Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Biblical Hebrew

Okay as promised here is a little bit about Biblical Hebrew. The earliest scripts in Biblical Hebrew are from the 10th century B.C. It is a consonantal language meaning that only the consonants are written. Once the books of the old testament became cannon you could not add or changes any of the letters they were counted so they knew how many there were. Biblical Hebrew was spoken around the 1st temple period. By the second temple period it was no longer spoken but it was still written. In the 6th and 7th century A.D. vowel signs were added to preserve the tradition of the pronunciations. The vowel signs are the dots you see around the letters. If you look at the Torah scrolls in the synagogue you will not find the vowel signs. Originally there were two systems of marking vowels one developed in Babylon and one developed in Tiberius. I am learning the system from Tiberius the Babylonian one is hardly ever used anymore.

Hebrew is read from right to left. The words in a Biblical Hebrew sentence can come in any order there is no fixed placement of noun then verb like in English. Hebrew can also have sentences without verbs. Hebrew doesn't have cases. Words can be either masculine or feminine there are no neutral words. Each Hebrew word has a root. A root is usually made up of three letters, meaning three consonants. In Semitic languages vowels are less important. The consonants carry the main meaning. So the word for food is similar to the word for eat because they are related.

Here are a few other interesting observations I've made while in class. In Hebrew the word for woman is the same as the word for wife but man and husband are two different words. The word that means Eve comes from the Aramaic word meaning snake. I'm sure there is an interesting lesson there but I won't be learning Aramaic for a while but I'll have to remember to look into that. Today in class I learned that Biblical Hebrew does not distinguish between human and divine messengers (angels). It wasn't until the Bible was translated into Latin that the distinction was made between the human and divine messengers. My professor thinks angels were a Christian thought since they first entered the Bible in the Latin translation.
Pictured above is my homework from last night. It is random verses or parts of verses from the book of Genesis. I couldn't get a really good picture where you could actually see the vowel marks. If you are interested in looking at a Hebrew Bible you can visit http://study.interlinearbible.org/genesis/1.htm Biblical Hebrew also has other marks above and below the words to tell you which part of the word is stressed and others tell you where to pause and how long to pause between words.

Questions from the last Post:
Uncle Joe- The plant growing out of the Western Wall is hyssop or ezov in Hebrew. It is a sacred plant in Judaism used for purification and sacrifices. Hyssop was mixed with the blood put on the door frames during Passover. See Exodus 12.

As for the crenelations on the top of the Damascus Gate I'm not sure what they are for. First I need to figure out who built the walls that are standing now and in what time period. I'll keep searching.

I'm waiting to do my post on the food here until after I've been to one of the open air markets. I don't think my post would be complete without that experience. I'm not sure when I'll be able to go but the food post will wait until after that. But yes you are right that falafel is fried hummus.


  1. It took forever for my brain to register that your homework picture was not in fact upside down. Just written right to left.

    Reading must be really difficult with no vowels. And no fixed word order! Japanese is the same way with the word order, but they have sentence particles that tell you what its role in the sentence is.

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I really like seeing what you're learning. It's such a different language. I hope your studies go well! Good luck in your incredibly long classes!

  2. Thanks for the hyssop/ezov answer. I followed up and it seems there is a bunch of arguing about whether the plant used with lamb's blood for Passover marking was hyssop. Apparently, the notion of it being hyssop started only with the Septuagint and the older term, ezov, may have referred to several other plants. It's odd that even a trivial question like, "What kind of weed is that?", leads to you to fields scholarly warfare about whether or not something was mistranslated 2,000 years ago.

    I'd heard about the language being consonants with marks for vowels. The tetragrammaton is the best known (at least to me). But the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph, as you say a consonant by rule. That supposedly became the letter "A" nowadays. So how did a consonant in a language that doesn't list vowels become morphed into a vowel in successor languages?

    Thanks for finding the time to cater to my curiosity. Good learning.