Hebrew letters used as numbers

Henry Churchyard churchyh at ccwf.cc.utexas.edu
Sat Jun 19 01:10:22 EDT 1999

I'm not an epigrapher, but I gather that part of the evidence is that
previous numerical notation systems existed (in Greek the "acrophonic"
system, somewhat like Roman numerals, and in West Semitic inscriptions
a tally-stroke notation), and were used in inscriptions up to the time
when the "alphabetic" (letters as units, tens, hundreds) system first
appears, after which they go into rapid decline (in the second century
B.C. for Greek).

It might actually be argued that the alphabetic system might be older
because the archaic letters digamma and qoppa appear in their proper
place, but I think these letters were still being used in local
scripts to write local non-koine dialects at the beginning of the
second century B.C., and anyway, it couild be argued that these
letters ( and also "san" or "sanpi", which appears _out_ of its proper
place) were artificially dragged in in order to make up a full 27
letters (so that all 9 quantities in units, tens, and hundreds would
have a letter), and therefore the appearance of these letters doesn't
indicate a particularly ancient origin of the system.

Even if you could throw its origins back another century, it seems
likely that a majority of the books of the Hebrew Bible only
underwent slight editing after that time, so that it's hard to see how
gematria could have been much of a factor in their composition.

         --Henry Churchyard     churchyh at ccwf.cc.utexas.edu

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