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”

Hello, fellow language learners! My name is Wesley Wood. A few days ago Jason messaged me asking if I would be willing to discuss the internet resources I have found and have been using to learn modern Hebrew. I quickly agreed to do so. In my experience, it is much more difficult to find comprehensible input for Hebrew than for other languages, and I hope that this information will be beneficial to others. In this post I have assumed that you have learned the alphabet and are to the point in your studies where you are looking for this type of material. Let’s get started!

Continue reading “Hebrew Resources For Beginners”

Dr. Stephen Krashen (whom I’ve mentioned in this blog before in connection to free voluntary reading) has convincingly argued again and again in favor of the success achieved in second-language acquisition by the use of comprehensible input for the conveyance of messages between speakers. In December of last year, he published a talk on his website called Optimal Input, in which he talks about the parameters of quality input for the purpose of acquiring a second language, and these are extremely useful for those who are learning Hebrew. This is what he had to say about how language input can be optimized (Krashen, 2019, pg. 1–2):

  1. It is comprehensible. This does not mean that every detail is comprehensible: Input can be quite comprehensible even if there is some “noise” in the input, some incomprehensible bits. This includes unknown vocabulary and grammar rules that have not yet been acquired but are not important for comprehension. In other words, language acquisition does not require that you understand every word and every part of every word, but language acquirers should understand most of it.
  2. Optimal input is very interesting, or “compelling.” Compelling input is so interesting you temporarily forget that it is in another language. If input is comprehensible and compelling, acquirers will often not notice the noise in the input.
  3. Quality: Optimal input is rich in language that contributes to the message and flow of the story or text. The language included in the input also gives the reader support in understanding and therefore acquiring new aspects of language. It is not necessary to make sure that certain grammar and vocabulary are used: Rich input automatically includes new, unacquired language that acquirers are ready for (i+1).
  4. Quantity: It takes a great deal of comprehensible compelling rich input to achieve competence. Optimal input is therefore abundant, which will provide more opportunities for acquisition of new language.

Continue reading “Finding Comprehensible Input in Modern Hebrew”

When it comes to categorizing and labeling Hebrew verbs, we can do so in several ways. First, we can look at what general patterns (“stems” or בִּנְיָנִים) the verb appears. This is similar to Latin’s verb conjugations, by which nouns are categorized by the forms they take in the infinitive (whether -āre, -ēre, -ere, or -īre). In Hebrew, roots may appear generally in seven stems, though there are a few outliers here and there in peculiar stems as well, and we can label verbs as “qal” or “piel” or “hiphil” (or whatever stem they appear in by their nature).

Another common way to group Hebrew verbs is by the gutturals or vowel letters that they contain and the position in which they are found in the root.

The guttural letters are ʾalef (א), heh (ה), ḥet (ח), and ʿayin (ע). Resh (ר) is sometimes included in the list because it behaves similarly to them. The vowel letters (know in Latin as matres lectionis) are heh (ה), vav (ו), and yod (י). Notice that heh is both a guttural and a mater lectionis (sg. of matres lectionis). Since nun (נ) tends to assimilate into other letters, many roots with nun are also considered weak, depending on its position in the word. When these letters appear in a root, they mess up the normal pattern, and those mess-ups are predictable and regular.

Continue reading “Doubly Weak and Proud of It!”

This post continues the series of word order in Biblical Hebrew.  Previously, we examined several features of Biblical Hebrew syntax that affect word order, namely grammatical words at the heads of clauses, and Irreal mood (parts available here and here). If we accept that standard, unmarked word order in Biblical Hebrew is SV, each of these triggers inverted VS word order.

Arguably the most common feature that triggers inverted word order is the traditionally-called wayyiqtol  or waw-consecutive pattern. In the past, it was thought that the waw-consecutive form “converts” the meaning of a usually present-tense verb to past; however, we now are reasonably certain that the wayyiqtol form is, in fact, a true past-tense form, having evolved from the protosemitic form *yaqtulu, distinctive from the imperfect *yaqtul. Therefore, we should not think of this form as merely “converting” the verb tense from present to past; rather, we should see the wayyiqtol form as its own unique form, independent from the imperfective yiqtol form.

That said, let’s look at some examples. Since unmarked Biblical Hebrew word order is relatively rare, I have constructed my own examples, showing how they would exist in unmarked word order, followed by how they exist in the past narrative form.

Continue reading “Word order in Biblical Hebrew, pt. 4: The Past Narrative Conjugation”