Opinions on Biblical Hebrew

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Biblical Hebrew (Hebrew: עִבְרִית מִקְרָאִית), also called Classical Hebrew (Hebrew: עִבְרִית קְלַסִּית‎), is the archaic form of the Hebrew language, a Canaanite Semitic language spoken by the Israelites in the area known as Israel, roughly west of the Jordan River and east of the Mediterranean Sea. The term "Hebrew" was not used for the language in the Bible, which referred to Canaanite or Judahite, but the name was used in Greek and Mishnaic Hebrew texts. Biblical Hebrew is attested from about the 10th century BCE, and persisted through and beyond the Jewish Second Temple period (which in 70 CE ended by Roman destruction). Biblical Hebrew eventually developed into Mishnaic Hebrew, which was spoken until the 2nd century CE. Biblical Hebrew is best-attested in the Hebrew Bible, the collection of Judaic religious and historical texts which reflect various stages of the Hebrew language in its consonantal skeleton, as well as a vocalic system which was added later, in the Middle Ages by the Masoretes. There is also some evidence of regional dialectal variation, including differences between Biblical Hebrew as spoken in the northern Kingdom of Israel and in the southern Kingdom of Judah.

Biblical Hebrew has been written with a number of different writing systems. The Hebrews adopted the Phoenician script around the 12th century BCE, which developed into the Paleo-Hebrew script. This was retained by the Samaritans, who use the descendent Samaritan script to this day. However the Aramaic script gradually displaced the Paleo-Hebrew script for the Jews, and it became the source for the modern Hebrew alphabet. All of these scripts were lacking letters to represent all of the sounds of Biblical 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 vowels. In the Middle Ages various systems of diacritics were developed to mark the vowels in Hebrew manuscripts; of these, only the Tiberian system is still in wide use.

Biblical Hebrew possessed a series of "emphatic" consonants whose precise articulation is disputed, likely ejective or pharyngealized. Earlier Biblical Hebrew possessed three consonants which did not have their own letters in the writing system, but over time they merged with other consonants. The stop consonants developed fricative allophones under the influence of Aramaic, and these sounds eventually became marginally phonemic. The pharyngeal and glottal phonemes underwent weakening in some regional dialects, as reflected in the modern Samaritan Hebrew reading tradition. The vowel system of Biblical Hebrew changed dramatically over time and is reflected differently in the ancient Greek and Latin transcriptions, medieval vocalization systems, and modern reading traditions.

Biblical Hebrew had a typical Semitic morphology, placing triconsonantal roots into patterns to form words. Biblical Hebrew distinguished two genders (masculine, feminine), three numbers (singular, plural, and uncommonly, dual). Verbs were marked for voice and mood, and had two conjugations which may have indicated aspect and/or tense (a matter of debate). The tense or aspect of verbs was also influenced by the conjugation ו, in the so-called waw consecutive construction. Default word order was verb–subject–object, and verbs inflected for the number, gender, and person of their subject. Pronominal suffixes could be appended to verbs (to indicate object) or nouns (to indicate possession), and nouns had special construct forms for use in possessive constructions.

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