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.
"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)
"In this incandescent narrative of an ever-renewing tongue, masterful linguist Lewis Glinert traces how Hebrew, however severely displaced from its native ground, has continued through centuries of tribulation to nurture its heritage. Elegantly luring us from one intellectual movement to the next, he arrives at history's most moving culmination: the language of the Book returning at last to the everyday voices of little children."--Cynthia Ozick, author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays
"An absolutely fascinating story—about the history of Jewish culture, the power of language, and the enduring meaning of Hebrew for Jews and non-Jews alike. Written with command, grace, and charm, this is a marvelous and utterly engaging work."--Barry W. Holtz, Theodore and Florence Baumritter Professor of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary
"Superb. The Story of Hebrew is a wonderful book--elegantly written, meticulously researched, and exciting to read. A magnificent study."--Curt Leviant, author of the novels King of Yiddish and Kafka's Son
"Masterfully written. Glinert's in-depth account of the sociolinguistic, historical, and cultural aspects of Hebrew is entirely new. A significant contribution to the field."--Aharon Maman, Bialik Professor of Hebrew Language, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Table of Contents:
List of Figures ix
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
Further Reading 261
Cosponsored by the Tikvah Fund