Up to July 2018, tourist information said that Hebrew and Arabic were the official languages of the State of Israel, with English as a semi-official language. On the other hand, some saw only Hebrew as the official language in the future on the basis that Israel is not a multi-national country.
This Jewish view became law in July 2018 when the Knesset passed a new Basic Law – the controversial ‘nation state’ Law, link. Some key points:
- Israel is the Jewish nation-state
- Israel as the national home of the Jewish people
- Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel
- The state’s official language is Hebrew
- The Arabic language has a special status in the state
- Under certain arrangements, Arabic can still be used in state institutions
Apart from being the official language, there are other reasons why Hebrew is important today. One obvious reason is that a knowledge of the original text enriches a modern Bible translation. Another reason for studying Hebrew is found in Bible prophecy, which says that this ancient Canaanite language will soon be a common language in the Middle East, and especially in the Millennial Age to come:
In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan
For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they may call on the name of the LORD (Zeph 3.9)
Here, prophecy clearly says that God will revive this ancient language as we approach the end of the age. This is amazing and unique in that Hebrew is the only ancient language that has survived into the modern era. In addition, Hebrew is a language known for its mind-boggling numeric and prophetic values, link.
An Example of the Ancient Hebrew Language
Most of the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls is written in ancient Hebrew.
Biblical (or Ancient) Hebrew is the archaic form of the Hebrew language and is best-attested in the Hebrew Bible (comprising 24 books). It is a Canaanite Semitic language spoken by the Israelites in Canaan. But as the Jews were scattered amongst the nations, spoken Hebrew gradually became confined to the reading of the Torah in the synagogues. It became the language of scholars and the scriptures, and in Jesus’ day Hebrew was the language of liturgy in the Temple. In fact, it is widely accepted that Jesus’s “everyday” spoken language would have been Aramaic, link.
So how does Modern (secular) Hebrew differ from biblical Hebrew? Just as the Ancient Greek of the New Testament differs from Modern Greek, so biblical Hebrew differs noticeably from Modern Hebrew, the national language spoken in modern-day Israel. But the differences are mainly in the areas of grammar, phonology, and vocabulary. Also the pronunciation of some of the consonants and vowels have changed over the centuries, but this does not affect the meaning of words and so speakers of Modern Hebrew can typically read an ancient text without difficulty, link.
Today, Hebrew is spoken by some 90% of those who who arrived before 1989, link, link. This is quite remarkable since there is no other example in world history of an ancient language being revived as the spoken language of a modern nation. The restoration of biblical Hebrew to a modern day spoken language is a unique historical phenomenon, link. Like the restoration of Israel into their Promised Land, the restoration of biblical Hebrew is yet another sign of the God of Israel blessing His people.
Have a Look at the Hebrew Alphabet (Alephbet)
The English word “Alphabet” is derived from the first two letters of the Greek Alphabet; Alpha and Beta. The corresponding term in Hebrew is “Alephbet”, this being derived from the first two letters of the Hebrew Alephbet; Aleph and Bet. Figure 1 shows this Ancient Hebrew alphabet. It has 22 consonants and no vowels (the vowels are dots and dashes added above and below the consonants). The letters are in alphabetical order, written from right to left. Alef is the first letter of the Alephbet and Tav is the last.
Click on the image below to learn the Hebrew Alephbet. Listen to letter pronunciation and how to pronounce simple sentences.