[b-hebrew] Studying Modern and Biblical Hebrew

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Wed May 12 05:57:36 EDT 2004


You have heard from those who have studied the whole, from Biblical through Mishnaic to modern Hebrew. I know only Biblical Hebrew. At first it was not by choice, but by lack of opportunity. But it also has its advantages.

The few times I have looked at modern Hebrew, I am struck at how different it is. I don’t understand it at all. It is actually easier for me to read the Aramaic portions of Tanakh than modern Hebrew. To say that the best way to know Biblical Hebrew is by studying these later forms is like saying that the best way to know imperial Latin from the time of Julius Caesar is to study church Latin as it was spoken by Thomas Aquinus. Even with this example, we may be comparing only Biblical Hebrew with Mishnaic Hebrew.

But I guess the best way to answer your question is to ask what you plan to do with your Hebrew studies? After getting your M.Div. do you plan to get your PhD in Hebrew studies, or do you plan to go out as a parish pastor?

If the latter, a study of modern Hebrew may actually hurt your understanding of Tanakh.  Its different grammar, vocabulary (even the same word often has different meanings) and  figures of speech may interfere with a correct understanding of Biblical Hebrew. As a parish pastor, you will find it difficult to allocate the time to continue your studies beyond the most rudimentary level. If your main reason for learning Hebrew is to read Tanakh, learning modern Hebrew now will hurt you.

It is not true that studying only Biblical Hebrew that you will never learn to think in Hebrew. I not only read the text without translating it, but as a foil to my dyslexia, I anticipate grammatical forms and phrases as I read. So, for example, when I read the Joash stone forgery, I had a whole list of things that just didn’t feel right before I reached the spot that everyone else points to.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to continue on in your studies towards a PhD in Hebrew, it will be expected of you to know other Semitic languages in order to make linguistic comparisons. In which case, take advantage of the immersion resources and friends who are native speakers. They can certainly help you towards that PhD.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "James Bowick" <bowick at idirect.com>

> I am beginning a self-study refresher of my introductory Hebrew in prep for
> an Intermediate Hebrew course in Seminary.  I am considering studying modern
> Hebrew at the same time to take advantage of the immersion resources
> available (subtitled movies, modern literature in parallel, friends that are
> native speakers, etc.)  The biggest drawback I see is learning a lot of
> extra non-Biblical vocab.  Are there other hazzards and pitfalls of this
> course of study?
> James Bowick
> M.Div. Cand., McMaster Divinity College
> Hamilton, Ontario
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