Right now I am taking a Hebrew exegesis course on Judges. Before I go on, I may need to answer some questions for some of you, such as: “Blake, why in the world would you study Hebrew?” or “What in the world is an exegesis course?” And finally, “Judges, like Supreme Court Judges or [Insert Reality TV Show Here] Judges?” Oh, and for those of you who were thinking this post would be about baseball…sorry, I thought about trying to make an analogy to the baseball cycle, but RAN into some complications.
Part One – Why study Hebrew?
This is a great question. I have asked it many times over the past year as I have struggled to learn it. When I say “I struggled,” I mean I’ve took two introductory courses for the language (Hebrew I and II). I took both of them as independent studies…this was probably my first mistake. Anyway, I took the first one and though I “passed” the class, I failed the final. I felt pretty good when I retook the final, however, there is apparently more to it than a feeling because I failed my retake. Thankfully, they let me move on without passing the final exam since I had technically passed the course (D = delightful?). I faired much better in Hebrew II. I suppose I had warmed up to all the squares (consonants) and dots (vowels) and the right to left writing because my lowest exam grade during my second course in Hebrew was a B. All that to say, there were many days and nights that I asked myself, “is it really worth to study Hebrew?” Of course many things that are worth doing, don’t feel worth doing when you’re in the middle of it.
So, why study Hebrew aside from the fact that it is a requirement for the M. Div I am pursuing? Contrary to popular belief, the Bible was not written in English. Obviously, the English versions we have are translations from ancient manuscripts. Most translations of the Bible have been assembled by a translation committee and each committee has certain goals in piecing together a translation. The NIV is very easy to read although there may be words that lost the weight of their meaning when the committee was attempting to lower the reading level of the text. By contrast, the NASB has a strong commitment to word by word translation, however, for some it may be a little difficult to read. The Message was not assembled by a translation committee, but by one man, Eugene Peterson. It reads very nicely and has a fresh way of putting some of the old language. Personally, I like reading from all of these translations, however, with all of these variances in purpose and method of translation there will inevitably be words that, as I said a bit earlier concerning the NIV, will lose the weight of their meaning. This leads me to the chief reason that I am studying Hebrew language (and Greek for that matter)…to be able understand the original text in order that I might communicate faithfully the message of that text.
Another benefit to studying Hebrew is that it allows me to be able to understand the debates going on within various Biblical commentaries. Without a base of knowledge of Hebrew, there will be many things that I flat out won’t comprehend.