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The LXX provides a wide variety of Hebrew, Aramaic, and other Semitic words transcribed into Greek. Most of the transcriptions are straightforward: the letter lamedh ל, for example, is always transcribed as lambda λ.

However, the letter shin שׁ is less consistent. At the beginning of a word, it's always written with a single sigma σ. But between vowels, it's sometimes written with a double sigma σσ.

For example:

  • מָשִׁיחַ‎ > Μεσσίας (double sigma)
  • יֵשׁוּעַ > Ἰησοῦς (single sigma)

What affects the decision to use one versus the other?

  • Related: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/6510/… – Draconis Nov 3 '18 at 1:28
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    There are also a couple of odd spellings with upsilon before or after the sigma: Συμεών, Μωυσῆς. I wonder if this is because the Semitic [ʃ] was rounded. – TKR Nov 3 '18 at 3:01
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    We need to look it up in Knobloch, Frederick W, "Hebrew sounds in Greek script: Transcriptions and related phenomena in the Septuagint, with special focus on Genesis" (1995). – Alex B. Nov 4 '18 at 2:35
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Note: this answer is pure speculation (or original research, if you're feeling generous), not backed up by any scholarly references.

Neither Varro nor I marked vowel length in our Hebrew and Aramaic transcriptions. But what if we go back and add that?

  • מְשִׁיחַ‎ məšīaħmessias
  • יֵשׁוּעַ jēšūaʕiēsūs
  • אַבְשָׁלוֹם 'abəšālōmabessalōm
  • הוֹשֵׁעַ hōšēaʕhōsēe
  • אֱלִישָׁע 'əlīšāʕelisaie

For a few more examples:

  • בָּשְׂמַת bāsəmathbasemath
  • אֱלִישֶׁבַע 'əlīšebhaʕelisabet
  • עֵשָׂו ʕēsāwēsau
  • יְהוֹשָׁפָט‬ jəhōšāphāṭiōsaphat
  • בַשָׂמ basāmbalsamon (*)

A pattern seems clear: a double sigma is used after a short vowel, a single sigma after a long one.

(A single sigma is also used word-initially and after a consonant, but that's less interesting, since no native Greek word has a double sigma in either of those environments.)

(*) This loan presumably happened earlier, before /ɬ/ merged into /s/. But it still shows a double consonant after a short vowel in the Greek transcription.

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  • This is a very interesting suggestion. If correct it would point to a phenomenon in Hebrew, not one in Greek. Something like a rule in pre-Masoretic Hebrew that shin takes dagesh forte after a short or ultra-short vowel. It might be compared with the way that initial consonants are doubled after the article ha-. – fdb Jun 25 '19 at 14:14
  • Interesting! This raises (to me at least) the question whether they were all initially double sigma but gemination was dropped after a long vowel as somehow redundant. Or perhaps the quality of shin depended on the length of the preceding vowel or the Greeks heard so. There are Greek words with a double sigma after a long vowel, but my impression is that they were pretty rare. Should we have a question whether this rule is as consistent as your preliminary research suggests? – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 25 '19 at 14:50
  • It would be interesting to see if this pattern also holds up with ס (samekh). – TKR Jun 25 '19 at 16:39
  • @TKR Indeed! I'm going to see if I can find a proper list of Semitic loans in the Septuagint, which I can then search for medial sigmas (sigmata?), and compare against the original…it'll be a lot more scientific than my current "Google for Old Testament names and look for ones with S's in them". – Draconis Jun 25 '19 at 16:41
  • @fdb Apparently also Aramaic, since the first vowel of "messias" is long in Hebrew (מָשִׁיחַ‎) but short in Aramaic (מְשִׁיחָא‎) – b a Jun 25 '19 at 19:02
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I think that TKR's remark on the occasional spellings with υ may also be relevant to the matter. Note that in Ἰησοῦς with the single σ, the the ש is in the vicinity of a rounded vowel.

Also interesting is that while שְלֹמֹה (Shelomo/Solomon) is Σαλωμῶν (or a variant), אַבְשָׁלוֹם (Abshalom/Absalom) is Αβεσσαλωμ, with medial σσ. Also note אֲבִשַׁי (Abishai) -> Αβεσσα (σσ); הוֹשֵׁעַ (Hoshea/Hosea) -> Ωσηε (σ, rounded vowel).

For υ, also note שְׁכֶם (Shechem) -> Συχεμ (but also Σικιμα)

It looks to me like there is at least a partial correlation based on whether a rounded vowel is in the vicinity of the שׁ, but it cannot be regarded as predicative (in fact, I've mentioned a counter-example elsewhere: אֱלִישָׁע (Elisha) -> Ελισαιε).

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  • Interesting! So if I'm understanding right, you're saying that a single sigma was used initially and adjacent to a rounded vowel, while a double sigma was used elsewhere? – Draconis Nov 3 '18 at 16:34
  • @Draconis that might be putting it a bit too strongly, but I think there was a tendency to do that. – varro Nov 3 '18 at 16:36
  • The ypsilon of Συχεμ is surely /i/, not a rounded vowel. – fdb Jun 25 '19 at 13:45

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