Three quick questions

Ken Smith kens at
Sun Aug 5 17:41:05 EDT 2001

I'll add my experience, for what it's worth.  I had two years of Greek
in Bible college, followed by two years of Hebrew in seminary.
Following my two years of Greek, I felt relatively comfortable with most
of the New Testament: I struggled a bit (and still struggle!) with some
of Acts, Hebrews and 1 Peter, but I can generally puzzle out almost any
NT Greek without a lot of trouble.

Two years of Hebrew has not had the same effect on my ability to
understand the OT.  I can generally handle narrative OK, if a bit
slowly, but poetry is a real bear.

I think there are a number of reasons for this, some of which apply only
to me, others of which would be common to anyone trying to understand
both languages:

(1) The NT was written over maybe a 50 year time-span.  The oldest
passages of the OT are separated by nearly a thousand years from the
newest parts.  That's like having Chaucer, Shakespeare, and William
Carlos Williams in the same book, and expecting someone from China to
read it all.

(2) The basic OT vocabulary is much larger than the basic NT vocabulary.
See reason #1.  Hapax legomena -- or reasonable facsimiles thereof --
are fairly infrequent in the NT, and tend to be clustered around
specific authors.  But nearly every chapter of the OT contains words
that you should have absolutely no expectation of knowing, unless you'd
specifically studied that passage.

(3) To echo what Clay said, formal Hebrew syntax is greatly simplified
compared to Greek or Latin: but for that very reason, it can at times be
far more ambiguous than an equivalent sentence in a typical
Indo-European language.

(4) The Masoretic text has far more problems than a modern NT text:
instead of manuscripts from maybe 100-200 years after the books were
written, the MT is maybe 1500-2000 years later than the original books,
and all sorts of errors have crept in.  I've sometimes sweat blood
trying to understand a specific passage, only to read later than
scholars have pretty much concluded that it makes no sense as it stands,
and that there must be some sort of textual problem.  

(5) English has very few Hebrew loan-words or cognates.  English is
filled both with words coined directly from Greek ("philosophy",
"asymmetrical", etc.) and with words related to Greek (GNWSIS/knowledge,
GONU/knee, hEN/one).  Hebrew has almost no cognates ("qeren" -> "horn",
being one), and only a few loan words ("Hallelujah").  Really, the only
practical mnemonic I've found for many Hebrew words are the copious NIV
footnotes ("Shear-Jashub" -> "a remnant will return", "Beer-Sheba" ->
"Well of seven/oath").

(6) Since Greek was easier for me, I spent more time reading it, and
pretty much dropped Hebrew completely after seminary.  I've only picked
it up again in the last six months or so: so of course it's going to be
more difficult for me.  I *do* seem to be improving, but it's slower
than I would like.

Ken Smith

> -----Original Message-----
> From: PAProphet at [mailto:PAProphet at]
> Sent: Sunday, August 05, 2001 6:15 AM
> To: Biblical Greek
> Subject: [b-greek] Three quick questions
> Hello,
>      This is sort of an off topic question.  I have been studying NT
> on
> and off for some time.  Recently I decided to get involved in more
> study.  But I also want to learn OT Hebrew as well.  So my questions
> 1. Is it wise to attempt to study two languages at once?
> 2. It seems to me that OT Hebrew is much easier to learn than NT Greek
> once
> you can recognize the alphabet.  Is this true?
> 3. What study schedule would you advise?  (Example: 1 hour per day on
> language - 6 hours per week on each language.)
>      Thank you.
> Mark Thompson
> ---
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