[b-hebrew] Studying Modern and Biblical Hebrew

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Thu May 13 14:14:05 EDT 2004

Hi James,

Learning to speak Modern Hebrew in order to better internalize Biblical
Hebrew is rewarding, but takes much more time than is available in a basic
introductory biblical Hebrew course or, for that matter, in a summer while
trying to review biblical Hebrew and work a job and have time for your
family. Bruce Waltke noted, "The United States army determined
scientifically that it takes ten months (=5000 hours) of saturated study
(i.e., hearing exclusively the one being studied) to speak adequately any

Yes, you need to read Modern Hebrew in order to do a PhD on biblical Hebrew.
And yes, if you have a year to spare, a trip to Israel would be excellent.
And if you're going to watch a movie anyway, by all means choose one in
Hebrew. But I think for your purposes ("prep for an Intermediate Hebrew
course in Seminary"), any time you have left over after reviewing your
biblical Hebrew textbook and memorizing your biblical Hebrew vocabulary
would be most effectively spent reading ... lots of biblical Hebrew. 

Ken Penner

> To summarize, it seems then from what I hear that there are 
> significant
> advantages to studying both Biblical and Modern Hebrew together.  The
> languages are quite similar, with the comparative features 
> offering insight
> one into the other.  But more importantly substantial 
> scholarly work has
> been written in Modern Hebrew, making it well worth learning. 
>  On the other
> hand, Biblical students are in danger of bringing modern 
> meaning into the
> Biblical text, as there are substantial differences, including broader
> semantic domain in Modern Hebrew.  Perhaps the best course 
> for me and those
> in my position would be to put an 80% focus on Biblical, and 
> a 20% focus on
> Modern Hebrew.  Thus in most cases, the Biblical meanings and 
> structures
> will be learned first, resulting in a tendency to bring 
> archaic meaning and
> usage into Modern Hebrew rather than the other way around.
> Thank you very much all those who have contributed to this 
> discussion.  I
> have not mentioned my career goals not because the advice is not
> appreciated, but because I am not sure myself where I am 
> going, and at any
> rate that factor would not be relevant to anyone else on the 
> list.  This
> post is not intended to be a conversation stopper - please 
> feel free to keep
> posting and I will keep reading - but more to see what you 
> folks think of my
> solution.
> James Bowick
> M.Div. Cand.
> McMaster Divinity College
> Hamilton, Ontario

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list