Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacred Language

Course No. 2256
Professor Michael Carasik, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 2256
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What Will You Learn?

  • Learn how to recognize and pronounce letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and accents in Biblical Hebrew.
  • Explore the grammatical rules behind Biblical Hebrew verb forms and verb stem identifications.
  • Get the reading skills that will enable you to appreciate the Hebrew Bible's un-translatable literary artistry.
  • Hone your skills by reading an entire chapter from the Hebrew Bible: Numbers 22.
  • Learn how to choose and use Biblical Hebrew dictionaries and other helpful print and electronic references.

Course Overview

Most of us first encounter the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) in translation. We, therefore view it through the lens of someone else’s interpretation, however venerable that interpretation may be. But for many centuries, before translations made the text of the Bible accessible to people around the world, it was read and interpreted in its original language, ancient Hebrew. Jews continue to read the Bible in that language today, and so can you.

Biblical Hebrew was the language of ancient Israel. It is an archaic form of the modern Hebrew that is spoken on the streets of present-day Jerusalem; the relationship between the two is akin to that between Shakespearean English and modern English. Biblical Hebrew is no longer used in casual conversation, but it remains at the heart of Jewish worship.

What can be gained by learning to read and understand the the Hebrew Bible in its original language?

According to Professor Michael Carasik of the University of Pennsylvania, who has spent his career studying and translating the Hebrew Bible, it’s about deepening one’s knowledge and appreciation of this profound work. By learning how to read the Bible in Hebrew, you’ll be able to:

  • Reach your own conclusions about what its stories really mean,
  • Enhance your appreciation of its un-translatable literary artistry, and
  • Gain new understanding of ancient history and the roots of the three great Abrahamic religions.

Professor Carasik has designed this 36-lecture course, Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacred Language, to be your authoritative primer on everything from the Hebrew alphabet and punctuation marks to essential vocabulary words to advanced grammatical rules. Whether you’re just starting out on a study of Hebrew or you already know the basics, these lectures are a helpful resource that will contextualize the language for you with a line-by-line reading of passages—and ultimately an entire chapter—from the Hebrew Bible. They’re meant not just to teach you Biblical Hebrew, but to equip you to explore one of the world’s greatest books in its original language on your own. And they’re crafted to help you learn in what Professor Carasik calls the va-yomer-elohim way: not through rote memorization, but by hearing this fascinating language and speaking it aloud and reading it and practicing it—the same way we all learned our native language.

Biblical Hebrew—Taught Holistically

“In Hebrew, you don’t want to rely on a single trick for anything,” Professor Carasik notes. “You want to learn holistically. It takes time, but that’s the more natural way to learn a language.”

Using this methodical, holistic approach, the lectures of Biblical Hebrew cover all the fundamentals of the language. The course is a cumulative learning experience that rewards following the lectures in order, so that as you progress, your understanding of Biblical Hebrew not only broadens but also deepens.

Here are just a few of the many building blocks of the language you’ll explore in depth:

  • Alphabet: From the silent letter aleph to the t-sounding tav, you’ll learn the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and how to pronounce them (all with the help of a little song).
  • Numbers: Numbers in Hebrew have a gender, and depending on what you’re counting, the number is either masculine or feminine. You’ll learn how to count to 10,000, how to list things in order, how to refer to a pair of things, and more.
  • Punctuation: One function of punctuation and accent marks in Hebrew is musical. How so? When the Bible is read out loud in a synagogue service, its words are not supposed to be spoken but chanted.
  • Adjectives: In Hebrew, adjectives are regularly used like nouns. Take, for example, shofet: an adjective from the verb meaning “to judge” that can be used to say either “I am judging” or “I am a judge.” The Hebrew name for the book of Judges is Sefer Shoftim, which could more literally be called “the book of Judgers.”
  • Verbs: The Biblical Hebrew verb system consists of five forms: perfect, imperfect, infinitive, imperative, and participle. Along with these, you’ll also learn about Hebrew’s verb roots and master verb stem identifications (known as binyanim), including Qal, Pu’al, Hiphil, Niphal, and Hitpa’el.

As you build on your understanding, you’ll acquire a host of new insights into both Biblical Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible.

  • Toward the end of the 1st millennium CE, Jews began to develop various systems to indicate how vowels should be pronounced—including the Tiberian system that is still used today. This change was probably made in response to what Muslims were doing with the Koran.
  • God’s personal name, according to the Bible, is a four-letter word: yud, hey, vav, and another hey. This name, which Jews don’t pronounce, is called the “Tetragrammaton,” after the Greek for “four-letter word.”
  • The Genesis passage, “…and darkness was over the face of the deep,” actually reads “…and darkness was over the face of Deep.” The word for “Deep” comes from Tiamat, the name of a Mesopotamian goddess, making the reference a hidden polemic against Mesopotamian theology.
  • Of the several Bibles that Professor Carasik recommends for study, the one that scholars use is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. The text of this Bible is based on the famous “Leningrad Codex,” the oldest complete Hebrew Bible manuscript still in one piece.

“Biblical Hebrew Calisthenics”

“To be able to open the Bible and read it in the original language,” Professor Carasik says, “you need to get in shape—and keep yourself in shape.”

Throughout Biblical Hebrew, you’ll exercise your knowledge through what Professor Carasik calls “Biblical Hebrew calisthenics”: close readings of lines, passages, and chapters from the Bible in Hebrew that will help you build your language skills.

Focusing primarily on the prose narratives of Genesis through Kings, you’ll discover new layers of meaning in stories, lines, and words that have resounded throughout the centuries and served as the backbone for some of the world’s greatest faiths. Toward the end of the course, you will have the opportunity to test your knowledge with a multi-lecture reading of an entire chapter from the Hebrew Bible: Numbers 22.

As with any language, ancient or modern, practice makes perfect. To that end, every lecture in Biblical Hebrew concludes with a practice problem or challenge designed to sharpen the skills you’ve learned.

A Companion for Your Explorations

With Biblical Hebrew, you’ll learn from an expert whose teaching and writing (including English translations of biblical commentaries) is built around the proposition that this language can be read by any layperson with an appetite for learning.

The wealth of on-screen graphics featured in these lectures adds a critical visual element that will enable you to master everything from how sentences are organized and written to common Hebrew idioms. There’s also a valuable workbook included that’s packed with vocabulary lists, conjugation tables, exercises, and other helpful resources to use when you’re reading on your own.

And when you reach the end of the course (k’tzeh ha-kurs), you still won’t have reached the end of your learning (k’tzeh limmudekha). “Pause or back up or go back to the beginning of any lecture at any time, as many times as you need to,” Professor Carasik says. “That kind of repetition is all part of learning a language.”

Biblical Hebrew is designed to be a companion wherever your explorations of the language and the Bible take you. Whether your interests are linguistic, literary, religious, or historical, it’s a course you can—and should—return to again and again.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 34 minutes each
  • 1
    Studying Biblical Hebrew
    Use the word “hallelujah” as a gateway to exploring the three different components of the Biblical Hebrew writing system: letters, vowels, and diacriticals. Then, start learning Hebrew the natural way with a look at Genesis 1:3 and the first thing God does in creating heaven and Earth. x
  • 2
    Learning the Aleph Bet
    Get to know the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and how Biblical Hebrew is pronounced. Surprises include the silent letter aleph (the first letter of “God”), the tricky letter samekh, which resembles an “o” but sounds like an “s,” and nearly identical pairs of letters such as gimel and nun. x
  • 3
    The Tiberian Vowel System
    The Tiberian system of marking vowels in Hebrew has been used exclusively for more than 1,000 years. In this lecture, discover the signs that mark short and long vowels, and learn how vowels can change their spelling (and, slightly, their sound) without changing their meaning. x
  • 4
    Roots of Semitic Verbs
    Every Hebrew verb, and almost every noun and adjective, is based on a root, a group of three (or sometimes two) consonants. Here, Professor Carasik teaches you how to begin recognizing the roots of verbs in Biblical Hebrew—then discusses how God is referred to in the Hebrew Bible. x
  • 5
    Hebrew Verb Forms and the Definite Article
    Get an introduction to the five different Hebrew verb forms: finite, infinitive, adjective, participle, and imperative. Plus, learn three ways of identifying something as definite (rather than indefinite): by using the definite article (ha), by labeling it with a personal pronoun, and by naming it. x
  • 6
    Hebrew's Attached Prepositions
    Explore three Hebrew letters that attach to the beginning of other words to create a new word. Then, armed with this new knowledge, read your first complete paragraph in Biblical Hebrew from start to finish: the story of the first day of creation in Genesis 1:1-5. x
  • 7
    Adjective Forms and Agreement in Hebrew
    Unlike English, Hebrew adjectives have four forms, not one—and they must agree with their nouns based on whether they’re singular or plural, and masculine or feminine. Learn the four forms of adjectives (tov, tovah, tovim, tovot), several adjectives, and two ways to put nouns and adjectives together. x
  • 8
    Irregular Hebrew Nouns and Adjectives
    Sometimes it’s the simpler nouns that are the most likely to surprise you. Examine several of the most common non-obvious nouns (irregular nouns) and adjectives (demonstratives) in Biblical Hebrew. These include family names (daughter, son, brother), as well as “this” (zeh, zot) and “these” (éleh). x
  • 9
    Hebrew Pronouns and Pronominal Suffixes
    Hebrew has a ton of different pronouns. In this lecture, get an introduction to pronouns like “I” (ani, anokhi) and “we” (anaḥnu), as well as three different flavors of pronominal suffixes. Then, practice your new skills with a Bible verse describing the fourth day of creation. x
  • 10
    How Hebrew Letters Behave
    What do different letters do differently? Here, take a comprehensive look at the different ways Hebrew letters behave and start deciphering words in Biblical Hebrew that you don't already recognize. Topics include guttural letters (the orneriest consonants in the Hebrew language) and roots that start with yud. x
  • 11
    Perfect and Imperfect Hebrew Verbs
    Focus on two of the five forms of Biblical Hebrew verbs: the perfect and the imperfect, both of which have person, gender, and number. The perfect, as you'll learn, is always marked by endings. The imperfect, however, is marked by prefix letters as well: aleph, nun, tav, and yud. x
  • 12
    Segholate Nouns and Pausal Forms
    Turn now to segholate nouns—nouns that feature seghols (“-eh” vowels). By looking at segholate nouns in real Hebrew phrases from the Bible, you’ll start to get more comfortable with what Professor Carasik calls the “EH-eh rhythm” and the various grammatical forms that use the pattern. x
  • 13
    The Construct Form: Hebrew's Trailer Hitch
    By allowing you to attach another noun to your first noun, the construct form acts as a sort of trailer hitch in Biblical Hebrew. Once attached, the first noun in construct “belongs” to the second. Here, learn construct forms by revisiting the first and fourth day of creation. x
  • 14
    Forming Hebrew Construct Chains
    Continue your study of construct forms with prepositions in Biblical Hebrew that are combinations of simple prepositions you’ve already learned (example: lifnei, or “before”). Then, look at irregular nouns with unusual construct forms whose frequent occurrence makes them critical to understanding Biblical Hebrew. x
  • 15
    Hebrew Verb Classifications: Binyanim
    In Biblical Hebrew, the binyan acts as a sort of stem or conjugation for verbs. Get a re-introduction to verbs with their binyan identification, learn how the binyanim got their names, and focus on a single root in different binyanim to get a feel for what the binyanim do to a verb's meaning. x
  • 16
    Question Words in Hebrew
    From mi (“Who?”) and lama lo (“Why not?”) to eikh (“How?”) and matai (“When?”), discover how to recognize the words that tell you when a question is coming up in Biblical Hebrew. Why is this so important? Because there’s no such thing as a question mark in Biblical Hebrew. x
  • 17
    Hebrew Participles
    Return to the verbal system with Professor Carasik's helpful explanation of the third of the five Hebrew verb forms: the participle. One of the ways you'll master the verbal adjective in Biblical Hebrew is by working your way through Genesis 22:7. x
  • 18
    Counting in Hebrew
    In this fun lecture, start to count in Hebrew, from one to 10,000. You’ll learn a children’s rhyme for counting from one to four, the construct form of numbers, the ordinal numbers, some helpful shortcuts such as how to refer to a “pair” of something, and more. x
  • 19
    Hebrew Roots with Guttural Letters
    Focus your attention here on categories of verbs from the Qal binyan with roots whose guttural letters (hey, het, and ayin) tend to “misbehave.” Central to this lecture are three rules about how gutturals behave, as well as relevant examples in passages from the Hebrew Bible. x
  • 20
    Hebrew's Lamed-Hey Roots
    Lamed-hey roots are those roots where, in the dictionary, the third radical of a verb (the lamed) is a hey. Here, learn how to work with some of the most common lamed-hey roots, including banah (“build”), ḥayah (“live”), anah (“answer”), panah (“turn”), and kalah (“be over”). x
  • 21
    Hebrew's Roots Beginning with Yud
    Roots that begin with yud are plentiful in Hebrew—and very common. Professor Carasik walks you through a list of some of the most common first-yud verbs, including yada (“know”), yatza (“go out”), yarash (“take possession”), and yashav (“settle”). x
  • 22
    Irregular Hebrew Verbs
    Very few verbs in Hebrew are irregular. Those that are, as you’ll learn here, are not very difficult—but they do work a little differently than what you’re used to seeing. In this lecture, learn how to master irregular Hebrew verbs by focusing on them individually. x
  • 23
    Hebrew's Hollow Verbs
    Welcome to what may be the strangest verb roots of all: those that have only two consonants, not three. Here, explore the general rules about these hollow verbs, and build a list of commonly used hollow verbs you can refer to when reading Biblical Hebrew. x
  • 24
    The Infinitive in Hebrew
    The infinitive verb form is used to describe the action of a verb (as in “There’s a time to rend … and a time to mend.”). Professor Carasik walks you through the different infinitive forms, then guides you through Ecclesiastes 3—what he calls the “mother lode” of the Hebrew infinitive. x
  • 25
    Jussives, Cohortatives, and “Hava Nagila”
    Explore how Biblical Hebrew expresses intention (as in phrases like yehi or, or “Let there be light.”). You’ll encounter jussives, which are only found in lamed-hey, hollow, and Hiphil verbs; and cohortatives, which invite collective action (as in the famous song, “Hava Nagila”). x
  • 26
    The Imperative Form in Hebrew
    Turn now to the imperative form in Hebrew and the simplest way to think of it (in the Qal): by taking off the tav prefix from second-person imperfect verbs. You'll learn imperatives from a variety of weak and strong verbs, and use your skills to work through several biblical verses. x
  • 27
    Verbs of the Hiphil Binyan
    Focus on a new binyan: Hiphil, which can be thought of as the causative binyan. (One example: l’haqtir, or “to burn incense.”) Then, go back to Genesis, collect a list of Hiphil infinitives, and see what the different root categories do when you put them into this Hiphil shape. x
  • 28
    Piel Verbs and Passive Binyanim
    Take a closer look at another major binyan: the Piel. The goal of this lecture is to give you the skills to distinguish this binyan when you need to, so you can learn the verbs as they come along. Then, examine two more binyanim: the passives Pu'al and Hophal. x
  • 29
    Reflexive Binyanim: Niphal and Hitpa'el
    Conclude your survey of the seven different binyanim by taking a closer look at two reflexive patterns: the Niphal and the Hitpa’el. Along the way, Professor Carasik introduces you to an important root that appears only in these two binyanim: nun-bet-aleph, or “to be/act like a prophet.” x
  • 30
    Reading the Bible in Hebrew: Joshua 1
    Now you're ready to start reading longer passages in the Bible in Hebrew. Here, follow Professor Carasik as you read Joshua 1:1-9, which deals with God's charge to Joshua. You'll translate the text, talk about the passage's meaning, and spend time parsing every single verb it contains. x
  • 31
    Geminate Verbs and Reading Numbers 22
    In this lecture, explore geminates: roots where radicals two and three are the same. Along the way, you'll learn how to spot these common two-letter combinations, consider a fascinating example from Ezekiel's vision of the messianic future Temple, and begin reading Numbers 22 from start to finish. x
  • 32
    Hebrew's Object Suffixes
    You've seen object suffixes in previous lectures. Now, focus on them directly. You'll learn some obvious (and not-so-obvious) combinations of verbs and object suffixes, and ponder some questions about phrases and sentences in the Bible that appear more than once, but with slight variations. x
  • 33
    Hebrew Oaths and Other Idioms
    Study idioms that are common in Biblical Hebrew, but sound strange when translated into English. You’ll explore different ways to take an oath in Biblical Hebrew, the customary way to state someone’s age, and the danger of “crossing the mouth” of the Lord. x
  • 34
    Understanding Hebrew Punctuation Marks
    In the Hebrew Bible, every word has a punctuation mark that serves three functions: telling you where the accent falls, indicating how to chant the text musically, and telling you how to group words in a sensible way. Use this knowledge to move forward in your reading of Numbers 22. x
  • 35
    Choosing a Hebrew Bible
    What's the best Bible from which to read Hebrew? Professor Carasik offers insights and recommendations on four printed Bibles as well as several electronic sources, and shows you how to navigate your way to a specific chapter and verse in an all-Hebrew Bible. Close by resuming your reading of Numbers 22. x
  • 36
    Helpful Hebrew Reference Books
    Look at some essential Hebrew reference books out there (besides biblical translations and commentaries), including reference grammars and three major Biblical Hebrew dictionaries. Close out the course by completing your line-by-line reading of Numbers 22. x

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  • 226-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Michael Carasik

About Your Professor

Michael Carasik, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Michael Carasik has taught Biblical Hebrew since 1991 and is currently adjunct assistant professor of Biblical Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2000. He earned his PhD in Bible and Ancient Near East from Brandeis University. A member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Faculty Working Group on Recovered Language Pedagogies, Professor Carasik has also taught at Hebrew College,...
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Reviews

Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacred Language is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 18.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Course in Every Way I have studied several languages and this is unquestionably the best video language course of any kind that I have ever used. This course exceeded every expectation and hope that I had for the course when I ordered it. The lectures are crystal clear, logically developed, and together they offer a remarkably full presentation of the language in just 36 lectures. Prof. Carasik wisely takes advantage of the fact that students can hit rewind. This allows him to put at least as much content into a 35 minute lecture as a person would normally receive in an hour or longer class. Prof. Carisik does a tremendous job anticipating the types of questions that a student would ask when introducing material and he offers useful analogies and illustrations to fix the key ideas into a student's thinking while using a minimum of technical language. I hope that the Great Courses will strongly consider bringing Prof. Carasik back for a Biblical Hebrew II course with extensive readings and/or grammatical refinement. Very highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SUPERB! if you wanna learn biblical Hebrew, this is where you need to start. I have watched many courses already, but this course is far more superior and also fun! another great accomplishment for the greatcourses and their amazing professors.
Date published: 2018-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biblical Hebrew in Sephardic pronunciation, great I had previously bought a number of videos from other suppliers which were supposed to teach Hebrew but ended up giving Ashkenazi pronunciation which annoyed me since I was brought up in Israel. Now at long last I have a great Biblical Hebrew program correctly pronounced in Israeli Hebrew and the Grammar and vowel markings so much easier to understand in the way he teaches. The most worthwhile course I have bought from the Teaching Company (and I have bought a lot!).
Date published: 2018-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great features, Good Program I have ony had a little time to see part of the first disc, it was nice!
Date published: 2018-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprised me I was very skeptical of the language courses that were being offered when they first came out. To my surprise I found the Latin course outstanding and I think the Spanish courses which I have used on The Great Courses Plus to be exceptionally good. In fact I would recommend a third level course by that professor. I am just in the early phases of using the Greek and Hebrew courses but so far I have found them to be every bit as valuable and I would be remiss if I did not also praise the course given on Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Date published: 2018-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Finally, a Course in Ancient Biblical Hebrew! Since such a rare opportunity for a home course in Ancient Hebrew, I, first, commend The Great Courses is commended for making this available. Having purchased, and now proceeding with TGC offerings of Latin 101, and Greek 101, Biblical Hebrew was the third part of a beginning study of these three languages. The courses of Latin 101 and Greek 101 have been easier for me to follow (although I savor the learning and proceed slowly and prodigiously) than this course on Biblical Hebrew. Have only addressed Lectures 1 and 2 in this course so far. Professor Carasik proceeds somewhat more quickly through the Hebrew Alphabet in this course than does Professor Meuller in the Latin and Greek courses. In this course, I find myself more frequently replaying many of the sections of each lecture. The explanations of historical context Dr. Carasik gives to this subject are very edifying, and the content of the course is exactly what I was hoping to find. The course is not for the faint of heart but I suspect anyone wishing to pursue Biblical Hebrew would not be faint of heart. It requires some effort and due diligence and perseverance but it is worth it, yet if one wants to get an overview of Biblical Hebrew and its context of the history of Western Languages, I think one would find it throughout this course - even if one does not want to pursue the details of learning to read, write, and/or pronounce the language.
Date published: 2018-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Job, great course... Thank God for Professor Michael Carasik, great job!
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! Great professor! I first studied Hebrew over 40 years ago, but never learned it in a formal class. I read it slowly and wanted both to improve my reading and understanding. This course fulfills both those objectives and more. The professor is wonderful. Warm, patient and knowledgeable. As a language teacher myself, I appreciate his approach, which speaks of many years of practice in teaching Hebrew to novice learners. His explanations of pronunciation and grammar are thorough without bogging down in too much detail at a time. He also adds little historical or linguistic tidbits to explain the alphabet or word origins that add richness to the task of learning a challenging language. I also like that he gets us learning biblical verses right away, which is exciting and motivating. Whether you have previous exposure to Hebrew or not, you will find this course allows you to quickly learn and apply the material covered in each lesson. Like any good teacher, he gives homework included in the course book and suggests replaying some lessons, especially in the beginning, in order to master the concepts before moving on to the next lesson. I am thoroughly enjoying this course and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read the Torah and other Jewish texts in the original Hebrew. Like any new language, it takes time and perseverance, but starting with such a great teacher and a well-designed course ensure that it will pay off.
Date published: 2018-08-23
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