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The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew script. Hebrew was the language of the Jewish people before Jesus and at the time of Jesus. I can prove that through the Bible.
In the book of Acts we read about the Apostle Paul. A riot started around him in Jerusalem, and he was arrested by Roman soldiers. Paul spoke to the commander of the Roman force in Greek. Greek was the everyday language of that part of the world, and had been from the time of Alexander the Great. About 300 years before Jesus, Alexander the Great conquered all the known world, and brought in Greek culture and the Greek language. Which is the reason why we have the New Testament delivered to us in Greek.
Back to the book of Acts. Paul asked the commander for permission to speak to the Jewish crowd. Paul spoke to the Jewish crowd "in Hebrew". The Greek word in the New Testament is "Evraidi", which can only be translated as "Hebrew". Hebrew was the language of the Jews ... not Aramaic.
What happened to the language of Hebrew from then until now?
About 20 years after the events of Acts chapter 21, the Jewish people staged a revolt against the Romans. And the Romans put the revolt down and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.
About 60 years after that date, the Jewish people staged a second revolt against the Romans, and this time they were crushed. The remnant – those who survived – were thrust out of the land and scattered all over the known world.
Wherever they went, they settled in the lands, and they learned the language, and Hebrew became simply a liturgical language for religious purposes. It remained that way for 1,700 or 1,800 years.
But in the late 1800’s, Jews in Eastern Europe started to move back to the land of Israel ... to what had been re-named Palestine. Among their number was a man Eliezer ben Yehuda, who became a leader of the movement behind the revival of the Hebrew language as a language of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.
Hebrew moved from having been a sacred, liturgical language to an everyday language and today it is spoken by more than 6 million people in Israel. It is the only example in history of a sacred language becoming a national language. It is a miracle, and I see the hand of God in it.
Here on the screen is a chart of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (see Hebrew alphabet) . Hebrew is read from right to left.
The first letter is an Alef, and the last letter is a Tav. In English, we would say “from A to Z”, in Greek they would say “from Alpha to Omega”, but in Hebrew they would say “from Alef to Tav”.
Note that Hebrew has no lower case letters. They don’t have capital letters and then smaller letters as we do in English. All letters are capitals.
Also, all letters are consonants. There are no vowel letters in the Hebrew language.
About 500 years after Jesus, Jewish scribes – the Masoretic scribes – in the city of Tiberius in the Galilee, came together to decide on a system of vowel pointing, so that the pronunciation of words could be preserved for liturgical purposes. What are called “nikud” or “nikudot” (plural) – vowel points – were developed. They indicate vowel sounds and alternative pronunciation of certain letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Here on the screen is an example from a page of the Torah. If you were to buy a modern Hebrew reader, this is what it would look like. It is the sort of reading they do in the synagogues. They would read from scrolls or from books with this type of nikudot pointing. But the dot points were not in the original text. They were not in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which can be firmly dated to about 100 years before Jesus. They were not in the original scrolls. Also, they are not in modern Hebrew books or newspapers. But they are useful to us, so that we know what is the accurate pronunciation of those words.
Now look at this line of Hebrew letters (see Hebrew alphabet). It is interesting, when you look, that a couple of letters, at least, stand out. Because they are “outside the norm”.
The first I would note is the Yud. It is the smallest letter – the tenth letter – we might say it is suspended in the air. It doesn’t touch the lower line, and it doesn’t reach above it. It is a tiny letter.
The twelfth letter in this line is a Lamed. It is the only letter that reaches above the line, reaching up we might say.
There are 22 Hebrew letters. That is an interesting number because there are:
Here are the names of the 22 Hebrew letters (right to left).
Now there is another feature of the Hebrew alphabet. Five of the letters have a “final form” (see 5 final forms). In other words, when the letter appears at the end of a word, the shape of the letter changes.
On the screen, you will see that the shape of the letter Kaf changes when it is at the end of a word. The same goes for Mem, Nun, Peh and Tzadi. Which means that we have 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but in 27 different forms.
Two final points.
The first is that the Hebrew word for a letter of the alphabet is an “ot”, spelled Alef, Vav, Tav. This is interesting because it is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and then Vav in between those two letters. That is the spelling of the word “ot”.
“Ot” (in Hebrew) means a sign, or a mark, or a symbol. But, it also means a “signal from God” – a miraculous sign or event.
We first find the word in the first chapter of Genesis, where we are told that God placed the sun, moon and stars in the heavens as “signs”.
In Genesis chapter 9, after the flood, we are told that God placed the rainbow in the sky as a “sign” – an “ot” – of the promise ... the covenant that He made that He would never again destroy the earth by flood.
We find this in several other places in the Old Testament. One, significantly, would be in Exodus chapter 31, where God told the Jewish people, under the Law of Moses that He had instituted, that the Sabbath was to be a “sign” for Israel.
So it is interesting to me that the word for a “miraculous sign” from God, is an “ot”, and the word for a letter of the Hebrew alphabet is an “ot”. And it is because each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is a sign from God, pointing to the Messiah – pointing to Jesus.
And the last thing I would say, in this seminar session, is that, if you look at the line of Hebrew letters, including the final forms, all 27 forms, and we take the first letter – an Alef. The middle letter would be Mem. And then the last letter of the alphabet would be Tav. Alef, Mem, Tav. It spells “emet” in Hebrew, which means “truth”.
And Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
With understanding of Hebraic thought, and awareness of design elements in the Scriptures, we take a journey of growth in Christ Jesus.
The seminar “Bringing sons to glory” starts with Session 1: “You are gods” What did Jesus mean? ... and continues through the Psalms of Ascent.
This series will increase your knowledge of biblical Hebrew.