Lesson Six - Genesis 1:2 (Part One)

Continuing our lessons in Genesis, today we will look at the next verse. By way of review, up to this point we have seen in Genesis that we read the Hebrew Bible right to left, the words are divided into sylables (closed or open), and we have learned a little about verbs and prepositions. Remember, part of the key to learning is to read the Hebrew Scriptures out loud and often. Try to memorize part of them. Make vocabulary cards and work through them. It is important to immerse yourself as much as possible in the language itself. With that said, let’s move on to Genesis 1:2.

Genesis0102

Try to read the Hebrew, carefully pronouncing each word. It can be helpful to transliterate the verse, especially when beginning to learn the language. Also, recognize and say each Hebrew letter so that you can continue to become familiar with them. I’ll transliterate Genesis 1:2 here for you, but be sure to practice transliterating on your own as well.

vehā’ārets hāyetāh tohu vāvohu vehosekh ‘al-penê tehom veruha ’ĕlohîm merahēfet ‘al-penê hammayim.

Let’s take a look at the first several word briefly for now, the next post will finish up the remaining words, and a third post will go into some more grammatical issues.

Genesis0102_W1

We’ve seen this word before. Do you recognize it? It has a conjunction as a prefix in this instance, but the base noun (and definite article) is in Genesis 1:1. The first letter followed by the shewa is the conjunction “and” or “but,” determined mainly by context. In this instance it is most likely translated as “and”. The next letter (hey) and vowel (qamets) is the definite article (just like in verse 1). Together they form a prefix attached to the noun ’erets that we saw in the previous verse which is the noun for “earth” or “land”. The prefix causes the first vowel of the noun change from an “e” to an “a”, but don’t worry too much about that at this point. This word is translated into English as “And the earth.”

Genesis0102_W2

This second word is one of two verbs in the sentence. It is the qal perfect 3rd person feminine form of the verb “to be.” The reason it is feminine is because of the shewa beneath the second letter and ah ending. It is thus translated as “was.”

Genesis0102_W3

Here is a noun that generally translated means “formless.”

Genesis0102_W4

If you’ve been following along so far, you should quickly notice the first letter of this word is a waw followed by a pathak. This denotes the conjunction “and.” This conjuction is attached to a noun that means “void.” So the translation is “and void.”

Genesis0102_W5

Once more we see the waw, this time followed by a shewa. What does this indicate? A conjunction, “and.” Following the conjunction is the noun for “darkness.” The translation is thus, “and darkness.”

Genesis0102_W6_11a

Here is a preposition. Basically it means “on” or “upon.” When used directly following a noun, such as in this case, typically the “to be” verb is implied. Thus it would be translated “was upon.”

Genesis0102_W6_11b

This is another noun. Interestingly, this noun is in construct (meaning that it is standing directly next to another noun), with the normal ending being ayim, a dual ending, yet it is translated singular. It means “face.” Often body parts are referred to in the dual form, this is no exception.

In the next post we will examine the remaining words, including the noun with which penê is in construct.

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Fun with Shalom!

The Hebrew Verbal System - Qal Perfect

New to this site is a section entitled “Verbs.” In it you can expect to find the various forms of the Hebrew Verbal System. As of the writing of this post, the section contains the Qal Perfect forms, a great place to start.  You can quickly jump to this section anytime by clicking the “Verbs” link above.

The Hebrew Verbal System | Qal Perfect

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Lesson Five - Genesis 1:1 (Part Three)

classroom2Continuing our work in Genesis 1:1 let’s take a little deeper dive to explain some of the Hebrew grammar that we find at work in this verse. While what we are about to discuss might not make complete sense right now, what I have found is that as I run this process through more and more passages it becomes clearer and clearer to me. So don’t get to “hung up” on all the details right now, as we continue the learning process these things will make more sense. With that said, let’s dive in. We will look at two grammatical issues: prepositions and verbs.

Prepositions

The first word of the Old Testament contains what is referred to as an inseparable preposition. In the Hebrew language there are prepositions that can stand alone as their own word and there are prepositions that stand together with another word. Berēshît is one of these words. In translation they are handled pretty much the same way whether it is inseparable or not, however when the word is inseparable it may affect the spelling of the word to which it is attached. Prepositions are notoriously difficult to translate (along with participles, but that is for another lesson) because they do not always have a one-to-one word translation to equate. Typically we find we need to translate the idea. For instance, in our word berēshît the preposition “in” contains the idea of time not necessarily location. What I mean is that the translation “in the beginning” doesn’t mean “inside the beginning”, but rather “at the time of the beginning.” Many times the context will help to determine the translation. In this example it may seem obvious, but you can imagine times where it may not be so cut and dry.

Verbs

Verbs are a complex component of the language. Let me try to briefly introduce you to verbs and we will learn them as we move along. The Hebrew verbal system contains seven major “stems.” Each stem gives a certain nuance to the meaning of the verb. The seven stems are the Qal, Niphal, Piel, Pual, Hiphil, Hophal, and Hithpael. The Qal is a regular verb (meaning no special nuance to its meaning), the Niphal is the passive version of the regular verb (for example active is “John caught”, whereas passive is “John was caught” - in other words, active is when the subject does the acting and passive is when the object does the acting), Piel is an intensive verb (for example “he cried” is regular, “he sobbed” is intensive), Pual is the passive version of the intensive verb, Hiphil is a causitive verb (for example “he ran” is regular, “he caused to run” is the causitive), Hophal is the passive version of the causitive verb, and the Hithpael is a reflexive verb (for example “he washed” versus “he washed himself”). Again, don’t get hung up on all this right now, I just want to introduce you to the breadth of the system.

In Genesis 1:1 we find one verb bārā’, and as we saw last time, this verb is a Qal Perfect 3rd Person Masculine Singular verb. This is the verb form that you would find in a Hebrew lexicon (dictionary). Because it is Qal, that means that it is active and not passive, not intensive, not causitive, and not reflexive; it is simply the verb to create. Because it is Perfect, that means it is referring to action that has already happened, very similar to the English past tense. Because it is 3rd Person, the subject is either a he, she, it, or they (as opposed to an I, we, or you). Because it is Masculine, that means it is either a he, it, or they, but not a she. Because it is in the singular, it must be a he or an it.

Hopefully this was some good information to get you started on prepositions and verbs. As we move on we’ll learn more about them, but this is sufficient for now. Next time we will move on to Genesis 1:2 and run this same process to determine its translation. After a few more times, maybe we’ll all be Hebrew experts! :)

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Lesson Four - Genesis 1:1 (Part Two)

classroom2The other day we started by giving an overview of Genesis 1:1, including all the Hebrew words and their translated meaning. We also saw that Hebrew is to be read from right to left (and back to front), the syllables are either open or closed, how to transliterate the words, and how to pronounce them.

Today we will take a closer look at the words themselves and how we came to the translation we did. So let’s dive right in!

This Hebrew word, transliterated berēshît is actually two words combined into one. Think of combing to words as similar to the word “can’t”. The word “can’t” is made up of two words, “can” and “not,” which combined can become either “cannot” or “can’t.” I use the illustration of “can’t” because when we combine these two words they have changed (the ‘o’ is replaced by the ”’). In Hebrew often times a preposition is attached to the noun forming one word.
In this particular case the preposition is the beyt and the shewa. This is the preposition which in this case is translated as “in.” The remaining part of the word, rēshît, is the word of “beginning.” Putting the two words together we come to the translation “In the beginning.”

This word, transliterated as bārā’, is a verb. It carries the idea of creating something. For the technical parsing of the word (which we will get into more detail later) is a Qal Perfect 3rd Person Masculine Singular. What this basically means is that it is a regular verb taking about past action in the third person and refers to a singular subject. So the basic translation of this word then is “he/it created.”

Generally in Hebrew the verb comes before the subject, unlike in English where the verb comes after the subject. For example in English we say that “Johnny caught the ball.” However the word order in Hebrew is different, if written in Hebrew it would translate into English as “he caught Johnny the ball” - meaning he caught, that is Johnny, the ball.

This is one of the Hebrew words for God. It is transliterated as ’ĕlohîm. Technically this is a plural masculine noun. The plural is the plural of majesty, that is, often kings referred to themselves, or were referred to in, the plural, even though they were just one person. This is the Jewish interpretation of why the word is plural. The Christian might insist that its plurality is a “hidden” indicator of the Trinity. The word ’ĕlohîm is the “generic” word for God; it is not the name of the Lord - Yahweh. However, this word refers, in the Hebrew mind, to the same God.

Putting this word and the previous word together, keeping in mind the word order of verb then subject, we translate these two words as “God created.”

The word ’ēt is not directly translated into English. It is the “sign of the direct object.” In other words, this Hebrew word is a “pointer” word which points to the word right after it and declares that the word to which it points is the direct object. Going back to our previous example of Johnny and his ball catching, the direct object in the sentence “Johnny caught the ball” is “the ball.” In Hebrew the word ’ēt simply points to that word.

This word contains both a noun and the definite article. It is transliterated as haŝŝāmayim. It is believed that originally the definite article was probably the word hal, but somewhere along the line it was “assimilated” into the connecting noun. So the hey and the pathak indicate the definite article “the.” In Hebrew there is no indirect article as there is in English (”a” or “an”), there is only the definite article. Context is also an indication of the need to have a direct or indirect article when translating the text.

The remaining word ŝāmayim is the word for “heavens.” Technically it also is a plural masculine noun. So this word would be translated as “the heavens.”

This is another word that has two words in one. It is the combination of the conjunction “and” with the sign of the direct object. The waw and the shewa indicate the conjunction and context determines its meaning (usually either “and” or “but”). Here is means “and.” We have a repetition of the word for the sign of the direct object. This indicates that there are actually two direct objects in our sentence. An English example would be “Jimmy cooked eggs and ham.” The words “eggs” and “ham” are both direct objects of the verb. This word then is translated simply as “and”

The word hā’ārets is again combines the definite article along with the noun. Does it look familiar? It’s close, but slightly different (the joys of language). The hey followed by a qamets is our definite article. If you look two words above you’ll recall that there the hey was followed by a pathak to make the definite article. The simple reason there is a difference is because of the aleph… let’s just say it makes things “difficult.” :) Nonetheless, this is the definite article. It is followed by the word ’ārets which is the word for earth. (Technically it would be ’erets, but because of the definite article it changes, but don’t worry yourself about that right now). This word would be translated as “the earth.”


Putting it all together we have “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (The character at the very end which looks similar to the English colon, is the symbol for the end of the sentence.)

So there you have it. You just translated a portion of the Hebrew text! And in fine fashion I might add! :) That wasn’t too bad now was it? Next time we’ll take a look a little deeper into some of the grammatical issues this verse has raised (don’t worry, I’m not going to go that deep on you!).

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Lesson Three - Genesis 1:1 (Part One)

classroom 2Well you may be asking yourself, isn’t it a little bit too early to just, jump right into the Hebrew Text? In this matter there are two schools of thought, 1) learn the grammar, then get into the text; 2) get into the text, learn the grammar as you go along. Neither one is necessarily right; however, I am choosing to go the later route. This is the way my teacher taught me. We will get right into the text and learn the grammar as we go along. This allows you to get right into the Bible, as opposed to spending months and months on boring (sorry to all those grammatarians out there) grammatical issues without even looking at the text itself. So, without further ado, let’s start at the beginning, Genesis 1:1.

Genesis 1:1 Part 1Genesis 1:1 Part 2

  • The first thing you need to be aware of is that Hebrew is read right to left and not left to right as in English (and thus, the Hebrew Bible is read back to front - for English speakers that is!).
  • Try to name each letter in each of the words starting at the right of the word and moving left until the end of the word. For example, the first word contains in order a Beyt, Shewa, Resh, Tsere, Aleph, Shin, Hireq Yod, and Tav.
  • To pronounce the Hebrew words, you will need to understand the syllables. There are both open and closed syllables, open when it ends in a vowel, closed when it ends in a consonant. A syllable will never begin with a vowel, always with a consonant. With some practice you will be able to determine the number of syllables in a word. For example the first word contains three syllables:
    • Beyt, Shewa (Open)
    • Resh, Tsere, Alpeh (Closed)
    • Shin, Hireq Yod, Tav (Closed)
  • To aid in pronouncing the Hebrew words, you can transliterate the words. This means to take the Hebrew letters and put them into English letters. This can make it easier to pronounce and can be used as a “crutch” early on in the learning process. To help in that process here is Genesis 1:1 transliterated (transliterations are read left to right as in English).
    • berēshît bārā’ ’ĕlohîm ’ēt haŝŝāmayim ve’ēt hā’ārets.
  • Learn the meanings of each of the words or group of words. Here is where the fun begins. For now, I will simply give you the translation without going into much detail. The next lesson will show how we got to these meanings.
    • Genesis 1:1 Word 1 - “In the beginning”
    • Genesis 1:1 Word 3Genesis 1:1 Word 2 - “God created”
    • Genesis 1:1 Word 5Genesis 1:1 Word 4 - “the heavens”
    • Genesis 1:1 Word 7Genesis 1:1 Word 6 - “the earth”
  • Read it out loud. Start by reading it from the transliteration until you know how it should sound. From there, read it from the Hebrew letters themselves. The more you read the better, reading out loud is the best because it involves more of your senses: sight and sound.
  • Memorize it. One of the big helps for me was to memorize the Hebrew. While this can take some time, it is valuable to at least start it. Start with the first three words, anything will help. This will help you to familiarize yourself with the sound of the language and improve reading skills.

Part two will focus on some of the grammar involved in this verse and how we came to the translation given beside each word or group of words.

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Lesson Two - The Vowels

classroom 2Biblical Hebrew does have vowels, but they are not the traditional letters you would find in the English language. Instead, they are mainly “pointings” of the consonants. These vowels were not in the original writings. Originally the [tag]Hebrew Bible[tag] had simply consonants, and through oral tradition they knew how/ the words should be pronounced. At some point around 600 A.D. Hebrew priests added the pointings to ensure that the oral tradition of how the words were to be pronounced would not be forgotten. Thus we have the current vowel system.

The vowel system can be summarized into two basic categories of vowel: the full vowel, the half vowel. (Some may break the full vowel into categories of simple or full, but both are treated equally as a vowel for the most part so I will treat them both the same to keep things simple). As we move along, the distinction between half vowel and vowel will become apparent, so don’t get too hung up on that issue now, just keep it in mind. Each full or half vowel is of A, E, I, O, or U type. In addition to these two basic categories of vowel there is the simple shewa, which although a not technically a vowel, it is sometimes vocal and therefore “vowel-like.” The vowels are found in most cases below the consonant, or in some cases right after it. Let’s take a look at the Hebrew vowel system.

A Type

  • Full Vowels
    • pathakis the Patach, it is a short vowel. Pronounced like the “a” in dark. It is transliterated with an “a”.
    • qametsis the Qamets, it is a long vowel. Pronounced like the “a” in dark. It is transliterated with an “ā”.*
  • Half Vowels
    • chateph pathakis the Chateph Patach has a hurried “a” sound, like the “a” in dark only hurried. It is transliterated as “ă” in superscript.

E Type Vowels

  • Full Vowels
    • segol is the Segol, it is a short “e” vowel. It is pronounced like the “e” in get. It is transliterated with an “e”.
    • segol yod is the Segol Yod, it is a long “e” vowel. It is pronounced like the ei in weight. It is transliterated as “ê”. (The mem is for displaying the relative positioning, it is not part of the vowel)
    • sere is the Tsere, it is a long “e” vowel. It is pronounced like the ei in weight. It is transliterated as “ē”.
    • sere yod is the Tsere Yod, it is a long “e” vowel. It is pronounced like the ei in weight. It is transliterated as “ê”. (The mem is for displaying the relative positioning, it is not part of the vowel)
  • Half Vowels
    • chateph segolChateph Segol has a hurried “e” sound. It is transliterated as “ĕ” in superscript.

I Type Vowels

  • Full Vowels
    • chireq is the Chireq, it is a short “i” vowel pronounced like the ee in feet. It is transliterated as “i”.
    • chireq yodChireq Yod, it is a long “i” vowel pronounced like the ee in feet. It is transliterated as “î”. (The mem is for displaying the relative positioning, it is not part of the vowel)

O Type Vowels

  • Full Vowels
    • cholem is the Cholem, it is a long vowel pronounced like the “o” in go. It is transliterated as “o”.
    • cholem waw is the Cholem Waw, it is a long vowel pronounced like the “o” in go. It is transliterated as “ō”.
    • qametsis the Qamets Chatuph, it is a short vowel pronounced like the “o” in go. It is transliterated as “ō”.*
  • Half Vowels
    • chateph qametsis the Chateph Qamets has a hurried “o” sound, like the “o” in go, only hurried. It is transliterated as “ŏ” in superscript.

U Class Vowels

  • Full Vowels
    • qibbuts is the Qibbuts, it is a short vowel pronounced like the “oo” in food. It is transliterated as “u”.
    • shureq is the Shureq, it is a long vowel pronounced like the “oo” in food. It is transliterated as “ū”.

*The Qamets and the Qamets Chatuph are distinguished by rules regarding closed vs open sylables and accents, we will discuss this in more detail later.

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Lesson One - The Hebrew Alphabet

classroom 1The Hebrew alphabet uses an entirely different character set than English. It is important to learn the alphabet inside and out. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, these are the consonants of the language. (We’ll get to the vowels later). Be able to recognize all the characters and know their sound. To do this follow two simple steps.

Steps to Learn the Hebrew Alphabet

1. Listen to the alphabet spoken while looking at the letters. Follow this link to the Hebrew alphabet song I used to learn the alphabet (by Hebrew4Christians.com), although it is a children’s song, it helped me immensely and I still use it to help remember the letters! Say it out loud along with the song.

2. Write the alphabet down on paper, many times. First do this while looking at the letters to help you figure out how best to write them. This pdf is a sheet (by Hebrew4Christians.com) that can be used to help you practice. Then do it from memory (use the song you learned it step one!).

The Hebrew Alphabet

Below is the Hebrew alphabet. As I go through the alphabet I will use the term “dagesh,” for now that will simply refer to the dot inside some of the letters. The pronunciation given is based on the modern Hebrew pronunciation of the letters.

  • alephAleph, transliterated as ” ‘ ” and is silent in pronunciation.
  • beyt_beytBeyt, transliterated as “b” and is pronounced like the b in bat (with the dagesh); transliterated as “v” and pronounced like the v as in van (without the dagesh).
  • gimmelGimmel, transliterated as “g” and is pronounced like the g in golf.
  • dalet_daletDalet, transliterated as “d” and is pronounced like the d in dad (with and without the dagesh).
  • heyHey, transliterated as “h” and is pronounced like the h in hat.
  • wawWaw (pronounced vav), transliterated as “v” and is pronounced like the v in victorious.
  • zayinZayin, transliterated as “z” and is pronounced like the z in zoo.
  • chetChet, transliterated as “ch” and is pronounced like the ch in Bach (the composer). *This letter has a gutteral sound to it and can be difficult to pronounce for English speakers.
  • tetTet, transliterated as “t” and is pronounced with a hard t as in tall.
  • yodYod, transliterated as “y” and pronounced like the y in yes.
  • kaph_kaphfinal kaphKaph, transliterated as “k” and pronounced like the k in kite (with the dagesh); transliterated as “kh” and pronounced like the ch in Bach (without the dagesh). The third of the letters is its “final form,” which occurs when the kaph is the last letter in a word.
  • lamedLamed, transliterated as “l” and pronounced like the l in love.
  • memfinal memMem, transliterated as “m” and pronounced like the m in mother. The second letter is its “final form,” which occurs when the mem is the last letter in a word.
  • nunfinal nunNun, transliterated as “n” and pronounced like the n in nothing. The second letter is its “final form,” which occurs when the nun is the last letter in a word.
  • samechSamech, transliterated as “s” and pronounced like the s in snake.
  • ayinAyin, transliterated as “‘” and is silent in pronunciation.
  • pey_peyfinal peyPey, transliterated as “p” and pronounced like the p in poetry (with the dagesh); transliterated as ph and pronounced like the f in father (without the dagesh). The third letter is its “final form,” which occurs when the pey is the last letter in a word.
  • tsadefinal tsadeTsade, transliterated as “ts” and pronounced like the ts in lets. The second letter is its “final form,” which occurs when the tsade is the last letter in a word.
  • qophQoph, transliterated as “q” and pronounced like the q in queen.
  • reshResh, transliterated as “r” and pronounced like the r in rush.
  • sin_shinSin and Shin, transliterated as “s” and pronounced like the s in sock (when the dot is on the upper left side); transliterated as “sh” or “ŝ” and pronounced like the sh in should (when the dot is on the right upper side).
  • tavTav, transliterated as “t” and pronounced like the t in table.

Hopefully this will get you started on your way to learning the Hebrew alphabet. Next time we will look at the vowels of the Hebrew language.

*Some of this information was obtained through http://www.hebrew4christians.com.

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