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The Story of Hebrew
Lewis Glinert

Hardcover | 2017 | $27.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691153292
296 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 34 line illus. 2 tables.
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A Q&A with Lewis Glinert

A unique history of the Hebrew language from biblical times to the modern Jewish state

This book explores the extraordinary hold that Hebrew has had on Jews and Christians, who have invested it with a symbolic power far beyond that of any other language in history. Preserved by the Jews across two millennia, Hebrew endured long after it ceased to be a mother tongue, resulting in one of the most intense textual cultures ever known. It was a bridge to Greek and Arab science. It unlocked the biblical sources for Jerome and the Reformation. Kabbalists and humanists sought philosophical truth in it, and Colonial Americans used it to shape their own Israelite political identity. Today, it is the first language of millions of Israelis.

The Story of Hebrew takes readers from the opening verses of Genesis—which seemingly describe the creation of Hebrew itself—to the reincarnation of Hebrew as the everyday language of the Jewish state. Lewis Glinert explains the uses and meanings of Hebrew in ancient Israel and its role as a medium for wisdom and prayer. He describes the early rabbis' preservation of Hebrew following the Babylonian exile, the challenges posed by Arabic, and the prolific use of Hebrew in Diaspora art, spirituality, and science. Glinert looks at the conflicted relationship Christians had with Hebrew from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation, the language's fatal rivalry with Yiddish, the dreamers and schemers that made modern Hebrew a reality, and how a lost pre-Holocaust textual ethos is being renewed today by Orthodox Jews.

A major work of scholarship, The Story of Hebrew is an unforgettable account of what one language has meant to those possessing it.

Lewis Glinert is Professor of Hebrew Studies at Dartmouth College, where he is also affiliated with the Program in Linguistics. His books include The Grammar of Modern Hebrew and The Joys of Hebrew.


"The most ambitious attempt since William Chomsky’s groundbreaking 1957 study, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, Mr. Glinert’s biography of Hebrew succeeds in representing the language not just as a vehicle of communication but as a crucible of national cohesion. To read [this book] is to appreciate Hebrew as the grammar of a dynamic dialogue between the claims of the ever-changing present and the imperatives of the past."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal

"An insightful, entertaining, and essential guide to the origins and evolution of the Hebrew language. . . . This is a must-read for students of language and Jewish history."--Publishers Weekly

"Glinert brings the Hebrew story to life with such a wealth of intriguing cultural detail in so astonishingly few pages of lively, engaging exposition that his account is must reading for all who revel in the history and elasticity of languages."--Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)

"Elegant. . . . The Story of Hebrew covers a great deal of ground in a readable style, studded with stories and quotations that make clear how astonishing it is that out of the fossil DNA of this sacred language, a new creation has arisen."--David Wolpe, Weekly Standard

"The Story of Hebrew . . . is enormously rewarding for those wishing to familiarize themselves with the evolution both of the Hebrew language and attitudes toward it. . . . Glinert is an excellent tour guide. Many of the book’s most compelling stories are those that help explain how, during the nearly two millennia during which it had generally ceased to be a spoken language, Hebrew continued to be central to the lives of Jews."--Howard Freedman, J Weekly

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Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
Introduction 1
1 “Let There Be Hebrew” 8
2 Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome 22
3 Saving the Bible and Its Hebrew 59
4 The Sephardic Classical Age 74
5 Medieval Ashkenaz and Italy: Sciences, Sonnets, and the Sacred 102
6 Hebrew in the Christian Imagination, I: Medieval Designs 124
7 Hebrew in the Christian Imagination, II: From Kabbalists to Colonials 139
8 Can These Bones Live? Hebrew at the Dawn of Modernity 168
9 The Hebrew State 212
Epilogue 246
Acknowledgments 251
Notes 253
Further Reading 261
Index 265


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Cosponsored by the Tikvah Fund

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