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There are many Hebrew resources available in the mainstream world, i.e. Webster's, Google, etc. Is the Hebrew used in the Tanakh/(other recognized Hebrew books, i.e. the Mishna, Rambam, etc.) considered to have the same vocab (word definitions, not necessarily grammar etc.) as what is commonly referred to as Hebrew nowadays? It is my understanding that it is, i.e. any English-Hebrew dictionary could be consulted to translate the texts for an English speaker, but how could this be verified? Is there some sort of official Rabbinical concordance of Hebrew?

closed as off-topic by mevaqesh, sabbahillel, DonielF, mbloch, Danny Schoemann Nov 7 '17 at 11:56

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No, Modern Hebrew, the contemporary spoken and written language, is not identical with Biblical Hebrew, the version[s] of the language in which Tanach was written. Hebrew, like all natural languages, has evolved over time from the times of Tanach until today, and on top of that, Modern Hebrew is the result of an intentional revival and modernization of the language, including a great deal of adaptations of words from other languages and re-appropriations of words that meant something slightly or drastically different in earlier forms of Hebrew.

Some examples of re-appropriations:

  • The word חשמל (chashmal), which means "electricity" in Modern Hebrew, refers to some esoteric property of angels in Tanach (Yechezkeil).

  • A more subtle example is the word דג (dag). In Modern Hebrew, it refers to the same biological class of animals that the most common sense of the English word "fish" does: "A cold-blooded vertebrate animal that lives in water, moving with the help of fins and breathing with gills." However, there's no good reason to assume that when used in Tanach, for example - famously - in Yonah, the intent of the word accorded with contemporary biological taxonomy, so it could very well have meant "whale" or some other aquatic creature that we wouldn't call a "fish." I have heard people unaware of the difference between Modern and Biblical Hebrew assuming that commentators interpreting the Bible were expressing ignorance of the true meaning of "fish" when including "whale" in the possible interpretations of an instance of "דג."

  • The verb "גָּר," in Modern Hebrew, means, simply "to dwell somewhere." However, in Biblical Hebrew, it means specifically "to sojourn through a strange land." A reader who is familiar with the Modern sense of the word but unaware of this nunance in the Biblical sense could miss important meaning in the text, as in Ruth 1:1: "‏... ‏וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּ֧ית לֶ֣חֶם יְהוּדָה לָגוּר בִּשְׂדֵי מוֹאָב‏ ...‏" - "... And a certain man of Beth-lehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab ..." If this verb is read as "to dwell," then the reader misinterprets the subject's intended temporary evacuation as an intended permanent relocation.1 Thus, the dramatic change of intent hinted in the next verse's "‏... ‏וַיִּֽהְיוּ־שָֽׁם" - "... and they continued there," is also lost.

I don't know if any comprehensive dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew, consistent with Jewish tradition, exist. To be fully accurate, such a dictionary would have to deal explicitly with the fact that the same word can have different meanings in different contexts, depending on the time period the book came from as well as the actual context.

Not the same as a dictionary, but one way to read Tanach in English translation, consistent with Jewish tradition, would be to use a complete Jewish translation of Tanach. One well-regarded trandition-adherent version is that of Judaica Press, which is available in convenient form online on Chabad's website.


1. This example is at the top of my mind thanks to R' Yitzchak Etshalom having pointed it out in an excellent lecture I was fortunate to recently attend.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio May 28 '15 at 14:30
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    It must be noted that even the language of the Tanach is not consistent; the language in the later books is different than the language of the Torah. – ezra Nov 6 '17 at 19:02
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The Hebrew used in the Tanakh is often the source for most of Modern Hebrew. However, influences of history have changed the modern day Hebrew in ways that are not always so noticeable. For Example:

A lot of Aramaic has slipped its way into modern Hebrew, even down to the most basic words.

Father in Tanakh: "Av" Father in Modern Hebrew: "Abba" (Aramaic)

This is not a unique phenomenon, the Tanakh itself has loan words from other languages. If you asked the average Israeli, they would not know that Abba is Aramaic in origin.

The reversing waw/vav is also heavily prevalent in Biblical Hebrew (but by no means is used 100% of the time). It's common English name of the reversing waw/vav is because it switches the past tense to future tense, and future tense to past tense, simply by adding a waw to the front of the verb. You often see a mixing of the normal verb conjugation with a sprinkling of this reversing waw in many paragraphs, including the first paragraph of the Torah.

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם. וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי אוֹר; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר, כִּי טוֹב .וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ; וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם, וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר, יוֹם אֶחָד.

Some other oddities would include the verb roots having changed as Hebrew pronunciation by communities caused mistakes to become the new norm. i can't remember the word off the top of my head, but i remember that the root in the Tanakh had an Ayin, but in modern Hebrew, the Ayin was replaced with an Aleph, most likely due to the pronunciation of Ayin being lost in many communities and the writing reflecting the pronunciation.

Another possible large difference is the use of the "present tense." Modern Hebrew has an established present tense, while according to Historians and Biblical grammarians, Biblical Hebrew has no "present tense." According to them, Biblical Hebrew has only two tenses, perfect tense (action is complete) and imperfect tense (action is not yet complete). For them, words/conjugations that we would call present tense are actually "active participles." An example of what this means/looks like would be the following:

אָנִי שׁוֹמֵר אוֹתֶךָ

How the text translates in Modern Hebrew: "I am guarding you."

How the text translates in Biblical Hebrew according to Historians: "I am the one that guards you."

But if you try and make the argument of Biblical Hebrew not having a present tense to your local Rabbi, be prepared for some resistance. The prior two times i had mentioned in a Synagogue setting that Biblical Hebrew did not have a present tense, it led to a very long debate in which the Rabbi's would refuse to allow anyone who heard my statement to walk away with the belief that Biblical Hebrew didn't have a present tense.

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Modern Hebrew is essentially the same as Biblical Hebrew. Of course as mentioned by the other writer there are differences in usage and also Hebrew isn't the same from one book of the bible to another; by the last books the language is often not Hebrew at all, it's Aramaic. And there's evidence that the aleph and the ayin were pronounced the same even in Biblical times, at least later on, ayin often dropped out or was replaced by aleph. As far as the present tense issue: Semitic languages (including Arabic) do not have present and past tenses, they have perfect/imperfect tenses. But Hebrew perhaps has more of a present tense than the others: in the famous formula about God, I was, I am, I will be, the present tense is represented by the present participle just as in modern Hebrew.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Perhaps you would be interested in our tour? Maybe you could edit your post to address the last point in the OP regarding a concordance? – DonielF Nov 6 '17 at 18:22
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