Biblical Hebrew, also known as Classical Hebrew, is the ancient form of the Hebrew language found in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. This form of Hebrew was spoken and written in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which existed between 1200 BCE and 586 BCE. Classical Hebrew evolved over time and can be divided into several periods:
- Early Biblical Hebrew: This period corresponds to the early stages of the Hebrew Bible’s composition, from around 1200 BCE to 800 BCE. The language during this time was more archaic and less standardized, as it was still being shaped by various Canaanite dialects.
- Standard Biblical Hebrew: This period, from approximately 800 BCE to 586 BCE, is characterized by a more standardized and formalized version of the language, with a rich and diverse vocabulary. The majority of the Hebrew Bible, including the Torah (the first five books), was written during this time.
- Late Biblical Hebrew: This phase of the language, from around 586 BCE to 400 BCE, reflects the influence of the Babylonian exile and the Aramaic language on Hebrew. While still retaining core features of Biblical Hebrew, it also demonstrates a reduced vocabulary and some grammatical changes.
Classical Hebrew eventually fell out of use as a spoken language, primarily due to the Babylonian exile and the subsequent dispersion of Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. However, Hebrew continued to be used as a liturgical and scholarly language within Jewish communities.
In the modern era, the study of Biblical Hebrew is essential for scholars of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history, as well as for religious practitioners who seek a deeper understanding of sacred texts. It also serves as the foundation for the development of Modern Hebrew, which has been significantly influenced by the grammar, vocabulary, and structure of its ancient predecessor.