The Hebrew Language

Ancient and Modern Hebrew

Biblical (or Ancient) Hebrew is the archaic form of the Hebrew language. It is a Canaanite Semitic language spoken by the Israelites in Canaan, and the earliest Hebrew writing discovered dates to around 1,000 BC, link. But as the Jews were scattered amongst the nations, spoken Hebrew gradually became confined to the reading of the Torah in the synagogues (in Jesus’ day, Hebrew was the language of liturgy in the Temple).

So why all the interest in Biblical Hebrew today? One answer is that a knowledge of the original text can enrich a modern translation. Another is that Hebrew is one of the official languages of Israel (see below). A third reason for studying Hebrew is found in Bible prophecy, which says that this ancient Canaanite language will soon be a common language in the Middle East, and especially in the millennial age to come! Yes – God is reviving this ancient language as we approach the end of this age:

In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan
(Isa 19.18)
For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they may call on the name of the LORD (Zeph 3.9)

Just as the Ancient Greek of the New Testament differs from Modern Greek, so Biblical Hebrew differs noticeably from Modern (secular) Hebrew, the national language spoken in modern-day Israel. The differences are mainly in the areas of grammar, phonology, and vocabulary. The pronunciation of some of the consonants and vowels have changed over the centuries, but this does not affect the meaning of words and so speakers of Modern Hebrew can typically read an ancient text without difficulty, link.

The Hebrew Language: an Official Language of Israel

Tourist information says that Hebrew and Arabic are the ‘official’ languages of the State of Israel, link. But, as of 2014, there are political moves to remove Arabic from the list of official languages, link. It is argued that, whilst Arabic has a defined legal status in certain cases, it no longer has the status of an official language; countries that have more than one official language are dual or multi-national countries, which Israel is not, link. Proponents of this view point out that Israel declared the establishment of a Jewish State in 1948.

Today, Hebrew is spoken by some 90% of those who who arrived before 1989, link, link. This is quite remarkable since there is no other example in world history of an ancient language being revived as the spoken language of a modern nation. The restoration of Biblical Hebrew to a modern day spoken language is a unique historical phenomenon, link. Like the restoration of Israel into their Promised Land, the restoration of Biblical Hebrew is yet another sign of the God of Israel blessing His people.

The Hebrew Bible: the Tanakh

Biblical Hebrew is best-attested in the Hebrew Bible. This comprises 24 books divided amongst three sections: the 5 books of Moses (Torah), the 8 prophetic books (Neviim) and the 11 books of writings (Kesuvim). The term ‘Tanakh’ is an acronym derived from the initial letters Torah, Neviim and Kesuvim. The Tanakh presents a history of the first 3500 years from creation until the building of the second Temple in Jerusalem (which was completed 349 BC). In particular, the Tanakh reveals God’s plan for the world, His relationship with mankind and how Israel is His chosen witness to the nations.

Learn the Hebrew Alphabet (Alephbet)

The Hebrew language

Fig.1: The Hebrew Alphabet (click to enlarge)
By Assyrio , via Wikimedia Commons

The English word “Alphabet” is derived from the first two letters of the Greek Alphabet; Alpha and Beta. The corresponding term in Hebrew is “Alephbet”, this being derived from the first two letters of the Hebrew Alephbet; Aleph and Bet. Figure 1 shows this Ancient Hebrew alphabet. It has 22 consonants and no vowels (the vowels are dots and dashes added above and below the consonants). The letters are in alphabetical order, written from right to left. Alef is the first letter of the Alephbet and Tav is the last.

Click on the image below to learn the Hebrew Alephbet. Listen to letter pronunciation and how to pronounce simple sentences.


The video below teaches the Alephbet in just 20 lessons, and it’s FREE:

Hebrew for Christians

Click on the image below to learn the Hebrew language from a Christian perspective:


Hebrew for Christians aims to remind the Christian Church of her rich Hebraic heritage. Here you’ll find basic information about the Hebrew alphabet, vowels, and Biblical Hebrew grammar so that you can better understand the Scriptures from a Hebraic point of view. Learn about the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. Learn about the Hebrew names of God, and about the importance of a name – how it should identify with a person’s life (‘Yeshua’ is a good example, Acts 4.12). Learn about how we should regularly bless the Lord, as shown in the Hebrew Blessings or Berachot. Learn about the Jewish calendar and the Jewish holidays and feasts, some of which go into the millennium.

Remember, the risen LORD Jesus is a Jew, and so it is important for believers in Christ to understand their Jewish heritage.

Learn Biblical Hebrew Online

Learn from the convenience of your own home. This is the first accredited online Biblical Hebrew course offered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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