A Course in Languages: The Hebrew
It is often referred to the Hebrew language and its letters as being holy and coming from God. Even today some Jews and Christians believe that Hebrew was the language of the angels, and that Hebrew was the language originally spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jewish folklore says that all of humanity spoke Hebrew until the Tower of Babel, when God created all the languages of the world in response to humanity’s attempt to build a tower that would reach the heavens.
So let us see historically where the Hebrew language came from.
The entire Bible was written by descendants of Abraham. Thus, the languages of Abraham’s descendants were employed to write the Scriptures. Abraham was an Aramean. He was born into a nation of people who spoke Aramaic. When Abraham was called to leave his father’s house and travel to Canaan, he took the Aramaic language with him. Over the course of centuries, when being in touch with other tribes in Palestine, the language of the descendants of Abraham began to change and developed into what has become known as the Hebrew language.
Yahweh, or God the Father, began by calling forth one man to be the head and progenitor of a people by whom to develop the spiritual advancement of humanity. This one man was Abraham.
Deuteronomy 26:5--"And you shall answer and say before Yahweh your God, “My father [Abraham] was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.'”
The descending from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came to be known as Hebrews, and scripturally as God's people. While the apostle Paul, in Galatians, says the Christians are God's spiritual people, and the promises of Yahweh was made to the spiritual descendents of Abraham who follow Christ Jesus the promised Messiah by Yahweh:
Gal.3:16 "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ."
Gal. 3:29 "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise."
Gal. 3:18-19 "For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise."Why the [Mosaic] Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed [Christ] would come to whom the promise had been made."
Gal. 3:29 "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise."
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia "The Hebrew language might be appropriately called the Israelitish dialect of Canaanitish, a branch of the Semitic Languages spoken in Palestine and in the Phenician colonies. Almost identical with it is Moabitish, as seen in the stele of Mesha (See Moabite Stone). Closely akin to it was Phenician, and in all probability also the languages of Ammon, Edom, and Philistia. The language used in the Zenjirli inscriptions approaches Hebrew closely. Phonetically Hebrew occupies a middle place between Arabic, on the one hand, and Aramaic, on the other."
When Abraham clan (who spoke Aramaic) came to Palestine, the Canaanite language was spoken there. Through centuries when Abraham's Aramaic was mixed with the local Canaanite a new language was born which came to be known as Hebrew, this new language was a combination of Aramaic & Canaanite language.
Where the word "Hebrew" came from? It drives from "Eber", the son of Shem; ("Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born" Genesis 10:21). Also in scripture, Hebrew is used as an adjective to describe Jews who are "from the other side" of River Euphrates.
We see how the "Medieval Jewish scholars considered Arabic and Aramaic, the only cognate languages known to them, as corruptions of Hebrew. In more recent times, however, two opposing theories have been held. One, whose chief exponent is S. D. Luzzatto, is that Hebrew is derived from Aramaic." (Jewish Encyclopedia). All this point to the origin of Hebrew language: a mixture or combination of Aramaic and Canaanite. Jews are experts in combining two languages to give birth to new hybrid one. For example Yiddish is a combination of Hebrew and German); Ladino is a combination of Hebrew and Spanish.
Hebrew is classified as a Semitic (or Shemitic, from Shem, the son of Noah) language. Was Hebrew just one of the many Semitic languages such as Canaanite, Aramaic, Phoenician, Akkadian, etc. or a hybrid from those languages?
In the period 4000-3000 BC the Sumerians (from the land of Sumer, known as Shinar in the Bible - Genesis 10:10), [by the way "Shinar" is an Armenian word which comes from root: To build, the builder or building] speaking a non-Semitic language, appeared in southern Mesopotamia. Since the Sumerians are related to the people living between the Black and Caspian Seas it's logical to conclude that (they did not call themselves Sumerians, that was later name given to them when living in Mesopotamia in the region Shinar, see Bible Genesis 10:10) that they came from the Caucasus region by Mt. Ararat. By the time of Abraham 2000 BC those migrants from Caucasus adopted and spoke the language of the land, namely, Aramaic.
"And you shall answer and say before Yahweh your God, 'My father [Abraham] was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.'”
Abraham was originally an Aramean according to the Bible. He lived among the descendants of Aram. The Arameans settled along the Euphrates River in an area that became known as Babylonia, at the southern end of Babylonia is the city of Ur where Abraham lived according to the Bible. (Genesis 11:27-28). The language these people spoke was Aramaic. Aramaic is not one single language, but it is a family of languages. Hebrew (the language that the clan of Abraham developed in Palestine when mixing their Aramaic with the Canaanite language), Syriac, and Phoenician are all Aramaic languages. Abraham was born around the year 2,000 B.C.. He lived for 175 years, which places him about a century before Hammurabi. Another common language in Babylonia in the time of Abraham and his forefathers was Akkadian, but the Bible says Abraham was an Aramean hence he spoke Aramaic.
About 700 BC we see Hebrew nobles still knew Aramaic, as it was spoken all over from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean sea, plus they knew Hebrew which was a hybrid language developed from Aramaic & Canaanite languages:
"Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, 'Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.'" II Kings 18:26
Before the Jews were taken captive into the land of Babylon they used Paleo Hebrew alphabet, related to Phoenician alphabet. In Babylonia they adopted the Aramaic-square-script (that is still used in our days) and discarded the Paleo alphabet (around 600BC), so those letters did not come from God but from the Aramaic. Also they learned to speak very well Aramaic by necessity. When they returned from exile to Palestine all were now speaking Aramaic.
Once Jews were exiled to Babylon Hebrew began to disappear as a spoken language, though it was still preserved as a written language for Jewish prayers and holy texts.
Aramaic remained the common language of the Jews in what is referred to as “the Second Temple Period.” This time spanned between 539 B.C. when the Jews returned from Babylon, and 70 A.D. when the Temple was destroyed, along with Jerusalem, by the Roman General Titus. These years fully encompassed the life and ministry of Christ in Judea. That Christ and His disciples spoke Aramaic is evident from the New Testament Scriptures. The following verses all include examples of Jesus speaking in Aramaic.
And taking the child by the hand, He said to her, "Talitha kum!" (which translated means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!").
And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, "Be opened!"
As the Greek Empire spread, the Greek language went with it. When Rome supplanted Greece, the Greek language had already become entrenched. It had become the lingua franca of the day. The Jewish people who continued speaking Hebrew and Aramaic, while also learning Greek.
Hebrew/Aramaic was the native language spoken by the Jewish people in the time of Christ. Rome acquiesced to embracing Greek as the common language of the Empire, while Latin remained the official language of Rome.
Christ and His disciples undoubtedly spoke Aramaic with one another. There are many evidences of this found throughout the New Testament. Continuously, Aramaic words are inserted into the text of the New Testament. Following are a few examples of Aramaic words that are found in our Bibles today.
Abba - meaning “father.”
Raca - meaning “empty head” or “fool.”
Mammon - meaning “material wealth” or “greed.”
Rabboni - meaning “master.”
In the New Testament which was written in Koine Greek, the word for “Aramaic” is never used to describe the speech of the people of Israel. Instead, the Greek word “Hebraisti” is used to denote the language of the Jews in the time of Christ and the apostles. Nevertheless, some Bible translations render “Hebraisti” as Aramaic rather than Hebrew, for the language of the Jews was truly a dialect of Aramaic:
John 19:16-17 English Standard Version:
"So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha."
The entire Bible was written by descendants of Abraham. Thus, the languages of Abraham’s descendants were employed to write the Scriptures. Abraham was an Aramean. He was born into a nation of people who spoke Aramaic. When Abraham was called to leave his father’s house and travel to Canaan, he took the Aramaic language with him. Over the course of centuries,
with friction with other tribes in Palestine, the language of the descendants of Abraham began to change and developed into what has become known as the Hebrew language.
And the vast majority of the Old Testament is written in this Hebrew language, with less than 2% of its text being written originally in Aramaic. When Jerusalem and Judea fell under the rule of Greece, and later of Rome, they were introduced to the Greek language. Many Jews were multilingual, speaking both their native Hebrew tongue, Aramean, as well as Greek. This proved very helpful when the disciples of Christ were commissioned to take the gospel to the nations. Since the Jews were familiar with Greek, and it was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, the New Testament was written in Greek and spread rapidly.
After the year 200 the Hebrew language became extinct (like other ancient languages of the Middle East), it was used only during religious ceremonies and prayer services but never in everyday conversation. Up until a century ago Hebrew was not a spoken language. Ashkenazi Jewish communities generally spoke Yiddish (a combination of Hebrew and German), while Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino (a combination of Hebrew and Spanish). Of course, Jewish communities also spoke the native language of whatever countries they were living in. Jews still used Hebrew (and Aramaic) during prayer services, but Hebrew was not used in their everyday conversation.
In 1880 Eliezer Ben-Yehuda said: “in order to have our own land and political life… we must have a Hebrew language in which we can conduct the business of life.” The creation of the modern Hebrew from Jewish religious books and its consequent use by Jews all over the world is due to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
God created all the languages of the world in response to humanity’s attempt to have their trust in their own name in place of the name of God Jesus Christ; hence God and His angels KNOW ALL LANGUAGES not only the Jewish one or Hebrew language.
Edited by man, 22 November 2013 - 11:04 PM.