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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Languages of the Bible

Steven E. Fassberg

Hebrew and the Semitic Languages

The bulk of the Bible was originally composed in Hebrew, the language of the biblical Israelites, and the language that was spoken in the land of Israel until the end of the tannaitic period (the time of the Mishnah, ca. 200 CE). During the amoraic period (the time of the later talmudic Rabbis, ca. 200–500 CE) it ceased to be a living language, although for Jews it remained the language of liturgy and literature until its revival as a spoken tongue at the end of the 19th century. Hebrew is a member of the Semitic family of languages, which on the basis of geography can be divided into three groups: Northeastern Semitic (Akkadian and its dialects of Assyrian and Babylonian, and Eblaite), Southern Semitic (Old South Arabianand its modern descendants, Ge‘ez and the modern Ethiopic dialects, and Classical Arabic and its pre‐classical and modern dialects), and Northwest Semitic (Ammonite, Aramaic, Deir Alla, Edomite, Hebrew, Moabite, Phoenician and Punic, and Ugaritic).

Within the Northwest Semitic family of languages, Hebrew is part of the “Canaanite” branch of languages. Other members of the Canaanite branch include Ammonite and Edomite, both of which are attested in a few poorly preserved inscriptions; Moabite, the language of the Mesha Stele erected by King Mesha, which boasts of Moab's victory over Israel (see 2 Kings 3.4–27 for the biblical account); and Phoenician and Punic (the form of Phoenician in the western Mediterranean), which are attested in inscriptions and in Greek and Latin transcriptions. These languages share several linguistic features that distinguish them from the other branches of Northwest Semitic: Aramaic, Ugaritic, and Deir Alla (attested in a text from biblical Succoth that mentions Balaam the Seer).

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