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In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language
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In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  37 ratings  ·  7 reviews
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.

Paperback, 263 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by New York University Press (first published August 1st 2004)
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How do we know the Hebrew language? It is the language of the Hebrew Bible. How do we know the text of the Hebrew Bible? We have a bunch of manuscripts, the oldest (the Leningrad Codex, the Aleppo Codex, the Cairo Codex) being about 1000 years old. They are written in a consonantal script with dots indicating the vowels and aspects of the pronunciation of consonants. There have been three systems for these dots (with variations) invented in the late first millennium CE in Tiberias, in Babylon an ...more
Margaret Heller
A compact linguistic history of Hebrew which delves into the scholarly arguments just deep enough to be entertaining but not quite enough to be pedantic (though some might find it so). This is definitely for a fairly specific audience as I can't imagine you would get too much out of this unless you had a pretty good grasp of Hebrew and Greek, and a little Latin and German wouldn't hurt; yet if you were truly a linguist, this would be too basic, though maybe not if you didn't know too much about ...more
Michael Doyle
An incredibly well-researched book that lays out the history of the Hebrew language from antiquity to today, told through the lens of the invention, use of, and resuscitation of the use of vowels in the written language. By the end you'll understand why the vowel marks exist the way they do, where they really came from, why they're more than likely not the same as the vowels used in Biblical times, and why modern spoken Israeli Hebrew differs from the way the language is taught both in America a ...more
Jun 05, 2011 Steven rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ilya Vinarsky
Recommended to Steven by: Asya Pereltsvaig
I came upon this book by recommendation of Asya Pereltsvaig The short book takes us through a history of Hebrew writing showing how Hebrew was the first writing system to (partially) record vowels and make itself easier to learn and propagate. Masoretic system of complete marking of how Hebrew should sound did not arise until after 800 C.E.-1000 C.E. at least 500 years after Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language. It seems that some of the rules of pronunciation were invented by Masoretes. Howeve ...more
If read with an eye for gleaning details but not necessarily the broader picture, this is a worthwhile read. Sections were very illuminating, but the emphasis on not actually being able to define G*d was like watching a tightrope walker doing backbend on the high wire. Painful.
The Ruach, Holy Spirit, and Breath explanations made the whole book worthwhile though. Glad I learned my abc's, but a novel they aren't. I recommend this book. Use it as a springboard for bigger studies.
His next book aft
Verner Hultman
This short history of the hebrew language was interesting and held my attention. Personally, I felt there may have been a personal agenda on a couple points. Also, Joel Hoffman may have pushed a couple of the point/issues to their logical limits.
The book did inform and explain mainly peculiarities of the Hebrew language. As a result of reading this book I have renewed my interest in the Hebrew language.
While I disagree with many of the author's premises, Hoffman raises interesting questions and makes good points that I had never considered before. I would recommend this book to students of Hebrew who are looking to broaden their understanding of its history and the vast amount of scholarship on the subject.
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Known for his "fresh insights and interpretations about religious life in the 21st century," Dr. Joel M. Hoffman presents to churches, synagogues, community groups, and university audiences across the world. He holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and has served on the faculties of Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College.

Dr. Hoffman lives in Westchester, NY.
More about Joel M. Hoffman...
And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism Yizkor My People's Prayer Book: The Amidah

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