What is the…
Hebrew language

Hebrew is the language of the Hebrew people, and is the language in which the Old Testament is written, with the exception of a few portions in Chaldee.

Hebrew is one of the oldest languages of which we have any knowledge. It is essentially identical with the Phoenician language. (See MOABITE STONE.)

The rounded form of the letters, as seen in the Moabite stone, was probably that in which the ancient Hebrew was written down to the time of the Exile, when the present square or Chaldean form was adopted.

The Semitic languages, to which class the Hebrew and Phoenician belonged, were spoken over a very wide area: in Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Israel and Arabia, in all the countries from the Mediterranean to the borders of Assyria, and from the mountains of Armenia to the Indian Ocean.

The Hebrew of the Old Testament has only about 6-thousand words, all derived from about 5-hundred roots. Hence the same word sometimes has a great variety of meanings, depending on the context.

Biblical Hebrew Consonant Alphabet

The Hebrew alphabet is the world’s oldest. The English word alphabet comes from the names of the first 2 letters of the Hebrew alphabet—Aleph+Bet.

In ancient times, only the consonants of the words were written. This can be a source of difficulty in interpreting certain words in modern times, for the meaning varies according to the vowels which may be supplied.

  1. א —Aleph (ʔ) = A
  2. בּּ or ב —Bet (Beth) or Vet = B or V
  3. ג —Gimmel (Gimel) = G
  4. ד —Dalet (Daleth) = D
  5. ה —Hey (He) = H
  6. ו —Waw (Vav) = W
  7. ז —Zayin = Z
  8. ח —Heth (Het, Chet) = X or H
  9. ט —Teth (Tet) = T
  10. י —Yodh (Yod) = J, Y or EE
  11. כ —Kaph (Kaf) = K
  12. ל —Lamedh (Lamed) = L
  13. מ —Mem = M
  14. נ —Nun = N
  15. ס —Samekh (Samech) = S
  16. פ —Pe (Pey, Peh) = P or Ph
  17. ע —Ayin (ʁ or ʕ —can be silent)
  18. צ —Tsade (Tsadie) = Ts or Tz
  19. ק —Qoph (Qof) = Q
  20. ר —Resh = R
  21. שׁ or ש —Sin = S (or Shin = Sh)
  22. ת —Tav (Taw) = T

Hebrew is written from right-to-left ←, opposite of the English language. Other languages that are writen right-to-left are Aramaic, Syriac, Persian, Kurdish, Arabic, Azeri, Divehi, Fula, N'ko, Rohingya, and Urdu.


Example: The Hebrew word for “camel” is גמלַ (LMG) —rearranged left-to-right = GML ( gamal / Phoenician: gāmāl / Arabic: jamal )

The first letter in the Hebrew Bible is ב (Bet)…

Genesis 1:1

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ׃

“In the beginning, Elohim [God] created the heavens and the Earth.”

Streaming video— 
Genesis 1 — Hebrew Bible reading video with English captions
Audio read by Abraham Shmuelof (provided by the Academy of Ancient Languages)
Video by Ted Hildebrandt for biblicalelearning.org​ and Gordon College
Length: 7 minutes


In the Old Testament, Hebrew is only spoken of as Jewish (2 Kings 18:26, 28; Isaiah 36:11, 13; 2 Chr 32:18). This name is first used by the Jews in times subsequent to the close of the Old Testament.

Descendants of Shem

Hebrew is one of the class of languages called Semitic, because they were chiefly spoken among the descendants of Shem.

When Abraham entered Canaan it is obvious that he found the language of its inhabitants closely allied to his own, as they too were Shem’s descendants. Isaiah calls it “the language of Canaan” (Isa. 19:18). Whether this language, as seen in the earliest books of the Old Testament, was the very dialect which Abraham brought with him into Canaan, or whether it was the common tongue of the Canaanitish nations which he only adopted, is uncertain.

Linguistic changes

For the thousand years between Moses and the Babylonian exile, the Hebrew language underwent little or no modification. It preserves all through a remarkable uniformity of structure. From the first, it appears in its full maturity of development.

But through intercourse with Damascus, Assyria, and Babylon, from the time of David, and more particularly from the period of the Exile, it comes under the influence of the Aramaic idiom, and this is seen in the writings which date from this period.

Hebrew was never spoken in its purity by the Jews after their return from Babylon. They now spoke Hebrew with a large admixture of Aramaic or Chaldee, which latterly became the predominant element in the national language.

What is ARAMAIC?

Also see

Article Version: July 28, 2021