The Origination of Hebrew

The Origination of Hebrew


When looking at languages and cultures it is important to realize that the Hebrew spoken today in Israel is not the same as biblical Hebrew. This is equally true of the Greek we see in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. Ancient Greek, like ancient Hebrew, is similar to their modern counterparts, but there are substantial differences as well.

Hebrew belongs to the Canaanite group of languages. Hebrew (Israel) and Moabite (Jordan) are Southern Canaanite while Phoenician (Lebanon) is Northern Canaanite. Canaanite is closely related to Aramaic and to a lesser extent South-Central Arabic. Whereas other Canaanite languages and dialects have become extinct, Hebrew has survived. Hebrew flourished as a spoken language in Israel from the 10th century BCE (Before Common Era) until just before the Byzantine Period in the 3rd or 4th century CE (Common Era). Afterward Hebrew continued as a literary language of the Jewish people, e.g. in the days of Jesus Christ Hebrew was the language of liturgy in the Temple and in the synagogues even though Aramaic was the language spoken by the indigenous peoples of the Middle East during that timeframe. In the Modern Era Hebrew was revived as a spoken language in the 19th century. Modern Hebrew is the official language of the nation of Israel. It has been Israel’s official language since this nation’s miraculous re-establishment in 1948.

Hebrew is classified as a Semitic (or Shemitic, from Shem, the son of Noah) language. It would appear that after the Tower of Babel, the descendants of Japheth traveled north with their language, the descendants of Ham traveled southwest with their language and the Semites traveled west with their language. It is also correct that Eber, the descendant of Shem, is thought to be the original term that later became the label for his descendants, e.g. the Hebrews, just as the descendants of Shem or Shemites later became known as Semites.

A more interesting question might be what was the language spoken prior to the Tower of Babel? It would seem that Hebrew would be a good educated guess in that the names of the pre-Flood patriarchs and others were of Hebrew derivation e.g. all the names of Adam’s descendents we find from Adam to Noah and his children are Hebrew names, meaning that their names had a meaning in Hebrew. For instance, Methuselah (Genesis 5:21) is Hebrew for "his death brings" (The Flood occurred the year that he died). It is not until we come to Noah's grandchildren that we find names that are of a language other then Hebrew. For instance, the name Nimrod (Genesis 11:18), who was from Babylon/Sumer/Shinar and possibly the Tower of Babel, is a non-Hebrew name. According to the Biblical record of names, Adam and his descendants spoke Hebrew.

In addition, Jewish tradition as well as many Christian scholars believed that Hebrew was the original language of man. While ancient Hebrew has similarities to Aramaic and ancient Ugarit, its place in antiquity is evidence that this ancient language predates the Tower of Babel. Hebrew can be traced to the very beginning of creation and is perhaps, the original language of man.

Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D. (c)
Chief Technical Advisor
Creation Studies Institute