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(Learn Hebrew)


One important aspect of Israelite Studies is the passion to learn about culture and language of our ancient forefathers. Because of this, we find it imperative to share information regarding the language spoken in those days and how it has developed throughout time. We aspire to showcase the many transitions the Hebrew language has been through in hopes of establishing a more concrete understanding of scripture. We pray the edification goes forth and enables you to grasp biblical concepts much better.

What’s the purpose of learning Hebrew?

The first and foremost concept that a reader of the Biblical text must learn is that the ancient Hebrews were products of an ancient eastern culture while you as the reader are the product of a western culture. These two cultures are as different as oil and vinegar, they do not mix very well. What may seem rational in our western minds would be considered irrational to the minds of an ancient eastern culture. The same is true in the reverse, what may be rational to an ancient Easterner would be completely irrational in our western mind. The authors of the Biblical text are writing from within their culture to those of the same culture. In order to fully understand the text one needs to understand the culture and thought processes of the Hebrew people. All existing Hebrew Lexicons of the Bible convert the vocabulary of the ancient Hebrews into a vocabulary compatible to our modern western language. The greatest problem with this is that it promotes western thought when reading the Biblical text. Here at Israelite Studies, the mind of the reader is transformed into an eastern one in order to understand the text through the eyes of our ancestors who penned the words of the Bible.

“For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language.”
The Prologue of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach


One of the earliest forms of the Hebrew recorded, is the Proto-Sinaitic or Proto-Canaanite Hebrew. It’s commonly referred to as the Hebrew Pictograph. It can be traced back to 1800 B.C. – 1500 B.C. During this time, the ancient Israelites were living in the Canaanite Region. The Hebrew Alphabet consisted of pictograph drawings of symbols. This earlier form of Hebrew would be later converted into the Phoenician Hebrew. The Phoenician Hebrew was our official language from 1200 B.C.- 150 B.C. During this time, the ancient Israelites were living in the region of Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon). The Israelites lived in this region with the Phoenicians. During this time, we established communications and formed a language with the Phoenicians. From this partnership, the Phoenician Hebrew was created. This Hebrew language was converted from the Proto Canaanite (Hebrew Pictograph) into 22 constant letters. All the pictographs were converted from symbols into characters. The characters have the outline form of the Hebrew Pictographs. This was the ancient Israelite’s language until the creation of the Paleo Hebrew. The Paleo Hebrew language was used in 10 B.C – 135 A.D. It is a variant of the Phoenician Hebrew. The Paleo-Hebrew was commonly used in the ancient Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah. By the 8th Century the Paleo Hebrew was used in the lands of Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Phoenicia. The Paleo Hebrew spawned the creation of the earlier Aramaic. Later, the Aramaic became the subscript of the Assyrian Square Hebrew that later became the modern-day Hebrew Alphabet. All of these scripts were lacking letters to represent certain added sounds of Hebrew, though these sounds are reflected in Greek and Latin transcriptions/translations of the time. These scripts originally only indicated consonants, but certain letters, known as matres lectionis, became increasingly used to mark these added vowels.

Matres Lectionis:

The usage of certain consonants to indicate a vowel in the spelling of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac languages is called matres lectionis (Latin “mothers of reading”, singular form: mater lectionis, Hebrew: hayrq am mother of reading). The letters that do this in Hebrew are a (ah), h (ha), w (wa) and y (ya).

Biblical Name
Modern Name
Vowel Formation
Vowel Quality
a Ah Aleph ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô mostly ā
h Ha Hey ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô mostly ā or e
w Wa Vav ô, û ō or ū
y Ya Yod î, ê, ệ ī, ē or ǣ

While the pure dialect of Hebrew was unambiguous in pronunciation of words, this vowel system is corrupted due to the private interpretation of how the 4 Hebrew consonants on the chart above are being used to produce a particular vowel sound. Some people believe that saying “such and such letter reads as such and such vowel” is not quite correct in the case of Matres Lectionis, but it would be much more accurate to say “such and such letter indicates the presence of certain vowel”. One must not forget, the letters w, h, a, and y (used as Matres Lectionis) do not have one specific pronunciation indeed, but they rather indicate one of: a – can be A, O, E, and even i/ee, h – can be A, E, and sometimes – O, etc.