Bible Review 7:3, June 1991

Hebrew for Bible Readers

Starting with aleph

By Keith N. Schoville

Bible Review

With little or no knowledge of Hebrew you can acquire a basic understanding of the language in which the Bible was originally written. This lesson will introduce you to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Subsequent lessons will introduce you to other aspects of the language, with illustrations from the biblical text.

To speak in any language we use our throat, mouth, nose and lips to produce sounds. Humans can create a great variety of sounds, some soft and flowing, which we call vowels, and others hard and sharp, which we call consonants. Each language has a limited number of distinct sounds that are the building blocks for all the words in that language. Some sounds naturally resemble those in other languages; some are unique.

Spoken languages can be written by using symbols to represent individual sounds and combinations of sounds. Early writing systems that developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt were complicated and cumbersome, requiring the use of several hundred signs to represent individual words and ideas.

The invention of the alphabet provided a simple, efficient writing system. An alphabet is a list of signs—usually fewer than 30—with each sign representing a basic sound in the language. The first alphabet was the Semitic alphabet (sometimes called proto-Sinaitic or proto-Canaanite), which was invented in the land of Canaan at least 3,700 years ago. From this earliest alphabet came all other alphabets in the world, including those of the Semitic family of languages.

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