Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools without Mastering Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools without Mastering Biblical Hebrew

by Lee M. Fields

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This is a companion volume to Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce. This book is a guide for English-only readers to understand the language of the Old Testament just enough to work with the Old Testament in more detail and to understand the scholarly literature on the Hebrew Bible. Its specific aims are to aid students to learn (1) why translations differ

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This is a companion volume to Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce. This book is a guide for English-only readers to understand the language of the Old Testament just enough to work with the Old Testament in more detail and to understand the scholarly literature on the Hebrew Bible. Its specific aims are to aid students to learn (1) why translations differ, (2) how to do Hebrew word studies, (3) what the basics of Hebrew exegesis are, and (4) how to read more advanced Old Testament commentaries with greater understanding. Herbrew for the Rest of Us is set up in a workbook format.

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Hebrew for the Rest of Us

Using Hebrew Tools without Mastering Biblical Hebrew

By Lee M. Fields
Copyright © 2008

Lee M. Fields
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-27709-5

Chapter One "It Doesn't Look Like Greek to Me" The Hebrew Alphabet


1. Be able to write the letters of the Hebrew consonants in order

2. Be able to name the letters

3. Understand the two kinds of Daghesh

4. Be able to transliterate the Hebrew letters into English letters


If you have skimmed this book at all and found that these letters "do not look like Greek to you," that's a good thing! The Hebrew alphabet is quite different in appearance from the Greek and, even more, from the English alphabet. I have decided that the best thing to do is to jump right in to learning the letters and the vowels and to alternate chapters that supply background information. This will give you a little extra time to learn the shapes and sounds well.

If you have already learned the Greek alphabet from studying Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us, you will note some similarities with Hebrew, because both the Greeks and the Israelites got their alphabet from the Phoenicians. The Greeks simply converted into vowels some of the Semitic letters that represented sounds that the Greeks didn't use and added a few extras for Greek sounds not represented in Hebrew. We in turn get the English alphabet from the Greeks through Latin. Watch for similarities in order and in the names of the Greek letters.

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 (some count 23) letters with a total of 28 forms. These 22 (or 23) letters constitute the consonants alone. Originally the vowels, though pronounced, were not written. We will learn the vowels in chapter three.

This chapter consists of two parts. The first is a writing guide teaching you the letters. Its purpose is to show you the proper order of strokes to write each letter. The letters are initially placed in an order to help you distinguish those that are similar in shape. After you master writing the forms, practice writing them in alphabetical order. If you want to, you can make flash cards with the letter on one side and the name of the letter on the other (see www.teknia.com for a document).

Remember three things: (1) Hebrew is read right to left and anytime we write in Hebrew, it is in Hebrew order; when we write in English it is in English order. (2) In this chapter we are discussing only the consonants. (3) Have fun with this! You will enjoy doodling in Hebrew and answering when your friends and family say, "What's that?"

The second part is a chart of all the forms of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. Its purpose is to provide you with the necessary information to learn the names and the order of the letters, plus a few other things, just for reference.

You may find it helpful to learn the letters in groups: the first five, then the next five, then the last twelve in three groups of four. Many people learn them in a song. Also, comparison with the order of the English alphabet will help in learning (e.g., [??] [??] [??] [??] <=> k l m n). The last column gives a guide to pronunciation. Since there were no audio recorders 3,000 years ago, we cannot know exactly how words were pronounced. In fact, the Bible itself indicates that there were various pronunciations at different times and places, just as words are pronounced differently in New York than in North Carolina today. So, the pronunciation guide is approximate and designed mostly to be helpful for learning.

The Names and Shapes of the Hebrew Letters

The names of the Hebrew letters are simply words that start with that sound. So, the second letter Bet begins with the sound b. As children we learn phrases like "A is for apple;" if we named our letters as the Phoenicians did, we would call the first letter apple. That's not really so strange, though, when you remember that we have a letter named "double-u."

Whereas we write our English letters sitting on the line, Hebrew letters sort of hang from the upper line. To learn the shapes, Hebrew letters may be categorized according to length and width. One letter does not reach the lower line; most do reach the lower line; a few extend below the bottom line; one extends above the top line. We treat narrow letters first, then wide ones, moving from simple to more complex strokes.


1. Trace the printed strokes starting at the top.

2. Copy the letters in the remaining space.

3. Repeat the name of the letter aloud each time you write it (a rhyming English word is in italics below the name of each letter to indicate proper vowel sounds).

Narrow Letters _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Yod _______________________________________________________________________ road

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Waw _______________________________________________________________________ how

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Final Nun _______________________________________________________________________ noon

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Nun _______________________________________________________________________ noon

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Zayin _______________________________________________________________________ buy in

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Gimel _______________________________________________________________________ dimple

Wide Letters

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Kaph _______________________________________________________________________ cough

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Pe _______________________________________________________________________ pay

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Kaph _______________________________________________________________________ cough

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Final Pe _______________________________________________________________________ pay

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Samek _______________________________________________________________________ saw deck

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Qof _______________________________________________________________________ laof

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Resh _______________________________________________________________________ ray + sh

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ He _______________________________________________________________________ hay

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Het _______________________________________________________________________ khay th

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Taw _______________________________________________________________________ cow

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Beth _______________________________________________________________________ bay + th

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Final Mem _______________________________________________________________________ hem

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Dalet _______________________________________________________________________ ma + let

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Final Kaf _______________________________________________________________________ cough

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Alef _______________________________________________________________________ ah + ref

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Ayin _______________________________________________________________________ eye in

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Tsade _______________________________________________________________________ ma + day

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Final Tsade _______________________________________________________________________ ma + day

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Sin _______________________________________________________________________ seen

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Shin _______________________________________________________________________ Sheen

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Mem _______________________________________________________________________ hem

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Tet _______________________________________________________________________ date

_______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ Lamed _______________________________________________________________________ la-med

The Hebrew Letters in Alphabetical Order, Etc.

The chart of the Hebrew alphabet is given below. In explanation, let me point out some things about each column.

1. The square forms of the letters given above are the shape used in Jesus' day. There are six letters known as begadkephat (Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Pe, and Taw) letters that may be written with or without a dot (called a Daghesh) inside that letter resulting in a change in sound. The Daghesh is present when these letters begin a syllable and serves to mark their sounds as hard (or plosive) rather than soft.

2. There are five letters which, when found at the end of a word, have a form different than when they are located elsewhere in the word. These are known as final forms.

3. Many works use transliteration instead of the Hebrew letters. So, you will need to be able to convert Hebrew letters into transliterated symbols and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are a number of different transliteration systems. The one given here is that used by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

4. The sounds of the Hebrew letters are approximated by similar sounds indicated by the sounds of the bold letters in the English words listed in the last column. Again, we don't know exactly how they were pronounced but scholars can come up with a fair approximation by comparison of manuscript spellings, by comparison of words in cognate languages, and by seeing how other ancient languages like Greek transliterated Hebrew words.

5. Finally, the Hebrew letters were also used for numbers (the Greeks followed them with a similar system).

Square Final Trans- Modern Numeric Name Forms Forms literation Sound Vaule

Alef [??] [??] (silent) 1 Bet [??] b boy 2 [??] b very Gimel [??] g girl 3 [??] g girl Dalet [??] d dog 4 [??] d the He [??] h help 5 Waw [??] w way 6 Zayin [??] z zero 7 Het [??] h chemistry 8 Tet [??] t tin 9 Yod [??] y yell 10 Kaf [??] [??] k kangaroo 20 [??] k chemistry Lamed [??] l loud 30 Mem [??] [??] m marry 40 Nun [??] [??] n noun 50 Samek [??] s see 60 Ayin [??] [??] (silent) 70 Pe [??] [??] p paint 80 [??] p photograph Tsade [??] [??] s hits 90 Qof [??] q kangaroo 100 Resh [??] r red 200 Sin [??] s see 300 Shin [??] s shed 300 Taw [??] t tin 400 [??] t thin

The Other Kind of Daghesh

As I explained above, the Daghesh serves to indicate a hard (or plosive) sound in the begadkephat letters and occurs only in these six letters. This particular Daghesh is called the Daghesh Lene. There is another Daghesh, called the Daghesh Forte, that indicates the doubling of a letter. So, [??] without Daghesh Forte is transliterated t, and [??] with Daghesh Forte is transliterated tt. Daghesh Forte can occur in any letter (including the begadkephat letters) except for [??], [??], [??], [??], and [??]. These four letters are called guttural letters (because the sounds are made in the back of the throat) and cannot be doubled.


1. On a separate sheet of paper, practice writing the letters of the alphabet in alphabetical order. (a) Write each letter five times, repeating the name of the letter each time you write it; begin with Alef, then Beth without Daghesh and Beth with Daghesh, etc., not forgetting the five final forms. (b) You might sing the "Hebrew Alef Beth" song in the appendix. Then (c) write each letter once in alphabetical order, again naming the letter as you write. Complete the alphabet five times.


Excerpted from Hebrew for the Rest of Us by Lee M. Fields Copyright © 2008 by Lee M. Fields. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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