Is there a diference. . .?

Yigal Levin Yigal-Levin at
Mon Jun 17 09:45:36 EDT 2002

At 11:07 PM 6/13/2002 +0100, Martin Wells wrote:
>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? 

Hello Martin,

I'll try to make my answer slightly simpler than Dr. Lehmann's (though I
don't disagree with him), from the perspective of someone who's not a

The term "classical", when applied to anything (music, painting,
literature...) means that "phase" or form, which serves as a benchmark, to
be emulated or at least referred to by others. In other words, the
"classical" form of anything is its "highest" or "purest" form. As you can
see, this is an extremely subjective definition, and one that could change,
depending on who's doing the defining. And so "classical" Greece is the
Greece before it was subjugated by the Macedonians, but the "Classics" (as
defined by departments of Classics at countless universities) are all of
Greek and Roman literature. "Classical" music is Renaissance, but
"Classical" Rock is the Beatles and Elvis. 

When it comes to Hebrew, it once again depends on one's perspective.
Pre-modern Jewish literature tended to relate to the Hebrew of the Mishnah.
Modern Hebrew purposely "went back" to the Bible for vocabulary, although
Modern Hebrew is hardly "biblical" in syntax. 

Most scholars of biblical Hebrew differentiate between "pre-exilic" or
"First Temple" Biblical Hebrew, considered to be "Standard Biblical Hebrew"
(SBH) and "post-exilic" or "Second Temple" Biblical Hebrew, also called
"Late Biblical Hebrew" (LBH). SBH is often called "Classical Hebrew", but
as you can see, that is a highly subjective term, that considers the
pre-exilic period to be the "higher" period of biblical culture. This
definition becomes problematic as scholarship becomes less sure about the
actual dates of the various texts that make up the Bible.

Another problem is that we have very little evidence of the actual spoken
language of any of these period. Almost all of the epigraphic evidence that
we do have comes from 7th-6th century Judah, and it does seem to match SBH
in many ways. However, what evidence we have from other parts of the
country and from other periods makes it clear that there were any number of
local "dialects", and that SBH is just the one that was used in late
pre-exilic Judah, "up-dated" to some extent by the post-exilic editors. So
that, to a certain extent, there was no "Classical Hebrew" at all.

Dr. Yigal Levin
Dept. of Philosophy and Religion
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
615 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga TN 37403-2598

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