Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #18 The re-creation of Hebrew as a literary language

As you could notice in the previous postings, can we say that literature has been the home of Jewish artistic activity throughout the ages.

We must also remember that Hebrew literature is not synonymous with Jewish literature.

For those who study the Bible, the Hebrew language is an important semitic language of the Northern Central (also called Northwestern) group. We encounter it by looking at those people who lived in the East and whose language was related to Phoenician and Moabite, with which it is often placed by scholars in a Canaanite subgroup.
We find an early form of Canaanite attested in the Tell el-Amarna letters (c. bce). Moabite, which is very close to Hebrew, is known chiefly from one inscription dating from the 8th century bce.

Spoken in ancient times in Palestine, Hebrew was supplanted by the western dialect of Aramaic beginning about the 3rd century bce. Aramaic was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and is thought to have first appeared among the Aramaeans about the late 11th century bce. By the 8th century bce it had become accepted by the Assyrians, whose homeland are parts of present-day Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, as a second language.

The people of God mostly spoke Hebrew and were called the Hebrews. However though spoken centuries back in Palestine, Hebrew was replaced by the western dialect of Aramaic by the 3rd century bce. Jesus, being born in Palestine had Aramaic as his native language, and possibly several apostles also spoke or knew Aramaic. But for the religious services and for reading the Torah Hebrew was used. That is the most significant characteristic of Hebrew literature, namely that the greater part of it is directly or indirectly the outgrowth of the Bible. There is a marked continuity in the development of the latter from the earlier literary forms, all of them going back to the first source — the Bible. In other words, Hebrew literature is chiefly religious literature, and secular writings, produced mostly under the influence of foreign literature, forming but a minor part of it.

Originally, the sciences developed among the Jews as a branch of Halakah, receiving recognition only by virtue of some religious function which they were made to serve, as, for example, astronomy in connection with the fixing of the calendar, upon which depended the observance of the festivals. Later, however, when the Jews came in contact with Arabic civilization, the sciences came to be cultivated for their own sake, and since the middle of the tenth century many books have been written on the various arts and sciences, irrespective of their religious bearing.

The first Christians were Jews, and they worshipped along with other Jews in the synagogue, where Hebrew was the main language. The earliest Gentile converts also attended the synagogue. When Christians met outside the synagogue, they still used its liturgy, read its Bible, and preserved the main characteristics of synagogue worship. Among themselves, they did speak the trade language Arabic or their native language. Provided that Greek was also widely used, the apostles also began to provide works (the gospels and letters) in that language, so that others could also become acquainted with the life and work of the Nazarene Jewish teacher.

For ages Hebrew was the liturgical language of the Jews as well as of the first followers of Christ.

By the 11th century, Diaspora Jews lived in a Talmudic culture that united them and that superseded geographical boundaries and language differences. Jewish communities governed themselves according to Talmudic law, and individuals regulated the smallest details of their lives by it.

The Hebrew language continued to be used as a liturgical and literary language, however, after some centuries it somehow faded into the background, also because the Jews and the followers of Jesus Christ spread further and further and began to use the language of the regions where they went to live.

The biblical texts, themselves the products of a long period of transmission and embodying more than a single outlook, were subjected to extensive study and interpretation over many centuries and, when required, were translated into other languages.

The whole literature remains the basis of further developments, so that any attempt to formulate a statement of the affirmations of Judaism must, however contemporary it seeks to be, give heed to the scope and variety of speculation and formulation in the past.

Possibly also because of the further discussions of the texts that were considered sacred, the reflections in the vernacular could somewhat supplant the earlier Hebrew language. Then there were regions where the Judeans were not so beloved and therefore did not speak Hebrew among themselves in public. This allowed the language to fade into obscurity, and when in the 20th century an attempt was made to exterminate the people, the form of speech and writing disappeared among many because it could not be practised.

Though, Hebrew was revived as a spoken language in the 19th and 20th centuries and has now become the official language of Israel.

Bialik, 1923

Hayim Nahman Bialik, Jewish poet who wrote primarily in Hebrew but also in Yiddish.

Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), who wrote primarily in Hebrew but also in Yiddish, was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry and came to be recognized as Israel‘s national poet. Bialik contributed significantly to the revival of the Hebrew language and his influence is felt deeply in all subsequent Hebrew literature.

Another prominent Hebrew poet of Bialik’s era was the Russian-born Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky (1875–1943), who is especially well known for his nature poetry and for his interest in the culture of ancient Greece. He was a friend of the Klausner family of Jerusalem, including the child who would grow up to become the Israeli novelist, short-story writer, and essayist in whose works Israeli society is unapologetically scrutinized, Amos Oz, to whom he was “Uncle Shaul.”
Oz’s symbolic, poetic novels reflect the splits and strains in Israeli culture.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah

Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah

Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy

Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm

Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites

Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship

Hebrew Language #13 Hebrew Literature #10 Exegesis

Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century

Hebrew Language #15 Hebrew Literature #12 High level of literature in Spain in the 12th and 13th century

Hebrew Language #16 Hebrew Literature #13 Maimonides, Maimonists and anti-Maimonists

Hebrew Language #17 Hebrew Literature #14 Families, works from France, Germany and the Levant

Hebrew Language #18 Hebrew Literature #15 Limit of Hebrew literature its developmen

Hebrew Language #19 Hebrew Literature #16 Later writers – From the Renaissance to 18th Century, going into a new religious movement within Judaism

Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #17 Later writers – From the 18th Century into 19th century and Modernizing tendencies

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