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"
'MARY!' JESUS SAID. TURNING AROUND,
SHE SAID TO HIM IN HEBREW, 'RABBONI'
WHICH MEANS 'TEACHER' "    JOHN 20:16
 

Gila's Tips for Tours

Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew was the language of the ancient Israelites.  David courted Bathsheba in Hebrew and when they were married, he may have greeted her every morning with boker tov (good morning).  David might have said mazal tov (congratulations) to Solomon his son at his coronation by the Gihon spring.  The prophet Isaiah, a Jerusalem native, preached in Hebrew.

The Judeans went off to Babylon weeping in Hebrew, but when they returned, they brought with them their new mother tongue, Aramaic.  And by the time of Jesus, Aramaic had completely replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of daily life.  There’s no doubt that Jesus knew Hebrew, but he most probably preached in Aramaic.

“Hebrew” is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament.  John, in chapter 5 says, “By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew which has five colonnades.”  Bethesda is a combination of two Hebrew words: beit which means “home of” and hesed which means "grace."  The Pool of Bethesda, right outside the northern gate leading into the Temple courtyard, was a place of healing. It was said that the first person to jump into the waters when they stirred would be healed of his affliction.  This is where Jesus told the man who was lame for 38 years, “Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)

In the Garden of Gethsemane (meaning “oil press” in Hebrew and Aramaic), Jesus used the Hebrew and Aramaic word for father, Abba. Abba is a diminutive indicating closeness, like saying “daddy,” rather than the more formal Av which means father. “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible for You; take this cup away from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36)

When Jesus was taken out to be crucified, John’s Gospel mentions that the sign Pontius Pilate ordered be put on the cross was written in Hebrew, along with Latin and Greek.  “Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.” (John 19:20)  This is the meaning of the Hebrew letters that appear in many crucifixion paintings.

During a chaotic incident when Paul was arrested in the Temple courtyard, the Book of Acts states specifically that Paul addressed the unruly crowd in Hebrew.  “When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter.” (Acts 22:2)
 

Model of the Second Temple in the days of Jesus

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of the Second Temple in the days of Jesus

 
But when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews went off to exile once again, spoken Hebrew just died out. It was much like Latin became later – no one spoke it as his mother tongue.  It was studied, read, written and recited in prayer, but not used as a means of verbal communication.  Religious Jews even considered it blasphemous to use the “holy tongue” within the context of daily life.
 
Indeed, Hebrew would not be the common spoken language of the people of Israel until the end of the nineteenth century, when a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania named Eliezer Ben Yehuda had the far-fetched idea of reviving it.  As he stepped off the boat onto the Land of Israel, he informed his wife, “From now on, we speak only Hebrew.”  Her words were not recorded.  Ben Yehuda soon discovered to his dismay, that a major obstacle in “modernizing” Hebrew was in the area of vocabulary.
 

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Biblical Hebrew had a remarkably small number of words – 8,000 at most, with 1,700 used only once as compared to modern English which has over 450,000.  As a basis of comparison, French, Spanish and Arabic each have about 175,000 words.  Today Modern Hebrew, which uses virtually the same alphabet as the Jews of 2,000 years ago, has about 100,000 words.

You know a few: Hallelujah is “praise the Lord.”  Shalom is peace.

Would you like to learn some handy Hebrew phrases and contemporary slang which will help you connect and joke with people you’ll be meeting on your journey in the Holy Land?  See Hebrew for Pilgrims.
Walk the Temple Mount with Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, Mohammed and the angel Gabriel with itsGila Temple Mount audio tour on MP3.
More on Hebrew Inscriptions
 
Let's decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran

Shepherds, Scholars and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Let's see where the Priestly Benediction was found

Qumran / Let's decipher
the Dead Sea Scrolls

Discovery of the Dead
Sea Scrolls

Priestly Benediction
 


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
EMAIL: gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin