Is there a diference. . .?

Dr. Reinhard G.Lehmann lehmann at
Mon Jun 17 07:36:40 EDT 2002

Dear Martin,
(and all: necessary to clarify some terminology!)

> Hello!
> I've just started to learn Biblical Hebrew (ie, just learnt the alphabet
> and now starting on the vowel system) but I just want to know if
> Biblical Hebrew and Classical Hebrew are one and the same?

Yes, there is, and no, there is not. It depends on what different authors think about Hebrew as a whole.

1. No, there ist not, but 'Classical Hebrew' is more than Biblical Hebrew, i.e. BH ist part of CH: That is, as it
seems to me, the main position among hebraists, see, for instance, the introduction to the Dictionary of Classical
Hebrew (DCH), where the editors (Clines/Elwolde) say that by Classical Hebrew they "mean all kinds of Hebrew from the
period prior about 200 CE, that is, earlier than the Hebrew of the Mishnah" (such including the Hebrew of the OT, the
inscriptions up to 200 CE, the Hebrew language of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related materials, and the Hebrew Ben
Sira). Linguistically this definition can be justified by that the main (!!) paradigmatic, syntactic and morphologic
(als well as lexic-semantic) shift in Hebrew took place with the full Mishnaic Hebrew language.
There might be much to discuss in detail, but in my experience this definition of Classical Hebrew is working well
and there is enough space within to differentiate where it is necessary. - And it is, because Biblical Hebrew
linguistically is not the same as the language of Ben Sira or some DSS; and within itself BH is not the same in  2
Sam 23:1-7 as in Jonah, in Esther as in Exodus, or in Ps 149 as in Ps 45, and so on.
This leads to the second point:

2. Yes, there is...
a. A traditional view that you can hear among conservative Jews and sometimes in Germany is, that Classical Hebrew is
the language of the Mishnah and of medieaval pijutim, to be distinguished from Old (or Biblical) Hebrew (now
including DSS and Ben Sira) on the one and Modern hebrew on the other side. This view presupposes that Hebrew in its
whole from the 2nd millenium BCE until now is *one* linguistic entity. This is an extreme minor position.

b. Other scholarly views avoid one of the terms 'Classical' or 'Biblical' Hebrew (or both) for linguistic reasons.
They speak of Ancient / Old Hebrew or Althebraeisch, to be divided in Archaic, Standard (or Classic), and Late
Standard. This alltogether is mostly Biblical Hebrew, whom the language of early inscriptions should related in some
way (but that´s not so easy at all). In this special perspective, some late texts of the OT already are Middle Hebrew
so as the language of most non-biblical Hebrew DSS, which is followed by Neuhebraeisch (New Hebrew) - that is meant
to be the language of the Mishnah!! and is to be distinguished from Modern or Israeli Hebrew / Ivrith. This position
points out the (linguistic) discontinouity between Old Hebrew (whatever it is) and Ivrith and the enorm linguistic
gaps between them.

All these positions have their own right - and their own apories. They all work on special presuppositions which are
not always explicitely said - that's the shame.

As for myself, I love to work with Nr. 1, because there's lot of space left for subdivisions, and because CH is a
relative entity in contrast to Mishnaic Hebrew and further on. But as I said before: if one compares 2 Sam 23:1-7
with 2 Sam 12, or Jdc 9-13, or Ben Sira, or the Covenant of Damascus or Numbers 24, one will see what differences and
variations in Classical Hebrew mean. And then one have to think about how to work with them!

Dear Martin, this might be a liile bit sophisticated as answer to a beginner's question. But that are (some of) the
facts, and in my opinion it is necessary in scholarly world to say what is meant when Classical ore something else is

For your second question -

> I'm also interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Do any books exist which
> are specifically aimed at studying their unique vocabulary?
> Martin Wells
> Bristol, UK

I do not know - but I suspect that there's no big difference in vocabulary between DSS and contemporary* other Hebrew
writings. Note *contemporary - many of Hebrew (and also Aramaic) DSS documents are normal (how normal?) part of
Classical Hebrew literature, not written in Qumran, earlier than Qumran, maybe earlier than the latest parts od the
OT, and therewith part of the mainstream of Late 'Classical' (Late Biblical/ Standard Biblical..., see above) Hebrew.

All the best

       Dr.  Reinhard G. Lehmann
       Forschungsstelle fuer Althebraeische Sprache
       Johannes-Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz
       D - 55099 Mainz
       tel: (+49) 6131 - 39 23284
       mailto:lehmann at
       http home:
       look at:
       look at:

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list