Influence of Aramaic on Hebrew

Graphic showing Deuteronomy 31:24 in Samaritan, Dead Sea Scroll, and Aleppo Scripts

The influence of Aramaic on ancient Hebrew typography.

As shown throughout this blog, the Hebrew language was heavily influenced, and almost overtaken by Aramaic. In the first century, only in the southern reaches of Israel did the Jewish the population continue to speak in Hebrew (with a few exceptions of course).

This influence is greatly shown in the shift in typography. Although Hebrew was retained in religious texts, the handwriting was changed from ancient Hebrew to an Aramaic style. Not only was the script changed but Aramaic typography also became the formally instituted one. The ancient Hebrew calligraphy was later reserved for the Samaritans and their texts, whom the Jewish peoples historically greatly disliked.

Read moreInfluence of Aramaic on Hebrew

The Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and Paul

Capturing the spirit of first-century Judaism through the window of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give an important look into first-century Jewish life from a mainly Jewish-Hebrew perspective; a genre lacking until their advent. Most of our extra-biblical knowledge of Israel during the first-century was previously drawn from Jewish Greek and Aramaic writers.

Read moreThe Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and Paul

The Structure of the Psalms

A 3000-year general history on the Book of Psalms numbering and divisional systems.

The structural development of the Book of Psalms has an interesting and complex history.

The results are the examination of documents spanning a 3000 year time period. The reader will be journeying through Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin and English texts. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the languages itself to join in this expedition. This work is designed for both the researcher and the passionate lay reader. Many pictures will be provided that will assist. One can marvel at the beauty of the handwritten text without understanding it.

Read moreThe Structure of the Psalms

The Struggle for Jewish Identity after the Destruction of the Temple

How the Jewish community adapted their religious system after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

The loss put Judaism at a crossroads. The destruction meant an end to the sacrificial system – a concept central to Jewish life and faith. This forced the Jewish community to adapt.

The best exposition and solution to this problem is by one of modern Israel’s great scholars–Ephraim E. Urbach. He covered this in his great work, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs.

For those new to the legacy and writings of Mr. Urbach, here is a brief description: he “was a distinguished scholar of Judaism. He is best known for his landmark works on rabbinic thought, The Sages, and for research on the Tosafot. He was an unsuccessful candidate to be President of Israel in 1973.”1

Enclosed is his coverage on how the new Jewish identity had shifted from sacrifice to study and charity.

Here is a portion of Urbach’s explanation:

Ephraim E. Urbach. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs. Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1979. Vol 1. Pg. 611

. . . R. Isaac taught ‘Whoever occupies himself with the law of the sin-offering, and whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah is regarded as if he offered up a sin-offering, and whoever occupies himself with the law of the guilt-offering is regarded as though he offered up a guilt-offering.’ Rava came and said ‘Whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah needs no burnt -offering nor sin-offering, no meal-offering nor guilt offering.’(4) The wording of Rava’s dictum ‘needs no’ etc. is more extreme than the dicta of his predecessors and their like, such as, ‘A Sage who sits and expounds (Torah) in public is accounted by Scripture as though he offered up fat and blood upon the altar,(5) for all these sayings contain the expression ‘as though (if)’. Even in the anonymous homily that states ‘When the Temple is not in existence, how shall you find atonement? Occupy yourselves with the words of the Torah, which are comparable to the sacrifices and they shall make atonement for you. . . ,(6) the study of the Torah serves only as a surrogate and replacement for atonement by the sacrifices. Even this concept is already the result of late development, for when the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai declared that acts of charity and benevolence were Israel’s atonement,(7) while others again looked upon fasts as substituting for and replacing sacrifices.(8) The supercession of fasting and the practice of benevolence as a means of expiation by the study of the Torah accords with the views of various Sages who chose the way of R. Simeon b. Yohai, rather than that of R. Judah b. Ill’ai.2

——

Footnotes found in the above text.3

  • (4) T. B. Menahot 110a. See Sifre Deut. § 41: ‘ “And to serve Him” — this refers to study of the Torah. You say this refers to study of the Torah, but perhaps it means actual (sacrificial) service! When Scripture declares “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to serve it [לעבדה usually rendered ‘to till it’] and to keep it” (Gen ii 15) – but what service was there in the past, and what keeping was there to do in the past? — thus you learn: “to serve it” means study of the Torah, “and to keep it” means the observance of precepts; and just as the service of the altar is called “service”, even so is the study of the Torah called “service”.’ This exposition is difficult, for it is impossible to tell why ‘to serve it’ should connote study of the Torah and not the service of sacrifice (and thus it is actually interpreted in Gen. Rabba xvi, 5. p. 149: “To serve it and to keep it” refers to the sacrifices’: see ibid n. 2. With regard to the precepts observed by Adam see above, p. 320). The understandable homily that follows emphasizes this difficulty: ‘ “And to serve Him” — this means prayer. . . but perhaps it means non other than service? (Hence Scripture says) “With all your heart”. Is there then service in the heart? . . . just as the altar-service is called “service”, even so prayer is called “service”.’
  • (5) ’Avot de-R. Nathan iv, p. 18; see the notes ibid.
  • (6)Tanḥuma, Aḥare, 10; ed. Buber, ibid., xvi, 35a
  • (7) See my article ‘Megammot Datiyyot we-Ḥevratiyyot be-Torat ha-Sadaqa shel Ḥazal’, Zion, XVI, 1951, pp. 6 ff.
  • (8) See my article ’Asqezis we-Yissurim’, Sefer ha-Yovel le Yitzḥak Baer, pp. 54 – 56

A background to the explanation by Urbach

The quote names a few important Rabbis. The most prominent name in this discussion is Yochanan ben Zakai . The New World Encyclopedia gives an outline of this important leader in Jewish history:

“Yochanan ben Zakai (Hebrew:יוחנן בן זכא , died 80-90 C.E.), also spelled Johanan b. Zakki, was an important rabbinical sage in the final days of the Second Temple era of Judaism and a key figure in the transition from Temple-centered to Rabbinical Judaism.

Read moreThe Struggle for Jewish Identity after the Destruction of the Temple

Everyone Should Read Josephus

Why everyone who likes ancient Middle Eastern history should read the works of Josephus.

The contributions of the first century writer, historian, and apologist, Josephus are innumerable. His words wield such rich treasures in historical and theological artifacts, and are so well known for almost two millennia, that he likely is the most taken-for-granted author ever. Old English print copies, online versions, and even a movie has covered a portion or all of his works, which makes him so celebrated, that it feels like qualifying anything from him is stating the obvious. His works are well prepared and documented, and carry little controversy or surprise to almost anything. He simply adds more details to the already known historical records, and does a superb job with this, but his narrative writing form is very gripping – especially the The Jewish War.

Read moreEveryone Should Read Josephus

The Purpose of Prayer

ArtScrollSiddur

A detailed look at the nature and purpose of prayer from a Jewish prayerbook. A definition that sheds any superficiality and uncovers a deep and introspective rite that transforms the soul.

The ArtScroll Siddur contains one of the best definitions of prayer found anywhere. A siddur is a Jewish prayer book that outlines personal and communal prayers for almost any occasion; life, death, loss, birth, success, and everything in-between. It is written from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. The following is an excerpt.

Read moreThe Purpose of Prayer

A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

The complex story on the present chapter and numbering system of the Hebrew Bible.

The present book divisions, chapters, verses and structure of the Bible were standardized in the sixteenth-century. One would think this would apply exclusively to the Christian editions of the Bible, but has been administered retroactively to ancient Hebrew Bibles as well.

Most would assume the Hebrew Bible is so old and carefully guarded that the text has been standardized for almost 2000 years. This is not so when it comes to book names, chapters and numbering. The Hebrew versions popularly available today are considerably different from the Dead Sea Scrolls when it comes to format structure.

Read moreA History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

Attempts on Translating Rashi and Jewish Aramaic

Rashi, an 11th century French Rabbi, is one of the most important commentators of the Talmud and is central to the contemporary study of it. In fact, some texts of the Talmud are difficult to understand without reference to him.

One would think that his works would be ubiquitous for the English reading audience, but English translations, outside of his commentary of the Torah, are almost non-existent.

This forces curious researchers such as myself to look at texts in the original language, which in this case is a complex mixture of classical Hebrew, Rabbinic Aramaic and at a lesser rate, old French.

Read moreAttempts on Translating Rashi and Jewish Aramaic

Notes for Learning Ancient Hebrew

A different method for learning Biblical Hebrew which may not work for everyone–learn modern Hebrew first. A look into those theory and how it applies to ancient Hebrew.

Classical Hebrew, the text for the majority of the Old Testament, is only a small part of the available Hebrew writings available today.

It doesn’t take much more effort to learn modern Hebrew over learning to read classical Hebrew texts. Utilizing the same amount of time learning modern Hebrew gives one a much more comprehensive toolkit.

Read moreNotes for Learning Ancient Hebrew