13 in NA27 you will see that it is printed with the alpha written out in full and the omega written as a single letter: EGW TO ALFA KAI TO W (the others are the same). I thought it might be interesting to see what some of the manuscripts had.

So here is Sinaiticus:

And here is Alexandrinus:

So these two manuscripts reflect the same lettering as NA27: EGW TO ALFA KAI TO W. But the notable thing here is that both of these clearly indicate that the single letter W (omega) is an abbreviation (by using the over-line). This suggests that these manuscripts use the single letter to represent the word omega. If these two are representative (even if they are not, they are the earliest manuscripts), then the printed editions should therefore print the full word represented by the abbreviation: EGW TO ALFA KAI TO WMEGA. This is surely how this text was intended, understood and read in the seven churches to which this was written. Abbreviations are not normally reproduced in the critical edition. So do you agree with me that this would be worth revising in future printed editions of the Greek New Testament?


  1. Interesting thought - although I might suggest that future editions do the exact opposite - i.e., if the chosen reading does have just an abbreviation, then the abbreviation with the macron should be in the text, with the introduction giving a listing of all the nomina sacra and other abbreviations to be found in the text. Also, while it still makes sense to keep the spaces between the words, it might be good to more clearly indicate in the apparatus where a different separation might cause a different translation.

  2. I agree with Peter. What is worse, the Finnish Bible translates it as "I am A and O", which says almost nothing to the average Finnish reader, as O is not the last letter of the Finnish alphabet.

  3. Jacob said:
    "Also, while it still makes sense to keep the spaces between the words, it might be good to more clearly indicate in the apparatus where a different separation might cause a different translation."
    Does this apply here?

  4. Peter, I think you've made a good case on this. In checking some info we have on Rev., we show a consistent use of the W for omega, while a few later minuscules also have A for alpha (60 1006 1773 1854 2845). I can't say if they have a line above the alpha at this point, but will verify that if you'd like since we already have the collations done on these. We have just over 20 mss done so far on Rev., so this is by no means a complete database. But the point that the words should be spelled out (to be consistent with other such matters such as nomina sacra) or at least shown to be abbreviations seems to me to be the way to go for our printed Greek NT's.

  5. shalom Peter,

    this is a potentially important observation, though it is quite complicated, and has some implications that many might prefer to ignore.

    First of all, the name W-mega comes from a time when W-mega and O-mikron where pronounced the same. That equality of pronunciation is quite ancient and is certainly true from a century or two before the Christian era, from around the Mediterranean, though the naming tradition is harder to pin down.

    Here is from LSJ:
    "after the loss of the distinction betw. long and short vowels, ο and ω had the same pronunciation; they begin to be confused in Papyri of iii B. C. (οἰκωνόμου PRev.Laws 50.22 (iii B. C.)), but the name ω μέγα appears first in later Greek, Theognost. [9c AD--RB] Can. 13; κατὰ σχῆμα διπλοῦ ω̄ ἤτοι μεγάλου Eust.869.26 ... H[ero]d[ia]n[us] [Grammaticus] Epim 208 [2nd century AD--RB]"
    This 2nd century author Herodianus also referred to ο μικρον. (Epim. 209.)

    In other words, it would be noteworthy to find τὸ ὦ μέγα in a first century text. If you have easy access to TLG you might try checking Philo, I didn't see any in Plutarch but I didn't look carefully. Untagged searches will turn up all of the vocative ω. I would not treat the LSJ quote above as necessarily exhaustive and I would not be surprised to find some 1st century examples of "ω μεγα", or earlier. But it would help to have some good ones before claiming that the Apocalypse used "omega".

    If the Αποκάλυψις had the name τὸ ὦ, then the abbreviation macron can be taken as a secondary development in our manuscript traditions. If you have some external examples of ω μεγα, then the case for the Apocalypse would be stronger.

    In either case, ω or ω μεγα, this can be a reminder to students that Koine and NT Greek pronounced ω μεγα and ο μικρον, the same, something that I am sure that all of the evangelical Greek teachers would want to be teaching.

  6. Peter,

    PH: ... "then the printed editions should therefore print the full word represented by the abbreviation: EGW TO ALFA KAI TO WMEGA."

    It'd be better, I think, if the printed text retained the abbreviation. In the Greek Uncial Archetype of Mark I show what such a printed edition, with abbreviations of numerals and four nomina sacra (KS, QS, IS, XS) could look like.

    Somewhere there's an Asian inscription on a bracelet that ascribes the title "Alpha and Omega" to Bacchus. It's be interesting to compare its word-forms to those in the early MSS.

    In related news: somehow, I never realized the meaning of the names of omicron and omega, as O-small and O-big. That was a nice little epiphany as I read the post and comments here.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. In questions regarding Revelation collation data, Hoskier's Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse should be the first source examined.

    According to Hoskier, in Apoc 1:8 the form WMEGA in full with a bar over the W appears in his MS 218 (Gr.-Al.2256).

    In 1:11, about ten MSS are cited as having the bar over the W within a clearly secondary reading.

    In 21:6, one MS has both A and W with a bar, while four other MSS have the W with a bar.

    In 22:13 Hoskier's 174 (Gr.-Al. 2077) has WMEGA in full but with a bar over the W, and 3 other MSS have W with a bar.

    In these passages, several minuscules are cited as having only breathing and accent marks over the W, but no further indication that the minuscules in general had W with either accent or the bar (which is why our Byzantine text edition simply retained the W and did not spell it out).

    There is another consideration, however -- one that I consider more likely than that the W+bar was an abbreviation for the full form WMEGA: the bar may have been put in place merely to identify W as a single letter as opposed to other possible options (e.g., the interjection, dative relative pronoun, or Present Subjunctive of EIMI), even if the preceding article otherwise would have made it clear in context. Anything to make it easier on the reader would have been a motivation for a scribe.

  8. I've just come across a review by Bruce Metzger which seconds Randall Buth's observations on the lack of attestation of ωμεγα before the ninth century. It's on the Lexicon der christlichen Ikonographie in Church History 45 (1976) 1-11, reprinted as the Appendix to Metzger "New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional and Patristic" (Brill, Leiden 1980).
    Hope this is of interest.