It’s All Greek . . . Eh, Hebrew to Me!

25 Jan


Photo by pillcake on Morgue File.

We all know how to do something well — write a post that teaches readers how to do something you know and/or love to do.

I consider myself a teacher, even though that is not my paying profession. I can state it even further, I believe God has called me to teach (and preach) his word; including languages, theology, history . . . etc. to others. I have many passions in life, many things I enjoy doing. I do not consider myself a one-trick pony. It seems our world has gone more in that direction. We are so specialized and particularized now, that it almost seems there is an unwritten law somewhere saying you can only do one thing with your life. So, if you are a plumber, then that is all you can do; you cannot possibly be an accomplished pianist too. Or, if you are an accountant, then you must only be concerned with numbers and figures, and can know nothing of art and sculpture. 

Well, I will not harp too long or spirited on my soapbox this morning. But, if you are one of those who have multiple interests then I say good for you; do not let anyone tell you it is not allowed. After all, where are the modern Renaissance men and women, those who are passionate about many subjects? And, if you have one great passion in life, that is fine too. All I am saying is that there are options.

As for me, what shall I choose in response to this post? I spoke about the Old Testament (OT) in yesterday’s post. I have discussed several points of theology or texts of scripture in other posts. I mentioned in yesterday’s post how my concentration in my academic studies was the OT; it also included concentration in the Hebrew language. The OT was written, originally, in Hebrew (with some portions being in Aramaic).

So, how about a quick lesson in biblical Hebrew? No, I will try not to bore you with parsing verbs or analyzing syntax. Maybe a few fun facts, if there are any such thing in linguistics!

Well, to start, think about what we call our collection of letters in the English language. When we are children, we set out to learn our A, B, C’s . . .  etc. We call this our alphabet. Now, let us think about that word for a moment or two. The word alphabet comes to us, from Hebrew, via Greek. In Greek, the first two letters of their alphabet are: Alpha and Beta. You are probably familiar with these Greek letters, especially if you were in a fraternity or sorority; or, for that matter, have ever stepped foot on a college campus. When you put these two letters together you come up with: alpha-beta; thereby you can see the connection to our word alphabet.

Now these two Greek letters, alpha, beta came over from the Hebrew. You see the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are: Aleph and Bet. When you put these two together you get: aleph, bet; again, the connection can be seen.

We can go a step further to show a connection between the Hebrew alphabet and our English alphabet. Let us take, once again, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph. Aleph comes to Hebrew by way of Phoenician. In Phoenician it is more of a pictograph language; meaning, they drew their letters or words, instead of having an alphabetic language. Of course, originally Hebrew resembled Phoenician in that it was a pictographic language that evolved into an alphabetic script. (This is often referred to as Paleo-Hebrew.)

When you look at the aleph in the Phoenician script, (which means an ox, or ox-head) they draw it to depict its meaning. They drew it to look like an ox-head. Here is what it looks like:  Image.  If you pay special attention to this letter, you will see a similarity between it and one of our English letters. Can you see it?

If you rotate the Phoenician aleph clockwise, you will get a capital letter in English: the capital letter A. Here is a direct connection, through Greek, through Hebrew, all the way back to Phoenician.

Just a side note, the aleph in Hebrew does not have the same phonetic value as it would become in Greek, as alpha, and in English, as A. In Hebrew, aleph is what is called a quiescent letter; meaning, it makes no sound. For that matter, Hebrew is a consonantal language.

One further connection can be pointed out. When you recite the Hebrew alphabet (I actually recorded my wife singing it to Yankee Doodle Dandy and gave a copy to all my students; it greatly helped them to learn the alphabet!) you will notice the letters: Kaph, Lamed, Mem, Nun; which basically correspond to English’s: K, L, M, N are in the same order. Even more, they are located in the same spots in the alphabet; they are located at positions 11, 12, 13 and 14 in the alphabets. So, not only the same order, but the same alphabetic positions. Again, another link between Hebrew and English.

Of course, as you probably know well, there are differences between the two. Hebrew reads right to left, so to an English reader the front of a book in Hebrew looks like the back. Hebrew is written in a Semitic script; so then, the letters look nothing like English. In this way Greek and English are far more alike, though not identical. The inflection and rhythm, if you will, of Hebrew are different as well.

But, again, just because there are differences, does not mean there are not similarities.

Well, I suppose that is enough of a linguistic lesson for one day! I hope it was not too boring or tedious; and, even more, perhaps it was mildly interesting.

Oh, one more thing, especially for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When you say the word Hallelujah, you are speaking Hebrew. Our English word hallelujah is a transliteration (not a translation) of the Hebrew words: Image

Remember, Hebrew reads right to left. The first word: Hal-lu is a verb meaning praise. It is an imperative, a command. The second word: yah is an abbreviated form of the divine, covenantal name of God in the OT: Yahweh. Incidentally, you can always discern when the divine name Yahweh is used in the OT when reading your English translations, because the word is translated as Lord, and in English the word Lord, when used for Yahweh will always be in all capital letters. The will be in a large cap font and the O-R-D will be in a small cap font.

So, Hallelujah is from two Hebrew words, one verb and the other a noun, and it means Praise Yah!, or Praise Yahweh! 

Okay, that really is it for the day! Shalom! 


Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Daily Prompt, Grace in the Everyday


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11 responses to “It’s All Greek . . . Eh, Hebrew to Me!

  1. Lisa's Kansa Muse

    January 25, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Very interesting and I even learned a few things. You have incredible teaching skills.


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