Read In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language by Joel M. Hoffman Online


Hebrew as a language is just over 3,000 years old, and the story of its alphabet is unique among the languages of the world. Hebrew set the stage for almost every modern alphabet, and was arguably the first written language simple enough for everyone, not just scribes, to learn, making it possible to make a written record available to the masses for the first time.WrittenHebrew as a language is just over 3,000 years old, and the story of its alphabet is unique among the languages of the world. Hebrew set the stage for almost every modern alphabet, and was arguably the first written language simple enough for everyone, not just scribes, to learn, making it possible to make a written record available to the masses for the first time.Written language has existed for so many years--since around 3500 BCE--that most of us take it for granted. But as Hoffman reveals in this entertaining and informative work, even the idea that speech can be divided into units called "words" and that these words can be represented with marks on a page, had to be discovered. As Hoffman points out, almost every modern system of writing descends from Hebrew; by studying the history of this language, we can learn a good deal about how we express ourselves today.Hoffman follows and decodes the adventure that is the history of Hebrew, illuminating how the written record has survived, the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient translations, and attempts to determine how the language actually sounded. He places these developments into a historical context, and shows their continuing impact on the modern world.This sweeping history traces Hebrew's development as one of the first languages to make use of vowels. Hoffman also covers the dramatic story of the rebirth of Hebrew as a modern, spoken language.Packed with lively information about language and linguistics and history, In the Beginning is essential reading for both newcomers and scholars interested in learning more about Hebrew and languages in general....

Title : In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language
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ISBN : 9780814736906
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 263 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language Reviews

  • Ilya
    2019-02-12 12:51

    How do we know the Hebrew language? It is the language of the Hebrew Bible. How do we know the text of the Hebrew Bible? We have a bunch of manuscripts, the oldest (the Leningrad Codex, the Aleppo Codex, the Cairo Codex) being about 1000 years old. They are written in a consonantal script with dots indicating the vowels and aspects of the pronunciation of consonants. There have been three systems for these dots (with variations) invented in the late first millennium CE in Tiberias, in Babylon and in Jerusalem. They are different from each other, but we don't know if these differences are due to dialectal differences in the pronunciation of a living language, or differences in the prescriptive pronunciation of a dead language. Around 300 to 100 BCE in Alexandria, the Bible was translated into Greek, with personal names and place names transliterated from the Hebrew; the consonants more or less agree with the dotted manuscripts but the vowels don't (assuming that our understanding of the pronunciation of Ancient Greek is correct). Adam's wife is named Khavva in dotted Hebrew and Eua in the Greek translation. There was also a 3rd century CE transliteration of the Hebrew Bible into Greek written side by side with several translations; fragments of this work are preserved; the Hebrew is different from both the dotted version and the Greek translation, but the Greek text has many mistakes and it is possible that the differences in Hebrew are also mistakes. The Dead Sea Scrolls are about 1000 years older than the manuscripts with the dots; they make heavier use of consonants that stand in for vowels than is the rule in Biblical Hebrew (or Modern Israeli Hebrew, for that matter). The second-person singular possessive suffix is "-k" in undotted writing; with the dots it is "-ka" for the masculine and "-ak" for the feminine; in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the masculine suffix is also "-ka", which confirms the authenticity of the dots. Curiously, Exodus 13:16 also has "-ka"; the verse seems to be a later copy of Exodus 13:9. On the other hand, the Greek transliteration always has the final "-kh". However, the second person plural masculine personal pronoun is "atem" in dotted Hebrew and "atVma" (where V is an unknown vowel) in the Dead Sea Scrolls. We don't know if this reflects a different dialect of Hebrew or a mistake on the part of the inventors of the dots.

  • Margaret Heller
    2019-02-07 17:04

    A compact linguistic history of Hebrew which delves into the scholarly arguments just deep enough to be entertaining but not quite enough to be pedantic (though some might find it so). This is definitely for a fairly specific audience as I can't imagine you would get too much out of this unless you had a pretty good grasp of Hebrew and Greek, and a little Latin and German wouldn't hurt; yet if you were truly a linguist, this would be too basic, though maybe not if you didn't know too much about Hebrew. For me it was perfect. I studied Hebrew for a gazillion years but never was good at it, finally got good in a semester of Biblical Hebrew in college followed immediately by a trip to Israel, and then taught Hebrew for two years at the first grade level. This helped me bring it all together and make sense of it through a methodical, scientific approach. I particularly like the Further Reading suggested by Hoffman at the end of his books, which compactly presents the appropriate resources for continuing scholarship. He really wants the reader to explore the topic further and not take his word for it. Now to place a few more ILL requests...

  • Michael Doyle
    2019-02-14 14:45

    An incredibly well-researched book that lays out the history of the Hebrew language from antiquity to today, told through the lens of the invention, use of, and resuscitation of the use of vowels in the written language. By the end you'll understand why the vowel marks exist the way they do, where they really came from, why they're more than likely not the same as the vowels used in Biblical times, and why modern spoken Israeli Hebrew differs from the way the language is taught both in America and Israel. Probably too dense for some tastes, and the writing takes far too many circumlocutions to get to the point throughout the book. Linguists will love the whole book. Like me, you may just like it in some parts and skim over others. But a worthy read nonetheless for anyone interested in Hebrew.

  • Donna
    2019-01-30 14:01

    If read with an eye for gleaning details but not necessarily the broader picture, this is a worthwhile read. Sections were very illuminating, but the emphasis on not actually being able to define G*d was like watching a tightrope walker doing backbend on the high wire. Painful. The Ruach, Holy Spirit, and Breath explanations made the whole book worthwhile though. Glad I learned my abc's, but a novel they aren't. I recommend this book. Use it as a springboard for bigger studies. His next book after was disappointing in the skim over and lecture circuit reviews. If anyone can make a good case as to why valuable time or money should be spent reading it, then please do.

  • Steve Gross
    2019-02-15 13:01

    The author aims for a breezy style but never quite gets there.

  • Steven
    2019-02-14 14:10

    I came upon this book by recommendation of Asya Pereltsvaig The short book takes us through a history of Hebrew writing showing how Hebrew was the first writing system to (partially) record vowels and make itself easier to learn and propagate. Masoretic system of complete marking of how Hebrew should sound did not arise until after 800 C.E.-1000 C.E. at least 500 years after Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language. It seems that some of the rules of pronunciation were invented by Masoretes. However, authenticity of many of the Masoretic rules found confirmation in the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls (200 BCE - 68 CE).

  • Verner Hultman
    2019-02-04 11:45

    This short history of the hebrew language was interesting and held my attention. Personally, I felt there may have been a personal agenda on a couple points. Also, Joel Hoffman may have pushed a couple of the point/issues to their logical limits.The book did inform and explain mainly peculiarities of the Hebrew language. As a result of reading this book I have renewed my interest in the Hebrew language.

  • Lauren
    2019-02-07 12:04

    While I disagree with many of the author's premises, Hoffman raises interesting questions and makes good points that I had never considered before. I would recommend this book to students of Hebrew who are looking to broaden their understanding of its history and the vast amount of scholarship on the subject.