The Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew:
Hebrew (fl -1200 to -586 and since +1885) is the main language of Israel and the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament). It is one of the best known examples of a dead language brought back to life.
- Speakers: 9 million (5m native).
- Countries: Israel: native to 49%, understood by 90% of Jews and 60% of Arabs (2011).
- Script: Hebrew (22 letters, runs right to left), since about -950.
- Language family: Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.
The two main kinds:
- Classical Hebrew, what the Bible uses (called Yehudith in Isaiah 36:11). Like Phoenician, it was a dialect of Canaanite.
- Modern Hebrew, the kind Israel uses now.
- a close cousin of Arabic, Amharic (Ethiopia), Punic (ancient Carthage) and Aramaic (what Jesus spoke) and
- a distant cousin of Tuareg (Berber), Ancient Egyptian, Somali, Hausa (Nigeria), and Oromo (Ethiopia).
- It is not related to Yiddish, a Jewish form of German.
By -586, Hebrew was dead. When Jews returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity they were speaking Aramaic, the language of Babylon, what the King James Bible calls Syrian or Chaldean. You see the change take place in the book of Daniel, which is partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic.
Knowledge of Hebrew was never completely lost: Jews continued to pray in it while scholars and rabbis learned it so they could read and study the Bible. But it was no longer the language of daily life.
In +1881 all that changed when Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his wife moved to Jerusalem and began speaking only in Hebrew! Their son became the first native speaker in over 2,000 years. Ben-Yehuda gave lessons and ran a newspaper to help others learn and practise everyday Hebrew. He wrote a dictionary that filled in all those words missing from the Bible, like telephone, rice and clitoris. Not all his words stuck, but it gave Hebrew a workable starting point.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed it: Hebrew was too holy for daily life. They still use Yiddish.
Zionists, who wanted a homeland for Jews in Palestine, loved the idea and helped spread its use.
By 1922 Hebrew had plenty of native speakers and became an official language of British Palestine.
After 1948 the Israeli government made it the main language of education, radio, television and the press.
English words and expressions that come from Hebrew, mainly by way of the Bible:
- by 1000: Satan, devil, Christ, manna, amen, Sabbath.
- 1100s: Jew, synagogue.
- 1200s: balm, shekel, firmament, unicorn, holocaust.
- 1300s: behemoth, leviathan, messiah, abacus, cherub, jubilee, peace (as greeting).
- 1400s: ethnic, rabbi.
- 1500s: Jehovah, Passover, stiff-necked, hallelujah, scapegoat, skin of one’s teeth, my brother’s keeper, long-suffering, stumbling block.
- 1600s: Hittite, sour grapes, pour out one’s heart, fly in the ointment, read the writing on the wall, fall flat on one’s face, set one’s teeth on edge, land of the living, backsliding, rosebud, shibboleth.
- 1700s: helpmate.
- 1800s: goy, Bar Mitzvah, Yahweh, yeshiva, golem, matzoh, kosher, chutzpah, schmooze.
- 1900s: kibbutz, tush, gun moll, pita, schlemazel, Palestine.
Sometimes the same word entered English in different forms by way of Greek, Latin or Yiddish: messiah/Christ, Satan/devil, goy/ethnic, etc.
– Abagond, 2014, 2015.