Marc Chagall, Jacob's Dream (preparatory sketch)

Critical Ancient Hebrew

Instructor: James Redfield
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Ancient Hebrew is best known as the vehicle for religious texts in Judaism and related traditions: the Bible and its rabbinic commentaries, liturgical poetry, legal codes, and other religious genres. Hebrew literacy not only enriches one’s understanding of Judaism, but also early Christianity and other Jewish-Greek cultures. In this course, we will take a significant step in that direction, introducing ourselves to Biblical and  Rabbinic Hebrew in a rigorous, hands-on, reader-oriented way. We will cover the alphabet, grammar, morphology, syntax, and other linguistic features of both stages in ancient Hebrew, allowing students to read prose texts of the Bible and the ancient rabbis, such as the Book of Ruth and rabbis’ commentaries on biblical texts, as well as their own stories.

Alongside a strong focus on the tools that students will need to read Jewish religious texts (which formed, in turn, not only Christianity, but also diverse cultures of the Jewish diaspora in Europe, North Africa, and around the world), we will explore Hebrew’s historical development in the context of its relationships to dominant languages and cultures. In this sense, Critical Ancient Hebrew is also an introduction to the history of the Israelites and the Jews as small minorities who formed cultural contact-zones within vast multiethnic empires. What can a study of the Hebrew language and its context teach us—not only about Hebraic history and culture, but also about the processes by which cultures and languages interact, conflict, and, across time, are mutually transformed? 

Critical Ancient Hebrew is organized across three, 12-week trimesters: Winter (February 15th–May 2nd), Summer (May 23rd-August 15th), and Fall (September 12th-December 12th). Students may enroll in the program in its entirety or on a trimester-by-trimester basis. Our textbook will be Thomas Lambdin’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew and Miguel Pérez Fernández’s An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew, to be supplemented throughout by readings from the Hebrew Bible and its rabbinic commentaries. The class size is capped at 12 students. Enrollees will have the opportunity to enroll in specialized reading groups in Fall 2024. Payment plans and scholarships are available; email for more information. 

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-8:30pm ET
February 15 — December 12, 2024
12 weekly sessions per trimester (36 sessions), not including guest lectures


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