Hebrew: the EASY language?


One of our MA in Biblical Languages students did an undergrad degree in French at the University of Oklahoma.  While on a brief visit to his old alma mater recently, he snapped this picture of one of the bulletin boards in the language department. Especially intriguing is the green flyer. So . . . Hebrew is a fun, EASY language! Who knew?

Of course, my students who are in the middle of learning first-year Hebrew don’t think it’s easy (although I have heard from a number of them that they do think it’s fun).  How easy is Hebrew compared to, say, Greek? Hebrew is simpler than Greek in a number of ways, and often simpler is easier. So here are a few tidbits for the interested reader. In my Koine Greek class, we learn 24 forms of the definite article (the). In Hebrew, we learn one basic form, with 3 slight (but recognizable) variations of it. In Greek, nouns and adjectives come in three different genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In Hebrew, they come in only two: masculine and feminine. In Greek, every noun theoretically has ten forms, since there are 5 cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative) and two categories for number (singular and plural); in Hebrew, no case system exists, with the result that every noun theoretically has only four forms (an absolute and a construct form in the singular and plural). In Greek, the copula εἰμί/εἶναι is optional and so can be explicit or implied: John is a man and John a man.  In Hebrew, the copula הָיָה is always omitted in “present-time” contexts: John a man. Hey, why waste words?

So, these are just a few ways that Hebrew could be seen to be “easier” than other classical languages. There are other things that might make Hebrew seem more daunting (like a less familiar alphabetic script and sound system, a verbal system that is not tense-prominent, reading right-to-left). Is learning any language really ever *easy*? Absolutely not. But whether a language is easy to learn or not is no good reason to learn, or avoid, Hebrew or any other language. Acquiring a language like Hebrew does several things for you. It gives you access to great texts–sacred texts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic material. It trains your mind to think more clearly (and accurately!) about words, meaning, grammar, expression, and communicating thoughts. It gives you tools to determine whether that scholar in Newsweek or Time really knows what he/she is talking about, or whether they’re just blowing smoke. Same with pastors, theologians, and bloggers.

Give Hebrew a try. It’s easy! Well, maybe not easy, but simple. And if you join us on this journey at HBU, I can tell you exactly what Gandalf told Bilbo in An Unexpected Journey:

“If you return, you will never be the same again.”If you return, you will never be the same again

I Have A Dream

Today is the 5oth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is hard for me to think that such egregious, institutional racism existed here in the US so recently.  King’s speech was truly a prophetic call to national righteousness, and it’s for this reason that I show it every semester when we talk about the OT Prophets, particularly Amos 5 which he cites.

As I consider Dr King’s call to equality, it makes me question how far we have really come. Continue reading

HBU Hosts Dr. Emanuel Tov Lecture on Dead Sea Scrolls

The Houston Baptist University School of Christian Thought/Dept of Theology is pleased to invite any and all to a FREE public lecture tonight (Monday, 7pm) featuring Dr. Emanuel Tov.  Dr. Tov is recognized as the world’s leading expert on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible (his textbook on this topic is considered the gold standard among those in the field) and on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the project called “Discoveries in the Judean Desert,” which was responsible for publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls materials for the scholarly world. As Director of the MA in Biblical Languages, let me say that I am nothing short of thrilled that our students living in Houston have the opportunity to meet with and hear such first-rate scholars in fields like these. We are indeed very honored to be  hosting Dr. Tov at HBU this evening. See details of the meeting below:

LECTUREREmanuel Tov, J. L. Magnes Professor Emeritus of Bible Studies at Hebrew

University in Jerusalem

LECTURE TOPIC“The Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls”

DATEOctober 22, 2012

TIME7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

LOCATIONBelin Chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist University (in the Morris Cultural Arts center)

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