Off-Topic Modern Hebrew

S. L. lyosovs at cityline.ru
Sat May 18 17:04:22 EDT 2002


   The present discussion seems to show that  Biblical scholars unable to read Modern Hebrew have to sometimes apologise for this gap in their education (h.or behaskala). This is per se one serious reason to read it: familiarity with MH needs no justification.
  Linguistically speaking, claims about internalisation of BH via BH ulpan (=uncritical mixture of languages) are ridiculous and methodologically dangerous. BH as a collection of texts written over centuries in different literary dialects  and possessing a complicated history of transmission urges us as  instructors to teach our  students to cope with philological problems arising at close reading of almost each verse, - and to do so from the very start. That is why I think one needs an elementary textbook (Lambdin, or still better, Jenni)  ONLY  when one is one's own teacher and has no experience in learning written languages with a grammar + a lexicon.
    Sure enough a student is supposed to memorise her vocabulary, to conjugate her verbs fluently, to convert her perfects/preterites into imperfects or whatever and vice versa etc., but the same is true for learning any  written language, e.g. Classical Greek or  Akkadian and has nothing to do with an alleged necessity  to learn MH.
  All that said, a Hebraist who is not able to read Hebrew (i.e., Rabbinical, medieval and modern Hebrew) looks no less strange  than  a Romanist who reads El Cantar de mio Cid but feels he is not supposed to be able to  read Garcia Marques. In the background of this discussion stands the old state of art - Hebraicum and Sprachsemester of a German (or still worse, American) theological faculty - 'meaning-oriented'  teaching, enabling a future preacher to find a Hebrew word or two in his BDB + Analytical Key  and to use them in his sermon. 
  For that matter, a scholar of OT - an ancient Semitic literary corpus - who is unable to read on his own Old Babylonian documents (e.g., Mari religious texts), Standard Babylonian historical records or Classical Arabic is destined to get his information second-hand. You can hardly understand  Ugaritic texts without fair knowledge of better-preserved ancient Semitic languages. Otherwise you will totally depend on decisions taken in DLU or the (excellent) grammar of J.Tropper, without being able to evaluate them.     
         S.Lyosov 
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