I’m happy to announce the opening of our course Readings in the Hebrew Bible: An Advanced Course in Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (HE210). For this course, we will be using the intermediate textbook by John Cook & Robert Holmstedt called simply Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (Baker: 2020).

I’ve put together some pre-course information and reading that will help you consider joining, in addition to a handout including Hebrew terms and other information on the course and a Moodle for the course. The course will cost $200 per student, and students will also be responsible for purchasing the textbook. It is recommended that students also have a reliable dictionary of biblical Hebrew and/or a vocabulary guide (link the one mentioned in the brochure).

We will incorporate as much spoken Hebrew as possible in the course. This will include questions in Hebrew about the stories and comic pictures, as well as retelling of the stories in Hebrew. Students will not be expected to speak Hebrew perfectly. This course is based on intermediate materials, but it is geared toward pushing students to express themselves in the forms of Hebrew that they are reading.

To get signed up, fill in the following form. Payment will be possible through PayPal, as well as the possibility of giving donations to simply support what we do here at The Hebrew Café.

Continue reading “Readings in the Hebrew Bible (HE210)”

Rabbinic Hebrew, the language of the Jewish sages from the time of the Second Temple and just after, represents a period in the history of the language in which Hebrew had ceased to be spoken in most places as a native language. However, the amount of literature preserved in the language is massive. It includes the Mishnah (the heart of the text that grew to include the two sets of Gemara [in Aramaic]), the Tosefta (a separate text that contains many legal rulings similar to what is contained in the Mishnah), the Baraita (a set of Hebrew-language sayings similar to Mishnah teachings that are generally contained within the Aramaic text of the Gemara), and the Midrash (stories that illustrate events and tales from the lives of the biblical characters and the rabbis that serve to illustrate Torah principles).

Together with my friend Jordan Furutani, I will be hosting a course in rabbinic Hebrew (also called mishnaic Hebrew ) over Zoom. The course will work through the textbook An Introduction to Rabbinic Hebrew by Miguel Pérez Fernández (Brill, 1999). The tentative start date is January 1, 2021. The most updated information can be found here.

To get enrolled, send me an email. All course-related correspondence will be through our private Facebook chat group.

As you might be aware, Jonathan has been writing a series about the word order of the biblical Hebrew verbal sentence. The significance of that series and what he is arguing might be lost, however. Therefore, I wanted to write a short entry to let you know why I have become a recent convert to Cook and Holmstedt’s proposal for the re-examination of the standard or “unmarked” word order in biblical Hebrew.

Anyone who learned Hebrew through the standard channels will generally tell you that the normal word order in Hebrew is verb-subject-object (VSO). That is, the verb appears first, then the subject, and then whatever other information (the object, adverbs, etc.). Take, for example, the following quote from the popular introductory grammar The Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt (133 [§12.14]):

In Hebrew, however, normal word order for a verbal sentence is verb-subject-object as the following example illustrates.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

In this example, the verb is in first position (בָּרָא), the subject in second position (אֱלֹהִים) and the two objects follow the subject (הַשָּׁמַיִם and הָאָרֶץ).

This is wholly incorrect for a few reasons, but you cannot blame these authors for making such a statement when even Gesenius, the most famous of biblical Hebrew grammarians, has the following to say (Kautzsch, 456 [§142f]):

According to what has been remarked above, under a, the natural order of words within the verbal sentence is: Verb—Subject, or Verb—Subject—Object. But as in the noun clause (§141l) so also in the verbal-clause, a variation of the usual order of words frequently occurs when any member of the sentence is to be specifically emphasized by priority of position.

So, why has this topic occupied so much of Jonathan’s thoughts here on the blog of The Hebrew Café? Why does any of this matter for students of biblical Hebrew? And, how can we know for sure that the information on word order presented in these grammars is so incorrect?

Continue reading “A Recent Convert”

Stone Chumash Cover

The second chapter of the book of Exodus overflows with textual oddities. By chance, Jonathan asked me to read it with him last night, and so we sat down on Zoom and read through it, stopping every once in a while to comment on some textual quirk that leapt off the page. I thought it would be worthwhile to write some of these down and get some feedback, if anyone else is interested. I’ll break it up by verses and comment where I think the text is less than clear. These really are just impressions that I get from the text. I haven’t checked any commentaries at this point beyond that of the Stone Chumash. They may have some great explanations that I haven’t come across yet.

Continue reading “The Strangeness of Exodus 2”

I first began my study of the Hebrew language as a second-year student at OCC with Dr. Larry Pechawer. I studied under him for two years, during which we did a full year of grammar using C. L. Seow’s A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew  and then a full year of translation, starting with the Joseph story with Professor Yerushalmi’s The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37; 39-47) and then moving on to direct translation of the book of Hosea and several other portions of the Hebrew Bible. We also translated the Siloam Inscription (Hezekiah’s inscription on the water tunnel in Jerusalem) and the Mesha Stele in the ancient Hebrew script (עברית קדומה).

Image of the Siloam Inscription by King Hezekiah
Siloam Inscription

I would say that I had a great introduction to the Hebrew language as it occurs in the Bible and in extra-biblical inscriptions within my first two years of Hebrew study. However, if you had asked me to communicate in Hebrew at that point, I would not have gotten too far. I could read the Bible and understand what I was reading, so long as the text had nikkud. There was also a copy of the Babylonian Talmud in the college library that I tried to read. The text was unpointed, however, and I had a difficult time of it. In many ways, then, the courses that I took at OCC prepared me for what their purpose was: to give me the tools to read the Bible in its original language. I am more than grateful to Dr. Pechawer for the hours that he invested in my education and in providing me with a better way of viewing the texts of the Bible.

Continue reading “My Hebrew Journey”

And now, back to the basics!

The following is a handout that I presented to my students in our last Hebrew 1 session (if you would like to purchase access to the recorded [unlisted] videos, contact me here). Reading Biblical Hebrew is a necessary component for efficient learning, and in order to do that, you need to know how to divide words into syllables, just like we did when we were learning English. Here are the principles used for syllabification/syllable division.

I know that we tend to focus on the biblical language here. This is because we’re busy leading courses in reading the Bible. I wanted to make sure to get a bit of modern Hebrew into the August archives of the blog.

A bit about books, bookstores, libraries, and places to read.

סֵ֫פֶר     book (pl: סְפָרִים)
סוֹפֵר     writer, author (pl: סוֹפְרִים)
סִפְרִיָּה (ספרייה)     bookcase, library (pl: סִפְרִיּוֹת)
חֲנוּת סְפָרִים     bookstore (pl: חֲנוּיוֹת סְפָרִים)
בֵּית קָפֶה     coffee house, café (pl: בָּֽתֵּי קָפֶה)
מְעַנְיֵן (מעניין)     interesting (pl: מְעַנְיְנִים (מעניינים))
שִׂיחָה     conversations (pl: שִׂיחוֹת)

Continue reading “And now for some modern Hebrew”

As we enter the final chapter of the book of Jonah in our HE102 course, we encounter this verse:

Jonah 4:1
וַיֵּ֥רַע אֶל־יוֹנָ֖ה רָעָ֣ה גְדוֹלָ֑ה וַיִּ֖חַר לֽוֹ׃

It should remind us of something that we read in Ruth:

Ruth 1:21
לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וְיהוה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י {הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי}
Why would you call me Naomi (“pleasant”) when Yhvh has testified against me and Shaddai has {done evil to me} / {afflicted me} / {caused me distress}?

Even though these verbs look so similar, the one in Jonah is in the qal and the one in Ruth is in the hiphil. If you’re uncertain of a parsing, you can look it up in Davidson’s Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon by removing the vav prefix and searching alphabetically (see here). They both come from the root רע״ע. Let’s compare the parsing of four relevant forms that all come from this root.

Continue reading “Jonah 4:1 – Doing Good and Bad in Colloquial Hebrew”

The end of our Beginning Biblical Hebrew II course (HE102) is upon us. The last part of the textbook deals with weak verbs of various kinds. The chapter titles from Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension are as follows:

Chapter 25: III-Waw/Yod Verbs
Chapter 26: I-Waw/Yod Verbs
Chapter 27: II-Waw/Yod Verbs: Introduction
Chapter 28: II-Waw/Yod Verbs: Niphal–Hophal Stems
Chapter 29: Geminate Verbs
Chapter 30: I-Nun Verbs
Chapter 31: I-Guttural Verbs
Chapter 32: II-Guttural Verbs
Chapter 33: III-Guttural and III-Aleph Verbs

Since I actually enjoy weak verbs, we’ve covered most of these in principle throughout the course. I’ve decided that we’re going to combine these final chapters to reduce the time spent on them. The principles related in these chapters have been discussed at many points in this course. For example, the fact that I-Nun roots will display assimilation of the nun when it ends up against another root letter without an intervening vowel. This is how נָפַל ‘he fell’ follows the normal imperfect pattern, but that the nun assimilates, unlike in the normal strong verb.

Continue reading “Finishing Up Beginning Biblical Hebrew II”