[b-hebrew] Studying Modern and Biblical Hebrew

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Wed May 12 06:58:30 EDT 2004

>===== Original Message From "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com> =====
>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.

I'm not sure that this is actually different from what Karl said--it may be 
only a clarification of the same idea. I agree that Modern Hebrew can be 
problematic in the middle of a seminary program. You will probably not have 
adequate time to devote solely to language issues, and it will probably be 
more useful for the purposes that language serves in seminary training to 
focus your attention on reading BH. Not that a knowledge of Modern Hebrew 
can't help in this, but you'll also need to process the differences between 
the two languages, and if you don't have adequate time, it could cause 
problems further down the road.

But regarding the above cited paragraph, I would say that if you plan to 
pursue a Ph.D. in Hebrew, you'll need to deal with the various stages of the 
language at some point, so learning Modern Hebrew now would be useful. If you 
plan to pursue a Ph.D. in ancient Semitic languages, even if your focus will 
be on Hebrew, you will need to learn other languages and develop skills in 
comparing them with each other. Since Arabic is probably the most useful 
language for this purpose (or at least, it has been made use of more than 
others), I would recommend learning Arabic rather than Modern Hebrew (if you 
don't have the time or energy to do both). The classical form of the language 
would be more useful than modern, but Modern Standard Arabic is pretty closely 
based on classical. With Arabic, there is a more organic connection to past 
stages than with Hebrew, since it has persisted as a widely spoken language 
since the classical period. Arabic is also more archaic and seems to preserve 
features that other Semitic languages, including Hebrew, lost along the way. 
(In some cases, these features are retained in classical, and the changes to 
the present day seem to parallel the changes some other Semitic languages must 
have gone through before our earliest written evidence.) Of course, if you 
have the resources available to study Modern Hebrew but not Arabic, that will 
affect your decision.

Trevor Peterson

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