been to ulpan? + living biblical

Peter_Kirk at Peter_Kirk at
Thu Sep 24 12:44:00 EDT 1998

Thanks for the good arguments for learning modern Hebrew. Makes me 
want to pack my bags for Israel.

But here is a caution. Suppose your imaginary Shakespeare only English 
learner was also allowed to read the contemporary King James version, 
and then to interpret or translate it. I think the Hebrew verb PQD, 
often rendered "visit" in KJV (e.g. Gen. 50:24, still, confusingly, 
"visit" in RSV) would be better interpreted by this person than by 
speakers of modern English; for "visit" meant more "intervene", even 
"punish", than "pay a call" at that time. But how many more modern 
translations use a word that suggests calling politely on a sick 
neighbour rather than God's decisive intervention? All because people 
fail to realise how the meaning of words changes. So let's be sure 
modern Hebrew scholars don't read back their modern meanings into the 
ancient text.

What is this course 'ulpan le`ivrit miqra'it? Unfortunately I don't 
know the modern (well, post-Biblical) word miqra'it (though I have 
picked up the meaning of 'ulpan); presumably it comes from miqra', 
which can mean a sacred assembly or reading aloud (BDB). So is `ivrit 
miqra'it "sacred" or Biblical Hebrew or just Hebrew read aloud? If 
this is really a cassette-based course in Biblical Hebrew, I would be 
interested in more details.

In any case, I wish you every success in teaching Hebrew more like a 
living language than a dead set of strange symbols on a page. I 
learned basic Hebrew from John Dobson, better known for his "Learn New 
Testament Greek", who tries to teach both languages this way. But I 
was interested also to read that at 'ulpan they avoid teaching the 
Hebrew alphabet at first. Some teach-yourself books in other 
"oriental" languages also avoid or delay teaching the complex writing 
system, and instead use transliteration. I wonder if a similar 
approach could be used with Biblical Hebrew? After all, the Biblical 
text can easily be made available in transliteration (of course, one 
would need to be agreed!), and many reference books transliterate, so 
why does the beginner need to learn the alphabet? I feel, from my own 
experience and that of others, that the Hebrew alphabet is the main 
thing which makes learning Hebrew seem difficult (to westerners) and 
puts off so many, e.g. seminary students and Bible translators, who 
would like to learn, but give up because of the difficulties and use 
English etc instead. I would be interested in any comments on this 

Peter Kirk

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