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In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language

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Overview

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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Those with a passion for Hebrew, linguistics and religious history will probably find much to captivate them.”
-Na'amat Woman

,

“[I]t is written in an energetic style with a commitment to exploring the evolution of Hebrew from ancient times to the present in ways that a broad audience can comprehend. It will be fortunate, indeed, if future efforts can achieve the commendable promise embodied in this volume’s title with the clarity and enthusiasm that fill its pages.”
-Religious Studies Review

,

“Hoffman has a flair for explaining how languages work.”
-Times Literary Supplement

,

“Hoffman does a good job of pointing out the different traditions of biblical Hebrew that existed in antiquity.”
-The Jerusalem Post

,

“A fascinating account of the evolution of Hebrew as a language. Those interested in language are in for a delightful surprise.”
-Record-Review of Scarsdale, NY

,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814736906
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Joel Hoffman lectures and teaches classes on biblical and rabbinic Hebrew and translation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is the head translator for Jewish Lights’ multi-volume prayerbook and commentary series, My People’s Prayerbook. He lives in the NYC area.

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Table of Contents

I Getting started
1 Introduction 3
2 Rules of the game 7
II Antiquity
3 Writing 15
4 Magic letters and the name of God 39
5 The Masoretes 49
6 Pronunciation 81
III Moving on
7 The Dead Sea Scrolls 121
8 Dialects in the Bible 149
9 Post-biblical Hebrew 165
IV Now
10 Modern Hebrew 187
11 Keep your voice from weeping 211
V Appendices
A More about the rules of the game 217
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