Biblical Hebrew – a comparison to modern Hebrew

People often approach me to teach them biblical Hebrew. They want to be able to read the Torah in Hebrew. I explain to them, that Hebrew is Hebrew. Whether the Hebrew is found in the Torah, the liturgy or modern-day Hebrew. Granted, there may be some words that are different. There are notable similarities and differences between the two.

Some similarities between Biblical and modern Hebrew

It is interesting, because some of the words in the Torah are the same as the modern day language. Some basic words, such as “speak”, “say”, “go”, just for a few examples, can be easily translated in the Torah. There are many other examples of similarities between Biblical and modern Hebrew , such as the use of the word God.

I will never forget when I heard an Israeli say (in Hebrew) “thank God”. It struck me then of the connection between Biblical Hebrew and modern Hebrew. They used the same word for God as is used in the Torah!

Some of the differences between the two styles

There are however, also differences. I think one of the differences is the sentence structure. The Hebrew in the Torah is very formal Hebrew. I often compare Biblical and modern Hebrew to Shakespearean English and every day English. The way it is written in the Torah is not the way we would speak or write text books in modern Hebrew.

Another difference is the use of the metteg. The metteg is a little symbol (a small vertical line) that is used to show the emphasis on the word. In all my years of exposure to Hebrew, I have not come across the metteg used in modern-day Hebrew. That can make a big difference to how a word is pronounced. It seems that the Hebrew pronunciation is assumed knowledge in modern Hebrew!

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