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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Alpha or a

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the first letter in almost all alphabets. In Hebrew it is called aleph (א ), which signifies ox, from the shape of it in the old Phoenician alphabet, where it somewhat resembles the head and horns of that animal (Plutarch, Quoest. Sympos. 9, 2; Gesenii Thesaur. Heb. p. 1). The following figures illustrate the steps by which this letter reached its form in various languages. (See ALPHABET). Its predominant sound in nearly all languages is very simple, being little more than a mere opening of the mouth as in ah! In Hebrew, however, it is treated in grammar as a consonant of the guttural class, although a very soft one, corresponding to the "smooth breathing" in Greek ('), and cannot therefore be readily represented in English. Like all the other letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it is frequently employed in the Psalms and Lamentations to indicate a division of the stanzas in the manner of an acrostic (q.v.). A remarkable instance occurs in Psalms 119, which is divided into as many sections of several verses each as there are letters in the alphabet, the first word of each verse beginning with the letter appropriate to the section. The Hebrew name has passed over along with the letter itself into the Greek alpha. Both the Hebrew and Greeks employed the letters of their alphabets as numerals; and A, therefore (aleph or alpha), denoted one, the first. Hence our Lord says of himself that he is (τὸ Α ) Alpha and (τὸ Ω ) Omega, i e. the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, as he himself explains it (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:11; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13).


This expression, which in the O.T. had already been employed to express the eternity of God (Isaiah 44:6), was in the patristic period more definitely employed with the same significance (Tertul. De monog. c. 5; Prudentius, Cathemer. Hymn, 9, 11); and its applications were traced out with puerile minuteness (see Primasius, in the Bibl. Patr. Max. 10, 338), especially by the Gnostic Marcus (Iren. Hoeres. 1, 14; Tertul. Proescr. c. 50). Traces of this significance as a symbol of the divinity of Christ (Rhaban, De laud. s. Crucis, 1, fig. 1; Didron, Iconogr. Chret. p. 801) have been found in the following interesting monograms, which occur on the catacombs of Melog (Ross, Reisen auf d. Inseln d. ageischen Meeres, 3, 149) and Naples (Aginc. Pitt. 11, 9), and in the cemeteries of Rome (Mamachi Orig. et antiq. Christ. 3, 75), as well as on coins and inscriptions elsewhere They are sometimes enclosed in a circle. See Bey. schlag, De sigillo nominis Dei hominis (Viteb. 1692); Ewald, De a et w nomine Chr. mrystico, in his Embl. 2, 169 sq.; Pfeiffer, De a et w (Regiom. 1677); Rudiger, De Christo per primum (בְּרֵאשִׁית ) et ultimum (Ἀμήν ) S. S. vocem indicato (Giess. 1724). (See OMEGA).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Alpha or a'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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