Biblical Hebrew is not the same as the Hebrew of the Mishnah, which is the basis of Talmud. It is also not the same as Modern Israeli Hebrew. The latter two use verb tenses and they use auxiliary verbs (periphrasis) to express some concepts that Biblical Hebrew can express in morphology.
I am going to teach you declension and conjugation because you need to know them. But I’m not going to ask you to spit out morphology. I’m going to show you how morphology reaches into the heart of the Jewish Bible. In a few places, this explains Jewish folklore – aggadah – but in even more places, it explains Jewish law – halakhah. I’m trying to write a functional grammar, that teaches you why people used the grammar they did in writing Torah.
Some of what I will teach you is totally 21st century. In 2014 I read the doctoral dissertation of John A. Cook which I downloaded from online. I realized that it dovetailed with the basic work on oral narratives by Axel Olrik (Principles of Oral Narrative Research), and the two men not only never met (Olrik died in 1921), I don’t believe Dr. Cook ever read Olrik’s work. If he has done so now, it might be because I emailed him, told him about my first blog, and specifically pointed him to the post that talked about the relationship.
So I will be discussing more than grammar in these posts. I will also discuss how they fit into a tradition that was transmitted only by word of mouth for centuries, probably for millennia all things considered. Olrik pointed out the sort of features that such material must have, features which show up in oral traditions all over the world. The grammar and oral features dovetail to such an extent that it makes no sense to discuss one without the other.
I will also be using terminology that you probably never saw before. I got the inspiration, if you can call it that, from learning Arabic to study the Samaritan tradition. Unless you’re using a book on Quranic Arabic or one with majority input from somebody who speaks Arabic as a native language, you have probably been exposed to the same grammar terms you used in learning your first language, or your second if it wasn’t a Semitic language. In fact, the labels slapped onto Arabic by western writers don’t really help understand it, they’re just a security blanket for the teachers. They interfere with treating Arabic as something worthy of respect in its own right; they treat it as a left-handed version of western languages.
It’s been the same with Biblical Hebrew. I’m kicking some terminology to the curb because these western labels don’t teach you how to understand why the Bible uses the grammar it does – just like the morphology doesn’t teach you that.
If you don’t want to learn anything new about the Bible, there are plenty of more traditional commentaries on the web. Please use them.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved