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Biblical Hebrew language

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Biblical Hebrew or Classical Hebrew is the ancient form of the Hebrew languages as spoken by the Israelites, in which the Hebrew Bible (Torah and Tanakh) was originally written. Its widest usage is by the Jews and the various Jewish dialects of Hebrew. A smaller group, the Samaritans, also used the Samaritan Hebrew language.

From a linguistic point of view, the Classical Hebrew language is usually divided into two periods: Biblical Hebrew, and Roman Era Hebrew, having very distinct grammatical patterns.

Biblical Hebrew is further divided into the so called 'Golden Age' Hebrew (1200 BCE to 500 BCE) and 'Silver Age' Hebrew (500 BCE to 60 BCE). Silver Age Hebrew has many borrowings from Aramaic, for example the use of the conditional particle illu (אִלוּ) replacing (לוּ). Another shibboleth between the two, is the use of the relative pronoun ʾšr (אשר) (introducing a Restrictive clause, 'that') in the earlier period, being replaced with the prefix š- (ש-) in the later, both being used in Mishnaic and Modern Hebrew.

Roman Era Hebrew , or Mishnaic Hebrew, has further gramatical influences from Greek and Parsi, mainly through the dialect of Aramaic which was the Lingua franca of the area at the time.


Descendant languages


The phonology as reconstructed for Biblical Hebrew is as follows (from Lambdin, with modifications):

Name Letter Phoneme(s) (IPA)
ālep̄ א
bṯ ב /b/, /v/
gmel ג /ɡ/, /ɣ/
dāleṯ ד /d/, //
ה /h/, zero
wāw ו /w/, zero
zayin ז /z/
ḥet ח /ħ/
ṭēṯ ט /tˁ/
yōḏ י /j/, zero
kap̄ כ, ך /k/, /x/
lāmeḏ ל /l/
mēm מ, ם /m/
nn נ, ן /n/
sāmeḵ ס /s/
‛ayin ע /ʕ/
pēh פ, ף /p/, /f/
ṣāḏēh צ, ץ /sˁ/
qōp ק /kˁ/ (or possibly /q/)
rēš ר /r/
śn/šn ש /ɬ/, /ʃ/
tāw ת /t/, /θ/

Biblical Hebrew had a vowel system based on the cardinal vowels /i u e o a/, which occurred in short, long, and extra-long forms. I follow Lambdin's use of macrons to mark long vowels and circumflexes to mark extra-long ones. Aside from these vowels, there were also four "reduced" ones, ə, ă, ĕ, and ŏ (all but the schwa, /ə/ seem to have been allophonic).


Lambdin, Thomas O. Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.

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