Is one group more special than another?
Classical Hebrew is the ancient Semitic language of the Hebrews in which the Torah was written. A modern form is used in synagogues but Jewish prayer and study usually involve classical Hebrew. Both old and new forms of this ancient language are used by the Samaritans.
Ancient Hebrew is also the liturgical tongue of the Samaritans, while modern Hebrew or Arabic is their vernacular, though today about 700 Samaritans remain.¹
For some Jewish mystics, the correct pronunciation of Hebrew scripture confers a spiritual benefit. This is analogous but not identical to the Eastern religious belief that the correct pronunciation of the word AUM or AUM-MANI-PADME-HUM promotes enlightenment.
Language is also important to many Muslims who maintain that the Koran must be read in Arabic to fully understand its meaning.
By way of contrast, within most contemporary Christian Churches it’s not the language of transmission but the message of salvation that’s crucial. So the Christian Bible is freely translated into countless different living languages to get the word out to as many as possible. The full Christian message is not for a select few educated elites but for everyone.
What are you saying?
Knowledge of original languages is important to some academics studying religion. Ideally, they use their knowledge of original languages in the Christian tradition to try to discern the cultural and political aspects of the Bible to prevent biblical fanaticism (where an isolated phrase or two are cherry-picked to advance personal opinions and agendas).
Sadly, however, some scholars use their knowledge of original languages in a narrow-minded way, failing to recognize that God also speaks to God’s creatures through innovation and inspiration.
Responsible biblical scholars do keep their language abilities in proper perspective. They use their proficiency in original languages to advance knowledge and healthy debate instead of to impress and intimidate others or to camouflage a weak argument.
Arrogant biblical scholars schooled in Greek and Hebrew sometimes overlook the fact that their knowledge of original languages does not give them a golden key to truth. Depth psychology suggests that original religious authors themselves probably didn’t fully know what they meant to say or what the ultimate meaning of their work would become, just as we find with any discourse today. Also, contemporary scholars still disagree on the meaning of just about every passage in the Bible.
A coat of many colors
If medical doctors disagreed to the extent that Ph. D.s disagreed, would we trust and respect their opinions at all?
In short, bias always creeps in, even when a scholar has knowledge of original languages. And it is entirely possible that an ‘uneducated’ person through gifted insight might get much closer to the intended and ultimate meanings of a religious text than would an educated fool or a cynical scholar who believes “a university is a place where a professor gets a paycheck.”²
A modern version of Hebrew is spoken by 7 million people in Israel today.
Related » Aramaic, Elohim, Judaism, Kabbala, Mantra, Old Testament, Rabbi, Yahweh
¹ See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_language
² Many years ago I heard through the grapevine that one of my professors actually said and believed this.
One thought on “Hebrew – Another special language for God’s elite?”
Edit – just tweaked this sentence to now read
“…failing to recognize that God also speaks to God’s creatures through innovation and inspiration.”
12:42 – changed sentence to
“For some Jewish mystics, the correct pronunciation of Hebrew scripture…”
Oct 3 – 04:26 – tweaked sentence to now read…
“Ideally, they use their knowledge of original languages in the Christian tradition…”