Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun σφραγις (sphragis) describes a seal, a wax blob impressed with a distinctive symbol that would secure a message and confirm its authenticity, or the instrument with which to make such an imprint, which was commonly a signet-ring that an authoritative person would wear on his person. Especially when administration and communication began to dominate all forms of government and trade, the king's seal quite literally held the realm together. Someone who bore the imprint of the seal was obviously assigned an office of great importance, but someone who carried the instrument with which to place such seals upon approved goods and people, had the king's power to assess and select, to accept and reject, to assign and destroy. In the classics, on rare occasions, our word could also describe something sealed, or something appropriated by means of a sealed document (commonly, a plot of land).
It's officially a mystery where our noun comes from, but, as we explain in our elaborate article on Hellas, here at Abarim Publications we surmise that much of the essential ideas surrounding information technology — the alphabet itself but also writing materials such as βιβλος (biblos), i.e. paper, spelling standards, even the names Homer, Helen and Hellene — were imported into the Greek world from the Semitic language basin along with the Phoenician abjad (consonantal alphabet). Our noun σφραγις (sphragis) certainly reminds of the important root ספר (spr), which is central to the Hebrew reflections on information technology and which itself may have stemmed from an Assyrian loanword saparu, meaning to send (a message): the Hebrew noun ספר (seper) means record; verb ספר (sapar) means to write; noun ספרה (sipra) means book; noun ספר (sopor) means scribe.
The second part of our noun σφραγις (sphragis) may then relate to the mysterious and powerful αιγις (aigis), which Zeus and Athena carried around with them. It's also officially a mystery what this thing called αιγις (aigis) might have been, but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that it (as well as many more elements of Greek mythology) has to do with the natural contraction of society: the emergence of humanity from the wilderness, the formation of cities and stratified societies, governments and formal law, and ultimately writing and the metaphorical narratives that exposed the deepest dreams and subconscious concerns of mankind.
The first words formed like mist in the natural interactions of vast populations of very early humans (Genesis 2:6). When these first words had achieved a critical mass, language was "discovered": the defining conscious mind of homo sapiens emerged (2:7), words began to be systematically manufactured (2:19-20), rain poured down and the earth was inundated (6:17), and mankind began to create its own human world, peopled by domesticated species and safely separated from the wilderness (8:17). Rain formed rivers and rivers sustained entire civilizations (see our article on the name Tigris).
The Greeks understood all this: the signature epithet of Zeus was νεφεληγερετα (nephelegereta), or Cloud-Gatherer; see our article on the noun νεφελη (nephele), cloud. Athena's epithets were παλλας (pallas), youth; παρθενος (parthenos), virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23), or stemmed from the noun πολις (polis), meaning city.
This noun is used 16 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The verb σφραγιζω (spragizo), to seal: to authenticate a document, to close and secure a space, to certify or pledge an object. In the classics this verb was also used metaphorically: one would claim the validity of one's verbal statement by stating that it was "sealed", or give something one's figurative "seal" of approvement. If a thing collided with another thing, it left its "mark" on it. And when some era or period came to an end, one could say that this period had been closed and sealed. This verb is used 25 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down from, down upon: the verb κατασφραγιζω (katasphragizo), to seal very securely (with the implication of long term or permanent storage: to seal up firmly and archive). In the New Testament, this verb occurs in Revelation 5:1 only, where it applies to the scroll with the seven seals. The undoing of these seals unleash global events in a sequence that clearly remind of the natural evolution of mankind from the caves to the cities to finally the New Jerusalem. John the Revelator obviously envisioned a series of events comparable to the Bronze Age Collapse that destroyed the ancient palatial cultures and paved the way for the urban and commercial nature of our modern world.