[b-hebrew] An article on distinguishing the written from spoken Hebrew style.

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Fri Aug 17 17:58:58 EDT 2007


The author of that article, David Boxenhorn, makes the assumption that
the relationship of modern and Biblical Hebrew is similar to that
between King James English and modern English. Let's look at this.

I readily admit that I cannot read Shakespeare nor the KJV with full
understanding. In vocabulary, the problem is not the words that have
dropped out of use, rather those that continue in use but now have
different meanings. The latter will trip you up every time, unless you
spend a lot of time learning archaic uses of vocabulary. Who has time
for that? Several times I have spoken to people who thought they had
understood a passage (including myself when I was a child), only to
find that they had used a modern meaning where an archaic meaning was
different, hence they had misunderstood that passage. If I am to read
Bible in English (something I haven't done in years), I will need to
find an accurate, modern translation.

The same situation exists in the difference between Biblical and
modern Israeli Hebrew. While those who "resurrected" Hebrew took their
core vocabulary from Biblical Hebrew, even there, where the Mishnaic
meanings were different, they sometimes took the Mishnaic meaning
instead of the Biblical. Add to that all the modern words for modern
concepts, making modern Israeli quite different from Biblical Hebrew.
This is just vocabulary.

Add to that that the grammar of modern Israeli is in some ways closer
to that of Yiddish, particularly in its treatment of verbs, than to
Biblical Hebrew, and linguists would not be wrong to speak of two
different, though related, languages. It was the use of modern terms
and syntax that tripped up the forger of the so-called 'Jehoash
Inscription' even though he tried to copy Biblical style. Even on this
list, there have been some sharp exchanges where people whose native
tongue is modern Israeli, have insisted on certain readings of
Biblical Hebrew, based on modern Israeli grammar where it is different
from Biblical Hebrew grammar.

Because the only Hebrew I know is Biblical Hebrew, I never studied
even Mishnaic Hebrew, let alone modern Israeli Hebrew, nor have I
studied Ugaritic, Arabic, more Aramaic than needed to read Daniel and
Ezra, nor other cognate languages (originally not by choice, because
such studies are useful for linguistic analysis), I find that my
understanding of Biblical Hebrew is not corrupted by such studies. I
don't have to filter out the 'noise' of such studies to get to the
meaning in Biblical Hebrew, rather I can react almost instinctively,
i.e. "That doesn't sound right" in the same manner as when hearing a
foreigner misusing my native tongue. I can anticipate what I should
expect to find next in a sentence, and that often without conscious

In his addendum, point #4, David Boxenhorn in listing the difference
between microsyntax and macrosyntax as a difference between Semitic
and European characteristics, indicates that he does not really
understand Biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew has complex sentences,
especially if you mean by Biblical Hebrew the pre-Babylonian Exile
Hebrew such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, Proverbs and other dated
pre-Exile writings. The markers indicating complex syntax may be
different than used in modern Israeli, which is why he may not
recognize them, but they are there. Just as in the New Testament
Greek, so in Tanakh verse divisions sometimes come in the middle of
complex sentences.

As far as why modern Israeli Hebrew was so quickly and thoroughly
adopted was interesting, but outside the purview of this group.

Yours, Karl W. Randolph.

Ps. I noticed David Boxenhorn in some of his other postings quoted
some verses from Mishnah, and I did not understand them. Could it be
that the differences between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew are as
great, or greater, than those between KJV and modern English?

On 8/16/07, trepp at telus.net <trepp at telus.net> wrote:
>  Hello all subscribers and moderators of b-Hebrew:
> Since some on this list have very strong feelings in favor of an extreme
> differentiation between the ancient forms of Hebrew and the modern, I thought I
> would see what feedback might come of the comments made on the page at this link
> http://www.rishon-rishon.com/archives/098121.php
> Sincerely,
> Travis Jackson

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