ALPHA AND OMEGA:
By: Kaufmann Kohler
An expression found in several places in the Revelation of John (xxi. 6, xxii. 13, i. 8), a book which is to-day almost universally recognized by New Testament scholars of the critical school as derived from an originally Jewish work. It is found in passages like "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (xxi. 6); "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last" (xxii. 13); and also, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, who is, who was, and who will come, the Almighty Ruler" (i. 8.). This is not simply a paraphrase of Isa. xliv. 6: "I am the first and the last," but the Hellenized form of a well-known rabbinical dictum: "The seal of God is Emet," which means Truth and is derived from the letters , the first, the middle, and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. Thus Josephus defines God as "the beginning, middle, and end of all things." See Zipser's edition of Josephus "Contra Ap." edited by Jellinek, 1871, pp. 159, 160.
In Yoma, 69b and Sanh. 64a, the following is related: "The men of the Great Synagogue prayed to God to remove from the earth the Evil Spirit, as the cause of all the trouble. Immediately a scroll fell from heaven with the word (Truth) written thereon, and thereupon a fiery lion came out of the sanctuary. It was the Spirit of Idolatry leaving the earth. "This legend shows," said R. Ḥanina, "that the seal of God is —Truth." More light is thrown on the passage (Yer. Yeb. xii. 13a, Gen. R. lxxxi.), where the verse (Dan. x. 21), "I shall show thee what is marked upon the writing of truth" (biketab emet) is explained in the following manner: Whatever decree bears the signum of God, , is immutable for, says Simon ben Laḳish: "א is the first, מ the middle, and ח the last letter of the alphabet—this being the name of God according to Isa. xliv. 6 explained Yer. Sanh. i. 18a: 'I am the first [having had none from whom to receive the kingdom]; I am the middle, there being none who shares the kingdom with me; [and I am the last], there being none to whom I shall hand the kingdom of the world.'" Evidently the original utterance in the Apocalypse referred to God (and not to Jesus). A careful investigation of the passage, however, makes it quite probable that the whole was originally written in Hebrew with reference to the verse in Daniel, and owing to its being translated into Greek, the connection between vers. 5 and 6, viz., the reference to , was lost. Compare Justin's "Address to the Greeks," xxv., which says: "Plato, when mystically expressing the attributes of God's eternity, said, 'God is, as the old tradition runs, the end and the middle of all things'; plainly alluding to the law of Moses." Compare also Irenæus, "Adversus Hæreses," xiv. 3.
- Gfrörer, Geschichte des Urchristenthums, ii. 285.