Emerging from the Canaanite milieu of Semitic languages, Hebrew has been around for a very long time. It isn’t clear how old the language is, but most place its emergence in the early second millennium before the Common Era (just before 1,000 bce). The language was actually called at one point in the Bible “the language of Canaan” (שְׂפַת כְּנַ֫עַן; cf. Isaiah 19:18), and we see from inscriptions from the early period of the language that several other Canaanite languages (such as Moabite, Ammonite, and Edomite) were very close to Hebrew in orthography (the alphabet that they used), in lexical stock (the words themselves), and in accidence (grammar, morphology, and syntax). Anyone who is trained to read the Siloam Inscription in Hebrew will be equally equipped to read the Mesha Stele in Moabite, even though these are technically different dialects of Canaanite language. These languages were certainly mutually intelligible by native speakers of each from that period.

If we draw a line between Moabite and Hebrew as distinct languages, though they were so very similar, what do we make of modern and biblical Hebrew? Are they essentially the same language? Should they be classified as distinct languages? Can learning modern Hebrew be at all advantageous to a student of the biblical language? Or, should those who aspire to master the language of the Bible avoid contaminating their thinking by adopting modern Hebrew?

These are the concepts that I would like to explore a bit in this blog post.

 

Continue reading “Are Modern and Biblical Hebrew Distinct Languages?”

Jonathan has been teaching a course in advanced biblical Hebrew recently, in which he is using two textbooks: (1) Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar; and, (2) Jacob Weingreen’s Classical Hebrew Composition.

In this video, I go through the whole of Text III from Weingreen’s textbook and explain why I render it the way that I do in biblical Hebrew. This complements what I wrote up about one of the verses from Text II on The Learners Forum (see here specifically).

Let me know what you think and if you enjoy this.

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”

This is the recording of Encounter 17, covering the seventeenth chapter of Learning Biblical Hebrew by Kutz & Josberger. In this encounter, we wrapped up the first course in this two-course program. This week we are doing our final exam before giving out certificates, and then we’ll take a couple of weeks just to read from the workbook (hopefully, two sessions per week).

The new course (HE102) will begin after those couple of weeks of reading. Keep your eyes peeled for the beginning of the new course!

For those who have completed a year in biblical Hebrew and are looking for a challenge, we are currently working with the B-Hebrew online community to work through the English-to-Hebrew translation exercises from chapter 30 to the end of the Weingreen’s Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew. You will find our discussions under the Hebrew Composition subforum on B-Hebrew.

If you would like to join the discussion and face this challenge with us, you will need to fill out this forum, and we’ll get you an account set up and get you access to the forum.