[b-hebrew] Ancient Language Acquisition

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Mar 2 15:37:48 EST 2004

Certainly one advantage that a person who had learned Modern Hebrew would
have would be the ability to read scholarly work published in Hebrew (not to
mention the whole field of traditional Jewish exegesis). Just as an example,
Y. Kaufman's classic "History of Israelite Religion" has never been
published in its entirety in English. But dozens, if not hundreds, of
scholarly work in biblical studies and related fields are puplished in
Hebrew each year. True, many are eventually translated, usually as "updated"
editions several years later, but many are not. To a large degree, Israeli
and foreign scholarship are engaded in different issues. As I've commented
before, no scholar of Medieval French literature would be able to get away
without being able to read scholarly work in modern French. For some reason,
the Bible is different.

I imagine, by the way, that modern Greeks feel the same. However modern
Hebrew is much more similar to Biblical Hebrew that modern Greek is to
classical or koine.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Trevor Peterson" <06peterson at cua.edu>
> Incidentally, I would be curious along the lines of this thread to know
> what people think about the notion that a person ought to learn Modern
> Israeli Hebrew or spoken Arabic first, before learning ancient Semitic
> languages. The potential disadvantage is that modern speakers sometimes
> assume too much continuity between their language and the ancient forms;
> but if it were done deliberately, I think this hazard could be easily
> avoided. The benefit would be that a person could begin study of ancient
> languages with genuine fluency in a real, spoken language--something
> that may perhaps be approached, but never achieved, with ancient
> languages. In this respect, the individual could begin study of ancient
> Hebrew in the same position as an English speaker beginning to study
> Shakespeare or Chaucer. I haven't tried it myself, but I suspect that
> there would be some significant gains. Any thoughts?
> Trevor Peterson
> CUA/Semitics
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