11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...
11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia via Wikipedia

Classical Hebrew is the ancient Semitic language of the Hebrews in which the Torah was written. A modern form is used in synagogues, but Jewish prayer and study usually involves classical Hebrew. Both old and new forms of this ancient language are used by the Samaritans.

Ancient Hebrew is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Arabic is their vernacular, though today about 700 Samaritans remain.¹

Apparently the correct pronunciation of Hebrew scripture confers spiritual benefit. This is analogous, but not identical, to the Eastern religious belief that the correct pronunciation of the word AUM or AUM-MANI-PADME-HUM fosters enlightenment.

Language is also important to many Muslims who maintain that the Koran must be read in Arabic in order to understand its full meaning.

Within most contemporary Christian Churches, however, it’s not the language of transmission, per se, but the message of salvation that’s crucial. So the Christian Bible is freely translated into many different living languages to get the word out, as it were.

Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palest...
Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palestine Exploration Fund via Wikipedia

Nevertheless, knowledge of original languages remains important to biblical scholars. Ideally, they use their knowledge of original languages to try to penetrate the cultural aspects of the Bible to prevent biblical fanaticism (where an isolated phrase or two are cherry picked to apparently justify personal opinions).

Sadly, however, some scholars use their knowledge of original languages in a close-minded way, failing to recognize that God also speaks to his creatures through innovation—linguistic and otherwise.

Responsible biblical scholars do keep their language abilities in proper perspective. They use their proficiency in original languages to advance knowledge instead of flaunting it to dazzle and intimidate (and, as we sometimes find, to obscure crummy reasoning).

A modern version of Hebrew is spoken by 7 million people in Israel today.

Related Posts » Aramaic, Elohim, Judaism, Kabbala, Mantra, Old Testament, Rabbi, Yahweh

¹ See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_language

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