Biblical Hebrew: 00. Introduction
Welcome to the course of the grammar of Biblical Hebrew. In this course, you will learn the most essential grammar for understanding the Hebrew Old Testament. These essentials are covered in fourteen lessons building upon each other. Before plunging right into learning the language, we need to discuss some introductory topics of the language itself and the suggested way of learning it.
About the Hebrew language
The Hebrew language is the language of the Old Testament. It covers the history of almost 2,000 years (1,500 BC – 400 AD) which is pretty much of the time. This language belongs to the Semitic family of languages in the Ancient Near East (North-West branch together with Aramaic and Ugaritic languages).
The Hebrew is not very abstract language as rather descriptive. It is simply using words as a concrete description of abstract reality. The oddness of the language is not only in the description of objects but also in the way of how events are portrayed. The Hebrew is not using tenses like modern languages. There is no grammatical category for tense as such but rather aspect of an action (perfective or imperfective). For the sake of the modern reader, therefore, the Old Testament translators must employ tense based on their exegesis of a text.
We are used to that vowels are part of our alphabet. However, this is not the case with the Hebrew alphabet. It is composed only of consonants. The specialty of the Hebrew is that vowels were part of the oral memory of the people. Antiquity was a time of oral culture where the major medium of communication was orality and ownership of any written documents was scarce. It was therefore natural for Hebrews to share pronunciation of a given word through oral tradition. However, later (around 700 AD) there was a need to fix pronunciation of the Biblical text. So the group of Hebrew scribes, called Masoretes, invented special signs for vowels and other oral sounds. From now on, everybody knew how to read the given text of the Old Testament correctly. But originally there were no signs as we have it now.
For the study of the Hebrew language was important the findings in Qumran caves nearby the Dead Sea (1947). Discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls was remarkable not only because we could get another critical material for considering ancient history, but also for that there were found copies of almost every book of the Old Testament (dating around 200 BC). Thus we could see what the Hebrew text was like in the past and compare it with the editions we have today.
How to Learn
We will now discuss how to get the most from learning the language in this course.
The starting point of learning a particular grammar are individual lessons. In each lesson, you will learn a particular grammar by reading through the most essential subjects of the grammar in the discussion. For making the grammar more comprehensive, its summary and grammar charts are provided. One of the most crucial parts of the lesson is practical exercises helping you to actually work with the particular grammar.
Once you finish all the lessons, it is good to continue with other courses and to gradually learn available vocabularies of biblical texts in the application.
Some of the lessons are accompanied by a vocabulary exercise (usually of a biblical passage). Usually, such a passage contains occurrences of the grammar in the discussion. Your task is to learn the vocabulary so you can translate the text and interact with the grammar.
For example, in the first lesson, you will find an exercise for learning the 700 of the most frequent words in the OT. We are recommending learning this exercise gradually during the whole course. This is the minimum vocabulary you need for basic reading of the Hebrew OT text since you will find most of these words in almost every passage.
Hebrew Old Testament
If you are serious with Hebrew, you will need to get the text of the Old Testament in Hebrew. These days, it is not a big deal to get the Hebrew text. On the global market following titles are available:
- Bibles (you can also use app built-in texts)
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) (Recommended)
- Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ)
- More recent but not yet fully completed
- Lexicons (you can also use app built-in dictionary)
- Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB)
- Holladay, William Lee. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
- Koehler, Ludwig. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT)
Of course, prices and other information can be found on the Internet. If you are not comfortable with these modern critical texts, it's not a problem to get another to better fit your needs. You do not need to get the printed text right now to engage in the course. All of the lessons can be completed without it.
Make Your Own Notes
We recommend making your own notes from the material, exercises, charts, etc., so you can get back to it later. The advantage of this practice is that you can structure your notes in a way that will reflect your reasoning, which then affects the ability to remember. Making notes also helps you in a way that it forces you to think about the material to formulate the content somehow. This, therefore, results in that you are already learning the material.
For now, you know everything to begin your Old Testament studies. You can continue to the first lesson, where you will learn how to read the Hebrew text.