OFF TOPIC Modern Hebrew question

Trevor & Julie Peterson 06peterson at
Sat May 18 15:38:07 EDT 2002

Shawn wrote:

> I suppose, following the logic of requiring facility in Modern Hebrew to
> teach Classical Hebrew one would also need modern Greek to teach
> Classical/Koine Greek.

With the reminder that I'm not personally suggesting that such facility
should be required (even though I find it desirable), I don't think it would
necessarily be a bad thing for a specialist in ancient Greek dialects to
attain fluency in Modern Greek. One difference is that there's not the same
level of current secondary literature written in Modern Greek that one would
encounter in Modern Hebrew (at least, not that I'm aware of); but the fact
still remains that a degree of fluency is possible only with a living form
of the language.

> What then does one do about teaching Akkadian,
> Ugaritic, etc.?

The best one can. The point in none of this is to say that studying a modern
form of the language produces perfection or that significant work is
impossible without it. But if we're concerned about improving our abilities,
there's nothing inherently wrong with taking advantage of an opportunity
that exists in one language but not in another. An analogous issue is the
presence or absence of contemporary literature in Koine Greek vs. Biblical
Hebrew. Sure, there are a few inscriptions that seem to exhibit the same
dialect, but otherwise the Bible is the only place where we find Classical
Biblical Hebrew. Does this lack diminish the significance of Koine papyri?

I would also suggest that the development of fluency in Biblical Hebrew
through comparison with Modern Hebrew is one step in the direction of
greater facility with languages like Ugaritic or Akkadian. Modern dialects
of Hebrew, Aramaic, Ethiopic, and Arabic provide a bridge into the Semitic
language family that I suspect has yet to be adequately explored. If we
could achieve some degree of fluency in their ancient counterparts, perhaps
that would improve our ability to do the same with languages that have left
no living descendants.

Trevor Peterson

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