Thursday, January 18, 2007

Update: Modern Israeli Hebrew vs. Classical Biblical Hebrew

Update: There have been several comments on my recent post, "Ancient Hebrew; Rabbinic Hebrew; Israeli Hebrew" (click here). In particular, one scholar who prefers to remain anonymous has provided several examples of the distinctions between these languages taken from the work of Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann. To download one of Zuckermann's essays, click here (PDF file).

For the full discussion, see the comments to my original post below (again, click here). Of particular interest to me are examples of where familiarity with modern Israeli Hebrew causes a misunderstanding of biblical Hebrew. Here is a brief excerpt for the commenter's notes, giving a few of these examples:

...Israelis read the Bible as if it were Israeli Hebrew and often therefore misunderstand it. When an Israeli reads yéled šaʿǎšūʿîm in Jeremiah 31:20, s/he does not understand it as ‘pleasant child’ but rather as ‘playboy.’
...bāʾû bānîm ʿad-mašbēr in Isaiah 37:3 is interpreted by Israelis as ‘children arrived at a crisis’ rather than as ‘children arrived at the mouth of the womb, to be born.’
...Jeremiah 44: 15 is understood by many Israelis as ‘all the men who know that their wives are complaining [mĕqaṭṭěrôt] to other gods’ rather than ‘all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods.’


Blogger Unknown said...

As someone who attended primary school in Israel and can recall studying the bible in class, I can tell you that the examples you cite are somewhat misleading. The poetic/prophetic books are far more difficult than the narrative/historical books since they use many rare words and expressions that caused difficulty in understanding in ancient times. I plainly recall studying Genesis in second grade. I did not feel I was reading a "foreign" lamguage. I read the books of Kings on my own at age 11, the same way I read other history books at the time. I certainly did not need a dictionary. I can see why this may not work in the other direction. A person whose hebrew vocabulary is limited to biblical history would have a great difficulty reading a n Israeli newspaper . Nevertheless, despite all the differences in syntax and vocabulary biblical hebrew and modern hebre are basicly the same language.

Sat Jan 20, 11:43:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

David, thank you for commenting and especially for a genuine perspective from personal experience. It is great to have some representation from the other side of the debate! ---SLC

Sun Jan 21, 07:37:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you are saying "I plainly recall studying Genesis in second grade. I did not feel I was reading a "foreign" language." Let me be blunt: give us a break please! I am an Israeli myself and remember very clearly that it was impossible for me to understand the Bible without glosses and assistance. If you were told that the Bible was written in Hebrew, and Hebrew was your mother tongue, then tautologically you were in fact not reading a "foreign language". But we are not that stupid, are we? Perhaps you should read Zuckermann's articles at

Tue Jan 30, 08:51:00 AM GMT-5  

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