hebrew language Summary and Overview
Bible Dictionaries at a Glance
hebrew language in Easton's Bible Dictionary
the language of the Hebrew nation, and that in which the Old
Testament is written, with the exception of a few portions in
Chaldee. In the Old Testament it is only spoken of as "Jewish"
(2 Kings 18:26, 28; Isa. 36:11, 13; 2 Chr 32:18). This name is
first used by the Jews in times subsequent to the close of the
It is one of the class of languages called Semitic, because
they were chiefly spoken among the descendants of Shem.
When Abraham entered Canaan it is obvious that he found the
language of its inhabitants closely allied to his own. Isaiah
(19:18) calls it "the language of Canaan." Whether this
language, as seen in the earliest books of the Old Testament,
was the very dialect which Abraham brought with him into Canaan,
or whether it was the common tongue of the Canaanite nations
which he only adopted, is uncertain; probably the latter opinion
is the correct one. For the thousand years between Moses and the
Babylonian exile the Hebrew language underwent little or no
modification. It preserves all through a remarkable uniformity
of structure. From the first it appears in its full maturity of
development. But through intercourse with Damascus, Assyria, and
Babylon, from the time of David, and more particularly from the
period of the Exile, it comes under the influence of the Aramaic
idiom, and this is seen in the writings which date from this
period. It was never spoken in its purity by the Jews after
their return from Babylon. They now spoke Hebrew with a large
admixture of Aramaic or Chaldee, which latterly became the
predominant element in the national language.
The Hebrew of the Old Testament has only about six thousand
words, all derived from about five hundred roots. Hence the same
word has sometimes a great variety of meanings. So long as it
was a living language, and for ages after, only the consonants
of the words were written. This also has been a source of
difficulty in interpreting certain words, for the meaning varies
according to the vowels which may be supplied. The Hebrew is one
of the oldest languages of which we have any knowledge. It is
essentially identical with the Phoenician language. (See MOABITE
STONE T0002586.) The Semitic languages, to which class the
Hebrew and Phoenician belonged, were spoken over a very wide
area: in Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Israel and Arabia, in
all the countries from the Mediterranean to the borders of
Assyria, and from the mountains of Armenia to the Indian Ocean.
The rounded form of the letters, as seen in the Moabite stone,
was probably that in which the ancient Hebrew was written down
to the time of the Exile, when the present square or Chaldean
form was adopted.
hebrew language in Smith's Bible Dictionary
The books of the Old Testament are written almost entirely in the Hebrew language. It is a branch of the Shemitic language, one of the three great divisions into which all languages have been reduced. It is one of the earliest of known languages, and some suppose that it was the original language of man.
hebrew language in Schaff's Bible Dictionary
THE HEBREW LANGUAGE . See Bible.
hebrew language in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Called "the language of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18), as distinguished from that of Egypt; "the Jewish" as distinguished from Aramean (2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28). (See HEBREW above.) Internal evidence also favors its Palestinian origin; as yam "the sea," in oldest documents used for the west. It is Semitic, as distinguished from the Indo-Germanic, Indo-European, Aryan, or Japhetic languages. The Semitic includes Aramaean or Chaldee and Syriac on the N.E., the Arabic on the S., the Ethiopic between the Hebrew and Arabic, the Hebrew, and kindred Phoenician or Canaanite. In Hebrew and the other Semitic languages gutturals preponderate. Consonants are not grouped round one vowel, yet a consonant always begins a syllable. The Semitic languages are less matured and polished, and more impulsive than deliberative. The roots have three letters. The conjugations of verbs are threefold:
1. Expressing intensity or repetition by a change within the root.
2. Reflexiveness or causation by addition to the root.
3. Passives by "u" or "a" in the first syllable. Modifications of the root idea are marked by changes within the root, not by additions. The a sound marks activity; the "e" and "o" sounds rest or passiveness. Intensity and repeated action are expressed by doubling the consonant. The neuter gender is unknown, because Semitic imagination endows with life every object in nature and makes it male or female. Mental qualities are represented by physical members: strength by the "hand" or "arm"; anger by the "nostril" (aph); favor by the "shining face"; displeasure by the "falling of the countenance." Go, way, walk, course express spiritual motion. Tenses or times of verbs are twofold (not three as with us, past, present, future).
What the mind realizes is put in the past, even though it may be future; what the mind regards as about to be, or being, realized is put in the future; so that the future may be used of the historic past, and the preterite of the prophetic future. The vowels were not originally written; latterly they were put as points under the consonants, which are read from right to left. The particles are few; hence subtle reasonings cannot be expressed. The Greek is the language of philosophy; the Hebrew of imagination and intuition. The sentences are a succession of coordinate propositions, not of propositions molded by interdependence and mutual subordination into complete periods. The style is pictorial: "Behold!" is of frequent occurrence; and the process of doing, as well as the act, is stated, as "he arose and went," "he put forth his hand and took," "he lifted up his voice and wept."
Symbolical phrases are frequent: "incline the ear"; "stiffen the neck," i.e. to be perverse; "to uncover the ear," i.e. to reveal. Adam, Eve, Abel, etc., are pictorial names, possibly Hebrew equivalents for the original names. The fall has among its evil effects caused a severance between names and things. The Bible retains some of the original connection, all the ancient names being significant of things. The choice of essentially the same language as that of commercial Sidon and Tyre for the divine revelation was a providential arrangement for diffusing the knowledge of His law widely among the Gentiles. There may be a Hamitic element in Hebrew, considering that the Canaanites who spoke it when Abram entered Canaan were Hamites; even though they probably acquired it from earlier Semitic occupants of Canaan, they would infuse a Hamitic element themselves.
The vocabulary of the oldest Babel monuments is Hamitic. The Aramaic is decidedly Semitic, and was Abraham's original tongue. The Hamites and Nimrod took the lead in building Babel, which entailed the confusion of tongues; their tongue accordingly is found more confounded into endless varieties of dialect than the Semitic and Japhetic, whose dialects bear a nearer resemblance among themselves than the Turanian and other Hamitic dialects. As Hebrew sprang from the confusion of Babel, it cannot have been the language of Adam and the whole earth when there was but one speech; still, though an offshoot like the rest, it may retain most of the primitive type, a view which the Hebrew Bible names favor, though these be modified from the original form.
The Shemites and Japhetites have had a higher moral civilization, and so a purer language. The Hebrew terms for SIN; ATONEMENT; GOD; JEHOVAH , and many such theological ideas, must have conveyed to the Gentiles, wherever fragments of the Hob. revelation reached, many fruitful germs of divine truth. The sacred books of Moses gave a fixity to the language, so that no essential change of language is observable in the books of different ages until the Babylonian captivity; thenceforward Chaldee became largely mixed with Hebrew (See Nehemiah 8:8.)