Will learning Modern Hebrew help me understand Biblical Hebrew?
I want to learn Biblical Hebrew to read the Old Testament in it's original language (it's not mandatory, but it's something I'm passionate about). Will learning Modern Hebrew help?
Recently, I learned that Learning Modern Greek (which the New Testament is written in) won't help me much at all, and I suspect the same will happen as far as Modern Hebrew is concerned.
I learned biblical Hebrew before I learned modern Hebrew, as I grew up in an ultra-orthodox community.
The answer is no, actually. Modern Hebrew changed the meaning of most biblical words. So even though you will recognize biblical words, the meanings will be completely different. For example, the word נורא in biblical Hebrew means awesome, and in modern Hebrew it means terrible.
if your goal is to learn biblical Hebrew, then start with biblical Hebrew.
Interesting, in english 'awesome' went the other way. It originally meant inspiring awe and even terror, and now it means really cool.
The word "נורה" actually means terrible AND awesome in Biblical Hebrew as well. I don't think the meanings will be completely different, usually-- for example, ארון הקודש literally translates as "the holy closet" in modern Hebrew but in Biblical Hebrew refers to the holy ark, because an ark IS a kind of closet, really. Modern Hebrew is also littered with Biblical expressions, such as בן אדם (literally, son of Adam) to mean "person." As a semi-proficient speaker of modern Hebrew, I can't read the Bible easily, but I can definitely understand a lot, and my daughter in second grade in Israeli schools is already reading Biblical Hebrew straight from the text. In short, I disagree-- learning modern Hebrew will absolutely help you with Biblical Hebrew. The only really challenging thing is the way some grammatical rules totally changed.
I hear, even vice versa, knowing biblical Hebrew gave a me basic understanding of written texts from modern Hebrew (Before I learned modern Hebrew, I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I definitely understood alot)
I guess I define fluency in a very strict way, hence why I recommended learning biblical Hebrew straight.
Lol I understood that because I'm learning german and can read the hebrew alphabet as I'm israeli
I don't agree completely. If you are a native israeli you can understand biblical hebrew.
As a native speaker of Hebrew, I can fully understand biblical Hebrew. (It is very rare to come across an unknown word, and if it does happen- it ressembles other words). The language is mostly conserved, and changes are minor.
In my experience (Israeli, native Hebrew speaker, not religious) it is hard to understand biblical Hebrew without some guidance of a teacher or a book.
In Israel, not religious Jewish pupils start to learn it since second grade, at least that how it was at my time, and every student in Jewish high schools (schools that Arab also can learn there, just that the majority are Jews), no matter if s/he is religious or not, must do a final exam.
I think that the advantage is that there are lots of reading materials in Hebrew (my preferred is קאסוטו), and if you are a religious Jew, I believe that you will find many places that will teach you for free in Israel (but I am not familiar myself).
I don't know about the comparison to Greek, but Hebrew will really help you, although it will still be difficult.
By the way, sometimes the difficulty is not because the language itself. Sometimes the story skips ahead and we lose important events, the reasons for that are really various, sometimes it is due to the destroy/lose of the written material (during history some of the lost material was found, but the Jewish Bible is final and we don't add them). This is another example why you need good material that will help you.
In conclusion, learning modern Hebrew will give you good tools to learn Biblical Hebrew, but I don't know if there are good alternatives in other languages/a way to learn it directly.
Good luck anyway
Learning Modern Greek will definitely help you understanding Koine Greek: https://www.quora.com/How-different-is-Modern-Greek-from-Koine
I suggest you start learning biblical Hebrew - if that's what you really want. I don't know about Greek, but another comparison is 'shakespearean english' vs. more modern English. As a native Hebrew speaker I can understand biblical Hebrew pretty easily- but for new learners coming from modern Hebrew it won't be very intuitive.
Youtube can be handy:
You'd need to have a very thorough knowledge of modern Hebrew, including a great deal of exposure to literature, before you could make any sense of Biblical Hebrew. Conversational modern Hebrew, like what you might learn here on DL, really won't help you. I'm saying this as a professional Hebrew translator.
The biblical hebrew is a bit diffrent from modern hebrew. But yes, it will help you.
Hi, I'm a Biblical Hebrew teacher based in the UK. I teach adults via Skype and Face to Face. In answer to your question, not really no. Biblical Hebrew has vowels, Modern does not. So, actually, it's much easier to learn Modern after you've learnt Biblical hebrew. Also, the verb stems are much more complex in Biblical hebrew. Lastly, you'll predominantly learn different vocab in each, because Moses never went up the mountain and ordered pizza :-) This is a genuine help offered but if you're interested my website is jerusalemofgold.org.uk and information about Biblical Hebrew lessons is on there under the tab labelled the same. Many blessings.
I agree with you that modern Hebrew pronunciation has no connection to the biblical. I also can imagine that different people might want to go deep in different levels into the aspects of the text - such as the signs under and below the letters (some of them are nikud, some of them regarding to how you should "sing" it, like in Bar Mitzvah), and also the pronunciation. However, this really depends on what is the target, it is possible to read the text and use the modern Hebrew pronunciation (like most Israelis do).
Modern Hebrew does have vowels (like any other language, I can't imagine a language with only consonants :)), but it is different as you said.
In any case, it is interesting to hear that there are alternative methods to learn it directly (for non Hebrew native speakers).
In many respects, the answer is yes. Imagine someone learning modern English and then needing to read Shakespeare - it won't be easy, and the modern speaker will find many words and even concepts and historical context unfamiliar, but he'll be able to skim through the text and at least get the gist of it. Although Biblical Hebrew is over 2000 years detached from modern Hebrew, because Hebrew was a dead language for most of that time, it didn't change nearly as much as other languages did in the same period. Understanding the proto-Germanic that eventually became Modern English will be almost impossible for modern English speakers, but the same is not true for Hebrew, and even school children routinely read the bible.
That being said, while modern Hebrew will allow you to read, and to pronounce (in a modern way, far removed from the original pronunciation!) the text, it will still be very difficult for you to understand. The bible will contain many words you won't understand, many of them different in meaning from the modern words (so a modern-Hebrew dictionary will not help you much). The bible also uses some grammar features absent from modern Hebrew (but which can be easily learned). But most of all, the bible is written in a very obscure way, not only related to the language. We have had over two thousand years of people trying to "interpret" what the bible is saying and explain what it really means. You can buy books with such interpretations and explanations, and even native Hebrew speakers need them. Heck, modern Judaism relies much more on the "Talmud", books written in the beginning of the first millennium to interpret the real intention of the bible, than the actual bible.
If you want to fully know biblical Hebrew you must learn it.
Now, compared to a native English speaker, learning biblical Hebrew is easier if you speak modern Hebrew. Although meanings are different, you'll recognize words.
If you're a non religious Israeli, and never learned biblical Hebrew, I find it incredibly hard to believe that you know biblical Hebrew, at Least to the extent that I know it.
Especially Hebrew from the Navi, it took me ages to learn it. I find most modern Hebrew in The commentary "Rashi" on the Talmud, and also in the mishna. But tanach ...
You do know people who follow this thread get email notification with the original message you posted, right ?
Non religious Israelis have bible lessons during all of our 12 years of school. Bible quotes and expressions are used in modern Israeli life- either by politicians or authors. To not recognize these (and sadly it seems to be the case with younger folks who writes modern Hebrew with mistakes) is ignorance . So you are a bit ignorant yourself even by the standards of this current version of post.
I meant no disrespect. I rewrote it in a more respectful way :-/
Edit: My point still stands though. If non religious Israelis know biblical Hebrew, it's because of the twelve years of learning it in school, not because of modern Hebrew.
Mind you, the Israeli people in my Yeshiva aren't any better at biblical Hebrew than I.
Well those 12 years are part of being Israeli - like doing military service (orthodox Jews and some people find a way not to do it- but it's definitely not the norm). Big part of reading the bible got to do with words you know because you use them daily in modern Hebrew- not everything, but much of it is understandable, regardless of those 12 years.
It'll help you to know modern Hebrew, but if what you want is Biblical Hebrew, it's going to be much more direct to just teach yourself that. I taught myself Biblical Hebrew from scratch about three years ago and now I'm coming back and learning modern - I'm happy to share more about what methods worked for me for teaching myself Biblical Hebrew.
More important than vocabulary is that Modern Hebrew has exactly the same grammar as Biblical Hebrew. You may need to learn Biblical Hebrew vocabulary, but you should have no problem parsing verbs.
I realize I'm late to this discussion. There are so many good posts here already! I thought I'd just add two papers/addresses from Aaron Hornkohl on the relationship and value of Modern Hebrew to Biblical Hebrew. He's a worldclass scholar at University of Cambridge, so at least worth a listen.
Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew: Reflections on Their Integration (SBL San Diego November 2014) https://www.academia.edu/15302186/Modern_Hebrew_and_Biblical_Hebrew_Reflections_on_Their_Integration_SBL_San_Diego_November_2014_
Training Bible Translators in Israel: The Value of Modern Hebrew for Mastering Biblical Hebrew (Home for Bible Translators 20th Anniversary, March 2015) https://www.academia.edu/15301528/Training_Bible_Translators_in_Israel_The_Value_of_Modern_Hebrew_for_Mastering_Biblical_Hebrew_Home_for_Bible_Translators_20th_Anniversary_March_2015_
The Institute for Biblical Language & Translation includes the following summary of the "Benefits of Modern Hebrew":
The program [i.e., School of Biblical Hebrew] integrates modern Hebrew with the biblical Hebrew classes. The modern language is the most efficient framework for internalizing the structure of the biblical language, thus accelerating the language learning process.
Biblical Hebrew is not a complete language, and so modern Hebrew can be used when discussing texts to cover any gaps in the biblical language, without needing to resort to other languages. Modern Hebrew also gives participants access to valuable modern Hebrew commentaries on the biblical texts.
Dr. Aaron Hornkohl, Hebrew Language Officer, University of Cambridge, says:
“While I have taken a handful of excellent biblical Hebrew courses with teachers who imparted foundational and/or seminal lessons, my own ability to read, analyze and teach the language and literature of the Bible is more a result of linguistic fluency gained thanks to the study of the modern tongue. This is for the simple reason that actually learning Hebrew has proven far more useful than merely learning to talk about it.”
Thanks for this post, I was wondering too! I would love to read the Bible in it's original form. But my friend's father who has studied theology says that original Hebrew is different than modern Hebrew. He also studied Hebrew on Duolingo by the way.