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Why Study Biblical (Classical) Hebrew?

Biblical Hebrew is the language of the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament; it was also the principle language of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, during their many centuries of existence. Related to other Semitic languages—such as Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Akkadian, and Ugaritic—Biblical Hebrew offers a window onto an ancient Semitic culture, one that has had a lasting impact on religion, philosophy, literature, and practice, especially in the Western world. Biblical Hebrew also provides the basis for developments in the Hebrew language during various periods of history, such as rabbinic Hebrew, medieval Hebrew, and modern Hebrew.

A year of Elementary Classical Hebrew will permit a student to read simple narrative accounts from the Hebrew Bible. During a second year of study at the Intermediate level, students will gain sophistication in reading, comprehending, and translating more challenging passages from the Hebrew Bible. In the fall term of the second year, students develop competence in reading stories told in prose form. In the spring term, they learn how to interpret biblical poetry, including  psalms, wisdom literature, prophecies, and the earliest Israelite poems. Students may register for Classical Hebrew under either the HEBR or RELJ mnemonics. Successfully completing two years of Biblical Hebrew satisfies the College of Arts & Sciences foreign language requirement.

One of the most influential literary anthologies of all time, the Hebrew Bible constitutes a foundational text of Western civilization. As such, it deserves to be read in Hebrew. A beautifully indeterminate language, Biblical Hebrew lends itself to multiple interpretations. Learning to read the Bible in Hebrew, therefore, will open up vistas of meaning and insight that are otherwise lost in translation. As a window onto the culture of ancient Israel, Biblical Hebrew reveals concepts and ways of thinking that are distinct from the Greek modes of thought that underpin most philosophy in the West.