Biblical Hebrew

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Biblical Hebrew is an archaic form of the Hebrew language that is no longer spoken or written for normal communication. It is a Canaanite Semitic language which developed around 1000 BCE and eventually evolved into Mishnaic Hebrew in the first century CE. It is a very important historical language because it was used for various ancient Hebrew documents, including those in the Tanakh.

Although many words in Biblical Hebrew exist unchanged in modern Hebrew, there are many differences between the two, most notably the fact that the alphabet underwent drastic changes. The original Hebrew alphabet used a modified Phoenician alphabet, but around 500 BCE, Hebrew began to shift to a modified Aramaic alphabet. Neither alphabet included spaces, punctuation, or even vowels. Vowel marks, called nikkud, started to be used around 200 CE, and spaces and forms of punctuation were also adopted over time. Unfortunately for those trying to determine how the language sounded, during the centuries when vowels weren't written, there is evidence that the sound of the vowels changed, and the number of vowels increased in variety.

Usually, when an ancient Hebrew document that was originally written in Biblical Hebrew is printed today, it is upgraded into the modern Hebrew alphabet with spaces, punctuation, and nikkud. This is very helpful since it makes the text much easier to read. For example, the following is a bit like how English would look if it eliminated spaces, punctuation, and vowels:


The problem with displaying Biblical Hebrew in the modern Hebrew alphabet is it assumes that all of the spacing, punctuation, and vowels used by modern typesetters correctly convey the sound, word breaking, and punctuation of the authors. And, not only is it impossible to prove this, but there is evidence that the modern versions are wrong.

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