OFF TOPIC Modern Hebrew question

Jim West jwest at
Fri May 17 14:32:33 EDT 2002

At 11:12 AM 5/17/02 -0400, you wrote:

>I wouldn't presume to speak for Randall, but I will venture a few remarks for 
>my own part. I suspect that at least part of what he was trying to address is 
>the issue of how one achieves real fluency in a language like Biblical Hebrew. 
>The vocabulary is too small and the range of attested applications too narrow 
>to suit the needs of day-to-day speech. In other words, it is not a living 
>language and lacks the materials for a proper revival. I suppose it depends on 
>how we're going to define fluency (and I'm not the one to do it), but by what 
>I think are some justifiable criteria, it could be safely said that fluency in 
>Biblical Hebrew as such is impossible. One strategy for addressing this issue 
>would be to attain fluency in Modern Hebrew and adjust for the distinctives of 
>Biblical Hebrew.

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????

> 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

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.....

>To do that requires fluency in 
>Modern Hebrew, at least on the part of the instructor, and partial fluency for 
>the students, since they end up learning elements of Modern Hebrew in the mix.

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?
>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 with, 
>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?

>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 that 
>have a Jewish Studies component. Still, the question is worth asking, whether 
>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

> 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.  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?




Jim West, ThD
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies
Quartz Hill School of Theology

Biblical Studies Resources

*de omnibus dubitandum est*

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