Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacred Language

Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent introduction to Biblical Hebrew I just finished this course today, having worked through it slowly and thoroughly over the last 14 months. Biblical Hebrew is difficult, but Professor Carasik has broken the subject matter down into manageable chunks. Although there is some rote learning in the course, the majority of his teaching depends on a more intuitive presentation that helps the student start understanding words and phrases directly from reading the text, without making an intermediate translation. I feel like this way of teaching has helped the language start "seeping into my bones" rather than residing only inside my head. I also really like that Dr. Carasik shared his knowledge of the evolution of the language here and there throughout the course. I find this to be helpful in understanding why certain structures are the way they are, plus it's interesting. Prior to this course I studied (about 35 years ago) two years of university Latin, three semesters of Attic Greek, several years of Spanish and Italian, and an introductory linguistics course. It's difficult for me to know how someone with no prior foreign language experience would do with this subject matter. However, with Hebrew I would say one really needs a teacher, and, barring a real live teacher in the flesh, Dr. Carasik's class is not only the best option, but is, indeed, a gift. For beginners in learning a language, it would be important here to go slowly, go back and review a lot, and remember that it's ok to move on even if you don't completely understand everything you've gone through already. When you review, you have another chance to get it. Be prepared to be confused and keep going anyway. Also, read Biblical Hebrew with a translation in hand, and do that from the start and do it regularly. It helps a lot. I have ordered an intermediate textbook and some reference works to use for my next year of Hebrew study, and I plan to learn modern Hebrew at some point as well. I have been truly inspired by this course, as it has opened up a whole new world to me. There is no comparison between reading a bible translation in English and reading the text in Hebrew. Thank you Great Courses and Dr. Carasik for making this opportunity available.
Date published: 2020-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I wanted I’ve been wanting to learn Hebrew for a long time now I have a chance. I’ve only studied the first three lessons so far and I’m learning a lot. It’s not easy, but enjoying the learning experience.
Date published: 2020-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from First Rate Way to Learn how to Speak/Write Hebrew I really wanted to learn how to read and understand the Old Testament in its original language. This course really helped me to understand all of the rules and the intricacies of the Hebrew language. I am hoping that I can get myself a copy of the Torah and try out my language skills soon.
Date published: 2020-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Rate -- Absolutely outstanding! I purchased the Biblical Hebrew course with an already-intermediate knowledge of Hebrew, but wanted to learn more. The Biblical Hebrew course is outstanding. Dr. Michael Carasik of the University of Pennsylvania is the teacher. He demonstrates the most thorough knowledge of Biblical Hebrew of anyone I have ever met, including many rabbis and cantors. Dr. Carasik's lectures are paced perfectly -- not too fast or slow -- and he mixes his presentations with just the right amount of humor and anecdotes, always using examples straight from the Torah. The graphics are first-rate, also. As I watch the lectures -- which are never boring -- I feel like I am in the hands of a true master of the topic. I also feel like I am working with someone who really cares about my learning, not just being lectured to. I heartily recommend -- without any qualifications -- the Biblical Hebrew course with Dr. Michael Carasik to anyone wanting to learn or strengthen your Hebrew knowledge regardless of your level of Hebrew proficiency.
Date published: 2020-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You'll be reading already in the first lesson Here is a professor who can teach a biblical subject without boasting that he's somehow more insightful than anyone for the last 3,000 years. That's low hanging fruit many academics can't resist, but Carasik teaches precisely, carefully, and with great respect for the text.
Date published: 2020-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to be absorbed I like the professor. I think he kept the course interesting, and presented achievable goals. I was not bogged down by my inexperience with the language
Date published: 2020-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Also an excellent review! I bought this course a few weeks ago to use as a review of Hebrew. I had several semesters of Biblical Hebrew in seminary many years ago, and used Hebrew quite a bit for a few years. But because of work/ministry change I had not been using Hebrew for several years, and had become very rusty. As a review, I find this course to be very helpful - both as a reminder of things I had forgotten, and filling in holes that I had not learned well the first or second time through basic Hebrew. In addition, as a formally trained linguist who has been involved in Bible translation for several years (New Testament into languages of small ethnic groups in the Pacific) I find the instructor's approach very refreshing as he explains things from an intuitive linguistic approach, rather than mere rote memory of apparently arbitrary rules. I THINK this would also be good for someone who is learning for the first time, but it is hard for me evaluate the course for that.
Date published: 2020-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course! This is a fantastic, well-designed course! I have tried to learn Biblical Hebrew on my own using a variety of Hebrew grammar books, but have had difficulty making sense out of the dizzying array of verb charts and academic terminology. What made Biblical Hebrew especially challenging to me is the complexity of the Hebrew verb. The Hebrew verb is based on a deceptively simple three-letter root that can take on an astronomical number of different forms and pronunciations according to its form, stem, gender, number, pronominal suffix, and type of consonants present in the particular root. Much of this information is represented in a seemly random array of dots and vowel points interspersed with Hebrew letters of the word. A subtle difference in a vowel point can change the entire meaning of a passage. One of the best things about the course is Dr. Carasik’s clear explanation of the principles behind how Hebrew letters work together, and how these principles can be applied to the Hebrew verb. Instead of having to engage in brute force memorization how each type of verb is constructed, I learned I could apply these principles to recognize how a particular verb functions in a Hebrew passage. Dr. Carasik also provides a kind and gentle introduction to the seemingly arcane terminology used in Hebrew Grammar books. I found this introduction extraordinarily valuable, as it has allowed me to access, appreciate (an even enjoy) Hebrew language reference books that have previously seemed impenetrable to me.
Date published: 2020-10-21
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Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacred Language
Course Trailer
Studying Biblical Hebrew
1: Studying Biblical Hebrew

Use the word “hallelujah” as a gateway to exploring the three different components of the Biblical Hebrew writing system: letters, vowels, and diacriticals. Then, start learning Hebrew the natural way with a look at Genesis 1:3 and the first thing God does in creating heaven and Earth.

30 min
Learning the Aleph Bet
2: Learning the Aleph Bet

Get to know the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and how Biblical Hebrew is pronounced. Surprises include the silent letter aleph (the first letter of “God”), the tricky letter samekh, which resembles an “o” but sounds like an “s,” and nearly identical pairs of letters such as gimel and nun.

30 min
The Tiberian Vowel System
3: The Tiberian Vowel System

The Tiberian system of marking vowels in Hebrew has been used exclusively for more than 1,000 years. In this lecture, discover the signs that mark short and long vowels, and learn how vowels can change their spelling (and, slightly, their sound) without changing their meaning.

33 min
Roots of Semitic Verbs
4: Roots of Semitic Verbs

Every Hebrew verb, and almost every noun and adjective, is based on a root, a group of three (or sometimes two) consonants. Here, Professor Carasik teaches you how to begin recognizing the roots of verbs in Biblical Hebrew—then discusses how God is referred to in the Hebrew Bible.

35 min
Hebrew Verb Forms and the Definite Article
5: Hebrew Verb Forms and the Definite Article

Get an introduction to the five different Hebrew verb forms: finite, infinitive, adjective, participle, and imperative. Plus, learn three ways of identifying something as definite (rather than indefinite): by using the definite article (ha), by labeling it with a personal pronoun, and by naming it.

36 min
Hebrew’s Attached Prepositions
6: Hebrew’s Attached Prepositions

Explore three Hebrew letters that attach to the beginning of other words to create a new word. Then, armed with this new knowledge, read your first complete paragraph in Biblical Hebrew from start to finish: the story of the first day of creation in Genesis 1:1-5.

31 min
Adjective Forms and Agreement in Hebrew
7: Adjective Forms and Agreement in Hebrew

Unlike English, Hebrew adjectives have four forms, not one—and they must agree with their nouns based on whether they’re singular or plural, and masculine or feminine. Learn the four forms of adjectives (tov, tovah, tovim, tovot), several adjectives, and two ways to put nouns and adjectives together.

33 min
Irregular Hebrew Nouns and Adjectives
8: Irregular Hebrew Nouns and Adjectives

Sometimes it’s the simpler nouns that are the most likely to surprise you. Examine several of the most common non-obvious nouns (irregular nouns) and adjectives (demonstratives) in Biblical Hebrew. These include family names (daughter, son, brother), as well as “this” (zeh, zot) and “these” (éleh).

33 min
Hebrew Pronouns and Pronominal Suffixes
9: Hebrew Pronouns and Pronominal Suffixes

Hebrew has a ton of different pronouns. In this lecture, get an introduction to pronouns like “I” (ani, anokhi) and “we” (anahnu), as well as three different flavors of pronominal suffixes. Then, practice your new skills with a Bible verse describing the fourth day of creation.

32 min
How Hebrew Letters Behave
10: How Hebrew Letters Behave

What do different letters do differently? Here, take a comprehensive look at the different ways Hebrew letters behave and start deciphering words in Biblical Hebrew that you don’t already recognize. Topics include guttural letters (the orneriest consonants in the Hebrew language) and roots that start with yud.

35 min
Perfect and Imperfect Hebrew Verbs
11: Perfect and Imperfect Hebrew Verbs

Focus on two of the five forms of Biblical Hebrew verbs: the perfect and the imperfect, both of which have person, gender, and number. The perfect, as you’ll learn, is always marked by endings. The imperfect, however, is marked by prefix letters as well: aleph, nun, tav, and yud.

38 min
Segholate Nouns and Pausal Forms
12: Segholate Nouns and Pausal Forms

Turn now to segholate nouns—nouns that feature seghols (“-eh” vowels). By looking at segholate nouns in real Hebrew phrases from the Bible, you’ll start to get more comfortable with what Professor Carasik calls the “EH-eh rhythm” and the various grammatical forms that use the pattern.

35 min
The Construct Form: Hebrew’s Trailer Hitch
13: The Construct Form: Hebrew’s Trailer Hitch

By allowing you to attach another noun to your first noun, the construct form acts as a sort of trailer hitch in Biblical Hebrew. Once attached, the first noun in construct “belongs” to the second. Here, learn construct forms by revisiting the first and fourth day of creation.

31 min
Forming Hebrew Construct Chains
14: Forming Hebrew Construct Chains

Continue your study of construct forms with prepositions in Biblical Hebrew that are combinations of simple prepositions you’ve already learned (example: lifnei, or “before”). Then, look at irregular nouns with unusual construct forms whose frequent occurrence makes them critical to understanding Biblical Hebrew.

32 min
Hebrew Verb Classifications: Binyanim
15: Hebrew Verb Classifications: Binyanim

In Biblical Hebrew, the binyan acts as a sort of stem or conjugation for verbs. Get a re-introduction to verbs with their binyan identification, learn how the binyanim got their names, and focus on a single root in different binyanim to get a feel for what the binyanim do to a verb’s meaning.

33 min
Question Words in Hebrew
16: Question Words in Hebrew

From mi (“Who?”) and lama lo (“Why not?”) to eikh (“How?”) and matai (“When?”), discover how to recognize the words that tell you when a question is coming up in Biblical Hebrew. Why is this so important? Because there’s no such thing as a question mark in Biblical Hebrew.

36 min
Hebrew Participles
17: Hebrew Participles

Return to the verbal system with Professor Carasik’s helpful explanation of the third of the five Hebrew verb forms: the participle. One of the ways you’ll master the verbal adjective in Biblical Hebrew is by working your way through Genesis 22:7.

36 min
Counting in Hebrew
18: Counting in Hebrew

In this fun lecture, start to count in Hebrew, from one to 10,000. You’ll learn a children’s rhyme for counting from one to four, the construct form of numbers, the ordinal numbers, some helpful shortcuts such as how to refer to a “pair” of something, and more.

31 min
Hebrew Roots with Guttural Letters
19: Hebrew Roots with Guttural Letters

Focus your attention here on categories of verbs from the Qal binyan with roots whose guttural letters (hey, het, and ayin) tend to “misbehave.” Central to this lecture are three rules about how gutturals behave, as well as relevant examples in passages from the Hebrew Bible.

33 min
Hebrew’s Lamed-Hey Roots
20: Hebrew’s Lamed-Hey Roots

Lamed-hey roots are those roots where, in the dictionary, the third radical of a verb (the lamed) is a hey. Here, learn how to work with some of the most common lamed-hey roots, including banah (“build”), hayah (“live”), anah (“answer”), panah (“turn”), and kalah (“be over”).

34 min
Hebrew's Roots Beginning with Yud
21: Hebrew's Roots Beginning with Yud

Roots that begin with yud are plentiful in Hebrew—and very common. Professor Carasik walks you through a list of some of the most common first-yud verbs, including yada (“know”), yatza (“go out”), yarash (“take possession”), and yashav (“settle”).

35 min
Irregular Hebrew Verbs
22: Irregular Hebrew Verbs

Very few verbs in Hebrew are irregular. Those that are, as you’ll learn here, are not very difficult—but they do work a little differently than what you’re used to seeing. In this lecture, learn how to master irregular Hebrew verbs by focusing on them individually.

35 min
Hebrew’s Hollow Verbs
23: Hebrew’s Hollow Verbs

Welcome to what may be the strangest verb roots of all: those that have only two consonants, not three. Here, explore the general rules about these hollow verbs, and build a list of commonly used hollow verbs you can refer to when reading Biblical Hebrew.

36 min
The Infinitive in Hebrew
24: The Infinitive in Hebrew

The infinitive verb form is used to describe the action of a verb (as in “There’s a time to rend … and a time to mend.”). Professor Carasik walks you through the different infinitive forms, then guides you through Ecclesiastes 3—what he calls the “mother lode” of the Hebrew infinitive.

32 min
Jussives, Cohortatives, and “Hava Nagila”
25: Jussives, Cohortatives, and “Hava Nagila”

Explore how Biblical Hebrew expresses intention (as in phrases like yehi or, or “Let there be light.”). You’ll encounter jussives, which are only found in lamed-hey, hollow, and Hiphil verbs; and cohortatives, which invite collective action (as in the famous song, “Hava Nagila”).

38 min
The Imperative Form in Hebrew
26: The Imperative Form in Hebrew

Turn now to the imperative form in Hebrew and the simplest way to think of it (in the Qal): by taking off the tav prefix from second-person imperfect verbs. You’ll learn imperatives from a variety of weak and strong verbs, and use your skills to work through several biblical verses.

35 min
Verbs of the Hiphil Binyan
27: Verbs of the Hiphil Binyan

Focus on a new binyan: Hiphil, which can be thought of as the causative binyan. (One example: l’haqtir, or “to burn incense.”) Then, go back to Genesis, collect a list of Hiphil infinitives, and see what the different root categories do when you put them into this Hiphil shape.

34 min
Piel Verbs and Passive Binyanim
28: Piel Verbs and Passive Binyanim

Take a closer look at another major binyan: the Piel. The goal of this lecture is to give you the skills to distinguish this binyan when you need to, so you can learn the verbs as they come along. Then, examine two more binyanim: the passives Pu’al and Hophal.

37 min
Reflexive Binyanim: Niphal and Hitpa'el
29: Reflexive Binyanim: Niphal and Hitpa'el

Conclude your survey of the seven different binyanim by taking a closer look at two reflexive patterns: the Niphal and the Hitpa’el. Along the way, Professor Carasik introduces you to an important root that appears only in these two binyanim: nun-bet-aleph, or “to be/act like a prophet.”

35 min
Reading the Bible in Hebrew: Joshua 1
30: Reading the Bible in Hebrew: Joshua 1

Now you’re ready to start reading longer passages in the Bible in Hebrew. Here, follow Professor Carasik as you read Joshua 1:1-9, which deals with God’s charge to Joshua. You’ll translate the text, talk about the passage’s meaning, and spend time parsing every single verb it contains.

36 min
Geminate Verbs and Reading Numbers 22
31: Geminate Verbs and Reading Numbers 22

In this lecture, explore geminates: roots where radicals two and three are the same. Along the way, you’ll learn how to spot these common two-letter combinations, consider a fascinating example from Ezekiel’s vision of the messianic future Temple, and begin reading Numbers 22 from start to finish.

38 min
Hebrew’s Object Suffixes
32: Hebrew’s Object Suffixes

You’ve seen object suffixes in previous lectures. Now, focus on them directly. You’ll learn some obvious (and not-so-obvious) combinations of verbs and object suffixes, and ponder some questions about phrases and sentences in the Bible that appear more than once, but with slight variations.

34 min
Hebrew Oaths and Other Idioms
33: Hebrew Oaths and Other Idioms

Study idioms that are common in Biblical Hebrew, but sound strange when translated into English. You’ll explore different ways to take an oath in Biblical Hebrew, the customary way to state someone’s age, and the danger of “crossing the mouth” of the Lord.

35 min
Understanding Hebrew Punctuation Marks
34: Understanding Hebrew Punctuation Marks

In the Hebrew Bible, every word has a punctuation mark that serves three functions: telling you where the accent falls, indicating how to chant the text musically, and telling you how to group words in a sensible way. Use this knowledge to move forward in your reading of Numbers 22.

40 min
Choosing a Hebrew Bible
35: Choosing a Hebrew Bible

What’s the best Bible from which to read Hebrew? Professor Carasik offers insights and recommendations on four printed Bibles as well as several electronic sources, and shows you how to navigate your way to a specific chapter and verse in an all-Hebrew Bible. Close by resuming your reading of Numbers 22.

35 min
Helpful Hebrew Reference Books
36: Helpful Hebrew Reference Books

Look at some essential Hebrew reference books out there (besides biblical translations and commentaries), including reference grammars and three major Biblical Hebrew dictionaries. Close out the course by completing your line-by-line reading of Numbers 22.

37 min
Michael Carasik

Reading the Bible in Hebrew is like traveling back in time. You can hear voices from 2500 years ago speaking directly to you.

ALMA MATER

Brandeis University

INSTITUTION

University of Pennsylvania

About Michael Carasik

Dr. Michael Carasik has taught Biblical Hebrew since 1991 and is currently adjunct assistant professor of Biblical Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2000. He earned his PhD in Bible and Ancient Near East from Brandeis University. A member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Faculty Working Group on Recovered Language Pedagogies, Professor Carasik has also taught at Hebrew College, Northeastern University, the University of Delaware, Gratz College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Saint Joseph’s University. In addition, he has taught adults in the Kerem, Melton, and Me’ah/ConText programs. Professor Carasik is the creator, editor, and translator of The Commentators’ Bible (The JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot), an English-language version of the traditional Jewish Bible commentaries dating from the 11th to the 16th centuries. He also is the author of Theologies of the Mind in Biblical Israel, a description of the Israelite understanding of psychology as revealed in the Bible, and The Bible’s Many Voices, a layperson’s guide to what the human authors of the Bible meant by their writing. Professor Carasik’s other publications include numerous articles, reviews, reference book entries, and translations. Professor Carasik has worked for the National Hebrew Proficiency Guidelines Committee, has been a columnist for Jewish Ideas Daily, and has spoken at synagogues around the United States. He has served the Philadelphia Jewish community as vice president of the Center City Eruv Committee and president of the Center City Kehillah, and has hosted the weekly Torah Talk podcast since 2009. He is the weekday Torah reader at historic congregation Kesher Israel in Philadelphia and blogs as The Bible Guy on WordPress.com.

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