Frequently Asked Questions
We hope this answers some of the questions that we commonly hear. If you have other questions, please don’t hesitate to use our ‘Contact’ page. We would be very pleased to answer any questions you may have and maybe even add it to this list.
When studied from the Hebrew perspective, words from the Scriptures can provide a wonderful and eye-popping new understanding that English definitions simply cannot express.
The Old Testament (the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets) was written in Hebrew and so it is called the “Holy Language.” One very important reason to study the language is that it gives insight into the Jewish mindset, which is much different from Western mindset. To thoroughly understand the message of Scripture it is necessary to understand the people, culture, and time in which the original text was written.
Martin Luther summed it up when he wrote, “The Hebrew language is the best language of all…if I were younger I would want to learn this language, because no one can really understand the Scriptures without it. Although the New Testament is written in Greek, it is full of Hebraisms and Hebrew expressions. It has therefore been aptly said that the Hebrews drink from the spring, the Greeks drink from the stream that flows from it, and the Latins from a downstream pool.”
The Hebrew letter system is named after the first two letters the Aleph and the Bet
This probably cannot be answered with certainty. One popular theory proposes that early writing was chiseled in stone. In order to carve letters into stone the writer would most likely use his stronger hand, which was usually the right, to use the hammer that would strike the chisel held in the left hand making the mark. Practically speaking it would be much easier to move from right to left. Maybe, maybe not? Many archaeological finds are inscriptions that were incised into wet clay instead of chiseled in stone. For instance, ceramic shards or clay tablets.
Ancient Jewish mystics, on the other hand, generally feel that writing from right to left occurred because the right side is given precedence in Judaism. Why is that? An ancient teaching assigns the characteristic of words ‘chesed’ (loving kindness) to the right side and ‘gevurah’ (severity) to the left side. Kindness always comes first and begins on the right. For this reason a scribe would be prone to start on the right and work towards the left.
As languages and writing instruments evolved technical issues could have changed writing direction. It is thought that as scribes used pen and parchment it was technically easier for them to write from left to right so that ink did not smudge. English definitely would have been one of the languages that moved in that direction while Hebrew and other Aramaic languages were already set with right to left movement.
That depends on your definition of ‘lost or dead.’ While conversational Hebrew gradually died out between 300BC and 400AD, and remained essentially unused as a spoken language for the next 1500 years, it remained continuously used as a liturgical and literary language. Spoken in ancient times, Hebrew, a member of the Canaanite branch of the Semitic language family, was supplanted as the Jewish vernacular by the western dialect of Aramaic beginning in the third century BC, after the Babylonian Captivity. The common Aramaic also died out in 1100AD, replaced by Arabic.
The revival of Hebrew as a spoken language, lead by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the 19th and 20th centuries, became the foundation of the official language of Israel. Modern Hebrew used Biblical Hebrew roots, Mishnaic (1st century AD spoken) spelling, and Sephardic (15th century AD Jews in Spain and Portugal) pronunciation, and included many sayings and phrase translations inherited from Yiddish (central European mixture).
- Biblical (or Classical) Hebrew, until about the 3rd century BC, in which most of the Old Testament is written;
- Mishnaic (or Rabbinic) Hebrew, the language of the Mishna (a collection of Jewish traditions), written about 200 AD (this form of Hebrew was never used among the people as a spoken language);
- Medieval Hebrew, from about the 6th to the 13th century AD, when many words were borrowed from Greek, Spanish, Arabic, and other languages; and
- Modern Hebrew, the language of Israel in modern times.
- Modern Hebrew letters developed from the ancient Paleo Hebrew letters and are visually quite different from English letters.
- Hebrew letters have no upper and lower case and five of the Hebrew letters have a different form when they appear at the end of a word. On the other hand, each English letter has an upper and lower case form that does not change depending on their placement in a word.
- Hebrew uses an abjad writing system which simply means there are only consonant symbols and the reader is left to supply the appropriate vowel sound.
- Hebrew is read from right to left while English is left to right.
Whether you learn Modern or Paleo Hebrew depends on your purpose in learning the language. If you want to carry on conversations in Hebrew, the Modern form would be best. A quick comparison would be to ask yourself which would you rather speak in the US today? Old English or Modern English? Same with Hebrew.
But, if your intent is to understand Scripture as the original author intended; learning the Paleo pictographic language will give you a much more functional perspective. You will need to acquire the mindset of an ancient Bedouin and search out how he would have understood the word from the world around him, his culture. It will take some work, but definitely worth the effort!
The earliest Paleo Hebrew inscriptions dated about 1000BC were nearly identical to the earliest Phoenician alphabet carvings. Over the next several hundred years, regional characteristics began to separate the script into different national alphabets (all within 100-200 miles), including Israelite, Samaritan, Moabite, Edomite, Phoenician, and Old Aramaic. Even within those smaller regions, the script also changed due to the writing medium changes, i.e. chiseled stone, clay, papyrus, etc.
The explanations and products on our website occasionally use some of the regional variants that help demonstrate the functional meanings of the words depicted.
- The Zayit Stone contains the earliest known inscription in the Paleo-Hebrew script and has been dated to the 10th Century BC. While not technically a document, it is inscribed with a complete abecedary, basically a listing of the letters of the alphabet.
- The Siloam Inscription, 8th Century BC, indicates that King Hezekiah closed up the waters of the Gihon Springs and had the water diverted through an underground tunnel to the Pool of Siloam. The inscription records the construction of the tunnel.
- Another find is the Ketef Hinnom scrolls. These two tiny silver scrolls (about 1 inch long) were found in burial caves. It took experts three years to unroll and discover the priestly blessing in Paleo Hebrew. The scrolls are believed to pre-date the Dead Sea scrolls by about four centuries.
- The Samaritans of Israel still use a unique form of Paleo Hebrew in their religious and worship practices.
18. Where can I find more information about Hebrew pictographic letters, like books or websites or videos?
20. How do you get more meaning out of Paleo Hebrew compared to Modern Hebrew? – Why does Paleo Hebrew give a different meaning than Modern Hebrew in many cases?
Rather than pursue a different or more accurate definition or a deeper or mystical meaning of a Hebrew word, Paleo / Ancient Hebrew’s greatest asset is to assist the student in more clearly determining the “functional meaning” of the word. The scriptural principle that enhances this process is that, first comes the natural and then comes the spiritual. In other words, once the natural message(s) of the individual pictograph is known then the “functional meaning” of that word picture finds its value. This process is interdependent on the reader knowing the message conveyed by the individual pictographs in their cultural context. In contrast, English as well as most Western language systems are phonetic in design using a memory system of shapes and sounds to form words that are phonetically memorized but have little if any embedded meaning in the individual letters. An excellent example of these differences is found in the word “dog”. In English D – o – g is simply three individual shapes with no inherent meaning. In Ancient / Paleo pictographs, the Hebrew for dog is K – l – b, or Kalev. Its functional meaning is “all heart”. Anyone that has spent time with “man’s best friend” knows that a dog’s nature is “all heart”!
Additionally, it should be noted that the growth of Modern Hebrew, dictated by the need for new words with no Biblical background, has accelerated the pressure to use phonetic practices to create new Hebrew words without the underlying meanings prevalent in Ancient / Paleo Hebrew.
21. Can’t someone shanghai a Paleo Hebrew word meaning and say it means just about anything they want?
As an example, the English language is learned phonetically. For instance, when we see the word “cat” in English we put together the sounds of each letter for the word that helps us envision a small furry animal that is our pet. The “c” has no meaning by itself, nor does the “a”, or the “t”.
Not so in the Paleo Hebrew pictographic learning. Each picture letter in a word has a meaning that would be easily recognizable by an ancient Bedouin. The sum of the meanings of the letters would reveal the meaning of the word.
Our website has videos and worksheets explaining how to break down and understand different words to assist in understanding the process.
The first concern one should have in understanding a language is the context in which the writer wrote the word and in which the reader or hearer received the word. To assume that the meaning of a word used 2500 years ago, in a cultural setting that was nomadic and agrarian, would have the same meaning as it does today in a modern urban setting would be short sighted at best. It has been said that a text taken out of context is simply a pretext! The same holds true for a text taken in a context that didn’t even exist at its writing.
The first rule of discovery in Ancient /Paleo Hebrew is Context, Context, and Context.