The Hebrew א and the Greek χ (especially in their typical manuscript form) look very similar. 'Jewish Greek' (Septuagintic/Diaspora/NT Greek) already being an insiders language (inasmuch it's virtually necessary to be familiar with Hebrew culture, which also includes the Hebrew alphabet, in order to make sense of this form of Koine), could the otherwise inexplicable instances were we find a χ affixed to the end of transliterations of names and places simply have been a device to indicate the kind of vowel which gave the 'a' sound (v.s. ע for example)?

For instances, the book 'Ben Sira' or Ecclesiasticus called in Greek Σοφία Σιρὰχ (i.e. Wisdom of [Yeshua ben] Sira) is originally a Hebrew work, and we have most of the book in the original Hebrew from the Dead Sea Scrolls. But in the Septuagint, the name Sira is transliterated Σιραχ with a χ on the end, whereas the Hebrew is סירא.

Another example is the 'Field of Blood.'

We have the Aramaic given (חקל דמא haqel d'ma, field of blood) (Acts 1:18–19)—but again, with an otherwise inexplicable χ attached to the end: Ἁκελδαμάχ.


Is the chi (χ) used to indicate the kind of a vowel in the original Hebrew (namley the aleph א), a transliteration as it is from Hebrew in already Hebraic Greek?

Thanks in advance.

  • That's an interesting notion. You might want to post it on b - Hebrew because that's right up their alley
    – Ruminator
    Apr 22 '19 at 20:10
  • Post it where? I'm not aware of a Biblical Hebrew stack. Apr 22 '19 at 21:02
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    I'll consider that if I don't have any progress here. Thanks for the suggestion. Apr 22 '19 at 21:17
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    @Lucian Zara and Abia from Matthew 1:3,7 seem to be undeclinable despite ending in -a
    – b a
    Apr 23 '19 at 17:14
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    @NigelJ: English is related to German, where the h following a vowel serves only to prolong it, possessing no phonetic value of its own; the Greek khi and Hebrew kheth, on the other hand, are a completely different sound.
    – Lucian
    Apr 24 '19 at 2:47

For OP's question:

Is the chi (χ) used to indicate the kind of a vowel in the original Hebrew (namley the aleph א), a transliteration as it is from Hebrew in already Hebraic Greek?

The short answer is "No" -- (1) in the first instance, because chi is representing (possibly, more in a moment) a consonantal sound, not a "vowel". Aleph and Ayin are consonants, and although in English transliteration we associate them with vowels, it should not be forgotten that they are in fact consonants. And (2) in the second instance, because whatever the graphic similarity might be (it is pretty slim in manuscripts), this isn't a graphic issue. (See further note below.)

But there is a longer answer. To begin with, the representation of a particular name across languages can often be peculiar. One of my "favourites" to illustrate this is:

Jacob → James → Diego

...all the "same" name, and the relationship between them explicable, but appearing very different! A closer biblical example would be:

  • Habakkuk = Heb. חֲבַקּוּק‎
  • Ambakoum = LXX Ἀμβακοὺμ

So ... sort of explicable (the initial vowel, the introduction of the mu before beta; I'm not so sure about the final "m", though).

There are plenty of treatments of how Septuagint (or Koine) Greek handles proper names. One of the more full ones is found in Henry St. John Thackeray, A Grammar of Old Testament Greek according to the Septuagint (Cambridge, 1909), pp. 160-171. He might treat OP's case in those eleven pages, but if he did, I missed it.

Blass-Debrunner-Funk, Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 21-22 = § 39.3 (see esp. on p. 22) have an extremely brief discussion of OP's interest, and having noted the aleph/chi relationship in both Sira(ch) and Akeldama(ch), they comment: "Unusual". Pithy.

It would seem to imply a guttural pronunciation for aleph here, which is odd, since certainly by the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls it is fully quiescent, and the stronger ayin is headed that way as well. (On the other hand, ayin can be transliterated by gamma, which is some evidence for its pronunciation around this time.) However, this runs completely counter to the abundant evidence that aleph -- always the weakest of the gutturals -- is thoroughly quiescent at this time; see, e.g., P. Joüon & T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome: 2006), pp. 82-82 (§ 24) for full discussion.

The strangeness of these two isolated examples has attracted some attempts at explanation, including along the lines suggested by OP (that the "X" is a Hebrew aleph making an indeclinable ending for the Greek name). The fullest discussion I'm aware of is: Robert J. North, “The Qumran ‘Sadducees’,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 17.2 (1955): 44-68 (discussion on p. 54). But there is no agreement about this, and all suggestions are speculative, and lack compelling evidence. There is certainly no other linguistic evidence or consideration which would explain these cases.

That discussion is a little rough and ready, but one at least should not generalize from OP's two examples to a more widespread pattern. I know of no other cases of Greek χ "representing" Hebrew א as we have it in these two cases.

Graphic Comparison

Aleph and chi are "drawn" quite differently. Aleph takes three distinct strokes; chi is much more like a simple X. Here are examples (from a roughly similar time/milieu) of aleph from the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa), the other showing chi from the Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Naḥal Hever (8HevXII gr):

  • 1QIsa^a^, Col. 28, line 7 = 1QIsaa, Col. 28, line 7 = last two words of Isa 34:6
  • Close-up of Aleph
  • 8HevXII = LXX Zech 9:3 = 8HevXII, Col. B2, line 12 = LXX Zech 9:3
  • Close-up of Chi
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    Even if the extra letter was representing a consonant (which as you note is odd), how does it make sense for velar~uvular ח to be transliterated as χ, but pharyngeal ח not transliterated, and glottal א as χ again? What I thought you were getting at with the example of Ambakoum was that there are other examples of final letters added for no apparent reason (BDF on same page also notes this), but I don't think you ended up following that line of reasoning here. I think the question is more, how did this phonetic change come to be, or how do we know this is not a graphical issue?
    – b a
    Apr 24 '19 at 15:08
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    @ba The oddity is not that it represents a consonant, but that aleph should have consonantal value of this kind in this period. | There is no phonetic explanation (I'm aware of) to explain this strange case, and will update with one or two tidbits. I've invested as much time in this as I can, though -- reminds me what a time-sink even a "simple" Q&A can be on BH.SE!
    – Dɑvïd
    Apr 25 '19 at 12:42
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    Even if there are differences, an א in a Greek manuscript would certainly have been most likely to be interpreted as χ over any other letter, no less likely than the famous case of יהוה being read as ΠΙΠΙ. I don't think either that two cases is a very good proof for a general rule, but since there's no other clear explanation, there's at least a reason to consider the possibility that the unusual letter is paralinguistic
    – b a
    Apr 25 '19 at 15:38
  • @ba Fair enough, and much like Gottfried Kuhn's suggestion (in 1929, cited at footnote 31 in the page of Robert North's article, linked above). The "famous case" has been discussed in another Q&A on this site, if you haven't run across that one already. Here, we have a seemingly inexplicable case, so yes, it's worth considering all options. Given that no other final-aleph names (there are dozens, anyway! סְבָא, גֵּרָא מֵידְבָא, סִיסְרָא, צִיבָא ...) get such treatment inclines me to think these two are "merely" aberrant ... but maybe not! :)
    – Dɑvïd
    Apr 25 '19 at 22:25

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