OFF TOPIC Modern Hebrew question

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at
Fri May 17 15:12:05 EDT 2002

>===== Original Message From Jim West <jwest at> =====
>so modern hebrew and biblical hebrew are so closely related that fluency in
>one would supplement fluency in another... just as - for instance-- fluency
>in middle english would suit one well for speaking modern english????

Someone who spoke Middle English would probably be a step in the right 
direction toward fluency in Modern English from someone who spoke only Russian 
of any period.
>> Another would be to develop a hybrid of sorts, which is what
>>I suspect happens in a program like Randall's Biblical Ulpan.
>a hybrid is- as such- a non reality in that it is never found anywhere in
>the real world.  so- if we were to pursue this- the construction of a hybrid
>brand of hebrew would make us all better exegetes.  so who will invent this
>hybrid and how will it be taught.  will it be in the manner of ebonics for

Well, as I say, I think Randall already has. As for ebonics, my understanding 
is that it represents a real, living dialect of English, so I'm not sure where 
the comparison is. As for whether it makes better exegetes, if by that you 
mean it makes people better able to work with Biblical Hebrew texts, I should 
think the potential is there.
>As much as
>>possible is based on Biblical Hebrew vocabulary and grammar, but where gaps
>>appear, they are filled in with later material.
>ah- filled with later material.  perhaps this is what archaeologists should
>do when they find a gap in strata-- invent material (your hybrid language)
>and place it in the gap so that their theory can be sustained.....

The very formulation of a theory is a filling of the gaps. But if filling gaps 
to create a workable model is distasteful to anyone, this is where the study 
of the modern language can shine. There is *nothing* theoretical about living 
language use. Granted, the transition from Modern Hebrew to Biblical requires 
the application of theory; but so does any approach to philological issues.
>>To do that requires fluency in
>>Modern Hebrew, at least on the part of the instructor, and partial fluency 
>>the students, since they end up learning elements of Modern Hebrew in the 
>HOW does this make one a better exegete since now the object is no longer
>the text but a hybrid offspring which existed no where at any time?

Whenever Biblical Hebrew is taught, it is presented as a theoretical model. 
There is no native speaker to consult--only the limited data of texts. Any set 
of endings, any lexical entry, any syntactic category has been inferred from 
what can be observed in those texts--it is not the material of the texts 
>>Of course, a danger of either strategy is that elements of Modern Hebrew
>>grammar will be illegitimately applied to Biblical Hebrew; but that may
>>actually be an issue best addressed by fluency in Modern Hebrew to begin 
>>since the teaching of Biblical Hebrew can then focus on the differences.
>or the whole procedure could be considered illegitimate because it deals
>with theory rather than text.  my original question remains unanswered-- how
>does fluency in MODERN hebrew make one a better exegete?
Exegesis requires judgments based on theoretical constructs. When I encounter 
a word or construction in a text, I check it against a stock of information 
that I've internalized from theoretical models presented in grammars. If it 
doesn't fit anything I find there, I go back to the grammars themselves. If it 
still doesn't fit, I consider possibilities of textual corruption or 
comparative philological explanations. Each step requires interaction with 
theory and judgment based on learned patterns. What I can't do is ask my 
friend who's a native speaker of Biblical Hebrew. But often the judgments that 
I make are limited by my own sphere of knowledge with regard to the language. 
I have to know how to expect the language to work, not just observe what it's 
actually doing. A fluent speaker of Biblical Hebrew would be able to solve 
most of these issues just by gut reaction. Very few options would escape such 
a person's notice, and many options that we think are valid would appear 
unlikely or ridiculous. Granted, fluency in Modern Hebrew is not the same 
thing. But it provides a platform for critical thinking that stands closer to 
Biblical Hebrew than does Modern English.
>>Another issue that could be raised is that of general scholarship. Most
>>graduate programs allow that English is not enough for the well-versed
>>scholar. In fields like Biblical Studies and Semitic Languages, German and
>>French are almost universal requirements. In some programs, Modern Hebrew is
>>also required, but as far as I know, that's generally limited to programs 
>>have a Jewish Studies component. Still, the question is worth asking, 
>>familiarity with Modern Hebrew scholarship is worthwhile or perhaps even
>>essential for anyone who wants to do serious work in the field.
>the answer is no.  it may be politically correct- but it is not academically

Then maybe it's just me. Haven't you ever come across an article you wanted or 
needed to read but couldn't because it was in Modern Hebrew? Haven't you ever 
found a worthwhile article that has been translated from Modern Hebrew into 
English, to which you would never have had access otherwise?
>> I realize it's
>>a tough issue, and who decides whether Spanish, Dutch, or Italian is
>>significant enough that it should be known? But scholarly writing in Modern
>>Hebrew is growing, and whatever we may think of that trend, we do have to
>>decide what we're going to do (or not do) with this literature.
>that, sir, is secondary literature which has nothing to do with exegeting
>biblical texts.

Nothing? I think not. I would like to see what great exegetical work you could 
do if no secondary literature existed in a European language.

>im sure there are worthy monographs in swahili too but
>randall did not opine that we all should read that language.  he suggested
>that we should be able to read modern hebrew and lamented the fact that phd
>programs can require something so simple as that.  why?

I suspect it has something to do with the first issue that I brought up, but 
as I say, I personally think it's something I should learn for my own reasons. 
I can muddle my way through a Dutch article, but I've encountered material in 
Italian that I wish I could read. As I start working with Ugaritic next year, 
I'm sure I'm going to wish I knew Spanish. And yes, there are several books 
and articles in Modern Hebrew that I would like to read. As I say, it may just 
be me. But I have to think that's not the case.

Trevor Peterson

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list