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The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is a Semitic language, which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Modern Hebrew is spoken by 7 million people. Classical Hebrew, with a history of 2,000 years, is used for prayers and studies.

Hebrew is a southern Canaanite dialect. It is the only dialect that has survived to the present.

In the 6th century BCE, Jerusalem was destroyed and Judah conquered by the King of Babylon. The elite classes of Israel were exiled to Babylon for seven decades where they were slaves. During this time, the Israelites learned Aramaic, the language of the Babylonians. During the Babylonian exile, the common citizens, villagers, of Judah were permitted to remain in Babylonian by their victors.

The exiles who returned to Judah brought the Aramaic language back with them. Aramaic, as the common vernacular, began to overtake Hebrew until Hebrew was no longer spoken in everyday life. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Hebrew was spoken and written only within generations for religious and literary reasons.

Biblical or Classical Hebrew

Classical Hebrew can be broken into several periods. Overall, it is the spoken language between the 10th century BCE and 6th century CE. It includes several dialects and is the original form of the Hebrew Language spoken by ancient Israelites. The Hebrew Bible is written in Biblical Hebrew

Archaic Biblical Hebrew was written in Canaanite script. The Song of Moses and the Song of Deborah from Exodus 15 and Judge 5 respectively are examples of Archaic Biblical Hebrew. Archaic Biblical Hebrew extends from the 10th century BCE to the 6th Century BCE.

Biblical Hebrew is during the period of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. The majority of the Hebrew Bible was written during this time.

Late Biblical Hebrew is considered to be from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century BCE. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are thought to be Late Biblical Hebrew. Late Biblical Hebrew was identical to Classical Biblical Hebrew with the exception of some loanwords and syntactical changes. It was written in the Imperial Aramaic script. The form of Late Biblical Hebrew existed during the Persian Period.

Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew, also known as Qumran Hebrew, stretches from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE. It is represented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written in Imperial Aramaic Script in the beginning and later in Hebrew square script. This era encompassed the Hellenistic and Roman periods to up the destruction of the Second Temple.

Mishnaic Hebrew is thought to be a living language between the 1st century CE up to, possibly, the 4th century CE. A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Copper Scroll are written in Mishnaic Hebrew. Mishnaic Hebrew is believed to be a set of dialects from the Late Biblical Hebrew that evolved into Mishnaic.

Modern Hebrew

At the beginning of the 19th century, spoken and written Hebrew experienced a revival. Several newspapers, poets and authors began to write in what is now known as “Israeli Standard Hebrew”. Israeli Hebrew retained many pronunciation characteristics of Sephardic Hebrew and spellings of Mishnaic Hebrew, with some borrowed words from European and Arabic languages. The revival gained momentum with the efforts of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, which resulted in Hebrew being recognized as an official language in 1922. The Academy of the Hebrew Language published The Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, which encapsulated Ben-Yehuda’s and the Committee’s work.

Standard Hebrew, the product of millenniums, is now spoken as a daily language.