Ancient Hebrew, also known as Biblical Hebrew or Classical Hebrew, is the original language of the Torah, the religious text of Judaism. This text was later appropriated by Christians as the Old Testament.

Hebrew is read from right to left, just the opposite of English and many modern languages which are read from left to right.

In its original written form, Hebrew contained no vowels, only consonants. It was not until the Masoretes, between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, added to the translations of the Hebrew text, markers under the letters to indicate vowels, as a help in pronunciation. One exception is when the name of God was written. YHWH spelled in Hebrew as יהוה, contains only four letters and is commonly known as Yehweh, Yehovah, or Jehovah. As an interesting side note יהוה is the first "four letter word" known by scholars as the tetragrammaton (Greek for "four letter word")

God officially introduced himself by name to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as אהיה אשר אהיה (I am that I am), and YHWH strictly translated in Hebrew is the unconjugated verb "to be". Jewish tradition holds that it is a sin to speak the name of God and such is the reason for leaving out helps for pronunciation when transcribing the text in Hebrew. Today Jews pronounce יהוה as HeShem (the name), a pronoun for "The Name of God"

Beginning students of Ancient Hebrew, especially those whose first language is of Latin origin need to strip away what they know about modern language, forget all the rules they learned in school about grammar and punctuation, and start fresh. Reading from right to left and top to bottom. Biblical Hebrew is a dead language and was breathing its last breaths about the same time Jesus was walking the earth. Hebrew texts were written, and transcribed on scrolls not in bound books and the Bible of Biblical times looked very different from the Bible of today. The modern equivalent to what the Hebrew bible might have looked like in ancient times is rolls of architectural drawings in the planning department at city hall.

In its original form, Ancient Hebrew is all but gone. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the best example of Biblical Hebrew that exist today. In modern times scholars and students of Biblical Hebrew use the Masoretic Text (MT). The MT was formed by the Masoretes (mentioned above) who added markings under words to aid with pronunciation as well as give definition to the text with designations for chapter and verse within the books of the Old Testament.

New students of Biblical Hebrew should start with the MT because it includes the vowels that the original text does not. Conventionally the book of Ruth is the starting point for new translators to Biblical Hebrew. The book of Ruth is the easiest to translate, perhaps because the book does not contain any controversial theological topics, or because beautiful love stories are easily understood despite language barriers.

See also