Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Curious Image of the Sun in Revelation 9:2

When you do history, the only real discoveries consist of unearthing things that everyone, or some, or at least the discover, did not know about till then.

I had this experience when I followed up a note in Hoskier's Text of the Apocalypse. He notes that three manuscripts of Revelation have a curious little drawing (or perhaps better a pictogram) instead of the word 'the sun' 'ο ηλιος'.

Thanks to the INTF, it took only a few minutes to an image, the first one is probably the least clear:

Minuscule 2074:

κ(αι) εσκοτισθη ο [sun] κ(αι) ο αηρ

Minuscule 2075:

κ(αι) εσκοτϊσθη ο [sun] κ(αι) ο αηρ

Minuscule 2077:

σκοτϊσθη ο [sun] κ(αι) ο αηρ

It is a curious little drawing and I am not sure it looks like a sun, much more like a circle with a tail, perhaps a comet.

Does anyone know what this about, are there other examples, other symbols?


  1. Hi Dirk!

    Very interesting! Tilted, it is at least similar to the Chinese radical for sun, 日.


    Jonathan C. Borland

  2. Dear Dirk,

    I have seen a picture of the moon in a colophon of a lectionary. In the colophon the scribe has written the Byzantine year, indiction number, sun cycle number and moon cycle number.

    Chris Jordan

  3. Hi Dirk,

    Thanks so much for mentioning this. I find Hoskier to be a treasure trove of scribal minutiae like these. He knew the documents so well.

    I just did a few searches to see if these scribes used the sun symbol elsewhere in the other 13 usages of sun in Rev. I noticed that 2074 also uses the sun symbol in 6:12; 7:2, 16; 8:12, but mss 2075 & 2077 don't. But I did notice that Hoskier notes that these three and ms 459 use a moon crescent symbol in 8:12. Seeing 459 use that is interesting since it's in Florence, Italy, whereas the other three (2074, 2075, & 2077) are Athos-Iviron mss (ranging from X to XVII centuries). I didn't have time to search beyond 8:12 on the other refs to sun, moon, or stars. Really interesting.

    I appreciate your attention to detail and your willingness to mention this.

  4. Hoskier 1:572 points out that MS 2074 (his 170) "writes [the sun symbol] throughout for HLIOS and its cases wherever the word occurs. He also uses [a moon symbol] throughout for SELHNH and its cases".

    He comments that "the scribe was probably accustomed to copy magical and mystical documents, where many astronomical and astrological signs and symbols occur. And as a matter of fact, this Apoc. is again found mingled with other miscellaneous documents."

    As for MSS 2075 and 2077, Hoskier also notes (1:575, 579) that the one is a "full sister" of the other "in the same monastery", which explains their joint but rare use of the sun symbol.

  5. Chris was absolutely right about lect 253. Look here (copy & paste into your browser) http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/community/modules/papyri/?zoom=54&left=-238&top=-738&site=INTF&image=40253/88431/3380/10/3073 and you will see the moon and our sun sign in the line above. Chris suggests that "this type of pictograming originated in the colophons and crept into the biblical text", and I think he is right.
    Transcription Εγραφη χειρι μιχαηλ ταπεινου και αμαρτωλου μοναχου και αναξιου ιερεωσ εν ετει ςφκη ινδικτιωνοσ γ [image of sun] κυκλω δ [image of moon] ια επι τησ βασιλειασ βασιλειου και

  6. Could this symbol be the drawing of a solar eclipse? In 9.2 the sun is darkened.

  7. Interesting question, Peter. Ms 2074 is X century (long before Galileo). I googled around and found this interesting X century manuscript of the works of Aristarchus of Samos (IV-III cent BC) "On the Distances and Sizes of the Sun and the Moon." Notice the diagram. Interesting similarity.

  8. In 9:2 the text does say KAI ESKOTISQH O HLIOS ... EK TOU KAPNOU TOU FREATOS.

    So the context itself rules out an eclipse.

    It does appear, however, that the scribe used a bit of artistic creativity in order more fully to illustrate the context.

  9. Hello. Yes, you can find the same symbol for Sun in the Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus: (P. Oxy. 4133-4300a), Volume 1, page 63.

    With kind regards,


  10. Otto Neugebauer & Henry B. Van Hoesen in their book, _Greek Horoscopes_ (American Philosophical Society, 1987) mention the exact same sun and moon symbols being used in Greek horoscope papyri from I cent BC to V cent AD. (See p. 163.) The only other symbol they mention is a ligature of ω and ρ for ωρα.

  11. Would this pictogram tell us some about the people who would have used the manuscript?

  12. Dirk,

    If you consult page 342 of Gardthausen's "Griechische Palaeographie" (1913) (I'm not sure which volume), you will see this symbol listed in the first column, in the sixth line from the top; it =

    Two similar symbols follow it; when the lower straight-line is missing, that = day, and when the upper straight-line is missing, that = night.

    Over at the Textualcriticism discussion-list in Post #7961 I mentioned this symbol's presence in a MS at the National Library of Spain, in Madrid. I'm not sure of the manuscript's GA#; in the meantime I call it the Zelada Gospels.

    The Zelada GOspels has Victor of Antioch's Catena-Commentary on Mark; on page 284, there's an ordinary "telos" after 16:8, and a penciled note identifying Heothinon #3, and the enlarged initial A of "Anastas" at the beginning of 16:9 is accompanied by the sun-symbol (or, as I described it in the post, the symbol that looks like an ice cream cone with the ice cream pointed to the southwest).

    The same symbol appears in the margin alongside the part of Victor's Commentary-Catena that addresses the question of Eusebius' claim about MSS that lack Mk. 16:9-20 and which also mentions that the passage was found in a cherished Palestinian exemplar.

    So, while this symbol seems to have initially represented the sun, or the first sunlight of dawn, it looks like it was sometimes utilized as an all-purpose symbol after the usual symbols had been used up. (Not unlike the way that the crescent-moon symbol is used occasionally to link corrections in the margin to the places where they belong in the text).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  13. Thanks all for a whole string of quality contributions - this proved to be an unexpectedly rewarding exercise. What I have learned is that:
    * At the time our manuscript used it the symbol was already a 1.000 years old and used in the astronomical tradition
    * It was used in at least one colophon, but I could imagine there were more
    * It is quite rare to find it in the main text of the type of manuscripts I am working with (which is the only justification for my 'curious')
    * There are variants on this sign (day, night), but so far we have not seen these in Greek biblical texts
    * By extension this sign could be used as a generic scribal signalling mark.

    Not bad for less than a day's collective effort.

  14. One further reference to add to the collection... Rev 6:12 (et al.) of 2845 has both sun and moon pictograms.

  15. I like the fact the the sun symbol also includes a breathing mark and an accent in all three examples.

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  17. I don't know if there's any connection.

    But the symbol also looks kind of like an eye, which can be a symbol for the Egyptian sun god, Ra.

    I'm no magical papyri expert. But it has a ring of truth to me that their scribes would have had been influenced by Egyptian ideas and symbols.

    Also, I don't think the comet-like tail is inappropriate for a symbol of the Sun itself. The Greek god Helios supposedly traveled through the sky like comets do. And Helios was an important god in magical papyri. So, again, a depiction of the Helios of Revelation with a symbol meant for the Helios of Greek mythology, if drawn by a scribe who was used to copying magical papyri seems reasonable.

  18. Here you go. A little googling turned this up. It's not scholarly, but I assume, based on comparison with what Dirk posted, that what they say about the symbol occurring in magical papyri is true.


    Perhaps someone knows where to find a better source mentioning this symbols use in magical papyri.

  19. Here's something more helpful.

    Alexander Jones, in his book, Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus, has a table of symbols for heavenly bodies on p. 63 that includes the one for Helios that is used in the images in the OP.

    The plates in the back also include at least one that shows a really clear example of this symbol (Plate XII, p. 493).

    Fortunately, both of these pages of the book are viewable for free on Google Books. See the following two links:



  20. In Gematria theta equals the sun.

  21. I see a comment mentioning other references...I find it interesting that each of those he found is for a "Darkened Sun" (Not just "sun").