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More on Greek Numerals

A member of the blog, Douglas Harder, was inspired by yesterday’s post on how to make numbers in Greek, to come up with a full description and chart of how it works.  He sent it to me and gave me his approval to post it.  I think it is very clear and interesting.   So here is what he has come up with.  (In my next couple of posts I’ll talk about how knowing this information matters for understanding some early Christian texts, including a curious passage in the letter of Barnabas and, then, the 666 — the number of the Beast — in the book of Revelation.)

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Greek numerals

Like the Romans, the Greeks used letters to represent numbers.  An older pre-Hellenistic Greek alphabet had 27 characters, not 24, and this allowed them to create three groups of nine letters where

  1. the first nine represented the values 1 through 9,
  2. the next nine represented 10, 20, 30 up to 90, and
  3. the last nine represented 100, 200, 300 and up to 900.

These are the letters and the numbers they represent….

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On Debating a Fundamentalist
How To Make Greek Numbers (!)

10

Comments

  1. Avatar
    J.J.  February 11, 2015

    One minor note. Ιησους added up to 888 (as mentioned in the Sibylline Oracles). Final sigma was still a sigma (200) even though it looked more like a digamma (6).

  2. Avatar
    nacord  February 11, 2015

    Fascinating post! I’m feeling a bit salty that I never knew about these three extra letters in the Greek alphabet. At what point did they filter out of use? Do we have any approximation of what sounds they produced?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 13, 2015

      I’m afraid I don’t know offhand, and am out of town far removed (gratefully — I’m playing) from my books. Maybe someone else on the blog knows?

  3. Goat
    Goat  February 12, 2015

    Is it just me or does anyone else find it amazing that the Greeks used a system that relied on 27 characters yet recognized the expediency of Base 10? I think this ties into a philosophical argument (not necessarily a theological argument) about the inerrancy of mathematics and what that says about the concept of intelligent design.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 12, 2015

    An excellent and clear chart. Thanks to both Doug and you.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  February 12, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    When you first studied Greek were you required to start with Attic or did you focus exclusively on Koine?

    thx

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 13, 2015

    I recently suggested a book about “memory” entitled “Time, Narrative, and History” by David Carr. Please disregard that suggestion. I was mistaken about several things about the book including thinking that this book was written by New York Times columnist, David Carr, who recently died. I hope I did not cost you any time. I apologize. It’s complicated, but my error.

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