The struggle is real: translating Biblical Hebrew (with some digital help)

All over the internet we see websites and tools that can help you learn a language. But most of this is for modern and popular languages only. Learning English or French is a piece of cake via the internet. But what if you want to learn a dead language that is also not that popular? In this blog I will talk about my own struggle with learning Biblical Hebrew and how hard it is to find help outside the classroom (via the internet).

When I first started to learn Biblical Hebrew I did not know much of languages. I never really focused on what I was learning exactly in high school, I just did some words and that was it. I was never looking at structure or anything. But when I got to university I really had to learn a language. Really get in there and know what all the technical terms mean. And don’t get me wrong, I loved it. Learning Biblical Hebrew wasn’t that bad… until we started talking about determining verbs.

At first it was fine. We started with the regular verbs and the struggle there was finding out what the tenses exactly meant. Stuff like perfectum, imperfectum and participium. A regular verb is quite doable still, Biblical Hebrew is pretty straight forward with its grammar. Before I continue I will give a short explanation here about what the difference is between a regular and irregular verb. A verb in (Biblical) Hebrew has a root. This root consists out of three letters, for instance the verb ‘ to kill’ is קתל . This verb is regular which means that you will always see the root in any form. When a verb is irregular we don’t see the complete root anymore. It could happen that you only see one letter from the original root in the verb. And that is exactly where it gets really hard. Try to imagine it in English: the verb ‘to kill’  is used, but you only see one l that gives an indication of the verb. This can really become a maze when you are trying to determine what kind of verb it is and what tense.

So what happens when you can’t figure it out on your own? A clasmate could help you, but they are sometimes clueless as well… So what tools/websites can one turn to?

Source: Screenshot from the website.
A little help goes a long way

One of my personal favourites is Biblehub. This website can be really helpful at times in need. On the picture you can see that it comes with a translation (dont forget to read from right to left). Above the Biblical Hebrew the word is written in our script and phonetically too. For me the real interesting part is written underneath the word. Underneath ‘In the beginning’ there is ‘Prep-b’ written. This means that the b in the is a preposition. Another cool thing this webiste does is that it gives you a whole lot of information that really comes in handy while translating. The word written phonetically is clickable and when you click on it, it gives you a concordance of the number of times the word occurs in the Hebrew Bible and also exactly where they occur. Above the phonetically written word is a number. In this case it is 7225. When I click on this the webiste gives me information about the grammar of the word. It gives me the origin, a short definition etc. Since this is a mere noun it is not all that important, but when it comes to a verb this tool is brilliant.

Earlier in this blogpost I talked about irregular verbs and how hard to spot they can be. Sometimes you have no clue what verb they are using. Biblehub always knows. You click the number again and it gives the original word, or in case of a verb, the root. The website recently updated even further and now beneath a verb we can already see the tense and person. If we look at the picture we see the word ‘created’  and uderneath it we see perf (perfectum) 3ms (third person masculine singular). It really is a great website and when you find it, you will never regret or forget it.

So there we have it, a perfect website that helps you translate something that is not only a dead language, but also not that popular nowadays (like Latin for instance). Websites like these should really be encouraged, since they make a sort of hidden world more accessible for a bigger audience (when they are interested).